Autumn Gebhart

Autumn Gebhart on the second floor of Coulter Hall, home of the Lillian Slutzker Honors College and OCC’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa.
  • Major: Humanities & Social Sciences
  • High School: Henninger, class of 2018

Autumn Gebhart has never been happier or felt more at home than she does today. She’s in her first semester at OCC where she is one of just 15 students in the Lillian Slutzker Honors College. She’s also enjoying life with her mother whom she was separated from for more than a decade. “Life with my mom is pretty amazing. I’ve grown up and learned a lot of life lessons with her. We are very close.”

When Gebhart was born 18 years ago her parents were teenagers. They struggled to take care of her and ultimately grandparents in another state took over parenting duties. Something always seemed to be missing in Gebhart’s life and when she turned 16 she decided to do something about it. “I was sad a lot of the time and realized I needed a change. I didn’t realize the significance of having my mother in my life until I moved in with her.”

Gebhart moved from Pennsylvania to Central New York, began living with her mother and spent her last two years of high school at Henninger. She received her diploma in June and two months later began her first semester at OCC. As a member of the Lillian Slutzker Honors College her tuition costs are covered and she receives a stipend each month to use toward books and supplies. The benefits of being an Honors College student have been about much more than the money though. “I had never been in many groups before. With Honors College, I’ve been able to make a lot of friends who are like-minded. There’s a lot of diversity and we are super-friendly.”

Earlier this semester the College held a press conference to announce a $250,000 gift from the Lillian Slutzker Foundation. The money was used to start the Honors College. Gebhart was the student speaker at the event and shared her story with those in attendance. “I was totally nervous. That was the first speech I’ve ever given. It was an amazing experience. I felt so honored to be selected and share my story about how this college has helped me so much. Everything they have provided me is truly amazing. I really enjoy being at OCC. It has brought a lot of amazing opportunities and I’m excited to see how the Honors College progresses.”

Gebhart’s career goal is to help others as a psychologist. “I took a college course on psychology and started seeing similarities between ways I felt as a child and things I was learning about. I’d like to help people and help them understand they’re not crazy. Their problems come from a source.”

In the mean time she’s enjoying her first semester, life with her mother and her personal growth. “I’ve gotten my first job at Wegmans, opened my first bank account, bought a car and became financially responsible. I’ve become a responsible adult and am able to take care of myself. My mom has taught me a lot about responsibility.”

You can learn more about supporting students like Autumn Gebhart through our Believe In Better fundraising campaign here.

2018 Commencement

Onondaga Community College hosted its 55th commencement Saturday, May 12 in the SRC Arena and Events Center. Dr. Casey Crabill presided over the ceremony at which nearly 1,100 students were eligible to receive their degrees.

Student Commencement Speaker Andrea Capodagli

Student speaker Andrea Capodagli addressed fellow graduates. She came to OCC in 2009 after graduating from Bishop Grimes High School. She quit after a semester-and-a-half but returned to the College in 2016. Capodagli became an outstanding student, earned a degree in Communications with an Honors minor and will transfer to Syracuse University where she will major in Public Relations. During her speech she asked classmates to think of challenges they face as tools and inspirations to propel them forward, to take advantage of educational opportunities and to be selfless. She also implored fellow students to take chances in life. “Be brave! Do something that initially scares you because when you do something that terrifies you, you are going to be challenging yourself. You will be utilizing the skills that you have learned here, and you are going to exceed all potential! Never give up on yourself, because you have more power to transform your life than you realize.”

Recent OCC grads can share their story with us at

During commencement the College handed out four honorary doctorate degrees to individuals who have exhibited professional excellence, meritorious and outstanding service, and whose accomplishments serve as examples of the SUNY system’s diverse student body. The recipients were:

  • Evelyn C. Carter, Director of Community Relations, Wegmans
  • Mary Beth Frey, Executive Director, Samaritan Center
  • Michael F. Melara, CEO, Catholic Charities of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse
  • Wayne O’Connor, Regional Executive Director of Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection

OCC’s commencement ceremony will be rebroadcast on WSYR TV’s “MeTV” channel Saturday, May 19 from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. MeTV can be found at 9.2 with a digital antenna, Spectrum Cable channel 1240, Verizon Fios channel 470 and New Visions cable channel 23.

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Family Values

Hannah Robles (center) with her parents, Alvaro (left) and Sally (right) Robles. All five of the Robles’ children attended OCC. Hannah was named the top student in the Business Administration major during Wednesday’s annual Curriculum Honors ceremony.

One by one, all five children of Sally and Alvaro Robles have come to Onondaga Community College. Each has majored in something different including Humanities, Art, Mechanical Technology and Hospitality Management. Wednesday night their youngest, Hannah, was recognized as the top student in the Business Administration major during the annual Curriculum Honors ceremony. “I really enjoyed the Business program. All of the faculty helped me know I was in the right program and I knew I chose the right school,” she said. Hannah is the second family member to be named tops in their major. In 2013 her brother Chayanne earned Curriculum Honors for the Mechanical Technology major.

Chayanne Robles, ’13

All five of the Robles were homeschooled before coming to OCC. “It was nice to have this introduction to being in a classroom here as opposed to a big four-year school,” Hannah said. “We also saved a lot of money while getting the same education we could have gotten somewhere else. This way we only have to pay more expensive tuition for two years.”

Hannah made the most of her two years on the OCC campus. She maintained a 3.9 grade point average and earned membership in the College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. She received the Diversity Honors Scholarship both years at OCC and was also the recipient of the Wegmans academic scholarship. She also never hesitated to challenge herself, taking difficult courses like Chinese I and Chinese II. “Everyone in my family took Spanish and I wanted to be different. I really liked Chinese and I enjoyed the language. I hope to do an internship in China when I transfer.”

In the fall Robles will enroll at the Rochester Institute of Technology where she will major in Marketing. “I hope to work as a Marketing executive for nonprofits. I love community service. I work in the food pantry at my church. I hope I can do marketing for them. Non-profits need marketers to help them get donations.”

Congratulations to Hannah and all of our Curriculum Honorees! You can view a slideshow of all of the curriculum honorees photographed with OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill and Provost Dr. Daria Willis. Below the slideshow is a list which includes each student’s name and the major for which they were honored.

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Hospitality Management, A.A.S. – Culinary Management – Emre Simsek

Architectural Technology, A.A.S. – Joshua Bates

Interior Design, A.A.S. – Lydia Giordano

Art, A.A.S. – Rachel Dibble

Photography, A.S. – Andrea Bodah

Electronic Media Communications, A.A.S. – Nolan Barth

Music, A.A.S. – Kylie Tomaselli

Automotive Technology, A.O.S. – Ryan Pike

Electrical Technology, A.A.S. – Aaron Davis

Mechanical Technology, A.A.S. – Maynard Bland

Nuclear Technology, A.A.S. – Zachary Heagerty-Phillips

Computer Information Systems, A.A.S. – Jon Minnberg

Computer Science, A.S. – Leanna Wolf

Accounting, A.A.S. – Carie-Anne Denny

Business Administration, A.S. – Hannah Robles

Business Technology, A.A.S. – Samantha Stetson

Engineering Science, A.S. – Nicholas Wilson

Liberal Arts & Sciences: Mathematics and Science, A.S. – Rosa Geremia

American Sign Language, A.S. – Elijah Southwick

Communication Studies, A.A. – Maia Dotson

Liberal Arts & Sciences: General Studies, A.A. – Tekahentake Regis

Liberal Arts & Sciences: Humanities and Social Sciences, A.A. – Joshua Miller

Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counseling, A.A.S. – Michael Marshall

Criminal Justice, A.S. – Geoffrey Hawthorne

Early Child Care Certificate – Janice Corsette

Early Childhood Education, A.A.S. – Farhiya Mohamed

Health Information Technology/Medical Records, A. A.S. – Robert LaFramboise

Human Services, A.S. – Kathleen Boccio

Liberal Arts & Sciences: Adolescence Education, A.A. – Zachary Smith

Liberal Arts & Sciences: Childhood Education, A.A. – Colin Talty

Nursing, A.A.S. – Bahar Zaker-Shahrak

Physical Therapy Assistant, A.A.S. – Deborah Newman

Surgical Technology Certificate – John Rieger

Hillside’s Mission

Chris Fuller came to OCC from Henninger high school. He's been receiving assistance from Hillside since 9th grade.
OCC Engineering Science major Chris Fuller

Chris Fuller needed help. It was September 2015. He was struggling through his first few weeks on the OCC campus. Fuller had come to OCC from Henninger High School where he was enrolled in the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection. It’s a program which helps students overcome the barriers that cause them to drop out and abandon their education.

Renita Adams
Renita Adams of Hillside

Fuller had been receiving guidance from Hillside since the 9th grade. Fortunately OCC had opened a Hillside office in the Gordon Student Center in time for the fall 2015 semester. That’s where Fuller would come and talk to his mentor, Renita Adams every day. “Chris’s situation really put the pressure on me to help him find his niche,” said Adams.

Adams called admission counselor Jason Barnes who also assists Hillside students. Through conversations with Fuller they realized he had chosen a major that wasn’t right for him. They introduced Fuller to Bob Tanchak, a professor in the Mechanical Technology department. Fuller spent time with Tanchak and fell in love with the Engineering Science major. “It’s hands-on which really attracted me to it,” said Fuller. “When I first came to OCC, I wanted to get out in two years and get a job. Now I may want to do four or six years of college.”

Jason Barnes (left) and Bob Tanchak (right) helped Fuller find a new major.
Jason Barnes (left) and Bob Tanchak (right) helped Fuller find a new major.

Fuller is one of the many success stories whose lives Hillside has played a significant role in transforming.  Hillside changes the norm for students and families living in generational poverty by giving them necessary guidance and the tools to be successful in school, thereby expanding their access to education and employment opportunities. “Our students come from poverty and they’re more likely to drop out of school,” said Adams. “Even in college they still have most of those risk factors. For me it’s about helping them make that connection between having a college degree and a successful future.”

Fuller became a part of Hillside at Henninger where his advocate, Patrick McCarthy played a huge role in Fuller’s life. “Mr. McCarthy showed me how important school was. Because of him I got help with my homework, got help with my Regents and got a job,” said Fuller.

Hillside’s Youth Employment Training program makes sure students are ready for the responsibility which comes with a job. Students have to meet specific academic, attendance and behavior requirements. Once a student clears that hurdle Hillside will help them find a job. Fuller received a scholarship from Wegmans and started working at its James Street store in 11th grade. He still works there, primarily as a cashier and loves it. “Everybody is so friendly. It’s a great environment, especially for your first job,” said Fuller.

The Hillside program is open to students in the Syracuse City School District. At OCC Adams serves approximately 100 students who have come to campus from the city. She worked with students at Corcoran high school for four years before opening Hillside’s first office on campus. Adams does a little bit of everything to help students succeed. “I’m their advocate. I’m their school mom. Whether I’m helping them to get organized, or to having those conversations about what’s going on at home and how it’s affecting their school life or getting them involved in different clubs or organizations on campus. I wear several different hats but I’m used to it.”

Adams has the unique ability to relate to these students because she used to be one of them. “I grew up on the south side and went to city schools. I understand their lives and the temptations and barriers they face. I share my story with them all the time. It helps them open up with me about what’s going on with them in their lives.”

Adams came to OCC and earned a degree in Humanities in 2003 and continued on to Syracuse University where she would graduate with a degree in Child and Family Studies. An organization named The Urban League guided her through her troubled times. “I had a mentor in my life who pushed me to get through Henninger, to get through OCC, to get through S.U. I want to be that same person for these students.”

Adams is now in her second semester working at OCC. In between classes there’s always a line of students waiting to speak with her. She comes to work with a big smile and boundless energy. Her fuel is the students she helps. “I don’t take my role lightly. I understand how important it is. For a lot of the kids I’m whom they rely on to be that cheerleader, that motivator, reminding them of their goals. The students keep me smiling and keep me pushing to go the extra mile for them.”

As for Fuller, Adams sees a different person and student than she did just one semester ago. “He’s enjoying what he’s doing. He wants to do the work. He’s getting tutoring to help with his grades. If he needs to meet with a professor he does that. He’s on the right path!”

Bridge to Better Health

OCC Nursing students carry health supplies across a footbridge in the highlands of Guatemala.
OCC Nursing students carry health supplies across a footbridge in the highlands of Guatemala.

They left with a strong desire to help others. They returned with a sense of satisfaction and an appreciation for life here at home. Seven of the College’s Nursing students spent their semester break on an unforgettable service learning trip. They brought medical supplies, provided health care and shared knowledge with the people of Guatemala.

Assistant Professor Lee Berg coordinated the trip for the third year in a row. She planned fundraisers and oversaw the collection of medical supplies. One week before their scheduled departure Berg and the students gathered to pack up their supplies. They filled 16 suitcases as close to the 50 pound limit as possible. When they finished they still had supplies left over which have already been set aside for the next trip.

OCC’s contingent took off from Syracuse December 29. When they stepped off the plane in Guatemala and began making their way to the rural area where they would spend the next 10 days of their lives it was evident they weren’t in the United States any more. “There was a tremendous amount of pollution in the air,” said student Lindsy Coon (Central Square high school). “Everyone there burns there trash. Vehicle emissions are bad too. You would see a van going up a hill leaving a big, black cloud of smoke behind it.”

Once they arrived in the community of San Lucas Toliman the students went right to work. They spent two days in a rural mountain village building fuel-efficient stoves in homes which vented to the outside. Residents were used to cooking inside over an open fire without any ventilation, blackening walls and lungs with damaging smoke which would contribute to significant respiratory problems. Cooking over an open fire in the home also increases the risk of severe burns, especially for children.

OCC students also broke up into teams of two and worked on teaching projects including hygiene, injury prevention and overcoming diarrhea. “We did our best to tailor our donations to what we were teaching,” said Coon. “When we talked about hygiene we gave everyone toothpaste, tooth brushes, body wash and hair products.”

When the topic was injury prevention they gave children donated shoes. “A lot of the children are barefoot. Wearing shoes prevents parasites. We made bringing shoes a priority because it’s a direct health intervention,” said Coon.

Students found natives were actually surrounded by solutions to their health problems. “We used plants to make shampoos and a substance similar to Vicks Vapo Rub,” said Shaowen Chen (Baldwinsville high school). “For diarrhea we worked on rehydration with plants which grow there.”

On January 7 the students said good-bye, boarded a plane and returned to Central New York. “I was so happy to come home. I walked in our kitchen and couldn’t believe everything we have,” said Coon. “It was very rewarding to go there,” said Cheng. “I would definitely do it again.”

A slideshow can be found at the bottom of this story. The Nursing students who went on the service learning trip are:

  • Rita Brush, Henninger high school
  • Lindsy Coon, Central Square high school
  • Shaowen Cheng, Baldwinsville high school
  • Kaylee Hartley, Edward-Knox high school
  • Josh McGinley, Whitesboro high school
  • Hannah Rhodes, Binghamton high school
  • Kira Kelley, Lafayette Junior-Senior high school

Berg and the students would like to thank the following business and organizations whose generosity made this trip possible:

  • M&T Bank
  • Wegmans
  • OCC’s Whole Earth Club
  • The entire OCC Community which generously donated supplies and funds
  • Families and friends of the students who also contributed supplies and fund

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Chayanne Robles ’13

Chayanne Robles '13
Chayanne Robles ’13 poses in the machine shop in the Whitney Applied Technology Center at OCC.


Before coming to Onondaga Community College (OCC) Chayanne Robles ’13 grew up just outside the village of Liverpool with his two brothers and two sisters. In all, three of his other siblings attended or graduated from OCC, with his youngest sister arriving in the fall. His father was from Aruba and his mother, who homeschooled all five children, was from Watertown. “All through our childhood, because we were homeschooled, my parents encouraged us to get involved and get out there,” Robles said. At 15 he got a job with Wegmans, so that when he graduated high school he was able to obtain a 4-year scholarship through the company. In addition to his work at Wegmans, Robles volunteered at a local food pantry and tutored math on the south side of Syracuse.

Like many students, when he graduated from high school Robles did not have a clear direction of what he wanted to pursue in college. By chance, he scheduled an information session with an advisor at OCC and during their talk they discussed the Mechanical Technology Program (MET), which he had never heard of before but thought the opportunity was worth exploring. “After the meeting, I worked with Professor Bob Latham and he got me into all the necessary courses and from there it was history,” Robles said. From that point on, Robles found the work came natural to him, which impressed his instructors since they were well aware of his homeschool background. However, there was another element at play that went beyond the textbook. “Growing up in a multi-cultural family was awesome,” Robles said, “this coupled with the work I had done at Wegmans and in the community was the perfect combination that allowed me to excel with my fellow classmates.”

Robles with Professor Robert Tanchak
Robles with Professor Robert Tanchak

Another benefit, he would not realize until later, was the diverse mix of traditional and non-traditional students that were comprised in the MET program. “We were like a family,” he said, “it was a great experience because the older students would assist us with machine work which they were familiar with, while we could help them with some of the math involved in the course work.” This type of support went beyond the students as Robles soon found out the “family” atmosphere was something instilled in them by the instructors. When he was approaching the end of the second year, Robles met with Professor Robert Tanchak who proved to be the driving force behind him bypassing initial employment and to pursue his Bachelor’s degree at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). “The professors in the program did not want me to sell myself short,” Robles said, “with their help I was able to get accepted (to RIT), have all my credits transfer and receive an additional transfer scholarship to cover additional costs of attending private school.”

When he arrived at RIT in 2013, Robles found he was competitive in the classroom and slightly ahead when it came time to work with the machines because, unlike typical 4-year students there, he had already done this at OCC. Last fall, he just finished a six-month internship with GE and was based out of Cincinnati, Ohio. The team he got assigned to was implementing a new system for production so he was learning right alongside with other employees which made it more like a job than an internship. In fact, he picked up on it so fast he found himself leading training sessions in front of GE employees who had been there 20-30 years. Due to his educational background Robles was not only able to understand the manufacturing part of the system, but the technology end of it as well, so he was able to communicate between the two departments, which was a tremendous asset to the company. At the end of his internship he also interviewed and was accepted into their prestigious Operations Management Leadership Program, so when he finishes RIT this spring, he will start a two-year program within GE where he will explore the many facets of the company before he has to decide which one he will pursue as part of his career.

With so many options in front of him, Robles just wants to finish strong in his last semester and take some much needed time off before starting up with GE. “I feel blessed in that I always want to continue to learn, and to be able to work for a company who encourages something like that means so much to me” he said. Despite all of this recent good fortune, Robles recognizes where it all started. “Going to OCC was the best decision I made and I am very grateful to my professors and the services,” he said, “it was important for me not to just punch the clock, but to have a plan for the next step.”

Delivering Healthy Habits to Guatemala

Students in OCC’s Nursing program spent the holiday season thousands of miles from home helping others. Nine students and two faculty members packed up suitcases filled with medical supplies and traveled to Guatemala. Their service learning adventure brought medical care and knowledge to people who desperately needed it. “This trip was the single most meaningful thing I’ve ever done,” said Nursing student Joshua McGinley (Whitesboro High School).

The green liquid is shampoo Nursing students made for residents of Guatemala.
The green liquid is shampoo Nursing students made for residents of Guatemala. Nursing student Marisa Canuso-Reiner (Jamesville-Dewitt H.S.) holds a bottle while student Amanda Pezzulo (Burnt Hills H.S.) pours shampoo into it.

While in Guatemala, McGinley and his fellow students held community health presentations on a variety of topics:

  • Oral hygiene for children
  • The importance of vaccinations
  • Breastfeeding
  • Prenatal Care
  • The importance of good nutrition while pregnant and breastfeeding

Students also went into homes and brought medical care to people. “The personal home visits and informational meetings we held were very rewarding. People were so thankful for what we were doing,” said Shelbie Pidkaminy (Solvay High School).

Students also helped build fuel-efficient stoves in homes which vented to the outside. Residents were used to cooking inside over an open flame without any ventilation, blackening walls and lungs with damaging particles which contribute to significant respiratory problems. “We worked with a mason who only spoke Spanish. Over time we were able to work through the language barrier. The families watched us work and were very thankful,” said Amanda Pezzulo (Burnt Hills High School).

The trip was coordinated by Assistant Professor Lee Berg. When she was a student she took a similar trip to Vietnam and found it to be invaluable. This was the second year in a row she brought students from OCC to Guatemala. “It was another wonderful experience. We believe generations from now people in Guatemala will be living healthier lives because of the lessons our students taught them,” Berg said.

Along with Berg’s leadership and the assistance of Assistant Professor Dianna Lewis Brewster who accompanied her, the trip would not have been possible without the generosity of numerous businesses and organizations:

  • Welch Allyn contributed lightweight medical equipment such as digital thermometers, otoscopes, headlamps, and blood pressure cuffs which were all very useful during home visits. They also donated two bags filled with beanie babies which the children of Guatemala loved.
  • M&T Bank donated $5,000 toward the trip and also brought our trip to the attention of Northern Safety which donated first-aid kits and replacement supplies for the kits. Students used several ice packs, antiseptic wipes and dressing change supplies on the trip.
  • Johnson & Johnson gave coloring books in Spanish for the children of Guatemala.
  • Wegmans contributed $1,000 which was used to purchase over the counter medicines, vitamins, first-aid supplies and toothpaste.
  • Salvation Army hosted the first fundraiser for the trip and also donated toys for the children of Guatemala.
  • The OCC Foundation, Nursing Department and entire Campus Community also contributed in various meaningful ways.