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.”
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.”
Todd Williams has played in thousands of baseball games at every level, from little league to the big leagues. He played professionally for 18 years alongside future Hall of Famers in the world’s most famous stadiums and won an Olympic Gold medal. His time at OCC proved to be his launching pad to success.
During his senior year at East Syracuse Minoa High School Williams began being recognized for his talent on the baseball diamond. Professional teams were showing interest. Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins offered him a contract. But Williams decided it was best to come to Onondaga Community College where he could focus on being a student and an athlete. “In high school I did not apply myself. At OCC I knew fewer people and commuted so I focused more on the classwork.” In 1990 he was named OCC’s Student-Athlete of the Year. “That accomplishment ranks right up there with the gold medal and my professional accomplishments. People laugh but it was special because academics did not come easy for me like baseball did.”
After just missing out on the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series in 1989 and ’90, Williams was selected by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 54th round of the draft. He signed his first professional contract May 21, 1991 and was assigned to their minor league system. After two full years he was promoted to AAA, the highest level of minor league baseball.
Four years later, on April 29, 1995, Williams got his first shot at the majors by breaking camp with the Los Angeles Dodgers. His first game in uniform was also the first time he had ever been in a major league stadium. The opponent was the Atlanta Braves. “I remember, I struck out Javy Lopez to end the inning. I was excited but not overwhelmed in the moment because I always thought I deserved to be at that level.” Later in the season he would experience another moment he still remembers to this day. “In my first professional at bat I got a hit. Right after that there was a pitching change. While play was stopped I took my helmet off, looked around had the opportunity to take it all in. That moment is still with me to this day.”
Williams would also play professionally with Cincinnati and Seattle before being selected to play in the Pan Am Games in 1999 for Team USA. Even though they lost to Cuba in the Gold Medal game, the memories remain vivid two decades later. “The competition during that tournament remains the most intense because it marked the first time professional players were being used. We had the added pressure of finishing in the top two in order to qualify for the Olympic Games the following year in Australia.” Team USA would finish second to Cuba in those games and would go on to avenge their loss the following year by beating Cuba at the 2000 Olympic Games and win the gold medal.
In 2001 Williams joined the New York Yankees and played for Hall of Fame Manager Joe Torre. He was even more excited to learn from Yankees bench coach and former player Willie Randolph who was his childhood hero. “Playing for the Yankees every day and putting on their pinstripe uniform was a dream come true. It was so surreal and something I will cherish forever, the old ballpark, the fans, the history – it was pretty incredible.”
Williams finished his career with the Baltimore Orioles in 2007. While serving time in AAA he became the all-time saves leader with 223. He admits it’s not glamorous but is still something to be proud of. “I look at that accomplishment and just say I was doing my job to the best of my ability and focused on what I could control.”
Despite traveling the world while playing the game that he loved, Syracuse and Central New York still remain close to his heart. “The people there treat me as ‘Todd,’ and not ‘baseball Todd.’ That was refreshing and provided me with an adrenaline boost and pushed me to compete at higher level not just for myself, but all of my supporters back home. I’ll never forget where I came from.” Today Williams resides in Florida and is busy with his three children who all excel as athletes.
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.”
There’s a photograph hanging in the Washington, DC office of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo which is the centerpiece of his personal art collection. The picture is of an OCC student who was photographed by fellow students. “The feeling of knowing that photograph is there is unreal,” said Ben Coupe. “While shooting this project we had no idea how far it would go.”
The inspiration for the photography project was “God Grew Tired of Us,” a memoir written by John Dau, ’05 which was OCC’s common read during the 2017-18 academic year. The book chronicled Dau’s journey from the brutal war horrors of life in the Sudan to life in the United States. “We wanted to celebrate diversity. We wanted to capture and highlight our community here.”
Coupe and classmates Jennifer Bazdaric and Dah Lehr imagined a canvas of multiculturalism, rich in texture, promoting an aware culture of respect, thoughtfulness and dignity. “We spent more time planning our shoots than actually shooting. Once we got going it took us less than a week to find our subjects and shoot the photos,” said Coupe. “We needed a couple of days for edits and a day or two to select the print, paper and frame.
The series of 20 images proudly displayed the cultural heritage found within the OCC campus during the fall 2017 campus. It was entered into a SUNY campus where it was spotted by Governor Cuomo. The central image of the series now hangs in Washington, DC.
The students worked under the leadership of Assistant Professor Robert Kent who has dozens of years of professional commercial photography experience. The exhibition quality prints were created by the students under the careful and expert eye of Technical Specialist Rick Boyson of OCC’s Photography Department.
Andrea Bastedo looks out at the OCC campus from her new office and almost can’t believe what she sees. Everything looks so much different than it did when she came here as a student 27 years ago. “It’s surreal. I remember when all of my classes were in Academic I (now Mawhinney Hall) and the gym was the only building on the other side of campus. It’s good to be back.”
Bastedo is the new Director of Campus Safety & Security. Her first day on the job was April 15. “Student safety is paramount. We want everyone on campus to have a good quality of life, to be comfortable, to be happy and to be doing what they have to be doing.”
Bastedo is a lifelong resident of Central New York. She graduated from Henninger High School in 1992 and received a Criminal Justice degree from OCC in 1995. She also earned a bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from Columbia College, a master’s in Public Administration from Marist College and a doctorate in Public Policy and Administration from Walden University.
Since completing work toward her degree at OCC she has had simultaneous military and law enforcement careers. In July of 1995 she joined the New York Air National Guard. Twenty years later she became a Lieutenant Colonel in the Pennsylvania Air National Guard. Bastedo also served as an Onondaga County Sheriff’s Deputy from 1997 until her retirement in 2018. Last year she joined the Marcellus Police Department and worked as a School Resource Officer in the Lyncourt Union Free School District.
As the new Director of OCC’s Campus Safety & Security she wants the entire campus community to know she and her department are here to serve and need everyone to be part of the process. “If you see something, say something. Call us, tells us, email us. There’s an open door here for everyone.”
Bastedo replaces Dave Wall who retired after 3-and-a-half years in the position. Prior to coming to OCC he was a highly-decorated leader in the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Department.
Laurie Halse Anderson, ’81 has a remarkable gift. She’s able to write and talk about difficult topics in ways that resonate with her audience. The New York Times best selling author shared her gift with her alma mater, Onondaga Community College, when she returned to campus late in the spring semester while on a nationwide tour in support of her latest book, Shout. Anderson spoke at an OCC Foundation fundraiser on the night of April 25. The next day she presented an entertaining and informative discussion about her life and the history of our country to approximately 900 area high school students in the SRC Arena.
Anderson also took part in an intimate group conversation in the Community Room of Coulter Hall where she spent an hour with about two dozen students and faculty members. She talked about being raped at age 13 and keeping the story of what happened bottled up inside. “Because I’m from a family that was pretty conservative and we didn’t talk about things, I didn’t tell anybody for 23 years.” When she finally decided to talk about it and get the help she needed, she wrote the novel which jump started her book writing career. “Speak is about 10 percent what happened to me. It’s my emotional truth of having been attacked and feeling silenced.”
During her conversation, the topics ranged from her father’s PTSD to eating disorders which were the focus of her young adult novel, Wintergirls. She discussed “the canon,” the books students are required to read in school. “I say we should push the canon overboard. The books were written by wealthy white guys 200 years ago for mature, privileged people. That doesn’t reflect our country today.” She recommended everyone follow Project LIT Community on Twitter (@ProjectLITComm) which is a grassroots literacy movement empowering readers and leaders in hundreds of schools across the country.
Anderson discussed censorship, an issue she dealt with when Speak started becoming popular in schools. “Censorship has nothing to do with protecting children. It has everything to do with protecting adults who don’t know how to have conversations with their kids. It’s more important we learn how to talk to our kids about everything and equally important we make our kids know we’re ready to listen to them so they can come to us if something happens. One in 3 women and 1 in 6 men are survivors of sexual violence.”
One of the OCC students who listened to Anderson and had the opportunity to meet her was Samurai Johnson, a Graphic Design major from Watertown High School. “To be able to have an actual conversation with her and listen to what she had to say and have her listen to what I had to say meant a lot to me. It was really awesome. I love her books. Her ability to touch on serious topics but make it interesting and light enough that it’s easy to read is amazing.”
Anderson spent a few minutes speaking with local media outlets about timely topics. She told reporters from CNY Central Television, Spectrum News, Syracuse New Times and WSYR TV Newschannel 9 how she uses social media in a positive way. “If you care about readers there’s a chance to extend the conversation. Social media can be a profound source of good things, of change, of connecting kindred spirits and sharing information. It can also be a really damaging place. We need to learn how to navigate those currents.”
She reflected on the power of her presentations and the impact they have on those in the audience. “I’ve spoken to tens of thousands of survivors. I’ve never given a presentation at any venue in 20 years where I haven’t had at least one and in some circumstances dozens of people come up to me afterwards. My job is always to bring up rainn.org. That’s the Rape Abuse Incest National Network. They have a 24-hour hotline. They’ve helped more than three million survivors in the last 25 years.”
Onondaga Community College wishes to extend a “thank you” to Laurie Halse Anderson for returning and being so generous with the entire campus community. The College would also like to acknowledge Russ Corbin, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations who worked tirelessly to coordinate Anderson’s visit.
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.”
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.