Koichi Nakamura wants students in his home country to have the same opportunities as him. That’s why whenever he returns to Japan, he holds lacrosse clinics for players of all ages. “Lacrosse changed my life. When I was 18 years old, I came to the U.S. to play. I had a very good experience here. I tell Japanese kids they can come to the United States, play lacrosse and study here like I did. I’m very lucky.”
Nakamura is a native of Fukuoka, Japan and a Business Administration major at Onondaga Community College. He is also a two-time national champion having played for the Lazers Men’s Lacrosse team during its undefeated 2017 and 2018 seasons. Before coming to OCC, he attended Nakamura Gakuen University in Fukuoka and earned a degree in Education. During the semester break he returned there and visited college President Satoshi Kai, showing off his national championship ring and plaque along with the certificate he received when he was sworn-in to OCC’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. Their photo is at the top of this story.
Nakamura has a busy year ahead of him. He’ll finish his studies at OCC in December. Between now and then he’s trying out for a professional lacrosse teams. He’s also working with current Lazer lacrosse players who are faceoff specialists like he was. During a faceoff two opponents attempt to gain control of a ball which has been placed between them. Winning faceoffs is a critical component to team success. “You have to be quick and strong. Practice makes perfect.”
In October Nakamura will bring his two lacrosse worlds together. The Falcons, a club lacrosse team from Tokyo will be coming to Central New York to practice and play. Nakamura is organizing their visit. “They have won 11 national championships. They are the OCC of Japan.”
Nakamura’s goal is to return to Japan and teach the game of lacrosse across the country. “Teaching lacrosse makes friends. Thirty thousand people play lacrosse there. It’s not the biggest sport there but it is getting bigger. We are growing the game.”
Graduates of Cicero-North Syracuse and Central Square High Schools along with a native of Kosovo have been chosen to represent Onondaga Community College on the 2019 USA Today Phi Theta Kappa All-New York State Academic Team. All three students are members of OCC’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. They were selected for their academic excellence and community service. The students will be honored during a ceremony in Albany April 24. The students are:
Major: Mathematics & Science with a concentration in Biology
Kate is a member of honor society Phi Theta Kappa. an Honors Student Ambassador, a Biology notetaker for students who utilize OCC’s Office of Accessibility Resources and the recipient of a national Coca-Cola scholarship.
Marigone is a member and officer in honor society Phi Theta Kappa who interned at National Grid last summer where she focused on Substation Engineering and Design.
All three students plan to transfer to four-year institutions and earn higher degrees. They are highlighted in this month’s edition of our podcast, “Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College.” You can listen to the podcast here.
Imagine waking up one morning and deciding it’s time to transform your life. Imagine your transformation going so well you wind up spending five days at Oprah Winfrey’s California mansion. While you are there you are filmed with one of the world’s most famous people as part of a national advertising campaign which you are prominently featured in. That’s what happened to Onondaga Community College student Samantha Sutton. “I still can’t believe it all happened. It was such an ‘aha moment’ in my life.”
Sutton achieved another milestone in her transformation Thursday, March 28. On the night of her 34th birthday she was sworn-in to the college’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa thanks to her perfect 4.0 grade point average in the Human Services major. “It was such an honor. I was so happy and excited to be invited.”
Sutton’s life wasn’t always as magical as it appears to be today. While growing up in Adel, Georgia in the 1990’s and early 2000’s she struggled with her weight. After graduating from Cook High School in 2003, she went to work and started her family. Her struggle with her weight continued. Three years ago she promised herself she would change her life once and for all. “I had always been overweight. Down south we love you with food! I had three boys and decided I needed to get healthy. My jeans were tight and I was tired of it.”
Weight Watchers provided Sutton with the winning formula. She committed to their program and lost 50 pounds. “It was life changing for me.” One year later she was sitting in front of a camera with Oprah Winfrey, being filmed and photographed for Weight Watchers’ national advertising campaign. You can view the commercial by clicking on this link. “I have a folder on my phone with pictures and videos from there. Sometimes it doesn’t seem real! Oprah was such a nice person and she was really funny. It was good to see. Sometimes when you meet people you’ve always admired you can walk away disappointed. It wasn’t that way with her.”
Sutton decided to give college a try and enrolled at OCC for the fall 2018 semester. She wanted to set an example for her sons (ages 12, 10 and 6) and wound up starting a friendly competition at home on their refrigerator doors where they post their school work. “We all bring our grades home and say ‘look at my grades!’ They’re motivated to bring home A’s and show me their great grades. We’re constantly cleaning off space on the refrigerator so we can fit more good grades.” The end of this semester will mark the end of Sutton’s stay at OCC and she’s enjoyed her time here. “I like the diversity on campus and I’ve had a great experience. The class sizes are awesome and I’ve had great professors.”
Her weight loss experience has sparked career inspiration. She works for Weight Watchers and plans to transfer to Syracuse University where she will major in Nutrition Science. As someone who spent much of her life struggling with her weight she offers advice to those going through similar struggles. “When you are losing weight make lifetime choices not temporary choices. Lose the weight in a style and manner you can maintain. Don’t lose the weight by only eating lettuce. Can you only eat lettuce for the rest of your life? Be realistic with your goals, what you’re eating and be honest. You can lie to yourself but you can’t lie to the scale.”
Onondaga Community College’s outstanding chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa welcomed 200 new members during its spring induction ceremony Thursday, March 28. The class of students was so large the event was moved from its usual home in Storer Auditorium to the SRC Arena and Events Center. To be eligible for membership in Phi Theta Kappa, a student must be matriculated; have completed 12 credit hours at OCC, and have earned a minimum cumulative GPA here of 3.5.
During the ceremony PTK Advisor and Associate Professor of Sociology Dr. Annie Tuttle presented the year in review for the college’s chapter. PTK officer Kate Hanson (Central Square HS, 2016) shared her moving story about how she turned a negative incident in her life into a campus-wide, week-long learning opportunity, #LightMeUp.
Photographer and film director Solon Quinn was named an honorary PTK inductee. Quinn is the managing partner at Solon Quinn Studios, a content creation and management company which has been doing work in the Upstate New York region for 10 years.
The generosity of Tim and Rosemarie Nelson, both graduates of OCC’s class of 1979 was also recognized. Thanks to the Nelson’s, all PTK members participating in commencement May 18 who are in good standing will be eligible to receive their PTK stoles and tassels the morning of commencement at no cost. In addition, PTK students who reserve their cap and gown from the college bookstore will also be eligible to receive those at no cost.
Four years ago, Ellie Abraham decided it was time to make a difference. She was been born and raised in Central New York by parents who had immigrated to the United States from Palestine. They knew the hardships refugees faced when coming to a new country and starting over. That’s why Abraham started “Community Care of Syracuse.” “We collect donations for refugees and immigrants and give them to families in need. They come here with so much trauma and so many things going on.”
Community Care of Syracuse has taken off. Students from Onondaga Community College, Le Moyne College and Syracuse University have engaged in service-learning with the organization, volunteering throughout the community. Abraham’s group has collaborated with several organizations including Interfaith Works of Central New York, CYO, Vera House, We Rise Above the Street and Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital on a variety of projects. “Last summer we gave out more than 200 bicycles. Upstate Golisano gave out more than 200 helmets and educated refugees on the importance of wearing helmets.”
In 2017 Abraham decided it was time to try college. “I have three children. I had to show them the importance of getting an education. She came to OCC and enrolled in the Human Services major. Her outstanding work outside the classroom was recognized recently when she was named a Newman Civic Fellow. The yearlong program recognizes and supports community-committed students who have demonstrated an investment in finding solutions for challenges facing communities throughout the country. “I wasn’t expecting this but it’s an honor. When I give back to the community I do it as part of our religion. I do things for the sake of God, I don’t do them to get rewarded. The reward is knowing you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing as part of humanity.”
Abraham wants to learn about mental health and become a counselor. She recently was certified as a mental health first aid instructor for adults and will soon be certified for teenagers as well. On March 28 she will be inducted into the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. In May she will receive her degree and plans to transfer to SUNY Oswego and major in Mental health. She’s setting quite an example for her children, the community she serves and plans to take advantage of her fellowship. “I want to build bridges with a lot of people, learn new things and make a difference in our organization and our community. I want to make this school proud. Receiving this honor makes me want to do more.”
The United States Marine Corps changed the course of Vincent Camarena’s life. Before enlisting in October of 2010, he was pretty much out of options. Camarena had been kicked out of high school for disciplinary reasons and didn’t have any role models in his life. “I never knew my dad and I didn’t have a solid mentor. I was missing a lot of structure and discipline. The Marines filled that void.”
Camarena spent five years serving his country. He was deployed twice and visited 10 different countries while working up to the rank of Sergeant. He also learned a lot about life. “The Marines made me a better person. They showed be the difference between right and wrong. The gave me a list of rules to live by and the mindset to accomplish my goals.”
When Camarena wasn’t training Marines for artillery combat he was taking advantage of his down time. He bought “Books for Dummies” and became his own teacher. “I had to catch up so I educated myself in the sciences and mathematics.”
After being honorably discharged in 2015 Camarena returned to Central New York and worked various jobs. In the summer of 2016 he decided to enroll at OCC. “When I started here, I experienced the ‘imposter phenomenon.’ It felt like I didn’t belong and wasn’t smart enough to be an engineer. I felt like everyone was ahead of me, knowledge wise. But then, the hardened warrior within me summoned the courage to carry on and push through my first semester. After a few semesters I became a better student. I was more confident and no longer feeling like the imposter. Yes, I recieved bad grades, but I learned a great deal from my mistakes and worked hard on my weaknesses.”
The days of the ‘imposter phenomenon’ are long gone. Camarena now carries an outstanding 3.75 grade point average and has been invited to join OCC’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. He’s achieved excellence while pursuing a very challenging major, Engineering Science. His attraction to the course work started when he was a Marine. “My job specialty was artillery. We used weapons that weighed nearly 5 tons and could shoot accurately within one meter from 24 miles away. These weapons are called Howitzers. I was observing them one day and wondered to myself ‘how are the Howitzer, the mortar, weapons, radios, cars and everything designed and built?’ So I did a great deal of research into many types of engineering and the school work that is required.”
Camarena will receive his degree in May. He plans to transfer and pursue a bachelor’s degree as he works toward one day earning his engineering license. As he looks back on where he was at the start of this decade, he offers advice for anyone in a similar situation. “There are two things that can make anything possible. First, you must believe it is possible and make it possible. Second, NEVER QUIT AND NEVER GIVE UP!”
Sarah Motayne remembers that feeling of disappointment. She hadn’t been a great student at Benjamin Banneker Academy for Community Development in Brooklyn but dreamed of attending SUNY Oswego and majoring in Business. “When I didn’t get into Oswego, I was pretty upset. I was bummed.” Her ‘plan B’ was a school in New Jersey but she didn’t get the financial aid she needed. Then she received an email about the new “Start Now” program at Onondaga Community College. “I read it and thought ‘maybe this is a sign I should do this!’ I decided to come here and I’m glad I did.”
The Start Now program is a new joint venture between OCC and SUNY Oswego. New York City students who apply to SUNY Oswego but are unable to gain immediate admittance are provided a pathway there through OCC. Motayne was one of 25 “Start Now” students who attended OCC during the fall semester. They were supported by a student navigator and participated in joint programming at SUNY Oswego designed to help facilitate their transition. Start Now is funded by a SUNY Performance Improvement Fund.
Motayne entered OCC as a Business Administration major but switched to Communication Studies after her first semester. “I want to go to Cosmetology school eventually. I thought I would major in Business to learn how to run a business, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I decided to major in Communication because whatever you do you are going to need to know how to communicate properly.”
In the classroom Motayne has done so well she’s been invited to join OCC’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. Her time on campus has become about much more than just improving her grades. She serves as a Student Ambassador giving campus tours to prospective students, works as an usher at the SRC Arena and is a member of the college’s Black Student Union. “My mom is so proud of how well I am doing here and that gives me so much joy. I’m grateful to be here and have this opportunity. I know I made the right choice. I’m glad I chose this path.”
Major: Humanities & Social Sciences with an Honors minor
Home schooled, from Fayetteville
There’s a pretty good chance a Grainger will be attending Onondaga Community College for the next couple of decades. Michaela Grainger is the oldest of nine children. In May she’ll earn her degree in Humanities & Social Sciences. In the fall her brother will follow in her footsteps and enroll at OCC. “My mother went to school here. She graduated, then went to Syracuse University. She told me she saved a lot of money and I would enjoy it. So far I’ve had a great time!”
When Grainger arrived at OCC she had no intention of getting involved in any clubs or organizations. Now she can’t get enough of them. As an officer in the college’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa she has made visits to the Camillus Senior Center and McKinley-Brighton Elementary School where she has advised two very different audiences about technology and social media. She has also served as president of Brothers and Sisters for Christ.
Getting involved made Grainger’s transition from homeschooled to being on a college campus that much easier. “I’m naturally extroverted and love being around people. Because I’m used to a family setting, I love the closeness of the Honors group. We’re a close-knit family.”
Grainger is also a self-described history nerd. She recalls when she was younger how she would read about previous societies such as the Merovingian dynasty of France and make a family tree which would cover a large poster board. “I like learning about past experiences of people and different government structures. I think it’s important to care about history because if you have a good understanding of it you can recognize patterns and apply it to policy now. If we forget our history we are doomed to repeat it.”
History is Grainger’s future. She plans to pursue her bachelor’s in history in the fall. Her goal is to earn a Ph.D. and become a history professor.
This is Bill Galvin’s time and he’s making the most of it. Galvin is a 56-year-old Syracuse Police Sergeant who raised two daughters and is now focused on life after law enforcement. That’s why he’s come to college later in life. “My biggest accomplishments are my daughters and that I was able to raise them on my own. Now that they’re older I want to complete my education at OCC.”
Galvin’s dream was always to be a Syracuse Police officer just like his father, three uncles and a cousin. When he graduated from Bishop Grimes High School in 1980, Galvin joined the United States Army. He spent three years active duty as a Military Police officer followed by three years in the reserves. In 1985 he continued the family tradition and joined the Syracuse Police force.
Galvin had taken the career path he always wanted but eventually realized it wasn’t enough. “People in the blue collar bracket I was in didn’t think we needed college at the time because we had a great career, we made good money, the pensions were great and the health benefits were great. I was able to raise a family. But over the years I’ve always felt ‘just a little bit less of myself’ because I didn’t have that degree to back up my professional life.”
In recent years family conversations often turned to Galvin going to college. Younger daughter Kelly had taken classes at OCC as had older daughter Courtenay who went on to earn a bachelor’s at Le Moyne and a master’s while serving in the United States Army. “Courtenay was a driving force in getting me to go to college. She gave me a lot of encouragement.”
Galvin began taking classes in the spring 2018 semester. He was apprehensive initially but any concerns about feeling out of place as an older student disappeared quickly. “I was very scared coming here to start. I’m thinking ‘I’m in my 50s. What am I doing?’ Then I met the staff here and they were great. My advisors have been great. My teachers and instructors have been great. I feel very comfortable here. I’m really enjoying it and liking it a lot.”
Galvin earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average in his first semester and in October was inducted into the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa during a ceremony in Storer Auditorium. “I was surprised I was able to come back to school after so many years away and complete the assignments to the point where I could do so well. It was an honor to be inducted. I was very impressed hearing the stories of the other students who were also inducted.”
Galvin plans to earn his degree in December 2019. His long-term goal is to give himself the best employment opportunities possible after he retires from the Syracuse Police Department. “Before I started taking classes I asked many local business leaders what they were looking for. All of them said they needed people with backgrounds in emergency management. Getting a degree and presenting to future employers a better package is my goal. I have all of my police training but I want to give employers more options.”
Elizabeth Clancy is on a mission. She’s a 39-year-old mother of three who is powering through Onondaga Community College on her way to an Early Childhood degree. “I started this journey 20 years ago and now I’m going to see it through,” she said.
Clancy graduated from Oswego High School in 1997 and that fall began taking classes at SUNY Oswego with the goal of becoming a teacher. A year-and-a-half later she withdrew. After getting married and starting a family Clancy took online classes for three years while majoring in Advertising.
The dream of becoming a teacher stayed with her. In 2017, she gave birth to a daughter and knew if she was ever going to become a teacher it was now or never. “In summer of 2018 I thought ‘you know what I’m going to do this. I want to get it done before my 1-year-old daughter is old enough for school. I want my children see me finish and complete something I started.’”
Clancy came to Onondaga Community College and dove in headfirst. During a five week summer session, she took 12 credits. “I knew I was going to push through this no matter what because I wanted to be here. I know where I want to go and what I want to end up with.”
Balancing the needs of her family with the needs of her education was a daily challenge. “My family comes first. I have to make it a priority to fit school in and be the best I can without sacrificing my role as a mom. Every night after dinner we would sit down as a family and say ‘what’s going on tomorrow? Who has to be here, who has to be there, who is driving who?’ It’s the same way with school. If I know I don’t have something due for two weeks, I’m going to do what’s due tomorrow first. It’s important to be aware, organized and wanting to do it. I’m good with my grades and it makes me want to do better.”
Clancy was so good with her grades that during the fall semester she was inducted into the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. “It felt amazing. I was always a good student in high school and college but I’d never gotten the recognition. Everything is always about the kids. When my son makes honor roll or my daughter starts walking. I was nervous but it was nice to be recognized!”
Clancy will earn her degree this summer, then pursue a position in a classroom. “I’d like to get a job in a school district for a year and find out what age students I enjoy working with. I don’t know exactly where I’m going to fit in but I hope I find it. It will push me to go back to college and finish my bachelors.”
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