Five of Onondaga Community College’s best and brightest students had their moment in the spotlight when they traveled to Albany to receive the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. The awards were handed out April 10 inside the Albany Capital Center.
The Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence acknowledges students who have received recognition for distinguished achievements. It is the highest honor which can be bestowed upon a SUNY student. Honorees demonstrated the ability to combine academic excellence with other accomplishments which may include leadership, campus involvement, athletics, career achievement, community service or creative performing arts.
Before students received their awards they were congratulated by SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson. “I am immensely proud of these students, who have demonstrated academic excellence and dedication to enriching their campuses and communities. From research publications in industry journals to volunteering in hospitals and local clinics to holding leadership roles at their institutions, I am inspired by each student we recognize today. Congratulations to all of the students receiving this year’s award.”
Recipients also heard from SUNY Empire State College Alumna Erin Hamlin. She’s a 4-time Olympian, a 2-time World Champion and a 2014 Olympic Bronze Medalist in the sport of Luge. Before her speech a video was played showing Hamlin’s career highlights. She was greeted with a standing ovation as she walked to the podium.
Each of OCC’s SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence winners were called to the stage individually to receive their medal and have their picture taken with Chancellor Johnson and College President Dr. Casey Crabill. OCC’s honorees are:
High School: Jordan-Elbridge, class of 2004
Major at OCC: Business Administration with an Honors minor
Blake spent several years working at Lowe’s before coming to OCC. He became and outstanding student and served as president of the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. Blake earned his degree in December and currently works for Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter. In the fall he will transfer to Syracuse University and major in Economics.
High School: Utica Proctor, class of 2016
Major at OCC: Mathematics & Science with an Honors minor
Ifrah is a native of Kenya who moved to the United States in 2003. During her time on campus she was a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa and tutored students in math. She earned her degree in December and now attends SUNY Binghamton where she is majoring in Integrative Neuroscience with a minor in Africana Studies.
High School: West Genesee, class of 1989
Major at OCC: Human Services
Matthew grew up in the foster care system and is a veteran of the United States Navy. At OCC he was a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. He earned his degree in December and now attends SUNY Oswego. He plans to become a therapist for foster care children, adopted children and their families.
Hometown: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Major at OCC: Mathematics & Science
Hien is an international student from Vietnam who is working to become a pharmacist. When he started taking classes at OCC he did not know how to speak English. Today he is a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. After he earns his degree, Hien plans to transfer to the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
Hometown: Valencia, Carabobo in Venezuela
Major at OCC: Electronic Media Communications
Fabrizio is an international student from Venezuela. He’s an All-American tennis player, a Resident Assistant in the residence hall and a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. Fabrizio plans to continue his tennis career at a four-year college while pursuing a degree in Marketing.
The idea was hatched a few years ago during the college basketball tournament known as “March Madness.” Matt Catalfamo was watching the tourney on television when his mind drifted. He started thinking about creating an app which anyone could use to manage their own tournaments. That’s when he contacted his neighborhood friend, Dan Quackenbush, a classmate at Cicero-North Syracuse (C-NS) High School whom he had worked with on other projects. “We worked together for about a decade,” said Quackenbush. “He knew of my design and development experience.”
Catalfamo and Quackenbush began working on the project. Quackenbush would graduate from C-NS in 2014 and come to OCC where he would major in Electronic Media Communications and Computer Information Systems. Catalfamo would head to Clarkson University. They stayed in constant contact and continued to work on their app. In 2016 they brought their idea to the North Country Regional Business Plan Competition and were awarded second place and a $1,000 prize.
Throughout the process Quackenbush was excelling at OCC, earning degrees in Computer Information Systems (CIS) and Electronic Media Communications. He was inducted into honor society Phi Theta Kappa and named a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence winner. The CIS classes played a significant role in his development along with classes outside his major. “I learned technical writing in English. It helped me drastically improve my language skills to the point where I can speak with several business leaders and communicate the message and goal of our platform.”
Quackenbush transferred to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and majored in Computer and Information Technologies. As a student at RIT he continued working on the app. In March 2017, the app known as Tournament Mgr went live in Apple’s App Store. It gives users the ability to create, manage and run a tournament online or offline. “This is a big accomplishment for us,” said Quackenbush. “It has more than one hundred downloads and the number grows every day. It’s fun to see people are using the app and how they are using it.” Their goal is to expand Tournament Mgr to the web and continue to grow it into a platform.
They are the ultimate teammates. Both are totally committed to each other’s success and willing to do what is needed to make sure each other achieves her goals. On May 14 they’ll cross the finish line together when this mother and daughter duo earn their college degrees.
Sharon Hill is the 58-year-old mom. She worked as an insurance specialist for 16 years when her employer relocated operations. This was the third time she’d been laid off. Sharon was obsessed with finding a new job when her daughter, 36-year-old Toni Jones spoke up. “She told me, ‘Mom why do you want to rush back to work? This is the time to pursue something you’ve always wanted.’”
Thanks to the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program Sharon was able to come to OCC. TAA assists workers who have lost their job as a result of foreign trade. Sharon started taking classes in August 2014 and pursued a degree in Human Services. “Before I started coming here I was concerned about how someone my age would fit into a college setting as a non-traditional student,” she said. “Thanks to encouragement from my professors and academic adviser I became comfortable right away. I love it here!”
After Sharon’s first semester, she was faced with the challenge of maintaining her student status while becoming the sole guardian of her granddaughter, now age 4. She heard about a child care facility on campus, the Children’s Learning Center, and found she was eligible to receive financial assistance. “I couldn’t have done this without the Children’s Learning Center’s help,” she said.
Sharon and Toni regularly help each other with child care. They share a two-family home in Syracuse. Sharon lives with her granddaughter and Toni lives with her 12-year-old son. Toni is a 1998 graduate of Corcoran high school who will leave OCC with degrees in both Communication Studies, Humanities + Social Sciences and an Honors minor. Toni is a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa, a 2016 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence winner and a two-time winner of the OCC Trustee Award in the team category. She came here as a shy student who kept to herself. Once she joined the History Club everything changed. “When I was younger I wasn’t involved in school outside of class and it’s one of the things I regretted most. Once I had the opportunity here to get involved it led to other things. It helped me with my public speaking. I realized I have a voice and I can be an advocate.” Her affiliation with the History Club inspired her to take multiple study abroad trips.
Where do they go from here? Sharon wants to earn a master’s in social work. Toni would like to earn a master’s degree in education and possibly become a high school history teacher. Both agree they’re excited to see each other graduate and plan to keep working together. “We’re each other’s support,” said Sharon. “We know that.”
Dan Quackenbush came to OCC with a passion for films and computers and wound up earning degrees in both. Quackenbush graduated from Cicero-North Syracuse high school in 2014 and entered the College as an Electronic Media Communications (EMC) major. While earning a perfect 4.0 grade point average in EMC he also chose to pursue a degree in Computer Information Systems. “I enjoy doing film work but decided to shift focus. I’ll keep doing film work on the side but my priority is computer networking,” Quackenbush said.
While earning two degrees in two years Quackenbush achieved membership in international honor society Phi Theta Kappa and was named one of the College’s five recipients of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. He also earned the Faculty Award for Academic Excellence, was Vice President of the Politics Club and received the Civic Engagement Recognition award in recognition of his more than 500 hours of volunteering during his time on campus.
In the fall Quackenbush will transfer to the Rochester Institute of Technology (R.I.T.) where he will major in Computer and Information Technologies. He’ll leave OCC with an appreciation for how the College helped him advance to R.I.T. “I can really see how what I learned here is going to help me tremendously in the future, not only at four-year schools but the basic knowledge I have picked picked up. It’s helped me with jobs and will continue to do so.”
Bertina Bailey grew up on a dairy farm in the Cortland County community of Marathon. She graduated from Marathon Central School in 2010 and enrolled in OCC. Bailey worked multiple jobs while commuting daily and double majoring in Criminal Justice and Humanities with an Honors minor. She was a member of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. During her final year as a student Bailey lived in a residence hall and served as an RA. She was awarded a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence for her outstanding academic performance and contributions outside of class.
Bailey plans to attend the National University of Ireland in Galway where she will study psychology. Her goal is to become a psychological profiler with the FBI. She credits OCC with setting her on her career path. “If you’re not sure what you want to do, a community college is a great choice. OCC helped me decide what I wanted to do. I am forever grateful and will remember this College forever.”
Sai Htet Aung came to OCC from Myanmar on the advice of his sister who was studying for her Ph.D. in Chemistry at Syracuse University. “She told me come to OCC for my first two years to save money. I wound up getting a lot more than I expected!”
While majoring in Business Administration Aung served on the Student Advisory Council for the new Learning Center, was Vice President of the Student Association and Vice President of the Student Association’s Executive Committee. “My experiences taught me a lot about teamwork, understanding others strengths and weaknesses and how to get the most out of everyone.”
Aung is a member of student honor society Phi Theta Kappa. In April he was honored in Albany as one of only six OCC recipients of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.
After graduation Aung will transfer to Utica College and major in Construction Management. He also plans to earn a masters degree before returning to his home country and helping others. “I want to share what I have learned and ensure future generations receive better education.”
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