When Darren Pikul graduated from high school in the Poughkeepsie area, he chose Onondaga Community College because he was recruited to play on the Men’s Tennis team. Little did he know the school would open up doors he never thought possible. “Other than tennis, I really didn’t have a plan in place other than practice and going to class. The offerings at OCC allowed me to get involved as much as I wanted so what I walked away with went well beyond anything I dreamed of.”
Pikul became a leader on campus. He was an officer in student government and an RA in the residence halls. These responsibilities and experiences allowed him to develop relationships with a wide variety of students, administrators and faculty. It gave him a greater understanding of higher education outside the classroom. “OCC President Dr. Crabill played an incredible part in my success. She genuinely cares for students and on numerous occasions would provide time for me to talk about what I wanted to do next and where would be the best fit. I now know how unique and special it is for a college president to do something like that.”
After earning his associate degree Pikul transferred to SUNY Oneonta where he repeated his same successful formula. He became involved in student government, was named to the search committee for Oneonta’s next president, and continued his collegiate tennis career. Pikul now attends Florida Atlantic University (FAU) where he owns a 4.0 grade point average and is working toward a Master’s in Higher Education Leadership. He serves as the Director of the Graduate & Professional Student Association at FAU while also interning at the Center for Higher Education Innovation in the Office of the President at the University of Central Florida.
Pikul credits his time at Onondaga with building the foundation he needed for his success. “OCC made me who I am today. Dr. Crabill, Coach LaRose and many others provided me with a great opportunity to succeed. Through those opportunities I found my passion in higher education.”
After graduating from FAU Pikul will begin his professional career in higher education while pursuing a doctorate. His focus will be policy and government. Pikul plans to bring fresh ideas and provide students with the same type of experience he had while giving them the freedom to learn, get exposed to new opportunities and identify their passions.
The only thing Dominic Tibbetts ever wanted to be was a sports broadcaster. A visit to Onondaga Community College’s Electronic Media Communications (EMC) program piqued his interest. “The faculty I spoke with really knew the business. Many still work in the industry so when I added their experience to the latest technology provided in the program I was immediately sold.”
While at OCC, Tibbetts was able to partner with a friend on a local radio show through the College’s web platform, “Supermix” and took advantage of sports internship opportunities through WSYR TV, NewsChannel 9 and CNY Central. The internships were invaluable because their sports anchors and reporters, Steve Infanti, Niko Tamurian and Matt Hauswirth were all very gracious with their time and interest in his development. Tamurian and Hauswirth were also OCC graduates and Tamurian was an adjunct instructor in the EMC major as well. “All the professors in the program were great. Niko willingly took time to develop my talents and went out of his way to harness my interest in sports to become the professional I am today.”
After OCC, Tibbetts attended Ithaca College where he continued his broadcast journalism studies and interned in Los Angeles for a semester. During his final semester he applied for jobs across the country. “I sent out 41 tapes to places I had never heard of and was fortunate enough to get a call from KXLF in Butte, Montana which ultimately led to be my current job.” Tibbetts has settled right in to his new home and has added his knowledge of other sports such as rodeos and skijoring to his resume, which have been fascinating opportunities for him.
While his goal is to work for a network, he appreciates where he is and is enjoying his journey in a field that he loves. “Working in the business is a dream come true and I cannot thank OCC and the faculty enough for molding me into the well-rounded person I am today – the choice to start there truly was a great decision for me and I will be forever grateful for what they did for me.”
During his senior year at Marcellus High School, Mark Wolicki took advantage of an exploratory program the school offered with Onondaga Community College that set him on a path to success. “My meeting with the high school guidance counselor took all of five minutes,” Wolicki said. “I told her I was going to go to OCC and then work in television at NewsChannel 9 (WSYR TV).” Upon his arrival, Wolicki began taking classes in Coulter Library where the old studio resided for the former Radio and Television program. The following year, Wolicki and his fellow students were the first class to try out a new studio and equipment as part of the new program to replace Radio and Television, called Electronic Media Communications.
The combination of state-of-the-art equipment and expert faculty guidance placed Wolicki on a course to receive the advanced training and experience he needed for the professional world. “From day one, (professor) Tony Vadala became my mentor and helped me not only learn the new equipment, but opened the door to opportunities that allowed me to get jobs outside of school.” He recalls his first paid job was working a camera his freshmen year at the OCC Commencement Ceremony.
True to his word, he started at Channel 9 shortly after graduation and worked part-time in production. He would find his true passion by taking advantage of the flexible time between evening newscasts to learn about another television component, graphic design. “I had no professional training in graphics, but would visit the station’s graphic artist who would show me how to work the software,” he said. “After she would leave, I would teach myself the elements to the point that when she went out on maternity leave a few months later, I was placed in her position until she came back.”
From there, Wolicki’s career began to fast track as he grew more comfortable with television graphics. His work soon caught the attention of the Athletic Department at Syracuse University where they contracted with him to create and produce all of the content for the Carrier Dome video boards for all home football, basketball and lacrosse games which still continues today.
In 2012 Wolicki decided to take a leap of faith and packed up and moved out to Los Angeles where he was able to settle and land his first job at Studio City, the production home for many daytime network talk shows. “For me, Studio City was an L.A. boot camp because I was able to come in, learn a lot, make some mistakes, but ultimately prove my worth.” At Studio City, Wolicki went to work on The Dr. Oz and The Ellen DeGeneres Shows, which garnered him and his promotional team two Prime Time Emmy Award Nominations for their work on the latter. From there, he began work on a new show, The FABLife starring Tyra Banks. The show was cancelled after one season in 2016. For the rest of the year, he had his work with SU to fall back on and tried to apply to at least five job openings a week. He scheduled a lot of coffee and lunch dates to network his way into another job.
Shortly thereafter he received an email out of the blue from a former employer, Studio City, asking if he had ever thought about writing. The next week he interviewed for his current position, Creative Director of Marketing for The Ellen DeGeneres Show. After some negotiation for the next season, Wolicki signed on in a permanent capacity with the show. During his tenure at Ellen, Wolicki and his team have been nominated for a total of four Daytime Emmy Awards including three in 2018 and one for this season. When they were shutout of last year’s awards Wolicki and his team went from the awards ceremony to a nearby TGI Friday’s while dressed in their tuxedos. They ate onion rings and drank beer which is exactly what they plan on doing after this year’s awards show on Sunday May 5. “The competition is very tough in our category, but just being nominated really is an honor and does open a few more doors. Win or lose, we’ll still end up at TGI Friday’s for beer and onion rings, but we hope to bring some hardware with us this year!”
Last year, West Genesee grad Tara Carr took part in a mentorship program offered through OCC’s Career Services Office as a way to find out more about her profession of choice, Interior Design. “I was encouraged to take part in the program by one of my professors who thought she had someone in mind that would serve as a good match,” said Carr. That someone was Kelly Kinahan ‘00, of Kinahan Associates LLC, who had done something like this before, but not with an OCC student, and wanted to share her knowledge and passion for the industry.
“I wanted to share my story to tell Tara that life is not always traditional, but if you surround yourself with people who look out for you that all will turn out okay,” said Kinahan. The mentor program turned out better than either expected as both of them forged a friendship that went beyond the end of the program in May. The two would have lunch from time to time and stay in touch over the summer and when Carr started her sophomore year she wanted to line up an internship during her fourth semester.
She looked no further than her mentor in order to get the industry experience she was looking for. “It seemed like a perfect fit, and when I asked Kelly about the opportunity of an internship with her company, she was more than happy to complete the paperwork and work on a schedule that would be compatible with my classes.” Thus far, Carr has found the experience beneficial on several fronts most notably, in that she is interested in starting her own business at some point and is also adapting what she learns in the classroom to the business world.
The opportunity has also been equally beneficial for Kinahan as well. “Seeing Tara grow and be able to trust her with direct client contact has been a great help in freeing me up for business development.” Carr has taken this experience and expanded her portfolio and confidence and is excited for what is next. She will attend Cazenovia College in the fall and with some potential new business for Kinahan may be able to evolve her internship into paid work while obtaining her bachelor’s degree. “It’s been a great experience and I cannot thank Kelly enough for all of her advice, time and confidence in my skills to allow me to take the next step towards my dream.”
James Dowd had a passion for marketing, but the sophomore Business Administration major wasn’t sure what aspect of it he wanted to pursue for a career. That changed one day while he was working at the Career Services Office in Coulter Hall. Dowd saw a posting for an internship at the College’s START-UP NY company partner, Anything But Beer which makes carbonated alcoholic beverages using fruits and vegetables instead of hops and barley. The company is owned and operated by OCC Alumni Logan Bonney and Brittany Berry.
Dowd applied, interviewed and was brought in for the spring semester. “It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made,” Dowd said. “Working with Anything But Beer showed me the ins and outs of how to run a company and how that translates to what I want to do.” Berry, the companies Chief Marketing Officer says the fact the business is a START-UP provides a great opportunity for students like Dowd. “James’ internship is slightly different than working for a larger firm because our needs are greater. Everyone must contribute everywhere, so we customized his work exposure to maximize his experience in order to help him find his passion and prepare him for what he wants to do next.”
Dowd couldn’t agree more with the assessment. The internship has provided him with a better understanding of which parts of the marketing field excite him the most. His duties have included event preparation, data analysis and organizational detail. Soon he will be exposed to promotional work that complements his event planning and be able to setup and help operate some upcoming events as well. Moreover, by the time he completes his internship he will have provided the company with an invaluable product report detailing what their consumers and business partners believe the company is doing well and where they need to improve.
The partnership between Anything But Beer and OCC provides the company with a steady pipeline of qualified students looking to gain experience outside the classroom and has been a welcome perk for them. “Working with Career Services has been great because we are able to pick from a group of great students, so when we fill a position, we know the person coming in is going to work hard and take advantage of this opportunity,” Berry said. The company is a Veteran Owned Business and recently took part in the annual Career Fair at OCC and was particularly excited to see the amount of interest, especially from the Colleges’ veteran community.
Quality interns are more important than ever to this growing company who is experiencing dramatic year-to-year growth in sales. Anything But Beer can now be found in 75 locations over a 10-county area across New York State. This drastic change in demand has also shifted their work from made-to-order to maintaining 25 barrels of product which is ready to go at all times. Bonney and Berry have also brought on two full-time employees and are excited to see where the rest of 2019 takes them.
Students interested in employment, internships and volunteering opportunities can learn more by contacting Career Services at (315) 498-2585 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The office is located in Coulter Hall in room C110.
Onondaga Community College hosted it’s fifth annual Women’s Basketball Alumni Game on Saturday, February 9, at the Allyn Hall Gym. Close to 30 former players came back to lace ‘em up. The game always provides both friendly competition and a chance to catch up with old teammates.
One of the former players who returned to campus was Jill Wager, a 2016 grad, who is in her final semester at SUNY Cortland preparing to pursue a career in Occupational Therapy. This was her second OCC alumni game. “I talk to other players everyday through a group chat that we set up. We enjoy sharing memories about our time together here.”
While Wager has taken advantage of her proximity to the OCC campus it took another player 14 years to return. Chelsie Park is a native of Hawaii who came to New York more than a decade ago and lived with her aunt while she attended OCC in 2004 and 2005. Park majored in Humanities and is now a construction inspector in Hawaii. She couldn’t wait to return to Central New York. “Coach Wheeler, my teammates and the entire OCC family really had a great impact on me, and I learned so much as player and person during my time here that I couldn’t wait to come back – the fact that it’s snowing makes this trip complete.” Park coaches high school girls basketball. Much of what she learned as a Lazer is incorporated into her daily teachings on the basketball court.
These types of stories are what OCC Women’s Basketball Coach Mike Wheeler enjoys most when his former players return.“Seeing them come back and finishing up another degree or starting work or a family really means a lot to me. We preach ‘family’ here and knowing they are still in touch with one another or involved in the game from a coaching level makes me feel special that I was a small part of that success.”
If you are a grad and would like to get involved with student career engagement opportunities at the College you can contact Russ Corbin, Assistant Director of Alumni Communications, at email@example.com
Ousmane Conde grew up in a family of wood crafters in one of the poorest countries in the world, Guinea in West Africa. At a young age his mother recognized his unique math and science skills. She sent him to France where he would live with a foster family and attend an engineering school. He graduated from high school in 2006, went to college and earned a degree in technology. He created a startup, CRM software for small businesses which took him to Philadelphia for a brief period. While in the United States he met with people within his network and wound up in Central New York. “I wanted to gain education in computer science to complement my technical education I received in France to benefit my growing business plan and OCC provided me with best outlet to do that.”
Once at Onondaga Community College Conde enjoyed the small class sizes and family environment. “Everyone was very welcoming. There is a strong refugee population there so it was easy for me to make friends and have fun while also expanding my education in the process.” Conde found the computer science courses provided him with a great foundation and understanding that he would carry on throughout his professional career. While at OCC, he also applied for a Google Scholarship in order to stay in America where he could obtain advanced degrees.
He graduated from OCC in 2010 and moved back to France to continue working there, but shortly thereafter he received word that he had been accepted into the Google Scholarship program. He returned to the U.S., attended Florida Memorial University, graduated Summa Cum Laude, and landed a leadership development job at Boeing where he worked for five years. During his time there he enrolled in the Master’s program at Purdue University. However, he would suspend his education and leave Boeing in order to start his own business called Xoomdat, LLC. The company is an enterprise search and financial tech platform that works in real time, so companies and individuals can make decisions in real time instead of the customary 3-4 day delay of other software search engines. Since starting as an LLC, the company has been incorporated, has 10 employees, and has been named one of the top 20 tech companies to look out for in the nation. Currently, his company builds tools for business organizations to monitor in real-time, risk related information on social media sites. His company also builds payment solutions for commercial clients, allowing them to securely accept credit card payments via mobile devices, online and via web API.
“It’s hard to believe, I visited my family in Guinea a couple months ago, and it was there that I realized and fully grasped how fortunate I was to come from one of the poorest countries in the world to be where I am today,” Conde said. He’s grateful for the foundation he built at OCC. “The computer science professors there stressed to keep your code dry (don’t repeat yourself), simple yet strong and sustainable, and these elements are part of the foundation of my company and in our daily operations.” Conde is excited for what the future brings and has incorporated educational opportunities through his company as a way to give back and pave the way for the next great idea for students who may not have the necessary access to develop their ideas.
Dr. Kristin Bacchiocchi-Stewart attended Monroe-Woodbury High School in Orange County, New York and her passion for the flute originated at a young age. Her Mom had played it extensively and handed down her instrument when her daughter entered the 4th grade. She has never looked back. “I loved playing because it was something my mom and I shared and my talent allowed me to gain confidence to branch out into other interests.” Stewart would go on to participate in dance and cross country/track while always keeping up with her flute related activities and performances. When she began looking at colleges her first love was dance. A serious leg injury sustained in a car accident the summer of her junior year ended the dream of dancing.
Music became her Plan B. Despite being accepted to several four-year schools based on her talent her grades were not good enough. Her guidance counselor told her she would never attend college, let alone graduate. By this time she was well into her senior year and thought she was out of options. Her choral teacher, Ron Johnson, told her about his alma mater, Onondaga Community College and its signature Music program. Stewart quickly researched OCC and her mother set up an interview and audition with Flute Instructor, Selma Moore. “I fell in love with the campus right away and Selma accepted me on the spot. I realized then that my dreams of furthering my interest in music were no longer just out of my grasp, but very much a reality.” Stewart would immerse herself in the fraternity of fellow music students and in the College as she began to excel academically while becoming one of the premiere student performers. She would go on to serve as a tutor as well, which would unknowingly lay the groundwork for her love of instruction.
After graduating from OCC Stewart had her pick of four-year institutions. She chose to attend Ithaca College, then moved onto the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music for her Master’s Degree before completing her Doctorate in Musical Arts Degree from The Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. “My time at OCC was tremendous and had such an impact on me that when I found out my first teaching job would be at Schenectady Community College it reminded me of the influential, nurturing experience I had as a student. To walk on that campus as an instructor and be able to give back and contribute to the SUNY System was very special to me.”
Today, Stewart is the principal flute for the New Jersey Wind Symphony and is a member of the Lyra Ensemble. She is also the Founder and Director of The Flute Academy where she continues her love of teaching, performing and mentoring aspiring flute players ranging in the age and talents from 7 years old to 70! “Teaching means the world to me. I come alive and often think back to my time at OCC and implement the same compassion and love for music that I was shown while attending classes there.” Stewart lives in New Jersey with her family where her young children have shown interest in music; her son with percussion and guitar and her daughter with the flute!
Nor Rizek grew up in Onondaga Hill and attended Westhill High School until her junior year. Rather than enjoy summer in Central New York she packed up and moved to the West Bank in Palestine to live with family for the next two years. While there, she finished her high school degree and worked as an English teaching assistant at an all-girl’s secondary school.
Rizek returned to the area in 2011, took a phlebotomy course and became a certified technician. She enrolled at Onondaga Community College in the spring of 2012. “I knew I wanted to be a doctor, but didn’t know how to go about it, so OCC was very familiar and I knew I could get my start there while keeping cost to a minimum until I found my path.” During her time at the College she volunteered at a local fire department. She arranged her school schedule around rush hours at the family restaurant to make sure she would be there to assist her father. Whenever her community needed her, she would hurry to the firehouse, get her gear on and hop on a fire truck. Today she continues to serve the community as a volunteer at the Howlett Hill Fire Department.
Things took a turn in 2014, when Rizeks’ mother passed away during the second semester of her sophomore year. The grief was too much to bear and she left school. “It was a tough decision but at the time I needed to step back in order to eventually move forward.” Rizek moved to Hawaii and finished her associate degree. She kept the dream alive of becoming a doctor by enrolling at Harvard University where she is currently pursuing a degree in biology, psychology and legal studies.
Rizek plans to take the Medical College Admission Test next August and anticipates graduating in 2020 after she finishes her research study. Medical schools on her short list include Tulane, Louisiana State University and SUNY Upstate Medical University. Despite the rigors of traveling back and forth from Syracuse to Cambridge to take classes, her determination is unwavering largely because of the lessons she learned at OCC. “I was and remain inspired by all of the students there who are usually working, raising a family or overcome their own difficult situation all while taking classes in order to create a better life for themselves.”
This type of perseverance and faith is something she reinforces with her siblings, especially her brother, Jamel, who is a second year student at OCC. “I tell him every day that he is in a good place and if he ever needs help there is more courage in asking for it than waiting for things to get worse. OCC provides you with the confidence and foundation to advance yourself to accomplish whatever it is you set out to do.”
Onondaga Community College annually recognizes distinguished graduates by naming them “Alumni Faces” for their accomplishments and contributions to the community. The 2018 class will be honored during a ceremony tonight at 5:30 p.m. in the Recital Hall which is located in the Academic II building. Two of the graduates we will honor tonight are Jeremy and Jerome Thompson.
For many lacrosse enthusiasts the name Thompson resonates much like the name Manning does in the National Football League. Despite the fame and name recognition that comes with being part of the first family of lacrosse, both Jeremy and Jerome take each day in stride. They grew up in longhouses and like most Native American children were provided a lacrosse stick while still in their crib due to the significance of the sport in their culture. This instrument of play would be something both would cherish and would provide them endless opportunities and responsibilities.
Up until the 5th grade the brothers went to school on the Onondaga Reservation before joining the Lafayette School District. Both remember the early days of transition very well. “For us, it was like living in two different worlds even though we were close in proximity, our culture, language and learning style could not be further apart,” Jeremy said. As a result of this divide, both brothers had to overcome a feeling of isolation, despite Lafayette’s best efforts. “The School was very welcoming, but since we did not speak English I could only talk with Jeremy and one other teacher who we ate lunch with everyday, so the ability not to communicate was tough,” Jerome added.
After some time, the brothers were able to make the necessary advancements to overcome the language barrier and started to forge friendships. By the time they started junior high and could play lacrosse for the team, their transition into the school became much smoother as the bond with their classmates became stronger. Once area colleges caught wind of the what was happening at Lafayette it did not take long for the letters and applications to start rolling in. “We always had our eye on Syracuse University as we grew up going to their lacrosse games, but the opportunity to attend college, let alone a Division-I school didn’t really become a reality until all of that mail started to come in,” Jeremy said.
They would go on to win two state championships at Lafayette, but due to their academic standing needed to hone their skills in the classroom a bit more before making the jump to Division-I. Enter, Coach Chuck Wilbur of the OCC Men’s Lacrosse Program. “Coach Wilbur was all about building relationships and stayed very close to us through our years in high school, so he was somebody we could trust and put us on a path where we could further our goals,” Jerome said. The slogan of the OCC Men’s Lacrosse program is “Family” and that is what they became to the Thompson Brother’s. “Coach Wilbur taught us the value of the classroom and if we work on that everything else would take care of itself. That along with being close to the Reservation and the small classes turned out to be exactly what we needed.”
The Thompson’s would go on to lead OCC to two straight National Junior College National Championships and both earned All-American honors in the process. Following their time at OCC, Jeremy would go on to star at Syracuse University while garnering two more All-American honors while playing for the Orange. Soon after the National Lacrosse League would come calling for both where they would each bring their customary wide-open style of play to the professional level. Both would go on to star for different teams and capture a total of five championships between them. In addition, both continued to play critical roles for the Iroquois National Lacrosse Team during the World Lacrosse Championships, with the team recently earning a Bronze Medal in Israel this past summer.
In light of their success, the Thompson Brothers would go on to become the faces of Nike Lacrosse and serve as ambassadors of the companies N7 Fund Program, where resources and lacrosse supplies are allocated to impoverished areas, mainly in populations where there is a large Native American population. Being part of this program, hosting free lacrosse clinics and giving talks to Native American youth is something that is very important and allows them to give back as an appreciation to everyone who took the time to help them on their journey. “We are grateful to the creator, God, everyone at Lafayette, OCC and all of the support we received in getting to where we are today. To receive this honor is a tribute to all of the work they put into our success and we are very excited to return the favor as often as we can.”
When you support Onondaga Community College, you are making a statement that you believe in the importance of quality affordable education for everyone. You are creating new opportunities and new beginnings for students and our greater community.