Natalina Natoli was a freshman at Solvay when she began considering the possibility of earning her associate degree by the time she received her high school diploma. “My guidance counselor said, ‘we can try this. You might be able to get all of the credits you need to earn your degree.’”
Fast forward four years to June 22, 2019. The auditorium at Solvay High School was filled for graduation when Natoli was unexpectedly called up to the stage. There to greet her was Onondaga Community College President Dr. Casey Crabill who presented Natoli with her associate degree in Liberal Arts & Sciences: Humanities & Social Sciences. “I felt a mix of embarrassment and pride. Embarassed because I was singled out but proud of what I had accomplished. The reaction from the whole community made me feel proud. I knew I had earned my degree but had no idea they were going to acknowledge it.”
How was Natoli able to earn both her high school diploma and associate degree simultaneously? “I learned how to balance my life. The workload wasn’t unbearable as long as I paced myself and balanced it all out.” Natoli earned 72 college credits in high school, 46 through OCC’s “College Credit Now” program which allows students to take college-level classes in their home high schools. She also took three classes on the OCC campus and three more online. “There were times I had to sacrifice sleepovers or things with my friends because I had papers due or classes to take. I was able to balance it all out and still have relationships.”
All of her hard work will pay off this fall when she enters Syracuse University as a junior majoring in Marketing with a minor in Environmental Sustainability Policy. “I don’t know if I could have gone to S.U. if I didn’t save so much money on the first two years of college. Doing this really let me go to the four-year school that I wanted.”
Natoli is grateful for that conversation she had with her guidance counselor four years ago and the opportunity it presented her with. “I’m fortunate we had this option through OCC. I became a full college student before I even left high school. There were some things I missed out on in high school but it was immensely worth the experience, time, and money saved. It was unbelievably worth it.”
Carlos Prillwitz’s decision to pursue a college degree was about more than giving himself career options. He had a point to prove to his three daughters. “I always told them you get out of it what you put into it. I wanted to show them you can do anything in this world as long as you put your mind to it.”
Prillwitz is a native of Los Angeles who spent 22 years in the United States Army. While a member of Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division, he met his wife in nearby Alexandria Bay. They married in 1999 and settled in her hometown of Syracuse after he retired. Prillwitz had never attended college so when he entered the post-military working world he was forced to settle for an entry level position. “My supervisors were in their 20s. After nine months I put in my notice and decided it was time to go to college.”
Prillwitz had heard from fellow Army veterans about the difficulties of going to school at an older age. “They told me horror stories but once I got into the classroom at OCC everything was fine. I actually had a younger student tell me I was an inspiration to her and other students.”
Prillwitz majored in Business Administration and did so well he was selected to join the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa during his final semester on campus. “I wasn’t a very good student in high school. Coming here and excelling and showing my kids what I could do meant a lot.”
When he wasn’t in class, Prillwitz could often be found in OCC’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs which is located on the second floor of Coulter Hall. “I would go there quite often and interact with other veterans. I felt it was important to spend time with them and I enjoyed doing so.”
Prillwitz will earn his degree in May and hopes his daughters will follow in his footsteps. “I’ve had nothing but positive experiences here. I love OCC. I’m pushing my daughters to come here. You get a great education with minimal costs. You learn from professors who also teach at Le Moyne, Syracuse and Cornell. You can’t beat it.”
Prillwitz plans to transfer to Le Moyne College where he will pursue a bachelor’s in Business Administration with a specialization in Analytics.
The story of Anas Almaletti is nothing short of remarkable. After graduating from high school in Jordan, he came to the United States to be with his father who was operating a cell phone repair service. He started classes at Onondaga Community College the following fall in 2006 and prepared himself for the language barrier and post September 11, culture he had experienced since his arrival. However, from his first day of classes he was encouraged and inspired. “I could read, but not speak the language, but my professors and classmates helped me through the process so having a small setting and identifying with my instructors on a personal level was instrumental in adapting to the work.”
When he first enrolled at OCC, Almaletti wanted to be a doctor, but he soon found out that he was not passionate about the coursework involved in the profession. He would transfer after graduating in 2008 to Binghamton University with a focus on Chemistry, but continued to find himself uninspired after graduating with the degree two-years later. He decided to take a year off to work with his father and reevaluate his options when he discovered the spark he was looking for. “Soon after I started working for my father I realized the business needed a lot of organizational and marketing help so I set about improving these areas and almost immediately I found my passion.”
Almaletti became a fixture in the company and would go on to get his MBA from Syracuse University in 2014 in order to fully commit to the profession. While at SU he began incorporating his education into how he could grow his father’s company because he knew the model of repairing and refurbishing cell phones was not a high growth opportunity. That year, AT&T bought out Cricket Wireless. He saw an opportunity to establish satellite branches locally and draw on his education coupled with what he had learned while working with his father. Today, Almaletti heads up about 15 Cricket Wireless stores and is as surprised as anyone. “I had no idea I would be where I am today once we started this process, all of this started with me wanting to help my father’s business and to see where we have come is truly unbelievable.”
Most of his stores have been open for only a year or two. He’s in the process of reviewing their profit analytics before committing to further expansion but is optimistic. He still operates his father’s store, with his brother, and due to their success his father has been able to retire. Looking back, he feels much of his success is due to the start he received at OCC. “The best thing the College taught me was they were going to support me, but I was going to have to put the work in. This type of mindset has stayed with me and allowed me to push through some tough times in order to get to where I am today.”
Adnan Aljuboori has traveled the world and found a home at OCC. He’s a refugee from Iraq who moved to a neighboring country before coming to the United States. “Iraq was in trouble. The situation was really bad. That’s why I left home and traveled to Turkey,” he said.
Aljuboori arrived in the United States in 2011. Five years later he became a full-time student at OCC. He switched majors before finding his passion. “I chose computer science because of how much money you could make. I did well but I did not like the subject. Someone told me, ‘Do what you love and the money will follow.’ So now I am doing what I love.” Aljuboori enrolled in the Engineering Science major and is pursuing his dream of becoming a civil engineer.
During his time at OCC he has helped make campus a better and safer environment for all students. He has served as a member of both the Diversity Council and the Student Conversation Circles about Race, Gender, Religion, Economic Status and Sexual Orientation.
Aljuboori became a United States citizen in January 2017. This May he’ll achieve another milestone when he earns his college degree. He plans to transfer to either Syracuse University or Cornell University.
Aljuboori credits three people with playing critical roles in his success: College President Dr. Casey Crabill, her Executive Assistant Julie Hart and Chief Diversity Officer Eunice Williams. “Dr. Crabill always believed in me and supported me. Ms. Hart always supported, helped and motivated me. Professor Williams was always available for me. Any time I needed anything I could talk to her, she would listen to me and tell me where I could go for help. It’s very important to have people who can help you. To make relationships like that, to learn from their experience and have them guide you is invaluable.”
Jen Boback’s military experience set her on her career path. During her nearly four years in the United States Army she realized there was a need for people who specialized in counseling and helping others. “In the military alcohol and substance abuse is part of the culture, especially for coping and stress. I talked to people a lot, gathered information and did research to try to understand and manage why they rationalized and behaved the way they did. I thought seeing my peers drinking was a phase. As time passed I learned it wasn’t a phase and was becoming permanent for too many people and a huge part of our culture.”
Boback completed her military service in December 2016 and one month later began taking classes on the OCC campus. “I returned to New York after the Army because I wanted to go to Syracuse University. I decided to start at OCC and work my way up. I thought with the program here I could build a good foundation for a career in mental health.”
During her time in the Army, Boback displayed a strong work ethic. She was a distinguished honor graduate in her training class with the highest grade point average as a Watercraft Operator. She also spent nine months in Kuwait where she completed many sailing missions. Her experiences have served her well on campus. “I learned a lot of lessons that translate to college work. I understand things on a deeper level and am able to contribute by sharing a range of experiences and perspectives.”
During the fall semester Boback was inducted into international honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK). This semester she is serving as the chapter’s Vice President of Scholarship. “I really like all of the things PTK does and the opportunities it offers. The responsibilities we have help develop professional skills. I also enjoy the many volunteering opportunities which allow me to engage with the community.”
Boback enjoys staying busy outside class. Besides her role with PTK she is also Treasurer of the Veterans Club at OCC, works at a pet store, volunteers at the Museum of Science and Technology, will be engaging in service learning at the Northside Learning Center and is just beginning an internship at Syracuse Behavioral Health Care.
When Boback earns her degree in December she will be the first member of her family to do so. She plans to transfer to Syracuse University and continue to pursue her goal of becoming a psychologist.
When you walk into student central this semester, you’ll see a lot of friendly faces ready to help with whatever you need. One of those faces is Matt DelFuoco, an enrollment associate. He’ll be able to help answer questions and point you in the right direction on financial aid, registration, advising and more. Beyond the friendly face and the smile is a person you might find is just like you.
DelFuoco, a Syracuse native, attended and recently graduated from both Syracuse University and OCC, majoring in music. He’s an avid trombone player and loves both comic books and tattoos. Once, DelFuoco even opened for Justin Bieber before he became famous in 2009 at an event in Clinton Square. “That was a unique moment,” DelFuoco says, “And I didn’t even know it at the time.”
He’s someone who values building relationships with people above all else. “I really love interacting with people and trying to help them answer questions and resolve issues.” It makes coming to work every day easy for him.
DelFuoco is also trying to build a better future for himself. He’s attending Syracuse University’s graduate program for communications at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. It’s a field that has always fascinated him and he hopes to get a job in the field when he completes the program.
But that doesn’t mean we’ll be losing DelFuoco’s friendly face from student central. He plans to stick around helping the students and serving the community while he completes graduate school.
Matt DelFuoco has served as an enrollment associate in student central since July 2017.
ReBecca Blanch was destined to spend her life shooting pictures. She grew up with a photo studio and darkroom in her home. “My father was a photographer and I have very fond memories of him taking pictures, watching him in the darkroom, and helping him in the studio. I became familiar with the work and all of the equipment at a very young age.” It wasn’t until she got to Liverpool High School and took her first photography class that she truly fell in love with the profession. “I was fascinated by the camera’s capabilities, the darkroom, and the creative process. Learning about photography in the classroom took my interest in the field to a much deeper level. I knew becoming a professional photographer was what I wanted to do.”
During her junior year she opened her own business, ReBecca’s Photography, a business she still owns and operates today. After graduating from Liverpool, she came to OCC and majored in Photography. “All of the courses were beneficial and engaging. To this day, I still use what I learned in several classes, including Art Theory. It’s where I learned how colors impact each other and basic principles. I keep these in mind while designing marketing material or explaining to clients what they should wear prior to every shoot. It allows me to create the best portrait for my client.”
Blanch would go on to earn a degree from Syracuse University as she continued to develop her portfolio of clients. Besides her very successful wedding business of 19 years, ReBecca has branched out to find work in the corporate field. Her portfolio to date includes such businesses as the American Dairy Association and area schools. “Being an entrepreneur is challenging and time consuming but it’s equally rewarding. It’s a great feeling to look back and see my accomplishments from building my photography business from the ground up. I’ve reached a point where I can choose which projects I want to take on.”
Despite her busy schedule, Blanch is always willing to speak with local students about career options. She remembers when she was a student and was on the receiving end of valuable advice. “I was always appreciative of anyone who took the time to talk with me about my interests and dreams. I’d like to give-back and be able to provide the same guidance and encouragement to today’s students.”
Her experience and love for speaking with students led her to enroll in Marist College’s Integrated Marketing Communications Master of Arts program. She’s hoping to both enhance her business, provide herself the option of becoming a teacher, and do more work in the corporate world. Returning to school is a continuation of a passion she discovered at Onondaga. “My love for education began at OCC. It was the right choice for me from not only an educational standpoint, but for a love of learning as well. My positive experience at OCC started me on the right path to think about my future and how I can continuously set myself apart from the competition to be successful.”
An Thai is living the American Dream. A decade after immigrating to the United States from Vietnam Thai has earned college degrees, started a family and has a great job.
Thai arrived in Central New York in 2007. Several other family members also came over from Vietnam and all 12 of them shared a single home in Eastwood. “It was difficult. There wasn’t money for even basic groceries like milk. We lived off instant noodles we brought with us from Vietnam.”
He started working at a Vietnamese restaurant and began taking classes at Onondaga Community College. He chose the Computer Science major and credits two professors with guiding him. “Tim Scheemaker and Pam McCarthy were instrumental in my success through their tough, yet simple to understand teaching styles which allowed us solve problems rather easily.” During his time on campus, Thai was inducted into international honor society Phi Theta Kappa, became a STEM Scholar and tutored students in math and computer science. He left OCC with a nearly perfect 3.98 grade point average and earned a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University in 2012 with a 3.94 GPA.
After working as an application developer for a few years, he was hired by Saab Defense and Security USA LLC as a software engineer. Thai recently transferred to Saab Sensis in January 2017. Even though it’s been seven years since he left OCC, lessons learned here have proved to be invaluable. “At work, I need strong fundamental knowledge of learning and absorbing hard topics and developing methodologies to understand them quickly. OCC provided me with those skills.”
Thai lives in Mattydale with his wife, son and newborn daughter.
Jill Wilson’s dream is to earn a master’s degree in Nutrition Science from Syracuse University. OCC’s Hospitality Management program is helping her make that dream come true.
Before coming to OCC, Wilson attended SUNY Oswego. She majored in Wellness Management and minored in Health Science and Nutrition. “I had an internship with a dietitian on the Oswego campus. I spoke with her about my goals. She helped me figure out I needed to take prerequisite courses before I could apply to SU.”
The need for prerequisite courses brought her to OCC. She arrived in the fall 2016 semester as upgrades to the facilities within the Hospitality Management major were being completed. “All of the professors and chefs here have been wonderful and the facilities are incredible. I’ve felt very welcome and have enjoyed my time here.
Wilson will begin pursuing her master’s at S.U. in the fall semester.
Major @ OCC: Liberal Arts: Humanities & Social Sciences with minors in Honors and Women’s Studies
Heather Flewelling is a 34-year-old mother who has become one of OCC’s top students. She’s overcome significant life hurdles to reach this point. “My journey has been filled with so many ups and downs and I have learned and gained from those experiences. Everyday seems to have either new joys or challenges both at school and at home. I’m very proud and can’t wait to see where this journey will take me.”
Flewelling earned her GED in 1999, tried to go to college but wasn’t ready for the challenge. Then life happened. She gave birth to a daughter with disabilities. “School was put on hold for a long time. I needed to be with my daughter every day.”
Three years ago Flewelling was ready to try college again. “It was time for me to go back to school. It was time for me to pursue what I wanted to pursue as a career.” Her pursuit focused on the health field. “My daughter requires a lot of my time and attention. A career in public health would give me the flexibility that I need at home to have the career I want.”
Flewelling’s desire to return to college was aided by a scholarship opportunity through the OCC Foundation. She applied for and was awarded the Helen & John Etherington Endowed Scholarship. “The money helped me so much. I don’t work during the semester but still have to live. It was a big relief.” Helen Etherington enrolled in OCC in 1965 while raising four children. She earned her degree at OCC and three additional degrees from Syracuse University. Etherington returned to OCC as a faculty member, became an administrator, OCC Foundation Board Director and an Alumni Faces honoree. The Helen & John Etherington Scholarship is awarded to female students who are 25 or older and have dependents at home.
Flewelling has taken advantage of the support she’s received. She’s earned membership in international honor society Phi Theta Kappa thanks to hard work coupled with the wisdom which comes with being older. “My dedication is much different now. I’m very on top of everything. I go above and beyond what is expected of me. I look for bigger and better opportunities. My age and life experience have made a difference. I’m very dedicated to being in the classroom.
In March, Flewelling will travel to Albany and represent OCC as one of two honorees at the USA Today Phi Theta Kappa All-New York Academic Team Recognition Ceremony. She was overjoyed when she learned she had been selected. “I remember when I got the email. I was so overly excited. I was in the middle of the mall jumping up and down. I’m very proud of that. It’s a big honor!”
When Flewelling receives her degree in May she’ll leave campus with wonderful memories and an appreciation for those around her. “My experience here was wonderful. I fostered so many relationships with students and professors. Relationships here really opened up doors for me. I made a great decision coming here.”
Flewelling plans to transfer to Syracuse University and pursue a bachelor’s in Public Health with a minor in Medical Anthropology.
When you support Onondaga Community College, you are making a statement that you believe in the importance of quality affordable education for everyone. You are creating new opportunities and new beginnings for students and our greater community.