Carlos Prillwitz’s decision to pursue a college degree was about more than giving himself career options. He had a point to prove to his three daughters. “I always told them you get out of it what you put into it. I wanted to show them you can do anything in this world as long as you put your mind to it.”
Prillwitz is a native of Los Angeles who spent 22 years in the United States Army. While a member of Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division, he met his wife in nearby Alexandria Bay. They married in 1999 and settled in her hometown of Syracuse after he retired. Prillwitz had never attended college so when he entered the post-military working world he was forced to settle for an entry level position. “My supervisors were in their 20s. After nine months I put in my notice and decided it was time to go to college.”
Prillwitz had heard from fellow Army veterans about the difficulties of going to school at an older age. “They told me horror stories but once I got into the classroom at OCC everything was fine. I actually had a younger student tell me I was an inspiration to her and other students.”
Prillwitz majored in Business Administration and did so well he was selected to join the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa during his final semester on campus. “I wasn’t a very good student in high school. Coming here and excelling and showing my kids what I could do meant a lot.”
When he wasn’t in class, Prillwitz could often be found in OCC’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs which is located on the second floor of Coulter Hall. “I would go there quite often and interact with other veterans. I felt it was important to spend time with them and I enjoyed doing so.”
Prillwitz will earn his degree in May and hopes his daughters will follow in his footsteps. “I’ve had nothing but positive experiences here. I love OCC. I’m pushing my daughters to come here. You get a great education with minimal costs. You learn from professors who also teach at Le Moyne, Syracuse and Cornell. You can’t beat it.”
Prillwitz plans to transfer to Le Moyne College where he will pursue a bachelor’s in Business Administration with a specialization in Analytics.
Adnan Aljuboori has traveled the world and found a home at OCC. He’s a refugee from Iraq who moved to a neighboring country before coming to the United States. “Iraq was in trouble. The situation was really bad. That’s why I left home and traveled to Turkey,” he said.
Aljuboori arrived in the United States in 2011. Five years later he became a full-time student at OCC. He switched majors before finding his passion. “I chose computer science because of how much money you could make. I did well but I did not like the subject. Someone told me, ‘Do what you love and the money will follow.’ So now I am doing what I love.” Aljuboori enrolled in the Engineering Science major and is pursuing his dream of becoming a civil engineer.
During his time at OCC he has helped make campus a better and safer environment for all students. He has served as a member of both the Diversity Council and the Student Conversation Circles about Race, Gender, Religion, Economic Status and Sexual Orientation.
Aljuboori became a United States citizen in January 2017. This May he’ll achieve another milestone when he earns his college degree. He plans to transfer to either Syracuse University or Cornell University.
Aljuboori credits three people with playing critical roles in his success: College President Dr. Casey Crabill, her Executive Assistant Julie Hart and Chief Diversity Officer Eunice Williams. “Dr. Crabill always believed in me and supported me. Ms. Hart always supported, helped and motivated me. Professor Williams was always available for me. Any time I needed anything I could talk to her, she would listen to me and tell me where I could go for help. It’s very important to have people who can help you. To make relationships like that, to learn from their experience and have them guide you is invaluable.”
Chidera Joseph came to the United States from her native Nigeria when she was adopted by her aunt. She went through the Jamesville-Dewitt school system and when it came to graduate only one thing was one her mind. “I just wanted to get away from Syracuse because I was having all of these different feelings and felt getting away would help solve all of those issues.” However, Joseph’s aunt, Anthonia Joseph, resisted her impulse and implored her to think about attending a college more local, particularly OCC. “My eventual decision to go to OCC was not mine, it was my aunt’s, because she knew a simple move was not going to be cure all and would in fact only add to my struggles.”
She arrived at OCC in 2014 with the sole intent of coming for one year and then transferring, so her first year only involved her to go to class, work and then back home. When her grades came in her aunt knew she could do better and told her she would need to finish her degree before transferring. It was during her second year, where she began to have a change of heart which in turn led to her transformation. “During my second year I made more of an effort to get involved and I was really surprised on windfall of opportunities that came my way because of it, which totally reversed my initial thought process about attending OCC.”
Joseph would get involved in student government, become a calculus tutor, and participated in the campus’ Race and Ethnicity Conversation Circles and join OCC’s Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP). With her new found energy and interest came a windfall of opportunities from a host of campus employees, including President Dr. Casey Crabill, which drove her to reach further and dream bigger. “Dr. Crabill, Professor Jerry Farnett, Professor Eunice Williams and Mr. Drake Harrison all had a tremendous impact on my second half success at OCC and during my transfer process to Cornell University. I came calling to their respective doors many times for a multitude of reasons and never once was I turned away.”
She is currently on track to graduate this December with a Communications degree with a focus on pre-law. Recently, Joseph had her honors topic selected, which is a highly competitive feat, so she will be researching and writing her thesis on The Effect of Media on Black Youth in the School to Prison Pipeline. After she completes her studies she plans on attending law school with a focus on family law so that she can dedicate her expertise towards children and women. Ironically, after becoming an attorney her dream is to come back to Syracuse. “I want to work on the South side, and after attending OCC Syracuse will always be home to me, and I feel it is important to come back and give back in the community that invested in you.”
Ting Wei Fan came to Onondaga Community College from Taiwan with a dream. “I wanted to attend a top ten architecture school. I saw that a lot of them were in or around New York State. I decided to come to OCC with the goal of transferring to a four-year college.”
Fan enrolled in the College’s Architectural Technology program and blossomed into one of its top students culminating in his outstanding showing in a national design competition sponsored by the Coalition of Community College Architecture Programs (CCCAP). Professor Kenneth Bobis asked Fan and other students in his second-year design studio course to put together entries. The contest required students to design a chapel which would blend in with its natural surroundings. Bobis encouraged students to consider the College’s Furnace Brook Retreat Center which is located just west of OCC’s main entrance on West Seneca Turnpike.
Fan envisioned and designed “Anch Chapel,” a beautiful A-frame structure. It included the following description: “It’s distinctive expression and character are derived directly from the trees’ own elements, which makes the chapel stand distinct from its surroundings and blend in with nature’s scenery at one and the same time, making the chapel accessible to the eye of the observer – very similar to a forest’s opening and closing when one moves through it, looking upwards through the branches’ chaotic network of crossing lines.”
Fan’s design earned him second place in the CCCAP competition! The perfectionist in him thought the ultimate prize was within reach. “I thought my design was good. I needed a little more time to write my concept. I think I could have finished in first place.”
In the fall Fan’s dream will come true when he transfers into Cornell University’s College of Architecture. The website Arch 20 ranks it best in the nation. “Cornell is a dream school for me. I had a great experience here at OCC. It prepared me for Cornell.”
Neil Strodel, vice president of Benefit Consulting Group, has been appointed to Onondaga Community College’s Board of Trustees by Governor Andrew M. Cuomo. Strodel succeeds Steven Aiello whose term expired in 2013. Strodel was sworn-in Tuesday, March 29.
Strodel has more than 30 years of experience specializing in human capital issues with a focus on benefits and human resources. In the private sector he has held key positions with Black Clawson, Goulds Pumps and Syracuse China. He also previously served for 14 years with Syracuse University.
“Neil is a great addition to our highly talented group of Trustees who provide important leadership and service on behalf of the College,” said OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill. “Neil’s extensive experience will help to serve both our campus and our students very well.”
“Neil will be a strong asset for the College,” said Board of Trustees Chair Allen J. Naples. “All of us on the Board of Trustees look forward to further work and collaboration with him in support of our students.”
Strodel is a graduate of both Cornell University and Syracuse University. He resides in Skaneateles.
Members of OCC’s Board of Trustees are Chair Allen J. Naples, Vice Chair Melanie Littlejohn, Secretary John P. Sindoni, Esq., Dr. Donna J. DeSiato, Edward J. Heinrich, Dr. Gary R. Livent, Donald M. Mawhinney, Jr., Neil Strodel, MBA and student trustee Lenoi Carter.
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.
Every weekday morning Dan Cummings’ alarm goes off at 2:30. Two hours later he’s on the air, helping Central New Yorkers start their day as co-anchor of WSYR TV, Newschannel 9’s “The Morning News.” Cummings has been a staple of local media for nearly 40 years while working as an award-winning journalist.
Since 2008 he’s also been a professor at OCC bringing his unique perspective to the class he teaches, “Public Information Officer Basic Course.” Some of his students already work as volunteer firefighters or emergency medical technicians. One day they may be in a position where they will have to answer questions from the media. “I enjoy bringing my experience as the person who has been in the field reporting and asking questions,” Cummings said. “It helps me prepare them for what they will encounter. The students come with an active experience or interest. It’s wonderful to teach and engage and share conversation from the media side and hear what they have to say.”
Cummings was born and raised in southern Cayuga County. He earned a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Geneseo and a master’s degree from Cornell University. In 2013 he won an Edward R. Murrow award in the category of Best News Documentary for “Saints Among Us,” which told the stories of newly-canonized Saints Marianne Cope and Kateri Tekakwitha.
Toni Jones’ interest in studying abroad began at Clary Middle School in Syracuse. “In class we learned a lot about Mexico. I became very interested in Yucatan and decided I’d love to go there some day.” Her passion for traveling and learning brought Jones to Onondaga Community College where she has taken three study abroad trips. “I’m very interested in learning about people and culture. I’m so excited OCC offers these opportunities.”
Jones’ personal journey to a college campus has been a lengthy one. She graduated from Corcoran High School in 1998 and went to work. “I wanted to go to college but never felt I was ready. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and needed to figure things out.” After spending several years in child care Jones decided she wanted to work with adults with disabilities. She is now a Direct Support Professional at Access CNY, formerly known as Enable, where she’s worked since 2006.
Three years ago Jones decided to give OCC a try. “I had a son (now age 12), I bought a house and I did it all as a single person. Once my life became stable I decided the time was right to invest in myself.” Jones began taking classes in the fall of 2012. She excelled while majoring in Humanities and Social Sciences with an Honors minor, earning induction into the international honor society Phi Theta Kappa.
During her first semester she saw a sign promoting an upcoming study abroad trip to central Mexico. She signed up, went on the trip during semester break and it changed her life. “It opened my mind to a lot of things. It was interesting to see things first-hand. The poverty really impacted me. I saw people who worked just as hard as me if not harder and didn’t have nearly what I had. It was very eye opening.”
Jones says the highlight of the trip was a visit to the community of Santa Rita. She and fellow classmates spent the afternoon playing outside with children who had grown up in poverty and owned little more than the clothes on their backs. “It struck me they had so little but were so happy. It was a reminder about how much we take for granted.”
After returning to campus Jones began recruiting students for future study abroad trips. She spoke in classes regularly, sharing her stories and experiences. She also became active in the Social Science department, doing work study there.
“She’s a remarkable lady,” said OCC History Professor Rick McLain. “She’s extremely engaged. She works with our department, was president of our History Club for three semesters and now serves as an Honorary Officer, volunteered with our Lincoln Exhibit and volunteers with the Onondaga Historical Association. I don’t know how she’s able to do so much here along with everything else in her life. She’s an incredible person and it has been a real pleasure to see her go on these trips.”
McLain and Annie Tuttle, an Assistant Professor of Sociology, oversee the College’s Social Science study abroad program, which offered its first trip in 2008 and has continued every year since. “It’s a life-changing experience for students,” said Tuttle. “For many of them it’s their first time leaving the United States. Students build lasting relationships with fellow students and professors and leave OCC with cultural experiences they will always remember.”
The study abroad trips have also had a transformative effect on many students. “I’ve seen several who have become inspired to do much better in class and ultimately pursue higher goals in life,” said McLain. “Completion rates for students who have participated in the program are very high. They are finishing their degrees and going on and getting higher degrees.”
Taking students to Latin American had a significant impact on McLain as well. “Going there as a faculty member changed my life. I had never traveled there prior to coming to OCC. My own professional development was greatly enhanced for teaching World History through not only visiting the magnificent Mayan and Aztec ruins but also through interacting with other faculty members. Faculty learn from each other when we disagree and debate topics. It’s good for students to see us debating in a professional manner.”
Students interested in going on a study abroad trip who need financial assistance can apply for a scholarship through the OCC Foundation . Jones received a scholarship for one of her trips but paid for the other two on her own. “She’s so selfless,” said Tuttle. “She didn’t apply for more scholarships because she wanted other students to have the opportunity to go.”
Two study abroad trips are planned in the upcoming academic year. In March 2016 a group of students will go to India. It will be part of a joint venture with Cornell University and Syracuse University funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. In May McLain will join Professor Tim Scott on a trip to Machu Picchu as part of a Latin America cultural class. You can see student photos from study abroad trips here and here.
McLain hopes the successful study abroad trips happening in the Social Science and Modern Languages disciplines will inspire other departments on campus to consider similar opportunities. “I would love to see Business, Engineering and other areas that could really contribute to building our local community and industry and the job sector get involved too. If students travel to Germany to study engineering or India to study business practices it will only be to their benefit. Any of our students who would go to India and know Hindi would be guaranteed a job because it’s such a rare language. Cultural and language connections would equal a real payoff.”
If anyone needs a student’s perspective on the power of studying abroad, Jones is always willing to share her experiences. “I tell students ‘It changes your life. It makes you see the world like you never saw it before and appreciate what you have here. If you have the opportunity to study abroad, do it!’”
Thousands of students study in Mawhinney Hall every year, but most may not know the story of the person whom the building is named after. His role in the creation and growth of Onondaga Community College can not be overstated. His willingness to give of himself for the greater good is something we can all learn from. This is his remarkable story.
Donald Mawhinney Jr. is a member of our greatest generation. He was born in 1926 and served his country as a member of the United States Army during World War II having enlisted at age 17. In the 1940s he served in the Infantry, Army Air Corps as a B-24 Bomber nose gunner, Second Lieutenant Cavalry, First Lieutenant Armored as a Tank Platoon Commander.
On April 25, 2015 Mawhinney and approximately 80 other veterans travelled to Washington, D.C. as part of Honor Flight Syracuse, a not-for-profit organization which provides veterans the opportunity to visit the national memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice. The journey is a gift to the veterans at no cost to them. “It was such an uplifting day. So many people were involved and went out of their way to plan and execute this event. It was an honor to be included,” said Mawhinney.
The day started early with a 7 a.m. flight out of Syracuse. Each veteran was paired up with a guide who would help them navigate through their various stops in the capital region. Mawhinney’s guide was one of his four children, daughter Joyce MacKnight. She helped her father through visits to the World War II, Vietnam and Korean War Memorials. They also saw the Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Iwo Jima Monument. During their tour they were treated to an unannounced visit from Martin E. “Marty” Dempsey, a United States Army General and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “He came on his own, introduced himself to each of us and shook each of our hands. He was so gracious. It was very impressive and meant a lot to all of us.”
Nearly 12 hours after Honor Flight took off from Syracuse, the U.S. Airways jet carrying them returned to Hancock International Airport. As the veterans and their guides made their way into the terminal they saw hundreds of family and friends who had assembled for a welcome home ceremony. “It was such an emotional feeling to come into that airport and see so many people. I will never forget that feeling.”
The entire day was one more memorable chapter in Mawhinney’s life story. He grew up in Syracuse and graduated from Nottingham High School where he was elected president of the student body. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and went to Hamilton College at the Army’s expense. “D-Day hit and everything changed. I was allowed to finish the semester, then was sent to Fort Dix (New Jersey).” During World War II Mawhinney would also serve at military bases in Texas, Colorado, Florida, Alabama, California and Kentucky. He dreamed of a position in counter intelligence and as the war was ending he was offered one in Japan. “I knew I had seven years of college ahead of me and decided to return home.” Mawhinney earned his bachelor’s degree at Hamilton College and his law degree at Cornell University.
Mawhinney began practicing law in New York State in 1952 as a member of the Wall Street law firm of Beekman & Bogue. In 1954 he joined the Syracuse law firm now known as Hiscock & Barclay, LLP where he still has an office. Throughout his career Mawhinney has served the Central New York community admirably.
He was a member of the Onondaga County Board of Supervisors (now known as the Onondaga County Legislature) from 1958 to 1965.
In 1961 Mawhinney was appointed a founding trustee of Onondaga Community College which opened its doors to students in 1962. He has held multiple leadership positions with the Board of Trustees and the OCC Foundation. Today he is the longest-serving trustee in the entire 64-campus State University of New York system. He is also the longest continuously serving community college trustee in the United States and Canada.
Belongs to the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Advisory Council, American College of Trusts and Estates Counsel, American Bar Association, New York State Bar Association, Onondaga County Bar Association, American Bar Foundation, New York State Bar Foundation, New York State Bar Association International Law Section, and the New York State Bar Association House of Delegates.
Mawhinney was a delegate to the Fifth Judicial District Convention for the selection of candidates for New York Supreme Court judgeships.
He was a founding trustee of the Erie Canal Museum and served as chairman and trustee for 48 years.
Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed Mawhinney chairman of the New York State Erie Canal Park Planning Committee.
Served on the boards of Hope for Bereaved, Junior Chamber of Commerce, Americanization League, Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, Citizens Foundation, Syracuse Governmental Research Bureau, Better Business Bureau of Greater Syracuse, Syracuse Symphony, Board of Trustees of the Association of Community Colleges in SUNY, and the New York Community College Trustees Association Foundation.
Mawhinney was a member of the New York Seniors Golf Association, Century Club, Onondaga Golf & Country Club, Gyro Club, Sons of the American Revolution, American Legion, St. Andrew’s Society, Eastside Racquet Club, Sedgwick Farms Tennis Club, University Club, and the Liederkranz Club.
He was a New York State Delegate to the 1988 Far East Conference with Lawyers’ Associations in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Mawhinney’s lengthy list of honors and recognition is equally impressive.
Selected by the Syracuse Community as the Junior Chamber of Commerce’s “1962 Man of the Year.”
Earned “Distinguished Service in Trusteeship” recognition from the National Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
Received the “Association Distinguished Service Award” for 30 years of participation in New York Association of Community College Trustees activities.
Recognized by the State of New York Association of Community College Trustees for service as its president.
Honored with a life membership in the national Association of Community College Trustees.
Received the “United States Northeast Region Trustee Leadership Award” from the national Association of Community College Trustees.
Given the “Anne M. Bushnell Award for Extraordinary Leadership and Special Achievement” from the New York Association of Community College Trustees.
In 2006 a building on the OCC campus known as Academic One was renamed Mawhinney Hall.
In 2010 he was placed on Nottingham High School’s Wall of Fame.
It has been and continues to be a wonderful life for the 88-year-old Mawhinney, and he’s treasured it each step of the way. “I feel very fortunate for everything I’ve done and everything I’ve been allowed to do. I’ve made and worked with so many great friends along the way. It’s been great.”
Update: In May 2016 Abdel-Razek earned his second degree at OCC. One month later he was offered a full scholarship to attend Cornell University. Abdel-Razek will begin classes there in August. Congratulations Karim!
Original story: Karim Abdel-Razek is pursuing his childhood dream at OCC. “Ever since I was young I wanted to be an architect. I’ve always been good at math and I love looking at really cool buildings that inspire me.”
Abdel-Razek was born in Egypt and moved to Syracuse in 2012. He attended Syracuse’s Nottingham High School and graduated a year later. He enrolled at Onondaga in the fall of 2013 and is a dual major. He’s on course to earn an Architectural Technology degree in December 2014 and an Engineering Science degree in May 2016.
Outside of class Abdel-Razek is very busy. He’s a member of OCC’s student honor society, Phi Theta Kappa, Secretary of the Muslim American Society on campus, a member of the Architecture Club, and an intern in OCC’s Sustainability Office. “I like being busy and I like accomplishing things. There is nothing like the feeling you get after finishing a design.”
OCC is just the beginning of Abdel-Razek’s higher education plan. He intends to earn a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, a doctorate in structural engineering and a master’s in architecture.
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.