Onondaga Community College’s “Believe In Better” fundraising campaign received a generous boost recently from King+King Architects. New York State’s oldest architectural firm presented the OCC Foundation with a $10,000 check. The donation will be used to provide a quality, affordable education to students.
“Having been a part of the OCC Foundation Board for many years, I am humbled by the work the college is doing,” said Peter King, Partner, King+King Architects and Honorary Co-Chair of the Believe in Better fundraising campaign. “Students, many of whom come from challenged backgrounds, are getting a chance at a better future through education. We believe that this investment will help improve the Central New York economy.”
“King+King Architects, as a business leader, is proud to make this investment in OCC and our community,” said Kirk Narbaugh, CEO and Managing Partner, King+King Architects. “This is an investment we truly believe will foster the growth and development of a talented workforce for all of Central New York and beyond.”
“We’re honored to have King+King Architects as one of our partners in education. Their support of our students is invaluable both in their generosity to our Believe In Better campaign and the amazing work they’ve done with buildings on our campus. Onondaga Community College is a better place because of King+King Architects,” said Lisa Moore, Vice President, Development and Executive Director, Onondaga Community College Foundation.
Three years ago Dave Cook began a picture taking expedition. The 1970 Corcoran High School graduate decided he wanted to photograph every place he had ever lived for more than six months. He was taking pictures on the south side of Syracuse when he drove up the hill and walked in unannounced to the office of the OCC Foundation which raises money for students scholarships, programs and projects. “I decided it was time to give back. I made it through as an average or better than average student. I felt it was important to help students like I was.”
Cook’s visit timed perfectly with the creation of OCC Advantage, a unique college-readiness and scholarship program which gives high school students in specific districts the opportunity to attend OCC tuition free should they meet attendance and grade point average requirements and also complete community service. “I call it the ‘Dave Cook solid C, barely B scholarship.’ It’s for those students who don’t qualify for the scholarships the ‘A’ students get but are making the effort and have potential.”
Cook saw himself in those types of students and decided to donate $25,000 to the OCC Advantage program. It was his way of paying it forward and thanking the College for what it had done for him. “OCC was not a fallback college for me. It was the most frugal way for me to get a four-year degree.”
Cook attended OCC from 1970 to 1972 when it was still located in Midtown Plaza. He transferred to SUNY Potsdam where he earned a degree in Political Science. Cook would go on to manage Social Security Administration offices in Syracuse, Rochester, Corning, Plattsburgh, Ithaca, Schenectady and Geneva for 30 years until he retired.
Throughout his professional career volunteering was a big part of who Cook was. “One of my first bosses told me ‘you’re going to join the Rotary.’ That’s when it all started.’” Cook was on so many boards he received the national award for Volunteer of the Year. Today he’s still a member of the Rotary where he will play Santa Claus on the Santa Train. He’s also a member of the Sons and Daughters of Italy and refers to himself as ‘the only bagpiping Scotsman member.’
Cook is happy to keep helping whether the benefactors are civic minded organizations or students at his alma mater. “Everyone can afford to be the nice guy, give back and help the next generation. What kids are paying for an education today is absolutely insane. OCC was my plan to get an education without taking out loans. I graduated from college without any debt.”
The dream of a better life for her children brought Suaad Obaid to the United States from Iraq. “There was no safety in the country, especially for kids. In Iraq when you go outside you don’t know if you will come back alive. I want the kids to have a good education and a good life. This is the life I want for them.”
Four years ago, Obaid and her husband made the difficult decision to leave their families behind and move to the U.S. with their three children. In the spring of 2016 she began taking classes at OCC. “When I started here my English was very difficult to understand. I worked hard. I read a lot and wrote a lot. I learned a lot of English from American tv shows and movies too.”
When Obaid struggled, she went to The Learning Center and received assistance. She worked with tutors in writing, math, accounting and business. Today she’s a Business Administration major and is six months away from earning her degree.
As a member of the Diversity Council, Obaid was one of the primary organizers of the College’s first-ever Unity Day earlier this year. The day-long, campus-wide event was a celebration of the diversity student’s enjoy here. Unity Day included cultural food offerings, activities such as the building of a unity mosaic, interactive written displays, cultural writing exercises and a diversity/inclusion photo booth. “I was very proud. We did something amazing. It was a huge success. Everybody was happy.”
It’s that diversity which has helped OCC feel like home to Obaid since she began taking classes here. There are a large number of students who immigrated to the U.S. from the other side of the world. “When I came here and saw so many Iraqi or Arabic students it made me feel like I have my space here, like I have a big family here. Arabic students make me feel like I am with my family.”
Financial support from OCC’s Foundation has helped make college affordable for Obaid. She received both the Community Scholars Scholarship and the Helen and John Etherington Scholarship. “The scholarships helped cover my expenses with classes, books, everything. It’s been very helpful.” You can learn more about supporting OCC’s students through the Believe in Better fundraising campaign.
College leaders have also played a significant role in Obaid’s transition to a new country. “So many people here made the difficult easier. The president (Dr. Casey Crabill) is a very nice person. You think, ‘she’s a president. I can’t talk to her.’ But she is so nice to talk to. Professor (Eunice) Williams helps me when I need anything. I love the professors here. I love the Learning Center. Everyone is so helpful.”
It doesn’t look like a traditional classroom, but teaching and learning are always in progress there. “The chocolate chip cookies are going to be 2 for 50 cents today. The pretzels are going to be $2 dollars,” says Hospitality Management Professor Lesley Brooks-Bianchi as she works with her students to set prices for that day’s products for sale. Student Megan Garvey (Liverpool HS) is making signs with the prices on them while another student, James Williams (Nottingham HS) is stocking the display case.
Students and faculty are working like a well-oiled machine inside Bechamel, the Hospitality Management majors’ retail store located on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center. Students working there are Hospitality Management majors enrolled in an Entrepreneurship & Hospitality class.
Cookies and other baked goods are the items which draw customers in, but Bechamel has more than baked goods for sale. “If we make soup we might turn it into a stew. If we have an abundance of peppers or cucumbers we turn them into pickles. Everything we sell is made here on the premises,” said Brooks-Bianchi. “Last semester we had specialty oils on the shelf and people were buying them like crazy and buying bread to dip in them,” added Hospitality Management Professor Deb Schneider.
Brooks-Bianchi and Schneider are always looking ahead and asking their students to do the same so the items for sale reflect the time of the year. On this day there are three, large chocolate chip cookies decorated in fall and Halloween colors. Coming soon will be mugs with hot chocolate mixes and marshmallows in them.
Working in retail is just a portion of the Entrepreneurship and Hospitality class experience for Williams and Garvey. Their final projects require creating a business plan with a mission statement, financial plans, organizational charts and marketing plans. Williams is working on plans for a hotel rooftop restaurant located near the State Fairgrounds. Garvey’s focus is weekend culinary classes for people interested in learning how to cook.
The students are also required to come up with something which will be sold in the retail shop. “They have to get their products together, cost it out, create a marketing analysis and market it,” said Schneider. Williams’ is planning to make a dozen scented candles. Garvey will be baking red velvet whoopie pies. Their creations will be on sale in Bechamel Thursday, December 6.
Bechamel is open Tuesday’s and Thursday’s at 10:30 a.m. Credit cards are accepted. When you are there please remember to be patient! Students are learning on the job while they are serving customers.
Autumn Gebhart has never been happier or felt more at home than she does today. She’s in her first semester at OCC where she is one of just 15 students in the Lillian Slutzker Honors College. She’s also enjoying life with her mother whom she was separated from for more than a decade. “Life with my mom is pretty amazing. I’ve grown up and learned a lot of life lessons with her. We are very close.”
When Gebhart was born 18 years ago her parents were teenagers. They struggled to take care of her and ultimately grandparents in another state took over parenting duties. Something always seemed to be missing in Gebhart’s life and when she turned 16 she decided to do something about it. “I was sad a lot of the time and realized I needed a change. I didn’t realize the significance of having my mother in my life until I moved in with her.”
Gebhart moved from Pennsylvania to Central New York, began living with her mother and spent her last two years of high school at Henninger. She received her diploma in June and two months later began her first semester at OCC. As a member of the Lillian Slutzker Honors College her tuition costs are covered and she receives a stipend each month to use toward books and supplies. The benefits of being an Honors College student have been about much more than the money though. “I had never been in many groups before. With Honors College, I’ve been able to make a lot of friends who are like-minded. There’s a lot of diversity and we are super-friendly.”
Earlier this semester the College held a press conference to announce a $250,000 gift from the Lillian Slutzker Foundation. The money was used to start the Honors College. Gebhart was the student speaker at the event and shared her story with those in attendance. “I was totally nervous. That was the first speech I’ve ever given. It was an amazing experience. I felt so honored to be selected and share my story about how this college has helped me so much. Everything they have provided me is truly amazing. I really enjoy being at OCC. It has brought a lot of amazing opportunities and I’m excited to see how the Honors College progresses.”
Gebhart’s career goal is to help others as a psychologist. “I took a college course on psychology and started seeing similarities between ways I felt as a child and things I was learning about. I’d like to help people and help them understand they’re not crazy. Their problems come from a source.”
In the mean time she’s enjoying her first semester, life with her mother and her personal growth. “I’ve gotten my first job at Wegmans, opened my first bank account, bought a car and became financially responsible. I’ve become a responsible adult and am able to take care of myself. My mom has taught me a lot about responsibility.”
Onondaga Community College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) welcomed 118 new members during its fall induction ceremony in Storer Auditorium. Students must have a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 to earn membership.
The event was an opportunity to celebrate the newest high-achievers and reflect on the chapters numerous accomplishments in the past year. PTK Faculty Advisor Dr. Annie Tuttle provided an overview of the projects students are working on. She also shared with attendees the news that OCC’s chapter was recognized as one of the top five in New York State and one of the top 35 in the nation. Furthermore, all five of the College’s prestigious SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence winners were PTK members.
The OCC Foundation was recognized for its continuing support of PTK students. Support from donors covers most of the PTK membership fees for students. Dr. Tuttle made special mention of Tim and Rosemarie Nelson, ’79 who were in the audience. Thanks to their generosity, students would be receiving their PTK stoles which are worn at commencement free of charge. If they reserved their caps and gowns at OCC’s bookstore, those would also be free to the students thanks to the Nelson’s support. “We are very appreciative of Tim and Rosemarie Nelson, and we’re fortunate that their generous donation to the OCC Foundation will allow our high achieving students to fully participate in commencement and proudly wear the stole they earned through their high academic achievement,” said Dr. Tuttle. You can learn more about supporting our students through our Believe In Better fundraising campaign here.
Several PTK members were honored for completing the Competitive Edge Program. The professional development program enhances students’ marketable skills to make them more competitive for scholarships, transferring and careers. Competitive Edge helps students strengthen the skills that are highly sought after by employers and colleges, such as oral and written communication, professional etiquette, emotional intelligence, and critical thinking.
The College’s PTK chapter also presented an honorary membership to Sarah Gaffney who is OCC’s Vice President of Finance and Interim Provost. She was singled out for her support of the chapter’s regional and national efforts and for the role she played in helping PTK find a home in the newly renovated Coulter Hall. The PTK suite includes a conference room, lounge, and three faculty and staff offices.
Phi Theta Kappa is the largest honor society in American higher education with more than 1.5 million members and 1,200 chapters located in all 50 of the United States, U.S. territories, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Germany, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau.
Below is a complete list of the fall 2018 PTK honorees.
The United States Navy brought Daniela Vasquez and Tom Krohl together. Today they are married, pursuing degrees at OCC and are regulars in the college’s Veterans’ office on the second floor of Coulter Hall. “We like coming here and doing work. We’re seeing more people coming here every day,” said Vasquez.
Vasquez and Krohl are an unlikely couple. She is a native of Colombia who moved to the United States at age 9 and graduated from New Dimensions High School in Kissimmee, Florida in 2010. Krohl is a lifelong Central New Yorker who earned his diploma at Central Square High School in 2010. They met while in the Navy and attached to the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship. They spent most of their four years stationed in Sasebo, Japan before being honorably discharged in 2015. Two years later, they married.
Both are pursuing dual degrees at OCC. Vasquez is in the Nursing and Liberal Arts & Sciences: Humanities & Social Sciences programs. “I always wanted to take care of patients,” said Vasquez. “The Nursing program is tough. You have to be very organized. If you’re not it will make you organized. It’s a good technique to learn before you graduate. It’s something you will need to be a nurse.”
During the 2017-18 academic year Vasquez received financial assistance thanks to a grant provided by the Carrier Corporation which supports Student Veterans. “It helped me so much. I was able to pay for a class the Veterans Administration could not cover because it wasn’t part of my major. It was a great relief to me because I was afraid I would not have enough for rent or other needs.”
Krohl is focused on Nuclear Technology and Electrical Technology degrees. “An officer in the Navy used to talk to me about nuclear and she was incredibly enthusiastic about it. When I came here I planned to get a Math & Science degree. Steve White who runs the Veterans’ office told me about the Nuclear Tech program and here I am.” Krohl did an internship at Nine Mile nuclear plant during the summer and it reaffirmed his choice of a major and career.
Krohl is a Work Study at the Veterans’ office. He knows what it’s like to walk in and ask for help and remembers when the staff here helped him and his wife. “They’re knowledgeable about the GI Bill. You get out of the military and you have all of these benefits but they don’t teach you how to use them. The people here know about them and helped us.”
Vasquez and Krohl are on schedule to earn their degrees next May.
Onondaga Community College has kicked off a fundraising campaign titled “Believe In Better.” The campaign asks not only for your financial support but also the belief in people’s ability to achieve a better life and the belief in the power of education to create a better community.
It’s not a campaign about big numbers or padding endowments. Our goal is to make a real difference in the community by helping real people get the support they need to complete their education and reach their full potential.
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.