OCC’s learning center in the northern part of Onondaga County has a new name and a new look! The “North Site” has been rebranded “OCC @ Liverpool.” The facility at Seneca Mall on Route 57 has received a total makeover including a renovated student lounge, murals detailing student success stories, window decals and interior paint. A slideshow of OCC @ Liverpool can be viewed below.

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New Faculty

Back row (left to right): Fantasia Thorne-Ortiz, Library; Pete Patnode, Criminal Justice; Todd Gravius, Mechanical Technology. Front row (left to right): Linda Fagan, Chemistry; Penelope Klein, Library; Giusi Russo, Social Sciences – History; David Green, Architectural Technology.

Onondaga welcomed seven new faculty members for the 2014-2015 academic year.

Follow the Lazers!

Onondaga Athletic Director Mike Borsz poses with the Lazers new mascot "Blaze".
Onondaga Athletic Director Mike Borsz and the Lazers new mascot “Blaze.”

Onondaga Lazers athletics teams have a new mascot! “Blaze” has quickly become a fixture at Lazers sporting events, cheering teams on to victory and entertaining fans.

There’s a new way to stay up to date on your favorite Lazers sports teams. Onondagalazers.com is dedicated to all things Lazers Athletics. You can find schedules and rosters for each of the College’s 15 athletics teams, photos and information about the outstanding athletic facilities, and a complete listing of summer sports camps.

STEM Scholars

Elizabeth Luke (left) and Kirstin Amisano (right) are two of Onondaga's initial STEM Scholars.
Elizabeth Luke (left) and Kirstin Amisano (right) are two of Onondaga’s initial STEM Scholars.

OCC’s highly successful STEM Scholars program is continuing into the future. A recent grant totaling nearly $600,000 from the National Science Foundation ensures students in specific programs will have both merit and need-based funding into the foreseeable future. Acceptance into the program is both merit-based and need-based. Selected STEM scholars receive scholarships up to $5,000 per semester, and are also supported by peer mentors, faculty mentors, and are encouraged to engage in internship opportunities that will prepare them for their transfer and career choices.

The STEM scholars program is an entry point for students interested in pursuing a career within a growing industry. New York State ranks 3rd in the nation for projected growth in STEM jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 477,000 STEM-related jobs will be available in New York by 2018.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math. Onondaga offers nine different STEM degree programs:

  • Computer Forensic Science
  • Computer Information Systems
  • Computer Science
  • Electrical Engineering Technology
  • Engineering Science
  • Environmental Technology
  • Math and Science Liberal Arts
  • Mechanical Technology
  • Nuclear Technology

Students selected to be STEM Scholars at OCC receive a scholarship renewable each semester provided they maintain a minimum 3.0 grade point average and continue full-time progress toward their associate degree.

Associate Professor of Biology Maryann Page oversees the STEM Scholars program. “We’re thrilled the program will be continuing and growing into the future,” said Page. “Our incoming students will be mentored by returning students in the program. We will meet with incoming scholars on a weekly basis to keep in touch with them and monitor their progress. This type of guidance will be invaluable.”

During the spring 2014 semester 16 students were part of OCC’s first class of STEM Scholars. One of them was Elizabeth Luke who came to the College from East Syracuse Minoa High School. Luke is pursuing a Mathematics and Science degree. After graduating in May 2015 she’s planning to take advantage of the College’s “2+2 partnership agreement” with SUNY Upstate Medical University and enroll in its medical biotechnology program.

Kirstin Amisano is also one of the College’s initial 16 STEM Scholars. She’s a 2013 graduate of Baldwinsville High School whose love for science began in 6th grade when she participated in a career research project. After graduating in May 2015 she also plans to take advantage of the College’s “2+2 partnership agreement” with St. John Fisher College. “My grandfather went to school there, and it’s always been where I wanted to go,” said Amisano.

It was a busy summer for Onondaga students with STEM majors. Luke worked on a bacteria research project at Syracuse University thanks to a research scholarship she earned. Her project will have her engaged in cutting-edge biotechnology research throughout the upcoming academic year as well. Three STEM Scholars in the Nuclear Technology degree program learned important on-the-job training through internships at Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station (Daniel Loveless and Eric Schreiber) and at National Grid (Jason Densmore).

“It’s so wonderful for our students to engage these opportunities during the summer,” said Page. “When our students graduate we want them to be armed with both knowledge learned in our classroom and valuable on-the-job training experience.”

Representing the Students

Deynaba Farah, Student Trustee
Deynaba Farah, Student Trustee

Deynaba Farah is the Student Representative on OCC’s Board of Trustees for the 2014-15 academic year. “I am honored to be selected as the voice of the students and promise each of them they will be heard.”

Farah is a native of Danlahel, Somalia. She moved to Syracuse in 2006 and graduated from Nottingham High School before coming to Onondaga.

Farah is a Human Services major who is on track to graduate in May 2015. Her career goal is to work with children and help them understand the benefits of getting an education.

2014 Celebration of Success

2014 Alumni Faces honorees (left to right): Andy Italiano, '85, Gabriel Bol Deng, '04, Stella Barbuto Penizotto, '90 and Cody Jamieson, '08.
2014 Alumni Faces honorees (left to right): Andy Italiano, ’85, Gabriel Bol Deng, ’04, Stella Barbuto Penizotto, ’90 and Cody Jamieson, ’08.

Onondaga Community College’s annual “Celebration of Success” was held Wednesday, October 1 in the SRC Arena and Events Center. The event honors extraordinary alumni and scholarship recipients. Four graduates were named “Alumni Faces” for their professional achievements and contributions to the College and the community:

Gabriel Bol Deng, ’04, Mathematics – Humanitarian

Deng was 10 years old when militiamen led a violent attack on his village of Ariang in South Sudan. He fled, not knowing the fate of his parents or siblings. After surviving a perilous journey to reach a refugee camp in Ethiopia, Gabriel received a life-changing opportunity when he, along with other “Lost Boys,” was resettled in the United States in 2001. After completing his associate degree from Onondaga and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Le Moyne College, Gabriel went back to Ariang and used his education to bring people hope. Gabriel founded HOPE for Ariang Foundation in 2007, building clean drinking wells and a school that provides education to over 600 children. Today, Gabriel shares his story and mission with schools and organizations around the world.


Andrew P. Italiano, ’85, Radio/Television – Sports Videographer

As soon as Italiano visited the Radio/Television department at Onondaga, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. Through hard work and determination, Andrew became a world-renowned sports videographer. He has spanned the globe covering everything from the rock band Metallica to the Olympic Games, Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments, and regular season and championship games for the NBA, NFL and MLB. Through it all, he credits the faculty in the Radio/Television department in giving him a start in the business and looks to provide similar help to others whenever possible.


Cody R. Jamieson, ’08, Recreational Leadership – Attack, Rochester Knighthawks (NLL)

Considered by many to be the best lacrosse player in the world, Jamieson led Onondaga to two national championships during his tenure at the College. During that time he was a two-time All-American. In 2007, Cody was the first and only lacrosse player to win the Dave Rowlands Award given to the Junior College Athlete of the Year. After graduating from Onondaga, Cody became a star player at Syracuse University before being drafted by the Rochester Knighthawks of the National Lacrosse League with the first overall selection in 2010. Cody has gone on to lead the Knighthawks to three world championships and was named championship game MVP in 2012 and 2013.


Stella Barbuto Penizotto, ’90, Human Services – Child Care Professional

Penizotto is the co-owner of “Shining Stars Daycare” with three state-of-the art child care centers in Onondaga County. Stella credits Onondaga for a solid foundation in education and the College’s Small Business Development Center for its guidance when she expanded her company. Today, she employs over 70 people and services 330 families. Stella frequently holds fundraisers to benefit several area non-profits while also assisting local students with employment opportunities. She was named “NYS Small Business Person of the Year” in 2010 and represented New York at a White House event where she met President Barack Obama.

During the celebration each recipient spoke at the podium. Newschannel 9, WSYR TV Managing Editor and News Anchor Dan Cummings emceed the event. The annual Celebration of Success is possible thanks to our generous donors and sponsors including:

Diamond Sponsor: M&T Bank

Gold Sponsors: MVP Health Care, Welch Allyn

Silver Sponsors: Bottar Leone, PLLC, Learn As You Grow Child Care Centers

Bronze Sponsors: Dunkin Donuts, INFICON, National Grid, Pioneer Companies, SRC, Inc., Stickley Audi & Co., Visual Technologies

Copper Sponsors: Appel Osborne Landscape Architecture, Cayuga Tree Service, Inc., Geddes Federal Savings and Loan Association, Hueber-Breuer Construction Co., Inc., Ironworkers Local 60, ONEGROUP Bailey & Haskell Insurance, Research and Marketing Strategies, Inc., Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 267 .

Exemplary Employees

Ten Onondaga Community College faculty and staff members were named winners of SUNY Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence. The system-level honors acknowledge and provide recognition for consistently superior professional achievement and encourage the ongoing pursuit of excellence.


“Faculty and staff who receive the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence have served their students, fellow faculty and staff, campuses, and communities with the utmost distinction,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. “It is a great honor to be able to recognize them. Congratulations to all of this year’s honorees.”

View  Onondaga’s SUNY Chancellor’s Awards past winners.

Guitar Hero

From his garage band to Lionel Richie’s band, Ben Mauro uses lessons learned at Onondaga and a tireless work ethic to climb to the top.
From his garage band to Lionel Richie’s band, Ben Mauro uses lessons learned at Onondaga and a tireless work ethic to climb to the top.

Music has always been part of former Onondaga student Ben Mauro’s life. In middle school he played French horn and was a member of All-County Band. At age 16 he started playing guitar wherever and whenever he could and never stopped. Today he’s at the top of his profession, a highly sought-after live guitar player who has performed in some of the world’s biggest arenas on-stage with industry giants.

During a break in his hectic touring schedule Mauro returned to the Onondaga campus in May. He visited the new Academic II building, home of the College’s signature Music program, and spent time with students, sharing his stories and answering their questions. “Anything’s possible,” Mauro told students. “Through persistence, hard work, and love of playing guitar, I was able to make a career out of being a musician. You can do it too.”

Mauro poses for a picture with his parents, Dolores (left) and John (right) after speaking with students at Onondaga.
Mauro and his parents, Dolores (left) and John (right) in Onondaga’s Academic II building.

Mauro grew up in Camillus, the son of two teachers. His mother Dolores was a professor in the Nursing department at Onondaga, and his father John taught in the Liverpool School District. While Mauro was a student at West Genesee High School he formed a garage band. “We’d play at my dad’s parties and high school variety shows,” Mauro said. Despite occasional noise complaints from neighbors, he kept rehearsing late into the night. “My parents were behind me with one condition. They said, ‘If you make it your career, you make it your job, you have our support.’”


Mauro calls Dr. Joe Jewell (above) one of the most important people in his development. Jewell taught classical guitar at Onondaga for nine years. He is now Associate Professor of Guitar and Commercial Music Studies at Fullerton College in California.
Mauro calls Dr. Joe Jewell (above) one of the most important people in his development. Jewell taught classical guitar at Onondaga for nine years. He is now Associate Professor of Guitar and Commercial Music Studies at Fullerton College in California.

Mauro came to Onondaga in 1987 and began building what would be the foundation for his career. “The training I got here really prepared me to do anything.” Mauro studied classical guitar under Professor Joe Jewell and discovered he loved it. “If you can master classical music you can play anything. You need proper technique to play it well.” Jewell turned out to be one of the most influential people in Mauro’s development. “He didn’t give compliments easily. When he told you you sounded good, you knew youreally sounded good. His compliments meant a lot.”

Mauro had a strong bond with fellow music students at Onondaga. “We all had the same dreams, passion, and desire to get better. It felt like home. We were part of a community. I remember all of us hanging out in the cafeteria after class with our guitars out. We were all inspired by each other. It was very memorable.”

If you were in a band in the Syracuse area, one of the top local places to play was Shifty’s Bar and Grill on Burnet Avenue. One night a week Shifty’s was reserved for open mic night. “If you had the courage to perform solo and perform well, it was a great opportunity,” Mauro said. Eventually he got up the nerve to play solo there, and it had a significant impact on him. “It was huge in my development. It’s where I learned how to perform alone, and I met someone there I wound up forming a bigger band with.”

Eventually Mauro left Syracuse and went out on his own, playing with whomever he could, whenever and wherever he could. His goal was to play every night, and at one point he was a member of 10 bands simultaneously. “I was always happy playing guitar, no matter how much I was struggling financially. I was happy to be able to support myself.” For more than a decade Mauro would make his living crisscrossing the country, his life an endless string of hotels and highways.

Everywhere Mauro goes he shoots video and interviews on his cell phone and uses them in a show he posts on YouTube called “Let’s Go.” Mauro put together an entire episode on his return to the Syracuse area. You can watch it here. It includes visits to Onondaga, West Genesee High School, Liverpool Elementary, the Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park, Gannon’s Isle Ice Cream, Heid’s, and the Dinosaur Restaurant.

Mauro often scoured classified ads, searching for bands in need of a guitarist. In 1999 one of those ads turned into an audition to play with music icon Lionel Richie. His illustrious career included more than 100 million albums sold worldwide, and he was one of only two songwriters in history to have number one records for nine consecutive years. Mauro’s audition was in the theater next to New York City’s Madison Square Garden. He played “Brickhouse,” a hit song by the Commodores. Richie belonged to the Commodores before going solo, and Mauro was familiar with “Brickhouse” having played several Commodores songs during his days in Syracuse.

The audition went well and Mauro was invited to come see that night’s show. When he arrived Mauro was surprised to be asked to play live on stage! When the concert was over Richie passed Mauro backstage and said to him, “See you on the next one.” Just like that Mauro was a member of the band, packing up and heading to Dubai for their next concert. “Lionel has a reputation for hiring great musicians. Getting hired by him was validation of my entire career.”

Fifteen years later Mauro is still touring with Richie. But as was the case in the 1990s when he was in as many as 10 different bands at the same time, Mauro needs a steady income, and that means working when Richie isn’t. In his “spare time” he’s toured with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Prince, Peter Frampton, Don Felder of the Eagles, John Fogerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, and the first American Idol tour featuring Kelly Clarkson. He’s also been able to showcase his talents on numerous network television shows including Saturday Night Live, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The View, and Good Morning America.

Mauro’s return to Central New York in May also included a return to Shifty’s where he held a release party for his second EP, “Take Your Time.” Despite the tens of thousands of miles he’s traveled and the countless bars, nightclubs, and arenas he’s played in, places like Shifty’s and Onondaga still feel like home. “Seeing the College now and what it’s grown into is amazing. It wasn’t anything like this when I was a student here.”

Mauro speaks with students in the instrument and choral rehearsal room in Academic II.
Mauro speaks with students in the instrument and choral rehearsal room in Academic II.

During his conversation with students, they were very attentive and hung on his every word. Greg Terrill, a guitar player who came to Onondaga from Cicero-North Syracuse High School, found himself inspired by Mauro’s message. “I learned to succeed you have to make it your life. He gave me a much clearer focus on what I need to do. He came through here and experienced success. There’s no reason I can’t do the same.”

Nuclear Energy Technology

Students enrolled in Onondaga’s Nuclear Energy Technology (NET) program received an extraordinary level of new financial and educational support.

In August 2014 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced it would fund scholarships benefiting students in the NET major. The program will provide 10 first-year students with scholarships totaling 50% of in-county tuition and fees, and 12 returning students with funding which covers 100% of in-county tuition and fees.

Students in the NET program will also benefit from the contributions of Exelon Corporation, the nation’s leading competitive energy provider. Their generous contribution of $250,000 has provided student scholarships and a state-of-the-art Lab-Volt Process Workstation which brings nuclear plant operations into the classroom giving students the opportunity for hands-on learning.

During the summer eight Onondaga NET students completed a nine-week-long internship at Exelon Generation’s Nine Mile Point Nuclear Station in Scriba. Students divided their time evenly among all three maintenance disciplines; instrument & controls, mechanical, and electrical and received hands-on experience working throughout the plant. Three more Onondaga NET students interned at Nucor Steel of Auburn which has similar operational processes to a nuclear facility.

Onondaga’s NET program started in the fall 2013 semester in response to a workforce demand. The nuclear energy industry estimates approximately half of its workforce will be eligible to retire in the next 10 years. Students who successfully complete the two-year degree program will be eligible for a job at a nuclear facility with a starting salary of more than $50,000. Onondaga is one of only 36 colleges in the nation that offer the NET degree.