New Student Citizens

OCC student Lenoi Carter (left) becomes an American citizen. He's joined on stage by (left to right) New York State Supreme Court Justice James C. Tormey, OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill and Jevar Carter (his brother).
OCC student Lenoi Carter (left) becomes an American citizen. He’s joined on stage by (left to right) New York State Supreme Court Justice James C. Tormey, OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill and his brother, Jevar Carter.
Israa Khaleel (left) and her father, Firas Aldein become American citizens.
Israa Khaleel (left) and her father, Firas Aldein become American citizens.

Two current OCC students became American citizens during a Naturalization ceremony November 17 in Storer Auditorium.

Lenoi Carter is a native of Jamaica who was sworn-in. The Engineering Science major is a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa and the student representative on the College’s Board of Trustees. Carter will earn his degree in May 2016.

Israa Khaleel also became a new U.S. citizen. She’s a native of Syria who moved to Iraq before settling in Syracuse. She graduated from Henninger High School in 2013. Khaleel is a Mathematics and Science major and member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. She will graduate in December 2015. Her father, Firas Aldein was also sworn-in during the ceremony.

A total of 83 people from 31 countries became American citizens. Fifth District Administrative Judge and New York State Supreme Court Justice James C. Tormey administered the oath for citizenship.

Bianca Archange

Bianca Archange feels fortunate to be where she is today, especially when you consider where she’s come from. Archange grew up in Haiti where there was no “free” public education system. Children could only go to school if they could afford it. “I was able to go to school because of my grandmother’s sacrifice. She went without things to pay for my school and sold her belongings to provide us with food.”

On January 12, 2010 Archange’s world changed forever when a massive earthquake decimated Haiti, killing more than 100,000. “When the earthquake happened I thought I was going to die. There was no food or water for anyone. I watched people die from hunger or sickness and there was nothing I could do to help. I had faith. I had a strong desire to survive and still do to this day.”

Bianca was sworn-in to international honor society Phi Theta Kappa in April 2016.
Bianca was sworn-in to international honor society Phi Theta Kappa in April 2016.

One year later Archange moved to the United States with her younger sister and brother. She started learning English and enrolled in Henninger High School. Archange was introduced to OCC’s Liberty Partnerships Programs (LPP) which wound up being her foundation here in Central New York. The organization provides students with strong school and community partnerships aimed at helping students with a high risk of dropping out. “I thank LPP for everything they did for me. Mr. Steve (Steve Wolf, LPP Program Director) and Ms. Heather (Heather Niver, LPP Program Coordinator) were wonderful. Ms. Heather is like a mother to me.

When it was time to consider college LPP guided Archange through the process. “They helped me with my essay for college and helped me apply for a scholarship. I am very grateful for what they did.” Archange was thrilled to learn she earned the Data Key Communications Endowed Scholarship through OCC’s Foundation. The scholarship helps pay for her tuition, fees and housing, and is possible due to Data Key Corporation LLC’s very generous support. “I am so fortunate to live on campus and only think about school.”

Archange’s growth and excellence in the classroom was noticed by many. She was named the Central New York Region Liberty Partnerships Program Student of the Year for the 2014-15 academic year. Today she is enrolled in OCC’s Nursing program. Her goal is to become a doctor and bring much needed medical care back to Haiti. In the meantime she’s thankful to have found a home on the OCC campus. “It makes me feel great to be here. I know I’m going to make it because there are a lot of opportunities in the United States. It’s a big change from where I came from.”

Shining Star of Child Care: Stella Barbuto Penizotto, ’90

Stella Barbuto Penizotto’s affiliation with Onondaga Community College started with her first class in the fall 1988 semester and has grown stronger in the 25 years since she graduated. “The things I learned at OCC laid such a strong foundation for me,” said Penizotto. “The constant help I’ve received from OCC’s Small Business Development Center has helped me build what we have today.”

John and Stella Penizotto own and operate Shining Stars Daycare's three locations in Onondaga County.
John and Stella Penizotto own and operate Shining Stars Daycare’s three locations in Onondaga County.

What Stella and her business partner and husband John have built is “Shining Stars Daycare,” a group of locally owned day care centers in Onondaga County that employ 70 people and serve 330 families.

Penizotto graduated from Syracuse’s Henninger High School in 1987 with plans to go into nursing. When she decided she preferred to become a teacher she enrolled in OCC’s Human Services major. “It was perfect for me. The teachers and everyone within the major were great, and I loved what I was learning.”

After graduating in 1990, Penizotto continued on to SUNY Oswego, where she would earn her bachelor’s in elementary education two years later. “I was ready to become a teacher but there were no teaching jobs.” She took a job as a nanny then worked at three different child care centers.

It was 1994 and Penizotto was combing the classifieds searching for a new job when she stumbled upon an ad which caught her attention. “It was for space at Medical Center East in East Syracuse. We looked at each other and realized it was the perfect opportunity to open our own day care center.”

cropped Shining Stars logoWith her husband’s marketing expertise and her day care experience, the Penizotto’s opened their first Shining Stars Daycare in July 1994. By the fall it was filled to capacity. Seven years later they opened their second center in Manlius. In 2009 they opened their third facility in Liverpool.

The Shining Stars in Liverpool is a brand new building built to the Penizotto’s specifications. The entire design is based on everything Stella learned from spending time in other day care centers and seeing what did and didn’t work. Each classroom in the 14,500 square foot facility is larger than state regulations call for. Outside are three playgrounds specifically designed to accommodate children in three different groups: toddler, pre-K and school-aged. The center also has a 3,000 square foot gym where children can burn off their seemingly endless amount of energy. “Having a gym in this climate is invaluable. There are only so many days out of the year children can play outside. With our gym we always have a place for children to play.”

Joan Powers is Director of OCC's Small Business Development Center.
Joan Powers is Director of OCC’s Small Business Development Center.

As Shining Stars has continued to grow, Penizotto has leaned on OCC’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC). “We call them all the time. In the beginning it was about business plans and projections. Every time we opened a new center we would work with them again on financing and any grants that might be available.”

Penizotto’s point person at the SBDC is Joan Powers, who is its director. “Joan just has so much knowledge. There are things you need to know to get through the process and Joan and the SBDC are great to work with. I always tell people they are so worth looking up. Their services are free.”

Penizotto in the Rose Garden at the White House with President Obama
Penizotto in the Rose Garden at the White House with President Obama

In 2010 Powers was so impressed with what Penizotto had accomplished she nominated her for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s “Small Business Person of the Year” award. The judges agreed and Penizotto won both the Syracuse district and New York State awards. She then solely represented New York State in the running for National Small Business Person of the Year awards in Washington, DC during National Small Business Week. Attendees were recognized at a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House and Penizotto was photographed with President Barack Obama. “When we met the President it was very brief. I got to shake his hand because I happened to be right up front.”

In 2014 OCC named Penizotto an “Alumni Face” in recognition of her professional achievements and contributions to the College and the community. A plaque highlighting her accomplishments is on-display in the Academic II building. “It’s a tremendous feeling to be honored by OCC. I loved my time there and value the relationship I continue to have with the College.”

Penizotto will continue her relationship with OCC’s Small Business Development Center as she plans her next major project. “We’re going to rebuild our Manlius center. Any other expansion plans will be up to our daughter.” The Penizotto’s 15-year-old daughter Alyssa is a sophomore at Liverpool High School who plans to get her teaching degree before fully joining the family business. The Penizotto’s also have a son, 11-year-old Peter.

Penizotto has been in business long enough to see children return to her centers as employees. “We have several 18-year-olds working for us now who started with us as children. It’s rewarding to see how well they are doing. In many ways it’s a testament to the hard work we’ve put in and the success we’ve experienced. We’ve been fortunate to be in business for 21 years.”

Abeer Alziadi

Abeer Alziadi has been able to adapt to her surroundings and achieve excellence wherever she’s been. Alziadi was born in Yemen and moved to the United States when she was 3 years old. Her family, which includes her parents and six siblings, settled in New York City.

Two months into her senior year of high school her family moved to Syracuse. Alziadi walked in the door at Henninger High School and found a friend in counselor Marinda Williams. “She helped me with everything. She helped me find my classes, she helped me learn which bus to take. I would have been lost without her.”

In June 2012 Alziadi became the first member of her family to earn a high school diploma. Thanks in large part to On Point for College, a resource Williams had told her about, Alziadi got the assistance she needed to apply and pay for college. Two months after graduating from high school Alziadi began taking classes at OCC.

Alziadi was at her third school in less than a year and in need of guidance. She found it in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) located on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center. “My first semester I lived in the EOP office. Whenever I needed help there was always someone available. My time in the EOP office really impacted my grades in a positive way. It was where I was most comfortable.”

In December 2014 Alziadi earned her degree in Humanities and Social Sciences. She stayed at OCC for the spring 2015 semester and is taking four classes which will transfer with her to Syracuse University. Alziadi will major in Social Work as she continues to be inspired by the kindness of Williams who was her guiding light at Henninger. “Every minute I spent with her was so precious. I want to help people the way she helped me.”

Israa Khaleel


Israa Khaleel feels right at home at OCC. Khaleel and her family left Syria for Iraq and eventually came to Syracuse. In 2013 she graduated from Henninger high school. Today she is a member of OCC’s student honor society, Phi Theta Kappa. Khaleel has excelled as a Mathematics and Science major and plans to graduate either in December 2015 or May 2016. “There are a lot of opportunities here. The teachers are very good and very helpful. The Learning Center is wonderful. Everything is excellent.”

Khaleel says majoring in math and science gives her a lot of career options. “Here in America there are so many opportunities, so many programs in the medical field. I will finish OCC then decide what direction I want to go in.” Khaleel plans to follow other family members into a medical-related profession.

OCC Professor Joins Syracuse School Board

One of OCC’s most engaging and inspirational voices is lending his services to the Syracuse City School District. Mark Muhammad, an Assistant Professor of Communication at the College, has been appointed to the Syracuse School Board. Muhammad was appointed by Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner. His appointment is effective immediately.

Muhammad is a Syracuse native and a graduate of Henninger High School. In 2006 he graduated from OCC with a degree in Business Technology. Muhammad has also earned degrees from Cornell University and Syracuse University.

“I am honored to serve the citizens of the city of Syracuse in this role and look forward to working with others who are dedicated to improving achievement for all students. I thank Mayor Miner for this opportunity,” Muhammad said.

Mark Muhammad (left) is sworn-in as a Syracuse City School District Board Member by Mayor Stephanie Miner (left) at Syracuse City Hall.
Mark Muhammad (left) is sworn-in as a Syracuse City School District Board Member by Mayor Stephanie Miner (right) at Syracuse City Hall. Next to Muhammad is his wife, Sharon. Next to Mayor Miner is Muhammad’s mother, Donnie Herring.

Music Man: Michael Delledera, ’98

Michael-Delledera,-'98Music was always Michael Delledera’s passion, but without little league baseball he may have never turned his first love into a successful career. Delledera grew up in Syracuse and graduated from Henninger High School. Despite being heavily involved in music throughout secondary school, he decided to major in Radio/Television at OCC.

Delledera’s favorite professor was the late Vinny Spadafora who was also chair of the Radio/Television department. “He was a performer, an entertainer, and a professor all in one. His personality was outstanding and carried over into creating a wonderful atmosphere to learn in,” Delladera said.

Delledera earned his degree in 1998 and transferred to SUNY Oneonta. He graduated two years later with a B.A. in Music Industry.

Delledera moved to New York City and began pursuing a career. He was working music-related part-time jobs to make ends meet. Delledera was employed by Columbia Artist Management and an independent record company.

In his spare time he was also coaching little league baseball, a position which led to his big opportunity in music. “Parents found out about my music background and one by one they each asked me if I could teach their child guitar or piano. I started teaching all of my baseball players music and that’s how my music school started.”

In 2005 he started Ivy Music School in Brooklyn. Delledera’s staff grew to four instructors, offering private lessons in piano, guitar, drums, violin, voice and songwriting. Today their students range in age from four to 17 years old. Ivy Music School has educated hundreds of students in the New York City and tri-state area. “Some of our first students are entering high school. It’s very rewarding to see their evolution and how their success in music gives them confidence in other areas of their lives.”

Delledera is also President of Ivy Productions, Inc. The company includes the school and his music production business. Since becoming a producer he has developed a greater appreciation for all types of music. “I listen to music with a more open mind now. I always try to find something good and positive in a song.”

In 2008 he formed the “Mike Delledera Band” for which he is a singer, songwriter and guitarist. In May 2014 they released their debut full-length album “WakeUpSideDowntown” on Delledera’s label. The album is available on iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby.

Delledera’s wealth of experience as a student, musician and instructor has put him in a position to offer valuable advice to people interested in a career in music:

*“You have to have a really good skill set and know your craft. Knowledge is power. Know as much as possible. Technology is evolving and constantly changing. You have to keep up with it.”

*”You need to have good people skills and social skills and be able to connect. You need to be able to look people in the eye and have a relationship with them. I’ve worked in restaurants and other jobs where it’s all about being social. That’s equally important in what I do today.”

You can learn more about Delledera’s band and listen to their music at More information on his music school is available at