Vincent Camarena

Vincent Camarena works out a problem in a classroom in Ferrante Hall.

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.”

During his time on campus Camarena has taken advantage of services provided in the Student Veterans office which is located on the second floor of Coulter Hall. The office is led by a fellow former Marine, Steve White. You can learn more about the Veterans’ office at this website.

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!”

Rob Stanton

Rob Stanton
  • Major: American Sign Language
  • HS: Sauquoit Valley, class of 2007

The language of choice in Rob Stanton’s childhood home was one most of us know of but never learned. “Both my parents are Deaf. I grew up with American Sign Language (ASL) as my first language. Going to school for ASL was an obvious choice for me.”

Joining the United States Marine Corps was also an obvious choice for Stanton. “I had a lot of family in the military. It seemed like the path that was meant for me.” Two weeks after graduating from Sauquoit Valley High School (approximately 10 miles south of Utica) Stanton was in boot camp.

Stanton pictured while serving his country as a member of the United States Marine Corps.

He served four years in the Marines, doing tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before being honorably discharged in 2011 as a Lance Corporal. “It was the greatest time of my life. I met the best people in the world and I built bridges. For the rest of my life I can go anywhere up and down the east coast and there will always be someone I can stay with.”

Stanton spent six years working various jobs and attending two different colleges before his wife’s work brought them to Syracuse. In the spring of 2018 he began taking classes at OCC and majoring in ASL. During his time here he’s found two homes on campus. One is in the Veterans’ office on the second floor of Coulter Hall. “I love the Veterans community here. As soon as you walk in the Veterans office you feel at home. There are people here you find connections with and you feel that brotherhood and camaraderie you felt in the military. I went to two other colleges and never felt that. The veteran community is very close-knit here.”

The other place where he feels most comfortable is within the ASL community where he is president of the ASL Club. “The faculty is mentoring me and helping me with my goals. Most students wants to be an interpreter but I want to be a teacher.” Stanton will earn his degree in May but plans to be a regular presence on the OCC campus. “I’m going to shadow faculty while I’m going for my bachelor’s and I’d love to teach here while I’m pursuing my master’s.”

You can learn more about OCC’s American Sign Language major by clicking here.

You can learn more about the OCC’s Veterans’ office by clicking here.

Serving Those Who Served

Steve White (left) leads OCC’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs. Robert Tuff (right) is retired from the United States Air Force and a student at OCC. Both are part of this month’s edition of our podcast, Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College.

Onondaga Community College’s Office of Veterans’ Affairs provides Student Veterans the services they need to successfully transition from life in the military to life on a college campus. As we approach Veterans Day weekend, the office is the focus of this month’s edition of our podcast, “Higher Ed News You Can Use from Onondaga Community College.” You can listen to it here. During the podcast you will meet two people. Steve White is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps who runs the office. Robert Tuff is a retired Master Sergeant from the United States Air Force who is a student at OCC.

The Office of Veterans’ Affairs serves 240 veterans and their spouses. The College’s high level of service has repeatedly earned it the prestigious “Military Friendly” designation by G.I. Jobs Magazine. The office is located on the second floor of Coulter Hall near the top of the main stairway in room C217. You can contact the office by phone at (315) 498-2200 or by email at

Operation: Start Up & Grow

Veterans interested in starting a business or expanding their existing business came to OCC’s SRC Arena and Events Center March 19 for Operation: Start Up & Grow. The 8th annual business conference for the military community was presented by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA).

"Connections Central" brings together Veterans and business experts in a one-on-one setting.
“Connections Central” brings together Veterans and business experts in a one-on-one setting.

More than 325 people attended the free event which featured speakers, workshops and exhibitors. New this year to Operation: Start Up & Grow was “Connections Central.” It provided participants the opportunity to meet one-on-one with guest experts on a variety of topics from business planning to financing and everything in between.

Veteran entrepreneur Major General John Batiste, U.S. Army Retired was the keynote speaker. United State Air Force Reserve Colonel Barbara Carson also addressed the conference. She is the Acting Associate Administrator for the SBA’s Office of Veterans Business Development.

Chris Dambach receives the Veteran-Owned Business Achievement Award. Pictured (left to right): Barbara Carson, SBA Acting Associate Administrator for Office for Veteran Business Development; Dambach; and Bernard J. Paprocki, SBA Syracuse District Director.
Chris Dambach receives the Veteran-Owned Business Achievement Award. Pictured (left to right): Barbara Carson, SBA Acting Associate Administrator for Office for Veteran Business Development; Dambach; and Bernard J. Paprocki, SBA Syracuse District Director.

Chris Dambach, a United States Marine Corps combat veteran from Syracuse, received the Veteran-Owned Business Achievement Award. Dambach is a Service-Disabled United States Marine Corp veteran who served in Iraq in 2009. He started Veteran Lawn and Landscape in 2010 with an ad in the Pennysaver and grew it into a million-dollar business.  In 2014 he started a second business, Bacon Bandit, to tap into the growing Syracuse food truck scene. Dambach has attended every Operation: Start Up & Grow conference since 2010.

Veterans interested in contacting the SBA for assistance can do so online, by phone at (315) 471-9393 or by email at