Fast-Thinking Students Save Lives

OCC Students Mohamad Al Hariri (left) and Irakoze Boris (right) helped escort people out of a burning house in Syracuse.

The evening of Sunday, January 27 had already been a memorable one. Onondaga Community College students Irakoze Boris and Mohammad Al Hariri along with Henninger High School teacher Joyce Suslovic and Corcoran High School student Ceraphin Wasso had just finished attending the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at the Carrier Dome. The featured guest was comedian and author Trevor Noah, host of the Emmy and Peabody award-winning “The Daily Show.”

Suslovic was driving the three boys home and her first stop would be Park Street where Boris lived. The evening took an unexpected turn as she approached Boris’ house. “I looked up and saw smoke coming out of the second story of a house several houses away,” said Suslovic. She drove down the street, pulled up to the burning house and everyone jumped out of the car. “There was a man walking around the outside of the house, “said Al Hariri. “We asked him if someone was inside and he said ‘yes.’” Suslovic dialed 9-1-1 as they all ran into the house. “There was a family inside,” said Boris. “We told them they needed to get out because the house was on fire.”

As Suslovic spoke with dispatchers at the 9-1-1 center and gave them the address where the fire was, the three students with her kept going through the house and making sure no one would be left behind. “As we were looking for people I went into the kitchen and saw fire on the side of the wall,” said Boris. “Once the family inside got their dog and cats, they all went outside,” added Al Hariri.

Shortly after everyone exited the house, the Syracuse Fire Department arrived on the scene. Where there had previously been smoke billowing from the second floor of the house there were now flames. Everyone made it out with little time to spare. “I was happy we got everyone out safely and no one got hurt,” said Boris.

The three students got back in the car with Suslovic and they talked about what they had just been a part of. “We were all in agreement. What if it was a member of one of our families? We would have wanted someone to rescue them,” she said. “We did the right thing,” added Boris. “We’re supposed to help each other in the community.”

As for the two OCC students, Al Hariri is in his first semester on campus and Boris is in his last. He will earn his degree in May and, fittingly, plans to become a Syracuse Police Officer. “I want to protect and serve the community and help people. I want to give something back.” He started doing so on the night of January 27, 2019.

Experience OCC at Open House

Students laughing and walking

Taking the next step in your journey can be a hard decision!

At OCC Open House, we’ll be there to help you see if college fits into the next step in your journey, whether it’s getting a job or starting college.

On April 13th at 9 a.m. in the SRC Arena you’ll be able to:

  • Talk to the Professors
  • Tour the Campus
  • Find programs from 9 weeks to 2 years
  • Explore the Financial Aid Process
  • Get Free Swag
  • Win Prizes in our Instagram Contest
  • Have Free Lunch
  • Learn about the next steps to apply!

Are you ready to believe in your success?

RSVP to OCC Open House today

Important Things You Need to Know for the Career Fair Tomorrow

The OCC Career Fair is tomorrow! Here is a checklist of everything you need to remember going into tomorrow.

Note: The Career Fair runs from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. in the SRC Arena. 

Print & Bring Copies of Your Resume

You’ve put in the hard work to make sure your resume is right! Now just make sure you print and bring copies!

Arrive Early 

Get to the Career Fair as early as you are able in order to speak to all the employers on your list. It also helps to get their early so you can identify on the map where all the employers are that you want to speak with.

Be Patient and Considerate

Lines to speak with some employers can get long. It’s important to be patient and professional in waiting so that you don’t blow your chance with the employer. It’s also important to be considerate to everyone you talk to. You never know who could have the lead you need for the job you want!

Ask for Business Cards or Contact Information 

Once you’ve given your elevator pitch, make sure to seal the deal by giving them a copy of your resume and asking for a business card or contact information so you can keep in touch.

Follow up with Employers 

After the Career Fair, follow up with employers whose business cards or contact information you received. This will show the employer you’re interested in them and what they have to offer. Career advisors are happy to help you with these emails!

We look forward to seeing you tomorrow from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. in the SRC Arena for the Career Fair! 

Holly Sleeth

Holly Sleeth (with OCC mascot Blaze) in Allyn Hall.

  • Major: Physical Education & Exercise Science Studies
  • HS: Liverpool, class of 2018

Holly Sleeth was prepared to stop playing basketball after high school. Her plan was to go to SUNY Cortland where she would not be part of the basketball team. Everything changed last March when Sleeth and her Liverpool Warriors were winning games during a post-season tournament run. “Coach (Mike) Wheeler reached out to me and I started thinking about playing basketball at OCC, living at home and saving money. It turned out to be a win-win for me.”

Things couldn’t have worked out better. Sleeth is a starter on OCC’s Women’s Basketball team which is ranked among the top five in the nation. She’s also a high-achieving student, having earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average in the fall semester after hitting a bump in the first few weeks of classes. “I was taking Anatomy & Physiology which everyone told me was going to be a lot of work. I failed a quiz and the professor emailed Coach Wheeler through Lazer Success. Coach talked to me about it and I got down to studying.” That early contact between professor and coach helped turn things around and Sleeth earned an “A” in the class.

When basketball season ends, Sleeth will join OCC’s Women’s Lacrosse team which also has a long history of success. She’ll continue to juggle athletics and academics as she works toward her degree in Physical Education & Exercise Science Studies. “I haven’t felt stressed about time management. I’ve been able to get things done in a timely manner, get to practice and games and still have time for a personal life with my friends and family. I made the right choice coming here both academically and with sports. I never wanted to stay home for college but being home has helped me adjust to college.”

What’s Happening for Week 6 of Spring Classes at OCC

What’s up, people, this week is a little light on the events, but don’t let that stop you from attending the Career Fair on Wednesday or the #FreeIfYouCanFindIt on Tuesday. It’s only a few more weeks until Spring Break, so let’s study hard and prepare for midterms!

Remember, February’s Maker Challenge involves the use of toilet paper rolls and tape. Bring your creation to the Makerspace during open hours or share a photo on Twitter or Instagram via #OCCmakers. Hurry, you only have until the 28th to enter the drawing for an iTunes or Google Play gift card!

Also, February is VHS recycling month. Drop off your old, unwanted VHS tapes in the labeled box in Coulter Hall Lobby. Do your part for the environment!

Monday, February 25th, 2019

2:00 PM, Coulter Hall, Crush the Career Fair

  • Crush the Career Fair is a “drop by” style event to get students prepared for the February 27th Career Fair here at OCC.

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

10:00 AM – 2:00 PM, OCC Main Campus, #FreeIfYouCanFindMe

  • Check Instagram for a clue to finding free food or other gifts somewhere on campus!

Wednesday, February 27th, 2019

10:30 AM – 12:30 PM, SRC Arena, Career Fair

  • OCC students and alumni can meet local employers and community organizations regarding available internships, volunteer opportunities, full-time and part-time jobs. Attendees can also receive a professional headshot.

11:00 AM – 1:00 PM, Coulter Hall Lobby, Patient Port Pillow Making Event

  • The Office of Student Leadership and Engagement invites you to come down and help them sew little pillows to help cushion a patient’s port when they ride in a car, as the seat belt can be an irritant.

11:15 AM – 12:15 PM, Mawhinney M245, Student Panel Discussion: Building Bridges

  • Student driven discussion on the history of music through the lens of African American women leading the way to positive change. Light refreshments will be served. Door prizes available.

Hispanic Leadership Institute Fellow

Onondaga Community College Professor Denise Valdes is a member of a very exclusive group. She is one of just 14 people statewide selected for SUNY’s Hispanic Leadership Institute. The goal is to develop and support the next generation of Executive-level Hispanic/LatinX leaders across the SUNY system. “It’s such an honor to be chosen. I think the work we are doing paves the way for progress,” she said.

Valdes was nominated for the Hispanic Leadership Institute by OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill and Provost Dr. Daria Willis. The six-month program began in January with a retreat. Two more are scheduled for April and June. In between, Fellows communicate regularly through online meetings. Each Fellow is working on a project which he or she will present in June. Valdes’ topic is “Latina Leadership in the SUNY System.”

Valdes brings her bubbly personality and passion to work every day on the OCC campus. She teaches English, coordinates the English as Second Language (ESL) program, participates in Faculty Senate and is regularly selected to be on search committees. “I love OCC, I love working here, I love the students, I love my colleagues. This (English) is the best department ever!”

Her path to college professor started later in life. Valdes is a first generation college graduate who began working toward her first degree when she was 36 years old. She was raising her children, working full-time and taking classes full-time. “It was hard. I had a binder I kept with me with my kids pictures inside. Whenever I thought I wasn’t going to make it I looked at their pictures and said ‘I’m going to do it. I have to do it for them. I have to provide them with an example.’” Her self-motivation worked. Valdes earned a bachelor’s degree from Utica College and a master’s degree from Syracuse University. Her daughters learned from her example as well. All three of them went on to earn college degrees.

Valdes has a message for anyone who is in the situation she was once in. No matter your circumstances, you can do it. “I think it’s important for women of color to understand you can go back to school. You don’t have to be young. I went back to school at 36. All of my accomplishments happened after the age of 36. It was tough but it can be done. If you have a good support system of people who are willing to help you and professors who are willing to help you, you can do it.”

Julien Farges, ’13

Julien Farges, ’13 Fire Protection Technology degree has taken him around the world. His travels include a year spent working in Antarctica.

Where in the world is Julien Farges, ’13? He could be just about anywhere. Since earning his Fire Protection Technology degree at OCC he’s worked in several far away places including Antarctica and Hawaii. He’s living the advice he loves to share. “Don’t be afraid to travel to where you don’t know anybody. There’s no better way to grow and mature.”

Farges came to OCC from The Summit School in Queens where he received his diploma in 2011. His desire to help people in their time of need brought him to Central New York. “I choose OCC because it has one of the most reputable fire protection programs in the state. It’s reputable because of the department chair, Doug Whittaker (amongst other experienced instructors) and because of the bunk-in program offered by the extremely busy and progressive area fire departments.”

The bunk-in program is a win-win-win for area fire departments and students. It allows residents to receive enhanced fire protection, saves student’s a significant amount of money in housing costs and provides them the opportunity to work side-by-side with professionals while receiving valuable hands-on training 24 hours a day.

While enrolled at OCC, Farges was in the first class of bunk-in students at the Solvay Fire Department where firefighter Paul Veri helped start the program. “I learned so much from Paul and other firefighters there. We were held to a very high standard. Working with the Solvay Fire Department presented me with a wide range of experiences. In the fire service the hands on experience is just as important as classroom education, so the bunk-in program was extremely valuable.”

After earning his degree in 2013 Farges enrolled at Empire State College where he would earn a bachelor’s degree in Emergency Management. While taking classes online he worked for Rural Metro Medical Services in Syracuse for a year. Then his travels began:

  • Farges (right) and a co-worker set up a fence at Burning Man in Nevada.

    Farges spent a year with the Ocean City, Maryland Fire Department.

  • He worked as a firefighter at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia where he learned how to fight a rocket fire. “The things we had to deal with were unique. Being part of the science community was very interesting.”
  • His next stop was McMurdo Station in Antarctica where he spent about 12 months on ice. “It was a science base with dorms and a cafeteria and creative, interesting people… like a community college. I liked it the best. It’s the one place where I felt like I was at home. There’s a strong community and everyone is open-minded and well-traveled. I fell in love with the community.”
  • Farges went from Antarctica to Nevada where he spent approximately 3 months working as a medic at the Burning Man event.
  • His next stop was Honolulu, Hawaii where he served as a dispatcher for the 9-1-1 system.

Farges is now back on the mainland and driving across the country to New Orleans where he has a job lined up as an industrial firefighter. Once he settles in, he plans to continue his education by taking nursing courses.  “I’m so lucky. I’m just really having a good time experiencing so many places.”

This May it will be six years since he earned his Fire Protection technology degree at OCC but the lessons learned and the experiences he had while a student here continue to guide him. “I’m extremely grateful for my education at OCC. My classes helped me to start to think about the big picture of fire service (management) in addition to day-to-day tactical firefighter operations. It’s important when you’re starting out as a firefighter having the right people influence you. Being at OCC and doing the bunk-in program was the right type of surroundings for me.”

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Begin Your Career With Paid Training At Bristol-Myers Squibb

Bristol-Myers Squibb and Onondaga Community College are teaming up for paid training for 10 Bioprocess Associate positions.

Pharmaceutical manufacturer Bristol Myers-Squibb has openings for 10 Bioprocess Associates and will pay people while training for the positions. No prior experience is necessary.

During the 10-week training program Bristol-Myers Squibb will pay $18 an hour. Each student who successfully completes the program is guaranteed a job starting at $21 an hour. Bristol-Myers Squibb is looking for people interested in long-term career opportunities with the company. Bristol-Myers Squibb is located in East Syracuse at the corner of Thompson Road and Burnet Avenue.

As a Bioprocess Associate trainee, you will learn how to:

  • Collect and analyze materials used in production of medications.
  • Track the production process of pharmaceuticals.
  • Work in a clean-room environment.
  • Maintain equipment.
  • Keep accurate and clear records of the process.

An information session about the program will be held at Onondaga Community College Tuesday, February 26 from 6-9 p.m. More details and the opportunity to sign up for the information session are available at this website. Those who sign up for the session will be emailed information about where on campus the event will be held. Attendance at this session is mandatory to be considered. Prospective students can also contact OCC at (315) 498-2221 or

This Accelerated Career Training program is being coordinated by Onondaga Community College’s Office of Economic & Workforce Development.

The Top Ways to Impress Your Future Employer

When it comes to getting a job, making a good first impression is everything. It’s a little scary to think about, but moving forward depends on how you conduct yourself in around 10-15 minutes or less. Here are our top pieces of advice for making a good first impression with employers.

Turn off the Technology

Remove your earbuds. Turn off or silence your cell phone. The only thing that matters when you’re speaking to a potential employer is the conversation.

Come Dressed for Success 

Make sure to wear professional clothing when you meet a future employer for the first time. Don’t have business attire? Check out the Suited for Success Clothing Closet!

Shake Hands Firmly 

It’s important to shake hands with a potential employer firmly. Practice your handshake with a Career Advisor!

Avoid Slang 

Steer clear of using slang words while you’re speaking with a potential employer! Never acceptable is using swear words or foul language.


When you go to firmly shake someone’s hand, smile. It shows that you’re interested and you’ll bring an upbeat attitude to the position.

Follow these five rules, and you’ll be sure to make a good impression on your employer. Join us on Wednesday, February 27th from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. for the OCC Career Fair to meet 100+ employers looking to hire OCC students. 

Michaela Grainger

Michaela Grainger in the Coulter Library.

  • Major: Humanities & Social Sciences with an Honors minor
  • Home schooled, from Fayetteville

There’s a pretty good chance a Grainger will be attending Onondaga Community College for the next couple of decades. Michaela Grainger is the oldest of nine children. In May she’ll earn her degree in Humanities & Social Sciences. In the fall her brother will follow in her footsteps and enroll at OCC. “My mother went to school here. She graduated, then went to Syracuse University. She told me she saved a lot of money and I would enjoy it. So far I’ve had a great time!”

When Grainger arrived at OCC she had no intention of getting involved in any clubs or organizations. Now she can’t get enough of them. As an officer in the college’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa she has made visits to the Camillus Senior Center and McKinley-Brighton Elementary School where she has advised two very different audiences about technology and social media. She has also served as president of Brothers and Sisters for Christ.

Getting involved made Grainger’s transition from homeschooled to being on a college campus that much easier. “I’m naturally extroverted and love being around people. Because I’m used to a family setting, I love the closeness of the Honors group. We’re a close-knit family.”

Grainger is also a self-described history nerd. She recalls when she was younger how she would read about previous societies such as the Merovingian dynasty of France and make a family tree which would cover a large poster board. “I like learning about past experiences of people and different government structures. I think it’s important to care about history because if you have a good understanding of it you can recognize patterns and apply it to policy now. If we forget our history we are doomed to repeat it.”

History is Grainger’s future. She plans to pursue her bachelor’s in history in the fall. Her goal is to earn a Ph.D. and become a history professor.