From OCC To The Bench

Michelle Morley earned a degree from OCC in 1984. Today she’s a Circuit Court Judge in central Florida.

Michelle Morley remembers a time when she didn’t fully appreciate what higher education could do for her. She had graduated from the Academy of Mt. St. Ursula in the Bronx in 1975. That fall she went to college to study accounting. She quit after one semester and entered the working world. “I thought I didn’t need a college degree and could make it by just working harder. When I matured and realized my mistake, OCC helped me get back on track.”

By the time Morley came to Onondaga Community College she had dug a hole for herself. She had bills to pay and needed to continue working full time while taking classes. The College understood her situation and adjusted accordingly. “OCC enabled me to take the classes I needed on a schedule that accommodated my employment obligations. I was also able to work part time in the Registrar’s Office during busy times of the year on a schedule that complimented my full time job.”

Despite the many obstacles she faced, Morley was able to earn her Business Management degree in 1984, less than two years after she had started taking classes. She would go on to earn a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tampa and her law degree from Stetson University. Today she is a Circuit Court Judge in the Fifth Judicial Court headquartered in Bushnell, Florida, about an hour west of Orlando. Thirty-five years after receiving her degree at Onondaga she hasn’t forgotten how the College was there for her. “I remain grateful to OCC, the faculty, and staff that helped me so willingly and so effectively when I needed it most.”

Common Read Author Coming To Campus

Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat is coming to Onondaga Community College. Her novel Breath, Eyes, Memory is this year’s common read on campus. The book was published when she was 25 years old and was featured on Oprah’s Book Club.

Danticat will host a discussion with students Monday, September 9 at 11:15 a.m. in Storer Auditorium. The event is open to the entire campus community and the public. Immediately afterwards Danticat will sign copies of Breath, Eyes, Memory in the lobby outside Storer Auditorium.

Danticat has published numerous books include Claire of the Sea Light, a New York Times notable book; Brother, I’m Dying, a National Book Critics Circle Award winner and National Book Award finalist; Krik? Krak!, a National Book Award finalist; The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner; and The Dew Breaker, a PEN/Faulkner Award finalist and winner of the inaugural Story Prize. The recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, she has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and elsewhere.

Social Jobs For Students

The new academic year comes with new job opportunities for students. If you are someone who likes to help others you may be perfect for a Student Ambassador position. They represent the college in a variety of ways including:

  • Giving campus tours to prospective students and their families.
  • Giving campus tours to high-level visitors, such as the SUNY Chancellor.
  • Participating in student panels for various events including orientation and OCC Advantage outreach to area high schools.

Student Ambassador is not a work-study position. Rate of pay is $11.10 an hour.

Anyone interested should contact the Office of Student Recruitment at, or (315) 498-2221.

Director of Student Recruitment Dana Acee (left) and Digital Marketing Specialist Zach Snyder (right) are looking for students to work for them. They are pictured on the OCC campus with the statue “Herculium” in front of the Whitney Applied Technology Center.

If you love social media there are some exciting opportunities. The Department of Marketing & New Media is looking for Social Media Reporters and Social Media Ambassadors. A Social Media Reporter helps create content for OCC social media channels, runs the official OnondagaCC Snapchat account, helps with social media contests and provides feedback on strategic marketing. Social Media Reporters often have the opportunity to get involved in other interesting projects as well. If you enjoy social media and are comfortable speaking with fellow students this could be for you! Average time commitment is 5 to 8 hours a week. The rate of pay is $11.10 an hour. This is for work-study students. If you are not a work-study student, the Social Media Ambassador position may be exactly what you’re looking for. Students will receive rewards for posting about OCC to their personal social media accounts. The rate of pay is $11.10 an hour.

Students can apply for either of the social media opportunities on Purple Briefcase, by visiting, or by emailing Digital Marketing Specialist Zach Snyder at

These exciting job opportunities are the subject of our podcast, “Higher Ed News You Can Use From Onondaga Community College.” You can listen to the podcast by clicking on this link. Enjoy the podcast!

OCC’s Career Services Office will host a Part-Time Job Fair for all students Thursday, August 29 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in the Gordon Student Center Great Room. Students will have the opportunity to apply for part-time positions both on and off campus. Students should dress professionally and bring a resume if they have one.

The Career Sevices Office provides students with a variety of employment related services year round including resume and cover letter review, job searching and interview preparation, career exploration, job shadowing and internship opportunities. Students interested in attending the Part-Time Job Fair can access a list of participating employers through Purple Briefcase, OCC’s online career portal and job board. Employment opportunities are regularly posted on Purple Briefcase throughout the year as well.

The Career Services Offices is located in Coulter Hall, room C110. If you enter Coulter through the main entrance, the Career Center is on your immediate right. You can contact the Career Services office by email at or by phone at (315) 498-2585.

Dawn Penson

Dawn Penson is the Student Trustee for the 2019-20 academic year. She is pictured in the Office of Accessibility Resources in Coulter Hall.

Dawn Penson will represent the students on OCC’s Board of Trustees during the 2019-20 academic year. As the Student Trustee she will attend monthly meetings and participate in all votes. Penson is a 41-year-old mother of three with a perfect 4.0 grade point average in the Human Services major. She is also blind. “I have experience being on the board for Arise, the National Federation of the Blind Syracuse chapter and all of the other advocacies I am involved with. I will bring experience to the Board of Trustees while highlighting my own position as a grown woman with children who came back to school with a disability.”

Penson lost her sight in 2012 after being diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a rare genetic disorder that leads to a breakdown and loss of cells in the retina. “Before I lost my sight, I was very vain. It was all about me. The National Federation of the Blind and the New York State Commission for the Blind helped me to see there is life after blindness. Just because you’re blind or have a disability doesn’t mean you’re broken.”

Despite what she has lost, Penson doesn’t have any regrets. In fact, she feels fortunate. “My youngest son says all the time, ‘mommy I wish you could see.’ I see perfect. I see better now that I don’t have my sight than when I could see. If there was a cure today, I would not take it because the world to me is beautiful. Now I see the character of someone. Before it was all of the superficial things. It took me a long time to be secure with myself. I am very happy with myself.”

Penson will be sworn-in as Student Trustee at the first board meeting Tuesday, October 1. The meeting will be held in room W210 of the Whitney Applied Technology Center and is open to the public.

SUNY Search Engine Comes To Campus

Coulter Library Chair Fantasia Thorne-Ortiz (left) and Media Specialist Dennis Thoryk (right) test a new cloud-based, SUNY system-wide search engine available to students.

The process of finding exactly what you’re looking for at Coulter Library has gotten easier for students. In July Onondaga Community College went online with a SUNY system-wide, cloud-based search engine. It provides simple, one-stop searching for books and e-books, videos, articles, digital media, and more. “This provides consistency among SUNY schools,” said Dennis Thoryk, Media Specialist at Coulter Library. “Students who walk into SUNY Oswego or SUNY Albany will be using the same system.” Thoryk oversaw the internal transition process which took about a year to complete and replaced a system which was approximately 20 years old.

Another benefit to the new system is its ability to reach beyond SUNY libraries. Thanks to an inter-library loan feature, if a student is looking for something which Coulter library doesn’t have the new search engine will also check area libraries which are not part of the SUNY system. Students using the new search system will always be receiving the latest information about what is available. “This is up to date because it’s cloud based. It’s completely different from what we used to have. It’s more secure and more up-to-date,” said Thoryk.

You can access the new search engine here.


Bonding While Learning

Professor Kristen Costello leads students through her summer Microeconomics class in Whitney Commons.

Students get to know one another pretty quickly while taking summer classes at Onondaga Community College. Take for example Professor Kristen Costello’s Microeconomics (ECO 204) class. During the five-week session, class was held every Monday through Thursday from 8:10 to 10:10 a.m. Students worked hard while forming new friendships which sometimes extended outside the classroom. On one occasion students went from class to Panchito’s in Syracuse’s Valley section where fish tacos were the food of choice. “Everyone was invited,” said student Kristen DeFeo (Cazenovia HS). “We’re like a little family in this class.”

Summer classes on the OCC campus fulfill student’s needs for a variety of reasons. “I needed one more class to make my credit minimum for my scholarship. I had already had Professor Costello for Marketing and liked her,” said James Shea (Noble HS in North Berwick, Maine).

One student took the class because her schedule only allows her to go to school part-time. Another was trying to erase a bad grade from the first time he took a similar course at another college. Most were simply trying to get ahead and lighten their loads during the fall and spring semesters.

With a more concentrated schedule during the summer, coursework moves fast. “Classes are very intense. Because they’re smaller you get more personal attention which helps. You retain more,” said Jamison Adist (Liverpool HS).

If you are considering summer classes in future years but are concerned they will get in the way, Forrest Thompson (Living Word Academy) says that’s not the case. “I was able to take summer classes, do all of the schoolwork within the time of the class and still enjoy my summer. You aren’t going to miss out on anything taking summer classes. It’s just prioritizing your time, getting ahead of your schedule and going for it.”

Summer Learners Take The Next Step

OCC students participating in the Bridges to Baccalaureate program this summer at SUNY Binghamton were (left to right): Jovan Diaz, Princess Figueroa, Ahmed Mohamed, Rebecca Agosto Matos, and Causwell Hyde.

Five students intent on attending four-year institutions spent part of their summer conducting research at SUNY Binghamton as part of the Bridges to Baccalaureate program. The students are all members of OCC’s Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) and Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program. Bridges to Baccalaureate helps students make the transition from community colleges to four-year institutions while increasing the pool of community college students who go on to research careers in the biomedical sciences.

OCC’s students worked side-by-side in research laboratories with students from Monroe Community College and Westchester Community College. The program concluded with students presenting about their work during a poster session. OCC’s representatives and the focus of their work included:

  • Jovan Diaz – Cardiovascular Disease and Obesity in High Sugar-Fed Flies
  • Rebecca Agosto Matos – Using Kinetic Isotope Effect to Reveal Mechanism for Acid Amide Hydrolysis
  • Ahmed Mohamed – Does atrazine affect the metabolic rates of Drosophila melanogaster?
  • Causwell Hyde – Synthesis and Antimicrobial Studies of Flavonoid-derived Anisotropic Gold and Silver Nanoparticles
  • Princess Figueros – Investigating Endocrine Flexibility in Wood Frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) exposed to NaCl

“I enjoyed being in the Bridges program and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the sciences,” said Rebecca Agosto Matos. “The research performed is a good introduction to individuals who have no laboratory experience. Throughout the summer I got the chance to work in the only Chemistry laboratory available monitored by Dr. Vetticatt. It was a fun experience in which I learned and applied methods that were previously studied in Organic Chemistry lecture, and laboratories at Onondaga Community College. At first, I thought that I wouldn’t be able to get used to working so closely with chemicals nor be able to get used to the smell of some chemicals such as ether. As time went on I started to notice how I didn’t mind certain smells and I became completely comfortable working with and creating new chemicals. I enjoyed the experience, the company of the individuals from the laboratory, and the little community that our laboratory shared with the surrounding laboratories.”

Congratulations to our students for their outstanding work! You can learn more about the CSTEP and LSAMP programs on our website.

Class of 2019 Times Two

Natalina Natoli received her Solvay High School diploma and OCC associate degree in June. Next month she’ll enter Syracuse University as a junior. She’s pictured on the OCC quad.

Natalina Natoli was a freshman at Solvay when she began considering the possibility of earning her associate degree by the time she received her high school diploma. “My guidance counselor said, ‘we can try this. You might be able to get all of the credits you need to earn your degree.’”

Fast forward four years to June 22, 2019. The auditorium at Solvay High School was filled for graduation when Natoli was unexpectedly called up to the stage. There to greet her was Onondaga Community College President Dr. Casey Crabill who presented Natoli with her associate degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences: Humanities & Social Sciences. “I felt a mix of embarrassment and pride. Embarassed because I was singled out but proud of what I had accomplished. The reaction from the whole community made me feel proud. I knew I had earned my degree but had no idea they were going to acknowledge it.”

How was Natoli able to earn both her high school diploma and associate degree simultaneously? “I learned how to balance my life. The workload wasn’t unbearable as long as I paced myself and balanced it all out.” Natoli earned 72 college credits in high school, 46 through OCC’s “College Credit Now” program which allows students to take college-level classes in their home high schools. She also took three classes on the OCC campus and three more online. “There were times I had to sacrifice sleepovers or things with my friends because I had papers due or classes to take. I was able to balance it all out and still have relationships.”

All of her hard work will pay off this fall when she enters Syracuse University as a junior majoring in Marketing with a minor in Environmental Sustainability Policy. “I don’t know if I could have gone to S.U. if I didn’t save so much money on the first two years of college. Doing this really let me go to the four-year school that I wanted.”

Natoli is grateful for that conversation she had with her guidance counselor four years ago and the opportunity it presented her with. “I’m fortunate we had this option through OCC. I became a full college student before I even left high school. There were some things I missed out on in high school but it was immensely worth the experience, time, and money saved. It was unbelievably worth it.”

The Secret To Her Success

Iga Szczepanik, ’16 is pictured in New York City where she works as a Project Manager and plans to pursue a Master’s degree.

Lessons learned outside the classroom at Onondaga Community College have provided the foundation for Iga Szczepanik’s success. “With the support of great professors and advisers at OCC, I stepped out of my comfort zone, took on roles that might have been overwhelming at a large university, and was recognized for my effort. It helped me know I was capable of so much more.”

Szczepanik is a native of Poland who moved to the United States when she was high school-aged. After graduating from Bishop Grimes in 2014, she came to OCC. Szczepanik majored in Business Administration, was president of the college’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), and worked as an Honors Ambassador promoting OCC’s Honors program at area high schools. She was named a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence winner, the highest honor a SUNY student can receive.

After earning her associate degree, Szczepanik transferred to Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) where her OCC resume played a significant role in her success. “Because of my experiences I was able to apply for many scholarships and afford my education there. My involvement in clubs, PTK and the Honors program helped me distinguish myself from other applicants.” Szczepanik continued her spirit of involvement at RIT where she became president of her sorority, held down several jobs on campus and completed three paid internships. “Being a good student is important, but it is more necessary to show what makes you different. I was able to distinguish myself from other applicants and talk about so much more during my job interviews.”

While earning her bachelor’s degree in International Business with minors in New Media Marketing and Women & Gender Studies, Szczepanik turned her final internship into a position as a project manager with EffVision, a worldwide leader in IT and technical support solutions. She’s currently applying to graduate programs in the New York City area and plans to pursue a master’s degree in Business or Economics next year. She’s come a long way since her days on the OCC campus and is proud to share stories about her community college background with all who will listen. “OCC was essential for me to find out what I wanted to do and gain leadership experience. I proudly talk about it and recommend it to friends and family who are soon graduating high school. Sometimes people are surprised to learn I started at a community college, but I don’t feel ‘judged’ or ‘less.’ What speaks the loudest is your attitude and your work ethic.”