OCC’s New College For High Achievers

Professor Chris Thuot (left) is Chair of OCC’s Lillian Slutzker Honors College. Griffin Sasso (right) is one of OCC’s 15 Honors College students.

When it was time to choose a college, Griffin Sasso had plenty of options. He was among the top students in West Genesee’s graduating class of 2018 and a talented three-sport athlete. In the end, the opportunity to be enrolled in OCC’s Lillian Slutzker Honors College was too good to pass up. “Getting into the Honors College meant a lot to me. The prestige that goes along with it is invaluable. Colleges and universities take that very seriously when considering transfer applications. I hope I can capitalize on it when I leave OCC.”

The Honors College is the subject of our monthly podcast, “Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College. You can listen to the podcast here.

Thanks to an endowment from the Lillian Slutzker Foundation, Sasso is attending OCC tuition-free. He’s also receiving a $300 stipend each semester for books and supplies. The Honors College also includes group activities outside the classroom with fellow scholars. Honors Scholars also have access to the Honors suite on the second floor of Coulter Hall. The space includes a common area with computers, a printer, a lounge area and a study space with smart technology.

The selection process for the Honors College was rigorous. Students submitted letters of recommendation, answered essay questions and committed to attend OCC for two years. Candidates who cleared those hurdles were interviewed. The 15 students who were chosen for the inaugural Honors Scholar class stood out for both their past academic achievement and their passion for learning.

Lillian Slutzker

OCC’s Honors Scholar cohort within the Honors College exists thanks to the generosity of the Lillian Slutzker Foundation. Slutzker was a native of Hungary who was working in Germany when she fled Nazi control, settled in England and came to Syracuse in 1947. She and her husband Emmanuel opened Manny’s Apparel Shop on Marshall Street in the Syracuse University area in 1949. They managed Manny’s until Emmanuel fell ill in 1976. For nine years Lillian worked 16-hour days at Manny’s while caring for Emmanuel at night until he passed away. Lillian sold the store in 1995 but today it remains an iconic part of the S.U. area. Lillian Slutzker passed away in 2016 at age 98.

Motivated by Slutzker’s passion for learning, her Foundation’s Board of Directors continuously looked for opportunities to make a difference in the community. “She was so dedicated to education, especially Honors programs. She never had the opportunity to go to college herself. It was always her goal to make sure people got a wonderful education and OCC’s Honors College was the perfect opportunity,” a board representative said.

OCC Honors Scholars will benefit from the generosity of the Slutzker Foundation throughout their time in higher education. Not only will 15 additional high-achieving students have the opportunity to attend OCC tuition-free each year, they will also be better prepared when they move on. “Nationwide, very few community colleges have an endowed Honors College. We are extremely fortunate. Academically we are unique among community college Honors programs in offering a core curriculum strongly grounded in the liberal arts tradition,” said Dr. Christopher Thuot, Faculty Chair of the Honors College.

“Students will develop their academic voices here,” added Jackie Barstow, Coordinator of the Honors College and OCC’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. “With the support our students receive from faculty and staff they will be much more likely to be accepted and receive scholarships to institutions than they would have been out of high school.”

OCC also has an outstanding Honors Affiliate cohort which is part of the Honors College. Students take special sections of classes designed by professors who have high-achieving students in mind. Coursework includes exploration of subject matter in greater depth in small class settings.

Chloe Hoffman

An Honors Affiliate education was exactly what Chloe Hoffman needed when she came to OCC from Fayetteville-Manlius High School. “Honors classes introduced me to a whole different structure of class that encouraged collaboration between the professor and student, as opposed to the traditional lecture style. Through the Honors curriculum I learned my voice is valuable and how I can use it.” Hoffman earned her degree from OCC in Humanities and Social Sciences with an Honors designation. Today she is a History major at SUNY Geneseo with minors in Anthropology and American Studies. She is passionate about public policy and protecting the rights of marginalized groups of people. Hoffman hopes to pursue a career in law.

The college’s commitment to providing high-achieving students with opportunities to excel is one more reason Sasso is proud of his choice to come to OCC. “I think everyone should go to community college first. The students I’ve met in the Honors College are pretty darn smart. I know they will go to good universities from here and they will do so without debt.”

The first class of Honors College students is pictured with OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill.

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