Jamel Rizek

Jamel Rizek
  • Major: Biology with a minor in Communications
  • High School: Westhill, class of 2017

Jamel (pronounced juh-MEEL) Rizek serves the campus community as a Student Ambassador, giving campus tours to prospective students and their families. He views tours as an opportunity to not only show off the campus, but also to find out people’s backgrounds. “I love talking to parents and hearing what they have to say. They have so much knowledge to share. During one tour I met someone who was in the profession I want to get into and I learned so much from them.”

Rizek’s goal is to become a nurse. He loves helping people and is a member of the Howlett Hill Fire Department. When he was 16 he was certified by New York State to be a first responder. Last semester, on a day when Rizek had two final exams in the morning, he drove to Rochester in the afternoon and passed his test to become a certified Emergency Medical Technician.

During his two years on campus, Rizek has embraced coursework and found the college classroom experience has made him a better student. “I enjoy what I’m learning here. In a Chemistry lab, we made baby aspirin with two chemicals you wouldn’t expect to put together. Doing things like that make learning so enjoyable and engaging.”

His older sister Nor also attended OCC and is now enrolled at Harvard University. She commutes weekly from Central New York to Cambridge, Massachusetts for classes. “When she comes home we enjoy seeing each other and catching up. We also work with each other on school work. I love math so I’ll help her with math in exchange for her help with my writing.”

Rizek will earn his degree in May. Between now and then he plans to give a lot of campus tours. He enjoys seeing the looks on people’s faces as he shows them around. “If the sun is out and there is no snow, the areas people enjoy the most are near Stonewalls Restaurant and the amphitheater next to Gordon. If the weather is bad everyone likes the Academic II hallway. I tell them ‘this is a bridge across campus. When the weather is bad you can just walk through here to get from one side to the other.’ They like hearing that.”

The OCC Effect: Nor Rizek

Nor Rizek (right) with her brother and current OCC student, Jamel Rizek (left).

Nor Rizek grew up in Onondaga Hill and attended Westhill High School until her junior year. Rather than enjoy summer in Central New York she packed up and moved to the West Bank in Palestine to live with family for the next two years. While there, she finished her high school degree and worked as an English teaching assistant at an all-girl’s secondary school.

Rizek returned to the area in 2011, took a phlebotomy course and became a certified technician. She enrolled at Onondaga Community College in the spring of 2012. “I knew I wanted to be a doctor, but didn’t know how to go about it, so OCC was very familiar and I knew I could get my start there while keeping cost to a minimum until I found my path.” During her time at the College she volunteered at a local fire department. She arranged her school schedule around rush hours at the family restaurant to make sure she would be there to assist her father. Whenever her community needed her, she would hurry to the firehouse, get her gear on and hop on a fire truck. Today she continues to serve the community as a volunteer at the Howlett Hill Fire Department.

Things took a turn in 2014, when Rizeks’ mother passed away during the second semester of her sophomore year. The grief was too much to bear and she left school. “It was a tough decision but at the time I needed to step back in order to eventually move forward.” Rizek moved to Hawaii and finished her associate degree. She kept the dream alive of becoming a doctor by enrolling at Harvard University where she is currently pursuing a degree in biology, psychology and legal studies.

Rizek plans to take the Medical College Admission Test next August and anticipates graduating in 2020 after she finishes her research study. Medical schools on her short list include Tulane, Louisiana State University and SUNY Upstate Medical University. Despite the rigors of traveling back and forth from Syracuse to Cambridge to take classes, her determination is unwavering largely because of the lessons she learned at OCC. “I was and remain inspired by all of the students there who are usually working, raising a family or overcome their own difficult situation all while taking classes in order to create a better life for themselves.”

This type of perseverance and faith is something she reinforces with her siblings, especially her brother, Jamel, who is a second year student at OCC. “I tell him every day that he is in a good place and if he ever needs help there is more courage in asking for it than waiting for things to get worse. OCC provides you with the confidence and foundation to advance yourself to accomplish whatever it is you set out to do.”