Life has never been better for Augustine Wait and Htoo Eh. They are students at Onondaga Community College who were born and raised in a refugee camp in Thailand. It was the only life they knew until they were welcomed into the United States. Wait arrived in 2011. Eh arrived two years later. “If I ever feel like I’m taking my life for granted here, I reflect back on what it was like in the refugee camp and I don’t take it for granted anymore,” said Wait.
Eh, whose first name is pronounced “too,” and Wait are cousins. They both graduated from Henninger High School in 2017 and are on track to earn their degrees in May 2020. Eh is a Humanities & Social Sciences major while Wait is enrolled in the American Sign Language program. Their happy place on campus is the office of the Educational Opportunity Program which is commonly referred to as EOP. It is a counseling and academic support program designed to help low-income and first-generation college students succeed in college.
The EOP office is where you can usually find Eh and Wait when they are not in class. Both are part of the EOP work/study program and often receive assistance from tutors there. “I get a lot of help in English and Math. This is my home here on campus,” said Eh. “I really love EOP,” added Wait. “This is where I make new friends and get the help I need.”
“We’re so proud of what Augustine, Htoo and all of our EOP students have accomplished,” said Marcus Watts, EOP Director. “In the fall semester 70% of our students had a grade point average above 2.0 and 35% were greater than 3.0. The EOP program throughout SUNY has been recognized as one of the most successful access programs of its kind in the country.”
Sheba Jackson and Manny Mateo are hard-working student-athletes determined to make their community a better place. That’s why they recently received Athletic Awards for Sportsmanship and Community Service. Jackson and Mateo were honored for their accomplishments during a recent Board of Trustees meeting.
Jackson is a 2016 graduate of Faith Heritage High School majoring in Humanities & Social Sciences. She’s a member of the Volleyball team who will earn her degree in May. She plans to pursue a degree in Philosophy at either Binghamton or Stony Brook. Jackson is the daughter of a pastor who grew up performing community service and continued down that path as a student at OCC.
Mateo graduated from Henninger High School in 2016 and is a Computer Forensics major. He’s a member of the Track & Field team who has national championship potential in the shot put, discus, javelin and hammer throws. After he earns his degree in May he will transfer to Utica College and major in Cyber Security. During his time on campus Mateo participated in the Applied Learning Experience and Conversation Circles.
Both Jackson and Mateo are big believers in playing hard and encouraging everyone to do their best. “When we go to track meets we are always cheering on other athletes,” said Mateo. “It’s good if you’re good, but if you’re the only person whose good that’s not really fun. You want to get everyone to the next level with you so you have competition.”
Beatrice remembers coming to the United States like it happened yesterday. She was born and raised in a refugee camp in Tanzania. “The environment there forced you to grow up so quickly you missed your childhood,” she recalled. In 2007 Beatrice arrived in the United States along with her parents and seven siblings. She was 12 and didn’t know English. “Have you ever tasted food you’ve never had before and you’re really anxious about how your stomach is going to handle it? It was like that coming to a world where you don’t speak the language. The environment, people and culture are all different.”
Over the course of several years Beatrice and her family adjusted. She attended Syracuse City Schools, graduated from Henninger High School and came to OCC. The College was exactly what she needed. “I grew so much coming here. I grew in so many ways I didn’t even realize. I learned so much from the people that I met, the people I communicated with, the President, the Provost, the students, the professors. There are so many people here who supported me in so many ways.”
Beatrice is a full-time student who works three jobs. In May, at the age of 22 she will become the first member of her family to earn a college degree. She plans to continue her education and become either a lawyer or psychiatrist. Whichever she chooses she is committed to a lifetime of learning. “Too many people focus on what is bad about life when they should be focused on what is good about life. The moment you are born life is like an empty box. What you put in the box is what you learn as you grow up.”
This weekend Zia Jackson will become the first member of her family to graduate from college when she receives her degree in Hospitality Management. She says her dad deserves as much credit as she does. “Saturday will be a very emotional day for both of us. My dad has been a big part of this. We have been through a lot together.”
Jerry “Jay” Jackson came from a broken home. When he was a small boy his father left, leaving his mother to raise four sons and a daughter. They grew up poor, living on a steady diet of buttered noodles for weeks at a time.
When Zia was two-years-old her parents split up. Her father raised her. They’ve been inseparable. “We’re both geeks,” she said. “We’ll watch Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings marathons on TV together.”
Zia attended Henninger High School. As she approached graduation day in 2015, going to college was a regular topic of conversation. “He didn’t go to college and he wanted to make sure I did.” After a long day at work he would research information on college-related scholarships, degree programs and internships. His dedication to his daughter’s success motivated her to become a successful student. “Everything I do related to college is for him. He’s worked so hard for me.”
Zia has also worked hard for herself. Besides taking classes full-time she also works 30 hours a week at Panera in Marshall’s Plaza on Erie Boulevard. With her father’s help she’s exploring transfer opportunities. This fall she plans to enroll at either SUNY Delhi or Empire College.
India Carr is the beneficiary of the generosity of employees at Onondaga Community College. She’s won $250 on her Lazer Card. The money is a gift from OCC employees donated on National Philanthropy Day. “I am over the moon about winning this. The money is going to help out a lot. I’ve scoped out supplies and textbooks in the bookstore I may use the money on.”
Carr was one of 10 winners announced March 1 in the Gordon Student Center during the OCC Foundation’s “Show Me The Money” event. During those festivities, the OCC Foundation announced funds raised for both Phi Theta Kappa’s “Completion and Transfer Fund” and the Student Association’s “Semester Start-Up Fund.” Money generated is a direct result of employee donations.
Carr is a 2011 graduate of Henninger High School who earned a Photography degree from OCC in 2013. She returned to OCC in the fall 2016 semester to begin pursuing a Nursing degree. She entered in the contest to win $250 after hearing about it from the embedded tutor in her Anatomy class whom she meets with regularly in the Learning Center. “I’m in the process of writing a thank you note. The sheer fact people were so kind and willing makes you me want to go out and give back to someone else. I’m all about doing to others what you would want done to yourself.”
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.”
Henninger High School students know a great opportunity when they see one. More than two dozen 9th graders came to the OCC campus in January as they began work toward earning college credits in Health Information Technology and Clinical Lab Technician programs. “I want to go to college and pursue a medical profession and this gets me started,” said Lara Shqair, a Henninger High School freshman.
Shqair and her classmates are taking advantage of the Pathways in Technology Early College High School program, or P-TECH. It allows students to complete work on their high school diploma while earning credits toward their associate degree. P-TECH is funded by a grant from the New York State Education Department. The grant covers tuition, books and fees. The program is free of charge to the students.
The Health Information Technology and Clinical Lab Technician programs are the product of a partnership between the Syracuse City School District, OCC, SUNY Broome, SUNY Upstate Medical University, St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center and Laboratory Alliance of Central NY. Students will come to the OCC campus for their Health Information Technology classes. They’ll take their Clinical Lab Technician courses online through SUNY Broome.
“We’ll make sure students have the essential skills to be successful,” said Karen Fabrizio, Chair and Coordinator of OCC’s Health Information Technology program. “When these students graduate from high school they will be more than halfway toward earning their associate degree.”
Henninger students spent two days on the OCC campus as part of the effort to help build the student engagement component of the program and receive computer training. They met the two OCC Professors they’ll be learning from, Marlesha Minet and Meredith Wolanske. Students were also introduced to “Blackboard,” OCC’s Learning Management System. Professors use Blackboard to communicate with students by posting class content. Students use Blackboard to submit assignments.
These Henninger 9th graders are the first group of students in the Health Information Technology and Clinical Lab Technician P-TECH program. OCC is participating in two other P-TECH programs, both of which present students with opportunities in Electrical Engineering Technology or Mechanical Technology. It includes students from the Institute of Technology at Syracuse Central along with students in all nine Oswego County school districts.
High school students from across Central New York spent Friday, October 28th on campus as part of the annual Music Student for a Day program. The event gives students considering an education and career in music the opportunity to learn what it would be like to attend OCC.
Students spent most of their time in the beautiful Academic II building. They had the opportunity to sit in on a variety of music classes ranging from history to theory to appreciation to reading. Students were treated to a concert by NYS Baroque in Storer Auditorium. They also had the opportunity to attend break-out sessions for vocals, woodwinds, strings, percussion, brass, flutes and piano.
Students loved having the chance to see what OCC’s Music program is all about. “It was a great experience to meet with professors and see first-hand what a college class would be like,” said Alex Moore, a senior at Syracuse’s Henninger High School. His classmate at Henninger, Asael Puentes also found Music Student for a Day to be invaluable. “I got questions answered. It’s really nice to know where I want to go to college.”
A total of 90 students and teachers from 13 school districts took part including Canastota, Clinton, Lyme, Mexico, Phelps-Clifton Springs, Pulaski, Red Creek, Richfield Springs, South Jefferson, Syracuse, Tully, Waterloo and Weedsport.
High school students or teachers interested in participating in a future Music Student for a Day program or scheduling a visit can do so by contacting Music department secretary Leslie Kraus at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Fuller needed help. It was September 2015. He was struggling through his first few weeks on the OCC campus. Fuller had come to OCC from Henninger High School where he was enrolled in the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection. It’s a program which helps students overcome the barriers that cause them to drop out and abandon their education.
Fuller had been receiving guidance from Hillside since the 9th grade. Fortunately OCC had opened a Hillside office in the Gordon Student Center in time for the fall 2015 semester. That’s where Fuller would come and talk to his mentor, Renita Adams every day. “Chris’s situation really put the pressure on me to help him find his niche,” said Adams.
Adams called admission counselor Jason Barnes who also assists Hillside students. Through conversations with Fuller they realized he had chosen a major that wasn’t right for him. They introduced Fuller to Bob Tanchak, a professor in the Mechanical Technology department. Fuller spent time with Tanchak and fell in love with the Engineering Science major. “It’s hands-on which really attracted me to it,” said Fuller. “When I first came to OCC, I wanted to get out in two years and get a job. Now I may want to do four or six years of college.”
Fuller is one of the many success stories whose lives Hillside has played a significant role in transforming. Hillside changes the norm for students and families living in generational poverty by giving them necessary guidance and the tools to be successful in school, thereby expanding their access to education and employment opportunities. “Our students come from poverty and they’re more likely to drop out of school,” said Adams. “Even in college they still have most of those risk factors. For me it’s about helping them make that connection between having a college degree and a successful future.”
Fuller became a part of Hillside at Henninger where his advocate, Patrick McCarthy played a huge role in Fuller’s life. “Mr. McCarthy showed me how important school was. Because of him I got help with my homework, got help with my Regents and got a job,” said Fuller.
Hillside’s Youth Employment Training program makes sure students are ready for the responsibility which comes with a job. Students have to meet specific academic, attendance and behavior requirements. Once a student clears that hurdle Hillside will help them find a job. Fuller received a scholarship from Wegmans and started working at its James Street store in 11th grade. He still works there, primarily as a cashier and loves it. “Everybody is so friendly. It’s a great environment, especially for your first job,” said Fuller.
The Hillside program is open to students in the Syracuse City School District. At OCC Adams serves approximately 100 students who have come to campus from the city. She worked with students at Corcoran high school for four years before opening Hillside’s first office on campus. Adams does a little bit of everything to help students succeed. “I’m their advocate. I’m their school mom. Whether I’m helping them to get organized, or to having those conversations about what’s going on at home and how it’s affecting their school life or getting them involved in different clubs or organizations on campus. I wear several different hats but I’m used to it.”
Adams has the unique ability to relate to these students because she used to be one of them. “I grew up on the south side and went to city schools. I understand their lives and the temptations and barriers they face. I share my story with them all the time. It helps them open up with me about what’s going on with them in their lives.”
Adams came to OCC and earned a degree in Humanities in 2003 and continued on to Syracuse University where she would graduate with a degree in Child and Family Studies. An organization named The Urban League guided her through her troubled times. “I had a mentor in my life who pushed me to get through Henninger, to get through OCC, to get through S.U. I want to be that same person for these students.”
Adams is now in her second semester working at OCC. In between classes there’s always a line of students waiting to speak with her. She comes to work with a big smile and boundless energy. Her fuel is the students she helps. “I don’t take my role lightly. I understand how important it is. For a lot of the kids I’m whom they rely on to be that cheerleader, that motivator, reminding them of their goals. The students keep me smiling and keep me pushing to go the extra mile for them.”
As for Fuller, Adams sees a different person and student than she did just one semester ago. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing. He wants to do the work. He’s getting tutoring to help with his grades. If he needs to meet with a professor he does that. He’s on the right path!”
They left with a strong desire to help others. They returned with a sense of satisfaction and an appreciation for life here at home. Seven of the College’s Nursing students spent their semester break on an unforgettable service learning trip. They brought medical supplies, provided health care and shared knowledge with the people of Guatemala.
Assistant Professor Lee Berg coordinated the trip for the third year in a row. She planned fundraisers and oversaw the collection of medical supplies. One week before their scheduled departure Berg and the students gathered to pack up their supplies. They filled 16 suitcases as close to the 50 pound limit as possible. When they finished they still had supplies left over which have already been set aside for the next trip.
OCC’s contingent took off from Syracuse December 29. When they stepped off the plane in Guatemala and began making their way to the rural area where they would spend the next 10 days of their lives it was evident they weren’t in the United States any more. “There was a tremendous amount of pollution in the air,” said student Lindsy Coon (Central Square high school). “Everyone there burns there trash. Vehicle emissions are bad too. You would see a van going up a hill leaving a big, black cloud of smoke behind it.”
Once they arrived in the community of San Lucas Toliman the students went right to work. They spent two days in a rural mountain village building fuel-efficient stoves in homes which vented to the outside. Residents were used to cooking inside over an open fire without any ventilation, blackening walls and lungs with damaging smoke which would contribute to significant respiratory problems. Cooking over an open fire in the home also increases the risk of severe burns, especially for children.
OCC students also broke up into teams of two and worked on teaching projects including hygiene, injury prevention and overcoming diarrhea. “We did our best to tailor our donations to what we were teaching,” said Coon. “When we talked about hygiene we gave everyone toothpaste, tooth brushes, body wash and hair products.”
When the topic was injury prevention they gave children donated shoes. “A lot of the children are barefoot. Wearing shoes prevents parasites. We made bringing shoes a priority because it’s a direct health intervention,” said Coon.
Students found natives were actually surrounded by solutions to their health problems. “We used plants to make shampoos and a substance similar to Vicks Vapo Rub,” said Shaowen Chen (Baldwinsville high school). “For diarrhea we worked on rehydration with plants which grow there.”
On January 7 the students said good-bye, boarded a plane and returned to Central New York. “I was so happy to come home. I walked in our kitchen and couldn’t believe everything we have,” said Coon. “It was very rewarding to go there,” said Cheng. “I would definitely do it again.”
A slideshow can be found at the bottom of this story. The Nursing students who went on the service learning trip are:
Rita Brush, Henninger high school
Lindsy Coon, Central Square high school
Shaowen Cheng, Baldwinsville high school
Kaylee Hartley, Edward-Knox high school
Josh McGinley, Whitesboro high school
Hannah Rhodes, Binghamton high school
Kira Kelley, Lafayette Junior-Senior high school
Berg and the students would like to thank the following business and organizations whose generosity made this trip possible:
OCC’s Whole Earth Club
The entire OCC Community which generously donated supplies and funds
Families and friends of the students who also contributed supplies and fund
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.