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.”
Mackenzie Eck planned to graduate from high school one year ago. She had powered through her freshman, sophomore and junior years at Jordan-Elbridge and earned enough credits to receive her diploma after just three years. She had also amassed 30 college credits, 23 of those through Onondaga Community College’s “College Credit Now” program which allows students to take college-level classes in their home high schools. Her plans changed after a conversation with her school counselor. “Miss (Jamie) Susino told me ‘there’s this program that could save you some money. You could get college credits. Go to OCC, get ahead and do great things.’”
Eck took her counselor’s advice. During her senior year of high school, she took Physical Education at J-E and attended OCC full time. She earned a total of 33 credits while majoring in Mathematics & Science. Her course load included demanding classes such as Calculus, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. “At first my parents told me it would be really hard. I finished my first semester and got all A’s and B’s. That’s when I got really excited and wanted to do more.”
On Saturday, June 22 Eck will be rewarded… twice. During J-E’s graduation ceremony she will receive her high school diploma and her associate degree from OCC. College President Dr. Casey Crabill will be on the stage to personally congratulate her. “It will be a great moment, but I didn’t do this to get attention. I just wanted to get ahead.”
Eck found her OCC experience to be very enjoyable, from the class registration process to the classroom. “I was amazed with all of the support I received. I worked with Jenna Alexander in Advising most of the time. She was great. Even though I was the youngest person in class the professors didn’t treat me any different. I’m really glad I got this opportunity.”
In the fall Eck and all of her 63 college credits will transfer seamlessly to the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. She believes her OCC experience has given her the confidence she needs to experience success at a four-year college. “I know a lot of people can be nervous about the transition from high school to college. The OCC program was a really smooth transition. If you take classes in high school and you take classes at OCC, you get the best of both worlds. You can smoothly transition into college.”
Grainger Sasso is on the fast track to success. When he graduated from West Genesee High School in June 2015 he had already accumulated 38 college credits through a combination of AP classes and OCC’s College Credit Now program. The strong foundation he built in high school will lead to a degree from OCC in just one year.
Sasso is majoring in Mathematics and Science and is in the College’s Honors program. He’s tailored his academic schedule to go along with Cornell University’s Biomedical Engineering program which he’ll transfer into for the fall 2016 semester. It requires several high-level classes which he’s been able to excel at here thanks to the great learning environment he’s found on campus. “What has blown me away is the dynamic between professors and students. I’m amazed at my professors’ caliber of qualification, their teaching styles and their effectiveness in the classroom. I’m taking some difficult classes, especially in mathematics. These teachers have made it so easy for me with their support outside of class.”
In November Sasso was inducted into international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. He also began a valuable internship coordinated through the College’s Career and Applied Learning Center. Sasso is working at a research lab, Ichor Therapeutics which is located on Route 11 in Lafayette. He’s getting hands-on experience with diagnostic machinery and learning basic procedures for toxicity tests. His internship will go through the spring semester and into the summer.
Sasso’s commitments outside class include working as a Student Ambassador, giving tours to prospective students and their families. In the spring he’ll be especially busy as a member of OCC’s Men’s Lacrosse team. Sasso played two years of varsity lacrosse at West Genesee and hopes to earn a national championship ring with the Lazers. OCC has won seven consecutive national titles, nine in the last 10 years and owns an active 105 game winning streak. Sasso plans to continue playing lacrosse at Cornell as well.
Shannon Houghton is on the fast track to success thanks to her hard work in high school. When she graduated from Cicero-North Syracuse in 2014 Houghton had earned 36 college credits through a combination of AP and OCC’s College Credit Now program. With one year of college work already complete Shannon chose to start at OCC. “It’s been a good experience here. I like my classes and my teachers.”
Houghton earned a 3.8 grade point average in the fall 2014 semester. She was named to the President’s List and was invited to join honor societies Phi Theta Kappa and Sigma Alpha Pi. One year after graduating from CNS, Houghton will earn a degree from OCC in Humanities with an Honors Minor.
Houghton plans to transfer to SUNY Binghamton and pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Her goal is to earn a master’s and become a psychologist. “OCC was the perfect step for me between high school and a four-year college.”
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