Heading to Harvard

Seth Bae (left) is congratulated by OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill (right) at the December graduation ceremony Tuesday in Storer Auditorium.

Eight years ago Seth Bae and his family moved from Korea to Los Angeles. After arriving in his new home he began working to learn the English language. “I knew the alphabet and a few words. That was it.”

Fast-forward to Tuesday night and the December graduation ceremony in Storer Auditorium at Onondaga Community College. Bae (pronounced BAY), who will be attending Harvard University in the spring, was the student speaker and told his classmates they could accomplish whatever they wanted. “Your pattern overrides your potential. You are here today because for the past two years, you committed yourself to what you believed in and dedicated your time and effort. I want to encourage everyone to continuously practice that pattern you devoted yourself to here at OCC. Don’t let your present circumstances define your destiny and don’t let your doubts stop you from moving forward.”

Seth Bae

Bae has lived that very message. When his family arrived in southern California he was 16 years old. He was placed in English as Second Language class and struggled in school. “I knew I wasn’t ready to do well in college. I thought it made more sense to go in a different direction.” After graduating from Fairfax High School in Los Angeles in 2013, Bae joined the United States Army. While stationed at Fort Drum about 90 miles north of the OCC campus, Bae drove to Central New York weekly to worship at the Korean Church of Syracuse. He liked the people he met there, enjoyed the area and decided to move closer to Syracuse after he was discharged.

Bae started taking classes at OCC in the summer of 2017 and majored in General Studies – Liberal Arts & Sciences. As his English skills improved he became more immersed in campus life. He was Student Association Vice-President of Media, a VA Work Study student in the Student Veterans’ office, a Peer Connector in the Advising Center and a First Year Experience Mentor. He was also a Social Media Reporter, blog contributor for OCC’s website and presented a TED Talk on healthy communication, sharing wisdom on how people can better understand each other and manage disagreements or conflicts. In the classroom he owned a perfect 4.0 grade point average which earned him membership in the college’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa.

Next month Bae will be a visiting student at Harvard University. In the fall he plans to transfer to Yale University. His goal is to work for the United States government in some capacity. Language is his specialty. Bae speaks Korean and English fluently and is learning Chinese and Spanish. Everything came together for him at OCC and for that he is thankful. “OCC is a great transition for wherever you want to go. It was life changing for me here. I’m really grateful for how things worked out. My message is that hard work really pays off. ”

Andrew Casler


Andrew Casler
  • Major: Humanities & Social Sciences
  • High School: Marcellus, Class of 1980

Andrew Casler has done a little bit of everything. He’s a Veteran who has worked as an elevator mechanic, a pilot and a flight instructor. Today he’s a 56 year old college student pursuing a new career. “I did the right thing coming back to school. I’m not looking towards retirement. I want to keep working.”

Casler graduated from Marcellus High School in 1980 and decided to go directly into the workforce. Six years later he joined the United States Army and served as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. While stationed there he earned an associate degree in Business from Methodist University in Fayetteville, NC.

After being honorably discharged from the Army, Casler returned to Central New York and took classes at OCC. He focused on the prerequisites he would need while working toward a bachelor’s degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL.

After working as a pilot and flight instructor along with spending 20 years as an elevator mechanic, Casler became interested in Nursing while serving in a variety of positions at Syracuse’s VA Hospital. In August he began taking classes at the College. He’s a Humanities & Social Sciences major and is focused on co-requisites for the Nursing program which he will be admitted to next fall.

Earlier this semester Casler was inducted into the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. “Getting inducted was a huge deal. I was shocked. I was a ‘B’ student in high school. I wasn’t big on school then but I became the first person in my family to go to college.”

Casler hopes to earn his Nursing degree in May 2020. He plans to work as an RN while continuing his education. “I’m interested in Psychiatric Nursing or becoming a Family Nurse Practitioner. One of my ultimate goals is to work on foreign or domestic missions. I want to go to where there is a need. I know there is a lot out there.

Keith Hale

Keith Hale
  • Major: Electrical Technology
  • High School: Desert Pines in Las Vegas, class of 2007

Keith Hale has changed addresses 15 times in the last 10 years. After a decade on the move he’s found a home and the start of a career thanks to OCC’s Electrical Technology program. He’s doing an internship at Nucor Steel in Auburn and is hoping to work there after earning his degree in December. “They’re an amazing company and I wouldn’t be there without my Electrical Technology class. They approached the school looking for people because a lot of the equipment we use in my Problem Logic Controller class was donated by Nucor.”

Keith Hale (in orange helmet and orange shirt) stands between Congressman John Katko (left) and Vice President Mike Pence (right) at Nucor Steel June 21, 2018.

Hale graduated from Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas in 2007. A year later he enlisted in the United States Army and was shipped to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. In 2010 he was stationed at Fort Drum in northern New York. Hale did three deployments to Afghanistan before being honorably discharged in 2016.

A previous relationship brought Hale to Central New York where he began taking classes at OCC in the fall of 2016. Since his first semester on campus, he’s taken advantage of services offered by the Veterans’ office in Coulter hall. “Everything there has been done on time and correctly. Whenever I’ve needed to access my benefits, they’ve been there.”

Hale began interning at Nucor Steel in the summer of 2018, working where they melt down scrap metal. His internship went so well he continued with it during the fall semester. “You’re never done learning there. Once you’ve mastered everything they give you harder stuff to do. I’d like to get hired by them as an electrical technician after I earn my degree.”

Seth Bae

Seth Bae
  • Major: General Studies – Liberal Arts & Sciences
  • HS: Fairfax in Los Angeles, class of 2013

Service to his country brought Seth Bae to the east coast. He’s pleased to have found Onondaga Community College and is enjoying his time on campus. “The facilities here are great and I’m really impressed with the quality of the faculty.”

Bae was born in Korea and attended high school in Los Angeles. After graduating in 2013 he enlisted in the United States Army and was stationed at Fort Drum. During his four years there he worshiped at the Korean Church of Syracuse. He liked the people he met there, enjoyed the area and decided to move closer to Syracuse after he was discharged.

Bae started taking classes at OCC in the summer of 2017. This academic year he’s serving the campus community as the Student Association’s Vice-President of Media, a VA Work Study student in the Student Veterans’ office, a Peer Connector in the Advising Center and a First Year Experience Mentor. He has also worked as a Social Media Reporter on campus and last year presented a TED Talk on healthy communication, sharing wisdom on how people can better understand each other and manage disagreements or conflicts. In the classroom he owns a perfect 4.0 grade point average which has earned him membership in the college’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa.

Bae’s career goal is to become a linguist. He speaks both English and Korean fluently. He plans to transfer to a four-year college, major in East Asian Languages and learn Chinese. Bae would like to use his language skills while working for the United States government.

In the meantime, here are a few random things which Seth would like people to know about him:

  • He completed a triathlon this summer.
  • His favorite TV show is “The Office” and he says he has a similar personality to Michael Scott, the character played by actor Steve Carell.
  • He enjoys eating Philly Cheese Steak in the cafeteria.
  • His favorite football team is the Green Bay Packers.

Edwin Michel

Edwin Michel (center) became a United States citizen during a naturalization ceremony in Storer Auditorium in November 2016. Behind him are New York State Acting Supreme Court Judge Michael Hanusczak and OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill.

Two of the highlights of Edwin Michel’s life happened in OCC’s Storer Auditorium. In April he was inducted into the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. A year-and-a-half earlier, in November of 2016, Michel became a United States citizen during a naturalization ceremony there. “It was amazing becoming a citizen. I love America, the freedoms it gives you and your rights. It’s a great country.”

Michel is from Autlan, Jalisco in Mexico, the same town legendary guitarist Carlos Santana hails from. Michel attended college after high school but wasn’t ready. “I did not like it and I did not do well. All of my grades were really bad.”

Michel recites the Oath of Citizenship.

Michel joined the United States Army and did three tours of duty in Afghanistan. While a member of Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division he met the woman who would become his wife. After he completed his military service they married and settled in Central New York.

He took a job working construction but his mind was elsewhere. “My wife had come to school here and earned a Nursing degree. She told me OCC was a great school and I should try it.” His wife, Grace Michel, now works as a Nurse Practitioner.

He examined the list of majors OCC offered and decided to enroll in Computer Forensics in time for the spring 2017 semester. College went much better for him the second time around. “I had more discipline thanks to my time in the Army. When I came back to school I felt better about myself.” He was also aided by faculty members who were always willing to assist. “All of my teachers were amazing. If I asked for help they helped me out. Teachers actually encouraged us to ask questions.”

In the fall the 31-year-old Michel will be a student at Le Moyne College. He plans to major in Cyber Security and hopes to one day deter criminals from stealing information and shutting down websites.

Setting An Example

Carlos Prillwitz retired from the United States Army and came to OCC to earn a college degree.

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.

Robert Lane

Robert Lane
  • Major: Human Services – Alcohol & Substance Abuse Counseling

Robert Lane remembers the lowest moments of his life and doesn’t mind sharing the details. Understanding where he has come from helps you appreciate where he is today. Lane was a homeless drug addict who was ready to die. Prison saved him. This Saturday he’ll earn his college degree. “When I walk across that stage and receive my diploma with honors I’ll probably cry,” he said.

Robert Lane in 1981

Lane grew up in the western New York community of Jamestown. “I came from a fairly affluent family and rebelled against everything they wanted me to do.” That included not going to college and instead joining the U.S. Army at age 18. He spent four years in the service, was discharged and began his long descent. “After my parents died I squandered my inheritance. I developed a substance abuse problem. I was an avid drug user for 30 years. I wound up homeless and living under a bridge in Houston, Texas.”

Two moments in particular standout to Lane as the lowest of his lows. He remembers when one of his daughters, who was 12 or 13 at the time, figured out what he was doing with his life. “She said to me, ‘Dad you are a drug addict!’ That hurt me. Up until then I didn’t think she knew. My daughter had identified me for what I was.”

Lane also recalls a Sunday morning when he was standing on a corner in Houston. “I had this song in my head by Johnny Cash, ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down.’ I was wondering how I got there and I was powerless to do anything about it. I really just wanted to die.”

A short time later Lane got busted and went to prison. He was sentenced to 15 years and would serve half of that. “When I got arrested it was a blessing. What happened to me there was nothing short of remarkable. I met a mentor, I discovered meditation, I made a commitment to change who I was, I got clean and I started taking college classes.”

During his first five years in prison his two daughters didn’t want to have anything to do with him.   Lane wanted to work on his relationship with them and decided to do so with his pen. “I wrote them the biography of my life starting from the earliest time I could remember. Every week I wrote a new chapter and eventually wrote about my entire life. I never got letters back but kept doing it.” His writing made an impact. During his last two years in prison his daughters visited him.

When Lane finished serving his time in Texas he was brought to New York where he also had time to serve from a previous sentence. When he completed paying his debt to society, Lane was released in the southern tier. During an appointment at the VA Medical Center in Syracuse he met a woman whom he would begin dating and ultimately move in with.

Lane’s relationship and relocation to Central New York brought him to OCC where he enrolled in time for the spring 2016 semester. He excelled in class and in March 2017 was inducted into international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. “To be an honor student is unbelievable to me. I didn’t think I could do it after what I had been through in my life. When I heard my name called it was a very very powerful moment.”

His next powerful moment will come this Saturday at commencement. His daughters are now in their 20s. One lives in Houston, the other is in Jacksonville, Florida. Both will be in attendance to see there father receive his college degree.

Lane’s plan is to become a licensed mental health counselor. He believes his life experience has prepared him for the next phase of his life. “With the current opiate crisis and drug crisis in general for people to see that someone like me can get clean, go to school and be successful can give people hope. I’ve been preparing to become a counselor my whole life. I’m uniquely qualified for it. I believe because I was able to do this anyone can do this. I did it and I had resigned myself to death.”

Michael J. Phelps

Michael J. Phelps
Michael J. Phelps
  • High School: Corcoran, Class of 2005
  • Major: Electronic Media Communications with a focus on television and video production

Michael J. Phelps came to Onondaga Community College to pay tribute to his mother’s memory. Kimberly Lethbridge spent many years taking classes at OCC. During her time on campus she was a member of the Student Association. She finally earned a degree in Human Services in the spring of 2010. Three months later she passed away. Today Phelps is also an officer in the Student Association and an outstanding student. “Graduating from this college and participating in leadership positions is in homage to her. It’s a way to honor everything she did to help me become the person I am,” said Phelps.

Phelps took a non-traditional path to OCC. After graduating from high school he joined the United States Army. During his six years as a human resources specialist Phelps visited nearly 30 countries. “Getting to see the parts of the world I saw helped me grow as a person. I wish everyone would have the opportunity to spend a year studying abroad, understand how the world works and think more globally.”

Phelps enrolled at OCC in 2013 as a Math & Science major. He struggled and decided to take time away from higher education. He returned in 2015, became an Electronic Media Communications (EMC) major and earned Provost List honors. “I found a curriculum I could relate to and excel at and it made all the difference. The EMC major here is phenomenal. The talent pool in the faculty is amazing.”

Phelps’ keeps bulletin boards updated across campus.

Outside class Phelps is very involved in campus. As the Student Association’s Vice President of Media he crisscrosses campus weekly, putting the latest posters highlighting college activities on bulletin boards. Phelps is also a member of the Entertainment Planning Board, the College Leadership Committee, the Diversity Council and a participating member in the Diversity Circle.

Being an officer on the Student Association affords Phelps the opportunity to meet once a month with College President Dr. Casey Crabill and discuss what’s happening on campus. “She really wants to relate to the student body and understand issues students face. She’s a one stop shop for fixing those issues. She’s an advocate for the student body.”

There was a time in Phelps’ life when socializing with and representing others didn’t seem possible. He’s a high-functioning autistic student who found the assistance he needed at the College’s Office of Accessibility Resources. “Daneen Brooks is a phenomenal caseworker. She’s a big reason why I’m successful on campus. As a student officer I’m able to interact with others. It’s made a big difference and helped me grow as a person.”

Phelps will earn his degree in May 2017. He plans to transfer to a four-year college and pursue a film-related degree.

Strengthening the Foundation

Photo courtesy Marriott Syracuse Downtown
Ed Riley, owner of the Marriott Syracuse Downtown (pictured above) is one of two new OCC Foundation board members. (Photo courtesy Marriott Syracuse Downtown)
Ed Riley
Ed Riley

The OCC Foundation is proud to announce the addition of two Central New York business leaders to its board. The new appointments are Ed Riley, owner of the Marriott Syracuse Downtown (formerly known as the Hotel Syracuse) and Tony Baird, owner of Tony Baird Electronics.

Riley restored the hotel after it was closed for 12 years. It reopened in August following a $76 million renovation and now operates as the Marriott Syracuse Downtown. Riley is a former Architectural Technology major at OCC. His wife Janet earned a Nursing degree from OCC in 1974.

Tony Baird
Tony Baird

Baird is the President and CEO of Tony Baird Electronics, a Syracuse-based electronic systems integrator focusing on custom solutions for education, defense, government and corporations across the nation. Baird is also a veteran of the United States Army. In 2013 he was awarded the Small Business Association’s Veteran-Owned Business Achievement Award.

Since its founding in 1980, the OCC Foundation has helped students realize their potential through higher education. The Foundation administers more than 150 scholarships and provides more than $200,000 in aid each year. In addition to scholarship support, the Foundation raises funds for programs and projects that enrich the OCC experience and open new opportunities for the campus community. The Foundation is a not-for-profit charitable organization.  Donations to the Foundation are fully tax deductible, to the extent provided for by law.

Living History – The Man Behind “Mawhinney Hall”

Thousands of students study in Mawhinney Hall every year, but most may not know thecropped Mawhinney Hall sign story of the person whom the building is named after. His role in the creation and growth of Onondaga Community College can not be overstated. His willingness to give of himself for the greater good is something we can all learn from. This is his remarkable story.

Donald Mawhinney Jr. is a member of our greatest generation. He was born in 1926 and served his country as a member of the United States Army during World War II having enlisted at age 17. In the 1940s he served in the Infantry, Army Air Corps as a B-24 Bomber nose gunner, Second Lieutenant Cavalry, First Lieutenant Armored as a Tank Platoon Commander.

Mawhinney's guide was his daughter, Joyce MacKnight.
Mawhinney’s guide was his daughter, Joyce MacKnight.

On April 25, 2015 Mawhinney and approximately 80 other veterans travelled to Washington, D.C. as part of Honor Flight Syracuse, a not-for-profit organization which provides veterans the opportunity to visit the national memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice. The journey is a gift to the veterans at no cost to them. “It was such an uplifting day. So many people were involved and went out of their way to plan and execute this event. It was an honor to be included,” said Mawhinney.

Mawhinney visits the World War II Memorial.
Mawhinney visits the World War II Memorial.

The day started early with a 7 a.m. flight out of Syracuse. Each veteran was paired up with a guide who would help them navigate through their various stops in the capital region. Mawhinney’s guide was one of his four children, daughter Joyce MacKnight. She helped her father through visits to the World War II, Vietnam and Korean War Memorials. They also saw the Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Iwo Jima Monument. During their tour they were treated to an unannounced visit from Martin E. “Marty” Dempsey, a United States Army General and current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “He came on his own, introduced himself to each of us and shook each of our hands. He was so gracious. It was very impressive and meant a lot to all of us.”

Nearly 12 hours after Honor Flight took off from Syracuse, the U.S. Airways jet carrying them returned to Hancock International Airport. As the veterans and their guides made their way into the terminal they saw hundreds of family and friends who had assembled for a welcome home ceremony. “It was such an emotional feeling to come into that airport and see so many people. I will never forget that feeling.”

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The entire day was one more memorable chapter in Mawhinney’s life story. He grew up in Syracuse and graduated from Nottingham High School where he was elected president of the student body. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and went to Hamilton College at the Army’s expense. “D-Day hit and everything changed. I was allowed to finish the semester, then was sent to Fort Dix (New Jersey).” During World War II Mawhinney would also serve at military bases in Texas, Colorado, Florida, Alabama, California and Kentucky. He dreamed of a position in counter intelligence and as the war was ending he was offered one in Japan. “I knew I had seven years of college ahead of me and decided to return home.” Mawhinney earned his bachelor’s degree at Hamilton College and his law degree at Cornell University.

Mawhinney began practicing law in New York State in 1952 as a member of the Wall Street law firm of Beekman & Bogue. In 1954 he joined the Syracuse law firm now known as Hiscock & Barclay, LLP where he still has an office. Throughout his career Mawhinney has served the Central New York community admirably.

  • He was a member of the Onondaga County Board of Supervisors (now known as the Onondaga County Legislature) from 1958 to 1965.
  • In 1961 Mawhinney was appointed a founding trustee of Onondaga Community College which opened its doors to students in 1962. He has held multiple leadership positions with the Board of Trustees and the OCC Foundation. Today he is the longest-serving trustee in the entire 64-campus State University of New York system. He is also the longest continuously serving community college trustee in the United States and Canada.
  • Belongs to the Onondaga County District Attorney’s Advisory Council, American College of Trusts and Estates Counsel, American Bar Association, New York State Bar Association, Onondaga County Bar Association, American Bar Foundation, New York State Bar Foundation, New York State Bar Association International Law Section, and the New York State Bar Association House of Delegates.
  • Mawhinney was a delegate to the Fifth Judicial District Convention for the selection of candidates for New York Supreme Court judgeships.
  • He was a founding trustee of the Erie Canal Museum and served as chairman and trustee for 48 years.
  • Governor Nelson Rockefeller appointed Mawhinney chairman of the New York State Erie Canal Park Planning Committee.
  • Served on the boards of Hope for Bereaved, Junior Chamber of Commerce, Americanization League, Greater Syracuse Chamber of Commerce, Citizens Foundation, Syracuse Governmental Research Bureau, Better Business Bureau of Greater Syracuse, Syracuse Symphony, Board of Trustees of the Association of Community Colleges in SUNY, and the New York Community College Trustees Association Foundation.
  • Mawhinney was a member of the New York Seniors Golf Association, Century Club, Onondaga Golf & Country Club, Gyro Club, Sons of the American Revolution, American Legion, St. Andrew’s Society, Eastside Racquet Club, Sedgwick Farms Tennis Club, University Club, and the Liederkranz Club.
  • He was a New York State Delegate to the 1988 Far East Conference with Lawyers’ Associations in China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
OCC named a building in Mawhinney's honor in 2006.
OCC named a building in Mawhinney’s honor in 2006.

Mawhinney’s lengthy list of honors and recognition is equally impressive.

  • Selected by the Syracuse Community as the Junior Chamber of Commerce’s “1962 Man of the Year.”
  • Earned “Distinguished Service in Trusteeship” recognition from the National Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
  • Received the “Association Distinguished Service Award” for 30 years of participation in New York Association of Community College Trustees activities.
  • Recognized by the State of New York Association of Community College Trustees for service as its president.
  • Honored with a life membership in the national Association of Community College Trustees.
  • Received the “United States Northeast Region Trustee Leadership Award” from the national Association of Community College Trustees.
  • Given the “Anne M. Bushnell Award for Extraordinary Leadership and Special Achievement” from the New York Association of Community College Trustees.
  • In 2006 a building on the OCC campus known as Academic One was renamed Mawhinney Hall.
  • In 2010 he was placed on Nottingham High School’s Wall of Fame.

It has been and continues to be a wonderful life for the 88-year-old Mawhinney, and he’s treasured it each step of the way. “I feel very fortunate for everything I’ve done and everything I’ve been allowed to do. I’ve made and worked with so many great friends along the way. It’s been great.”