Achieving The Dream on our Podcast

In the latest edition of our podcast, “Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College,” we’re discussing our commitment to helping students who need help the most.

Mike O’Connor

Two years ago OCC was selected to participate in the Achieving the Dream National Reform Network. The network is comprised of over 200 colleges working to preserve access and assure that their students, especially low-income students and students of color achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth and economic opportunity.

On our podcast we’ll introduce you to Mike O’Connor. He’s Chair of our English Department and one of the leaders of the Achieving The Dream efforts on our campus.

Christopher Son

You will also meet student Christopher Son. He’s the child of Vietnamese immigrants who earned his GED, came to our campus, started by taking developmental classes and grew into an outstanding student. By the time Christoper earned his degree in Communication Studies last December he was an officer in our chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. He was also one of only six students selected nationwide as a DREAM Scholar, an honor which awarded him the opportunity to speak at the Achieving The Dream professional development conference in San Francisco.

We hope you enjoy the latest edition of Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College!


OCC Student Named “DREAM Scholar”

Christopher Son, 2017 DREAM Scholar
Christopher Son, 2017 DREAM Scholar

Christopher Son has been chosen to participate as a “DREAM Scholar” at the upcoming Achieving the Dream (ATD) professional development conference. Son was one of only six students nationwide selected. He will present at the ATD conference later this month in San Francisco.

Son’s journey to academic success is remarkable. He’s the child of Vietnamese immigrants and a first generation college student. He’s a Communication Studies major, an officer in international honor society Phi Theta Kappa and a leader in the Scholar to Scholar Peer Mentoring Program. “If you would have asked me if this would have been possible I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said.

Nine years ago Son was a freshman at Syracuse’s Henninger High School. Halfway through his freshman year he quit going to class. Son kept leaving his home every morning and returning every afternoon so his parents would think he was attending school. He kept doing it for three years before finally telling his parents the truth. “I was immature. I had no interest in school. By that point I wasn’t doing anything. I was very unhealthy physically and mentally.”

Son had ballooned to 290 pounds and realized he needed to change his life. “Everything began with me getting back in shape. It took a long time but I got down to 180 pounds. Once I slimmed down I said, ‘Okay! What’s next?’”

Son’s next challenge was his mind. His first accomplishment was earning his GED. Next he wanted to break out of his shell. “I was shy and nervous. I felt the only way to overcome that was to go to college.”

Son came to OCC in time for the spring 2014 semester and knew he had a lot of work in front of him. “I was away from school for six years. I hadn’t read a book or done anything that involved school.”

During his first semester all of Son’s courses were developmental. He worked hard and performed well giving him the confidence to succeed. “I got a 4.0. It didn’t count in terms of getting credit but it counted for something. I felt good.”

Since that first semester Son has continued to grow as both a student and a person. His personal transformation on the OCC campus makes the College a place he will always call home. “I feel like I just started to be a part of something. I don’t want to leave. It’s more than amazing here. I’m grateful I came here and got to meet amazing professors.”

Welcome Provost Daria Willis!

Top of Story Daria Willis, Provost

Daria J. Willis, Ph.D. is the new Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Onondaga Community College. Her first day on the job was July 5. Willis is beginning the process of introducing herself across campus. “My main focus my first year is building relationships with students, faculty and staff.”

Willis comes to OCC from Lee College in Baytown, Texas where she served as Dean of Academic Studies. Prior to Lee College she was an administrator at Lone Star College in Houston, Texas. Willis has also been a faculty member at both of those colleges along with Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Florida A&M University and a doctorate from Florida State University.

The furthest north Willis has ever lived is her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. How did she wind up in the heart of the snow belt? “We were looking for a more socially-minded environment, more liberal, more open-minded. We wanted to try something different and wound up in New York! We’re all about exploring and being adventurous. Why get a Ph.D. and stay at home?”

As OCC’s Provost, Willis is the senior academic administrator. The College’s academic deans will report to her and she will report to College President Dr. Casey Crabill.

Willis is a strong supporter of the College’s commitment to Achieving The Dream, a program focused on access to a high quality education in an inclusive environment. “It’s very important. It helps with student success and retention. I like the aspect of focusing on the students who might need more resources to help them complete. I worked with Achieving The Dream at Lone Star College and Lee College as well.”

As Willis begins her work at the College and navigates through her first year she plans to enjoy the journey. “I’m all about success, equality and having fun. We are here a good chunk of our lives working together. We may as well like each other while we’re doing it and have a little fun in the process!”


OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill speaks at the Achieving The Dream kickoff.
OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill speaks at the Achieving The Dream kickoff.

Work toward the goal of Achieving the Dream has begun! A campus-wide kickoff event was held Friday, October 23 in the SRC Arena. College President Dr. Casey Crabill opened the festivities by welcoming everyone. She was followed by three distinguished speakers:

  • Dr. Steven Murray, Chancellor Emeritus at Phillips Community College of the University of Arkansas. Murray is an Achieving the Dream Leadership Coach.
  • Dr. Laura Smith, Dean of Student Affairs, Jefferson Community & Technical College. Dr. Smith discussed how her college Achieved the Dream.
  • David Hartleb, OCC’s Achieving The Dream Leadership Coach. Hartleb introduced attendees to the Achieving the Dream process.

ATD logoThe kickoff event also included the “Dream Cafe,” a structured conversational process intended to inspire participants to think critically and creatively about student success.

OCC is one of only 16 community and technical colleges chosen to join the Achieving the Dream program in 2015. Achieving the Dream is a network of over 200 colleges working to preserve access and assure that their students, especially low-income students and students of color achieve their goals for academic success, personal growth and economic opportunity. To become an Achieving the Dream College, applicants must demonstrate an institution-wide commitment to spend at least three years working with Achieving the Dream experts to implement reforms designed to improve student success and completion rates on their campuses.

You can watch and listen to OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill discuss the Achieving the Dream program and how it will benefit students.