OCC’s growing presence in one of Syracuse’s most impoverished areas is the topic of our monthly podcast, “Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College.”
Two years ago the college opened an office at the Southwest Community Center on South Avenue. The office is staffed by OCC Recruitment Specialist Flagan Prince. He has worked tirelessly to establish a presence there and a connection with the community. Prince has also built relationships with people interested in attending OCC. One of them is Rashawn Sullivan who is completing his first semester in college. Sullivan spent several years incarcerated before becoming a college student. He’s turned his life around and found a home on campus.
Samuel Rowser ’86 grew up on the south side of Syracuse where he attended Central Tech before it closed after his sophomore year. He would finish high school at Corcoran and then enlist into the Marine Corps. His home life was solid as he quantifies himself as a SOP (Son of Preacher) so faith, hard work and the requirement to help others were instilled in him and his six siblings at an early age. He was released from the Marine Corps on an honorable discharge three years later and it wasn’t long after that a series of bad decisions left him incarcerated for the next two years. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do and it was during that search for purpose I took a couple of wrong turns,” Rowser said.
When he was released, Rowser would eventually find his home and purpose at Onondaga Community College (OCC) a year later in 1984. “OCC was an exciting time for me right from the start,” Rowser said, “in my first semester I was persuaded to join the JAMAA Club and everything started to fall in place from there.” In his first meeting with JAMAA (a term that means “family” in Swahili) Rowser was elected as treasurer of the group and by March, he was also named president and vice president of the club. Thinking back on this Rowser cannot help but laugh, “going in [to the first meeting], me and my buddy had no idea what the group did,” Rowser said smiling, “and by the end of the meeting we were leading the group!”
However, little did he know at the time, but this experience with JAMAA would introduce Rowser to a world where he would find his passion and calling. The first step in his journey was being able to work directly with the Clubs’ advisor, Jim Martin, who would quickly become someone Rowser would admire greatly. “Jim was more than an advisor,” he said, “ he was my mentor and friend and I feel so fortunate that he took the time he did with me.” The second part was the feeling he got by serving as a key ingredient in making some of the interests of the Club a reality. “Before I got there, the Club carried this stigma that they couldn’t do any programming,” Rowser said, “however, I found the real reason was that they didn’t have a clear vision of what they wanted to do so once we cleared that up we started to hold some great events on campus and in the community.”
Seeing his work in JAMAA and with his background in the military, Martin would get Rowser involved with the recruitment of people completing their military duty through the College’s Veterans Office. In this role, he would walk returning veterans through the enrollment process and work with them on their program of study and getting settled. While serving in this work study role, he would expand on his knowledge of OCC because he was giving tours and working directly with incoming students. He excelled and shortly before he graduated in 1986, Martin would come calling once again to take him under his wing further and hire him full-time through a grant obtained by the Urban Extension Program. It was here where Rowser would become trained in the duties of admission, financial aid and other components of the registration process. “I was going all over town and in people’s homes,” Rowser said, “it was a great experience for me because I loved OCC so much it was an easy sell.”
When the grant ended in 1990, the College hired Rowser to be part of the full-time admission team due to the amount of work and results both he and Martin had achieved while working together. All continued to go well for the next seven years when he fell victim to drug addiction, which caused him to put his career and life on hold until he was incarcerated for a second time in 1999. “During those four years of drug use,” Rowser said, “I knew I was better than what I was doing, but I couldn’t break free and each time I used I would say ‘God you said in your word, if I believe in my heart and confess with my mouth, I will be saved. Save me Lord!’” It was through his incarceration that he would finally be able to break free and get clean because he was able to think rationally and clearly for the first time in four years without being in an environment that kept him from doing so.
Once released in 1999, he went to the Rescue Mission, where he completed a six-month program before he had to go to start looking for work again. It was while he was going through this program that he would see an old friend at a local store. Jesse Dowdell was a friend of his and ran the Southwest Community Center in Syracuse for many years before retiring in 2013. “Jesse saw me in an aisle and went out of his way to find out how I was doing,” Rowser said, “once I explained where I was at, he told me once I completed the program to come talk to him.” True to his word, once the program was completed Rowser called on Dowdell and by the following week he was working for him. “Jesse was tremendous,” he said, “he knew who I really was and looked at me in the here and now, instead of who I was, which is something I’ve tried to do myself with others to this day.
Good fortune would follow him for within a couple months of working there a student came in looking for Ginny Donohue – who had recently just started up On Point for College program, which was an initiative to help urban youth prepare and enter college – because he needed assistance with some financial aid forms. Knowing Donohue was not onsite yet, Dowdell sent the student down to see Rowser because he knew of his work at OCC. “The student came in and all the experience came back to me,” he said, “it was a great feeling and I was able to answer all his questions, assist him with his financial aid application and send him on his way.” When Donohue arrived the kid explained to her that he was all set and pointed to Rowser’s office as she was very interested in finding out who helped him with the financial aid paperwork.
Within the few months, Donohue had talked with Dowdell about transitioning Rowser from working at the Southwest Community Center to On Point. Shortly after, Donohue offered Rowser a job with her and together they would evolve the program from the trunks of their cars, to offices and additional staff at the Catholic Charities Building. “It was a great marriage,” Rowser said, “Ginny is great from running the business side and developing programming ideas, and I had the experience from the enrollment and registration side thanks to all of previous work at OCC.” While working at On Point, Rowser has gone on to get his bachelor’s degree in 2008, was able to meet President Barrack Obama when he visited Syracuse in 2013 and completed his master’s last year, which also coincided with On Point’s fifteen year anniversary. “That was a special moment,” he said, “I told students in attendance that this program not only saved their life, but it saved mine as well.”
Today, he and his wife Patrona, who he credits as an unwavering supporter and a wonderful blessing, are the proud parents of seven kids and are very active at Bethany Baptist Church, which is something Rowser will not lose sight of again. “I find that I am allergic to thinking I do not need God,” he said, “and when I do forget, I break out in handcuffs, so I stay close to God and it works for me just fine.” In addition, he is readying himself for when Donohue steps down as Executive Director in September, and will then begin another chapter in his life in a role of a lifetime. “Even though I was business major at OCC, when I started to help students I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he said, “to come full circle now and to be able to help the children of the students I assisted at OCC is amazing. I am firm believer now that when you do the right things for the right reasons the next right thing will happen.” Each morning he celebrates his good fortune by thanking God for the gift of life and the opportunity to be a better person.
Onondaga Community College received a $220,000 grant from JPMorgan Chase. A ceremonial check was presented during a press conference June 10 in the Whitney Applied Technology Center. The funding will support the College’s Workforce Development efforts, specifically in the training of students for employment in the agribusiness and food processing industry. The College is partnering with employers, nonprofit organizations and New York State to develop the program.
This generous grant from JPMorgan Chase is part of its $1 million commitment to supporting advanced manufacturing training programs in the upstate regions of Syracuse, Albany, Buffalo and Rochester, and part of a much broader $250 million commitment to address the skills gap in communities around the world. Goals of JPMorgan Chase’s plan include:
Building a demand-driven system through cross-sector gatherings to encourage collaboration, share findings and formulate strategies.
Investing in the best training and making targeted investments to strengthen and scale the most effective workforce training programs.
Relying on data and sponsoring a data-driven analysis of skills demand to supply gaps in local markets.
The focus of this project on the agribusiness and food processing industry is in response to a workforce demand in a growing sector of the economy. The five-county region of Central New York (CNY) includes 3,585 farm businesses generating products with a market value of $673 million. Agricultural commodity sales in New York State (NYS) increased by 20% from 2007-2012 to over $5.4 billion annually and by 21% in CNY during the same period. NYS is a leader in agricultural production of apples (2nd in the U.S.); feed corn (2nd); sweet corn (4th); fruits, tree nuts, and berries, (6th); and vegetables for market (8th). NYS is the nation’s third largest producer of fluid milk and commodity crops and was the nation’s top yogurt producer in 2012, 2013 and 2014. In addition, there are more than 200 food processing companies in CNY, including a growing list of farm breweries and distilleries producing beer, hard cider, wine, and spirits.
In October 2014, OCC was awarded a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor as part of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) program in support of this effort.
“We are thrilled to be selected by JPMorgan Chase to receive this important grant funding. Through our Workforce Development program we are committed to responding to the needs of both local employers and workers and aligning the needs of both as we work to advance the economic vitality and growth of the Central New York region. Having this support in place will make a significant impact upon our mission,” said OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill.
“All of us on the Board of Trustees are keenly aware of OCC’s critical role in the community and the opportunity we have to make Central New York a better place for all of us. We applaud JPMorgan Chase for being our partners in this effort through their very generous grant. We are very fortunate to have their support and thank them for it,” said Margaret M. “Meg” O’Connell, Chair, OCC Board of Trustees.
“At JPMorgan Chase, we believe we have a fundamental responsibility to use our resources and expertise to help the communities where we live and work. We are proud to be partnering with Onondaga Community College to provide training to folks in Syracuse that will fill important jobs within the advanced manufacturing sector,” said Mark Allen, Upstate New York Region Executive, Commercial Banking at JPMorgan Chase.
“I am grateful to community partners JPMorgan Chase and Onondaga Community College for their ongoing support of transformative solutions to impact both employers and un-and-underemployed residents in our community,” said Robert Simpson, president of CenterState CEO. “This new investment will dovetail with CenterState CEO’s Work Train initiative, which will align with and support the college’s training programs, helping to develop a manufacturing workforce pipeline in the region.”
OCC is working to ensure the programs it develops are well-aligned with employer needs by using the DACUM (Developing A CurriculUM) process. After a half-century of use, DACUM is widely accepted as the best methodology for creating competency-based and employer-driven training to build workforce capacity. Many state agencies, including the IRS, Texas Occupational Standards Committee, and national, international, and multi-billion dollar corporations, including AT&T, Boeing, Disney, Energizer and General Motors use DACUM to establish effective training programs with superior results.
Several leading employers in the Agribusiness and Food Industry sector have committed to the project including: AGRANA Fruit US, Inc., American Food & Vending, Byrne Dairy, Giovanni Foods, G&C Foods, HP Hood, Food Bank of Central New York and Tops Friendly Markets. Employer partners are committed to identifying and validating competencies, validating curriculum, promoting the program, providing content experts and instructors, identifying career pathways, hiring qualified candidates upon completion and participating in program assessment.
Non-profit partners include CenterState CEO, a 2000-member, business leadership organization; Work Train, a collaborative led by CenterState to link low-income individuals with job-training; the Workforce Development Institute; the Southwest Community Center; Catholic Charities; Syracuse Educational Opportunity Center; the Manufacturer’s Association of Central New York and the Onondaga Farm Bureau. The public workforce investment system is represented by CNY Works and JOBSplus!
Partners in the agribusiness program include SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry, SUNY Morrisville and Cornell University.
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