Nathan Burroughs

Nathan Burroughs works on a complex equation in the Phi Theta Kappa suite on the second floor of Coulter Hall.
  • High School: Homer, class of 2016
  • Major: Engineering Science

Nathan Burroughs learned his most valuable life lesson at a young age while working with his father on the family farm in Homer. “I was given a job which I was struggling with. When I finished I told my father I thought I had done ‘pretty good.’ He said, ‘anything worth doing is worth doing right so do it again.’ Those words have stuck with me in my academics, employment and even relationships. Anything I do I want to do it right.”

Burroughs has lived his father’s advice. He’s an Engineering Science major and member of the college’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. He’s one of only three OCC students to be named distinguished NASA Scholars. In the spring he’ll travel to NASA’s Langley Research Center to participate in the NASA Community College Aerospace Scholars onsite experience. “This is a really cool opportunity to learn more. I grew up watching Tom Hanks in Apollo 13. It’s the one VHS movie I remember watching tons and tons of time. I got a telescope when I was little with a night sky atlas. I liked going outside and looking up.”

During Burroughs’ first three semesters on campus he was a member of Student Patrol and an RA. When he signed up for more than 20 credit hours this semester he had to give up both roles. Burroughs only needed 14 credits to earn his degree but the Rochester Institute of Technology advised him to add a class which would transfer with him. He took their advice and added an Electrical Circuit Analysis class plus a Numerical Control Programming class and lab to widen his skillset.

When he’s not on campus Burroughs can be found volunteering at church, helping on the family farm or at Cazenovia Equipment Company, a tractor dealership where he began working in 2014. “I started off as a ‘wash boy’ detailing tractors, scrubbing all of the manure off and making everything nice and shiny. One day in February they pulled out four manure spreaders and said, ‘have fun.’ It was all outside. I had to wash them all. I came inside and my jacket was frozen solid.” Burroughs worked his way up and is now using a laser tape measure while creating floor plans for each of the buildings at Cazenovia Equipment Company’s nine locations.

Burroughs will earn his Engineering Science degree in May. He hopes to transfer to the Rochester Institute of Technology and pursue a master’s in either Mechanical Engineering or Engineering and Management. After he retires he plans to return to the family farm, Cold Brook Dairy.

Holly Sleeth

Holly Sleeth (with OCC mascot Blaze) in Allyn Hall.
  • Major: Physical Education & Exercise Science Studies
  • HS: Liverpool, class of 2018

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

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

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

Michaela Grainger

Michaela Grainger in the Coulter Library.
  • Major: Humanities & Social Sciences with an Honors minor
  • Home schooled, from Fayetteville

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Stanton

Rob Stanton
  • Major: American Sign Language
  • HS: Sauquoit Valley, class of 2007

The language of choice in Rob Stanton’s childhood home was one most of us know of but never learned. “Both my parents are Deaf. I grew up with American Sign Language (ASL) as my first language. Going to school for ASL was an obvious choice for me.”

Joining the United States Marine Corps was also an obvious choice for Stanton. “I had a lot of family in the military. It seemed like the path that was meant for me.” Two weeks after graduating from Sauquoit Valley High School (approximately 10 miles south of Utica) Stanton was in boot camp.

Stanton pictured while serving his country as a member of the United States Marine Corps.

He served four years in the Marines, doing tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before being honorably discharged in 2011 as a Lance Corporal. “It was the greatest time of my life. I met the best people in the world and I built bridges. For the rest of my life I can go anywhere up and down the east coast and there will always be someone I can stay with.”

Stanton spent six years working various jobs and attending two different colleges before his wife’s work brought them to Syracuse. In the spring of 2018 he began taking classes at OCC and majoring in ASL. During his time here he’s found two homes on campus. One is in the Veterans’ office on the second floor of Coulter Hall. “I love the Veterans community here. As soon as you walk in the Veterans office you feel at home. There are people here you find connections with and you feel that brotherhood and camaraderie you felt in the military. I went to two other colleges and never felt that. The veteran community is very close-knit here.”

The other place where he feels most comfortable is within the ASL community where he is president of the ASL Club. “The faculty is mentoring me and helping me with my goals. Most students wants to be an interpreter but I want to be a teacher.” Stanton will earn his degree in May but plans to be a regular presence on the OCC campus. “I’m going to shadow faculty while I’m going for my bachelor’s and I’d love to teach here while I’m pursuing my master’s.”

You can learn more about OCC’s American Sign Language major by clicking here.

You can learn more about the OCC’s Veterans’ office by clicking here.

Jamel Rizek

Jamel Rizek
  • Major: Biology with a minor in Communications
  • High School: Westhill, class of 2017

Jamel (pronounced juh-MEEL) Rizek serves the campus community as a Student Ambassador, giving campus tours to prospective students and their families. He views tours as an opportunity to not only show off the campus, but also to find out people’s backgrounds. “I love talking to parents and hearing what they have to say. They have so much knowledge to share. During one tour I met someone who was in the profession I want to get into and I learned so much from them.”

Rizek’s goal is to become a nurse. He loves helping people and is a member of the Howlett Hill Fire Department. When he was 16 he was certified by New York State to be a first responder. Last semester, on a day when Rizek had two final exams in the morning, he drove to Rochester in the afternoon and passed his test to become a certified Emergency Medical Technician.

During his two years on campus, Rizek has embraced coursework and found the college classroom experience has made him a better student. “I enjoy what I’m learning here. In a Chemistry lab, we made baby aspirin with two chemicals you wouldn’t expect to put together. Doing things like that make learning so enjoyable and engaging.”

His older sister Nor also attended OCC and is now enrolled at Harvard University. She commutes weekly from Central New York to Cambridge, Massachusetts for classes. “When she comes home we enjoy seeing each other and catching up. We also work with each other on school work. I love math so I’ll help her with math in exchange for her help with my writing.”

Rizek will earn his degree in May. Between now and then he plans to give a lot of campus tours. He enjoys seeing the looks on people’s faces as he shows them around. “If the sun is out and there is no snow, the areas people enjoy the most are near Stonewalls Restaurant and the amphitheater next to Gordon. If the weather is bad everyone likes the Academic II hallway. I tell them ‘this is a bridge across campus. When the weather is bad you can just walk through here to get from one side to the other.’ They like hearing that.”

Bill Galvin

Bill Galvin pictured in Storer Auditorium at the induction ceremony for OCC’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa.
  • Major: Emergency Management
  • High School: Bishop Grimes, class of 1980

This is Bill Galvin’s time and he’s making the most of it. Galvin is a 56-year-old Syracuse Police Sergeant who raised two daughters and is now focused on life after law enforcement. That’s why he’s come to college later in life. “My biggest accomplishments are my daughters and that I was able to raise them on my own. Now that they’re older I want to complete my education at OCC.”

Galvin’s dream was always to be a Syracuse Police officer just like his father, three uncles and a cousin. When he graduated from Bishop Grimes High School in 1980, Galvin joined the United States Army. He spent three years active duty as a Military Police officer followed by three years in the reserves. In 1985 he continued the family tradition and joined the Syracuse Police force.

Galvin had taken the career path he always wanted but eventually realized it wasn’t enough. “People in the blue collar bracket I was in didn’t think we needed college at the time because we had a great career, we made good money, the pensions were great and the health benefits were great. I was able to raise a family. But over the years I’ve always felt ‘just a little bit less of myself’ because I didn’t have that degree to back up my professional life.”

In recent years family conversations often turned to Galvin going to college. Younger daughter Kelly had taken classes at OCC as had older daughter Courtenay who went on to earn a bachelor’s at Le Moyne and a master’s while serving in the United States Army. “Courtenay was a driving force in getting me to go to college. She gave me a lot of encouragement.”

Galvin began taking classes in the spring 2018 semester. He was apprehensive initially but any concerns about feeling out of place as an older student disappeared quickly. “I was very scared coming here to start. I’m thinking ‘I’m in my 50s. What am I doing?’ Then I met the staff here and they were great. My advisors have been great. My teachers and instructors have been great. I feel very comfortable here. I’m really enjoying it and liking it a lot.”

Galvin earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average in his first semester and in October was inducted into the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa during a ceremony in Storer Auditorium. “I was surprised I was able to come back to school after so many years away and complete the assignments to the point where I could do so well. It was an honor to be inducted. I was very impressed hearing the stories of the other students who were also inducted.”

Galvin plans to earn his degree in December 2019. His long-term goal is to give himself the best employment opportunities possible after he retires from the Syracuse Police Department. “Before I started taking classes I asked many local business leaders what they were looking for. All of them said they needed people with backgrounds in emergency management. Getting a degree and presenting to future employers a better package is my goal. I have all of my police training but I want to give employers more options.”

Elizabeth Clancy

Elizabeth Clancy
  • Major: Early Childhood
  • High School: Oswego, class of ‘97

Elizabeth Clancy is on a mission. She’s a 39-year-old mother of three who is powering through Onondaga Community College on her way to an Early Childhood degree. “I started this journey 20 years ago and now I’m going to see it through,” she said.

Clancy graduated from Oswego High School in 1997 and that fall began taking classes at SUNY Oswego with the goal of becoming a teacher. A year-and-a-half later she withdrew. After getting married and starting a family Clancy took online classes for three years while majoring in Advertising.

The dream of becoming a teacher stayed with her. In 2017, she gave birth to a daughter and knew if she was ever going to become a teacher it was now or never. “In summer of 2018 I thought ‘you know what I’m going to do this. I want to get it done before my 1-year-old daughter is old enough for school. I want my children see me finish and complete something I started.’”

Clancy came to Onondaga Community College and dove in headfirst. During a five week summer session, she took 12 credits. “I knew I was going to push through this no matter what because I wanted to be here. I know where I want to go and what I want to end up with.”

Balancing the needs of her family with the needs of her education was a daily challenge. “My family comes first. I have to make it a priority to fit school in and be the best I can without sacrificing my role as a mom. Every night after dinner we would sit down as a family and say ‘what’s going on tomorrow? Who has to be here, who has to be there, who is driving who?’ It’s the same way with school. If I know I don’t have something due for two weeks, I’m going to do what’s due tomorrow first. It’s important to be aware, organized and wanting to do it. I’m good with my grades and it makes me want to do better.”

Clancy was so good with her grades that during the fall semester she was inducted into the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. “It felt amazing. I was always a good student in high school and college but I’d never gotten the recognition. Everything is always about the kids. When my son makes honor roll or my daughter starts walking. I was nervous but it was nice to be recognized!”

Clancy will earn her degree this summer, then pursue a position in a classroom. “I’d like to get a job in a school district for a year and find out what age students I enjoy working with. I don’t know exactly where I’m going to fit in but I hope I find it. It will push me to go back to college and finish my bachelors.”

Olayinka Awokoya

Olayinka Awokoya
  • Major: Mathematics & Science with a concentration in Biology
  • Home: Nigeria

One of the worst moments of Olayinka Awokoya’s life set him on his career path. It happened in June of 2016 in his home country of Nigeria. Awokoya was riding a bus to college when it was rammed by another bus. “It was so sudden. My whole life flashed before my eyes. First I thought I was dead. Then I realized I couldn’t feel my leg.”

The impact of the crash left Awokoya with a serious injury. He was rushed to the hospital and treated but his leg never healed correctly. As he struggled to recover, Awokoya knew what he needed to do. His wife of one year, who was also from Nigeria, was working as a nurse at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. “I decided to move to the United States so I could get better health care and start a family.”

Shortly after arriving in the U.S. in November of 2016 Awokoya went to the doctor for a second opinion. “I was told my leg was not done properly and they had to do it again.” He went through two corrective surgeries and is hoping to be out of his cast next year.

Awokoya’s experience gave him a career focus. “I decided I wanted to work in the health care system.” In January of this year, he started taking classes at OCC. He’s a Mathematics & Science major with a focus on Biology. Earlier this semester he was inducted into the college’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. “It was a very wonderful moment. It shows that hard work pays off.”

The Onondaga Community College experience has been exactly what Awokoya needed as he transitioned from Nigeria to the United States. He’s a regular in the library, the Learning Center, the C-STEP office and the Office of Accessibility Resources. “Coming to OCC has been a wonderful opportunity for me. I’ve met so many people who are so supportive every time I need their help. I’m happy to come here every day because it feels like home.”

Awokoya will keep coming to OCC until the end of the spring semester. Then he plans to transfer to the University of Buffalo and begin pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Nursing.

Heather Rix McKenzie

Heather Rix McKenzie

Heather Rix McKenzie’s journey to a career started with the premature birth of her daughter. In 2015 her daughter was born three months early and spent 52 days in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Crouse Hospital. “When I was spending time in the NICU I was thinking ‘this would be a cool thing to do.’ It was miraculous what they did there.”

She spent the next year at home with her daughter. During that time she made the decision to come to Onondaga Community College. “Nursing was my original plan. I took a couple of classes that introduced me to Human Services and Sociology, fell in love with it and found my calling.”

Taking classes full time while raising a family presented Rix McKenzie with financial obstacles. OCC’s Foundation stepped in and presented her with the Community Scholars Scholarship for the 2018-19 academic year. “It was really appreciated. It’s less loans to take out. We take out loans to pay for child care. Every little bit really helps.” You can learn more about supporting students like Heather Rix McKenzie through our Believe In Better fundraising campaign here.

Today Rix McKenzie is a Human Services major and a new inductee into the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. “It was a big deal for me. I wasn’t the kid who did well in high school. I was the one who teachers said, ‘if you just apply yourself…’ My parents came to the ceremony. I said to them, ‘it took 40 years but I finally got a good report card for you!’”

Rix McKenzie’s daughter is now 3 years old. She’s happy, healthy and doing well in preschool. Her mother has never forgotten the people in Crouse’s NICU and how wonderful they were in the first two months of her daughter’s life. She’s become a volunteer peer mentor with Hand to Hold, an organization which pairs up former NICU parents with parents who currently have a child or children there. “It’s been such a rewarding experience to give back and help parents through a tough time that I understand from personal experience. It has also reinforced that Human Services is my calling and passion.”

Rix McKenzie will earn her degree next May. She plans to transfer and earn her master’s in Social Work. “I love OCC. If I could stay here forever and get my master’s I would. It’s such a supportive place. I have spectacular professors who I’ve learned a lot from academically and personally. They’re as good as any you’ll find at four-year schools. I’ve met so many cool people from so many age groups and walks of life. I tell everybody ‘if you’re thinking about coming back to school come here.’”

Andrew Casler


Andrew Casler
  • Major: Humanities & Social Sciences
  • High School: Marcellus, Class of 1980

Andrew Casler has done a little bit of everything. He’s a Veteran who has worked as an elevator mechanic, a pilot and a flight instructor. Today he’s a 56 year old college student pursuing a new career. “I did the right thing coming back to school. I’m not looking towards retirement. I want to keep working.”

Casler graduated from Marcellus High School in 1980 and decided to go directly into the workforce. Six years later he joined the United States Army and served as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. While stationed there he earned an associate degree in Business from Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC.

After being honorably discharged from the Army, Casler returned to Central New York and took classes at OCC. He focused on the prerequisites he would need while working toward a bachelor’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL.

After working as a pilot and flight instructor along with spending 20 years as an elevator mechanic, Casler became interested in Nursing while serving in a variety of positions at Syracuse’s VA Hospital. In August he began taking classes at the College. He’s a Humanities & Social Sciences major and is focused on co-requisites for the Nursing program which he will be admitted to next fall.

Earlier this semester Casler was inducted into the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. “Getting inducted was a huge deal. I was shocked. I was a ‘B’ student in high school. I wasn’t big on school then but I became the first person in my family to go to college.”

Casler hopes to earn his Nursing degree in May 2020. He plans to work as an RN while continuing his education. “I’m interested in Psychiatric Nursing or becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner. One of my ultimate goals is to work on foreign or domestic missions. I want to go to where there is a need. I know there is a lot out there.