Starting College In The Summer

Ali Thabet graduated from Westhill High School in June. He started his first year of college early, spending his summer on the OCC campus taking a Pre-Calculus class. He is pictured in the Mechanical Technology lab which is located in the Whitney Applied Technology Center on the OCC campus.

Ali Thabet has a head start on his freshman year of college. Shortly after receiving his high school diploma at Westhill, Thabet took advantage of Onondaga Community College’s robust list of summer offerings and began taking a Pre-Calculus class on the OCC campus. “I wanted to jump into my major this fall. I wanted to get started as soon as I can and graduate in two years.”

When the fall semester begins Thabet plans to enroll in an engineering related major. He’ll return having successfully completed coursework and with a familiarity with campus. “It will be an advantage to know where things are and already have a difficult class behind me. I got used to the campus very quickly.”

Thabet’s father, Nagib, persuaded him to come to OCC based on his own positive experience. Nagib earned his associate degree here in Mathematics & Sceince in 2002, transferred to Le Moyne College and today works as a Physician’s Assistant. “He said OCC would be a good start for me. He paid less but still got a great education. It’s exactly what I plan on doing.”

Ali Thabet’s goal is to earn his degree in two years and continue his education at Syracuse University.

Truffles for Travel

Hundreds of truffles were for sale during a Valentine’s Day pop-up student fundraiser in Bechamels.

When two OCC students were chosen to participate in the Jeopardy-style American Culinary Federation Culinary Knowledge Bowl at the end of this month in Atlantic City, they needed to raise money to get there. On Valentine’s Day they held up a pop-up fundraiser in Bechamel’s on the first floor of the Gordon Student Center. Hospitality Management students Rose Thompson (Westhill High School) and Grace Beard (Newfield High School on Long Island) set up shop with 800 truffles to sell. The price was $2 each or $10 for a box of six. The truffles went fast as students and college employees came in looking for a midday treat or a gift for a friend.

Thompson and Beard will be competing in the Culinary Knowledge Bowl as members of a team along with students from SUNY Morrisville and Syracuse University.

Good luck to Rose Thompson and Grace Beard!

Hospitality Management students Rose Thompson (left) and Grace Beard (right) held a Valentine’s Day truffle sale to raise money for their trip to the Culinary Knowledge Bowl in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Jamel Rizek

Jamel Rizek
  • Major: Biology with a minor in Communications
  • High School: Westhill, class of 2017

Jamel (pronounced juh-MEEL) Rizek serves the campus community as a Student Ambassador, giving campus tours to prospective students and their families. He views tours as an opportunity to not only show off the campus, but also to find out people’s backgrounds. “I love talking to parents and hearing what they have to say. They have so much knowledge to share. During one tour I met someone who was in the profession I want to get into and I learned so much from them.”

Rizek’s goal is to become a nurse. He loves helping people and is a member of the Howlett Hill Fire Department. When he was 16 he was certified by New York State to be a first responder. Last semester, on a day when Rizek had two final exams in the morning, he drove to Rochester in the afternoon and passed his test to become a certified Emergency Medical Technician.

During his two years on campus, Rizek has embraced coursework and found the college classroom experience has made him a better student. “I enjoy what I’m learning here. In a Chemistry lab, we made baby aspirin with two chemicals you wouldn’t expect to put together. Doing things like that make learning so enjoyable and engaging.”

His older sister Nor also attended OCC and is now enrolled at Harvard University. She commutes weekly from Central New York to Cambridge, Massachusetts for classes. “When she comes home we enjoy seeing each other and catching up. We also work with each other on school work. I love math so I’ll help her with math in exchange for her help with my writing.”

Rizek will earn his degree in May. Between now and then he plans to give a lot of campus tours. He enjoys seeing the looks on people’s faces as he shows them around. “If the sun is out and there is no snow, the areas people enjoy the most are near Stonewalls Restaurant and the amphitheater next to Gordon. If the weather is bad everyone likes the Academic II hallway. I tell them ‘this is a bridge across campus. When the weather is bad you can just walk through here to get from one side to the other.’ They like hearing that.”

Spring 2019 Student Officers

The spring 2019 Student Officers are (seated left to right) Liam Stewart, Calli Giron, Allison Guzman-Martinez, Breanna Cherchio, (standing left to right) Petey Maxwell and Billy Campbell.

OCC’s Student Officers are gearing up for a great spring semester! As campus leaders, they are responsible for providing support for Student Clubs and Organizations, the Student Government Association, the Lazer Lounge, student leadership development and campus-wide activities. Student officers meet monthly with OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill to discuss issues and events happening on campus. One of the students is also a member of the Board of Trustees and is involved in decision making at the highest level. The spring 2019 officers are:


Breanna Cherchio, President

  • Home schooled, from Camillus
  • Major: American Sign Language


Liam Stewart, Vice President of Clubs and Organizations

  • High School: Saratoga Springs, class of 2015
  • Major: Communications


Billy Campbell, Vice President of Media

  • High School: Liverpool, class of 2016
  • Major: Communication Studies


Allison Guzman-Martinez, Student Representative to the Board of Trustees

  • High School: Westhill, class of 2017
  • Major: Mathematics & Science


Calli Giron, Student Representative to the OCCA Board

  • High School: Chandler HS in Arizona, class of 2015
  • Major: Criminal Justice with a minor in Liberal Arts General Studies


Petey Maxwell, Student Representative to the OCCA Board

  • High School: Windsor HS in Colorado, class of 2016
  • Major: Exercise Science


The Student Officers are headquartered in the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement which is in room G114 in the Gordon Student Center.

New this semester is a team of Senators-At-Large. Those students are Armando Adrian, Michaela Denson, Paris Graziano, Alexandra Hoffman, Patrick McGuinness and Dawn Penson.

Any student interested in serving as a Student Officer or Senator-At-Large can contact Shawn Edie, Director of the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement at

The spring 2019 Senators-at-large are (left to right) Michaela Denson, Armando Adrian, Patrick McGuinness, Dawn Penson, Paris Graziano and Alexandra Hoffman.

Lessons In Law Enforcement

Four retired police officers shared their stories with Criminal Justice majors. The retired officers are (left to right) Becky Thompson, Tracey Johnson, Gail Barella and Loretta Arlotta.

Criminal Justice majors in Professor Donna Stuccio’s Law Enforcement Process (CRJ 226) course had the opportunity to learn from the voices of experience when they were joined in class by four retired police officers with more than 100 years of combined service. “Their collective wisdom was extremely valuable to my students as they work to learn about how police officers move through the challenges of the profession of law enforcement and the impact their careers had on them,” said Professor Stuccio.

The four retired officers who spent time with the class were:

  • Loretta Arlotta, 21 years with the Syracuse Police Department
  • Gail Barella, 32 years with the Geddes Police Department
  • Tracey Johnson, 26 years with the Syracuse Police Department
  • Becky Thompson, 32 years with the Syracuse Police Department
Tracey Johnson speaks with OCC Criminal Justice majors in a small group setting.

They spoke with the class as a whole, then broke up into smaller groups for question and answer sessions. “I wanted students to gather information about their careers, their decision to become an officer and the impact of that decision on their lives,” said Professor Stuccio.

Tracey Johnson shared with students her story of enrolling at OCC after graduating from Westhill High School. “I came for accounting because I was very good at math. When I got here I saw posters all over the place. They were looking for minorities and women to be police officers. I decided to do it. I saw what was happening here and it looked interesting.”

After earning a degree in Business Administration Johnson pursued a career in law enforcement and became a Syracuse Police Officer. During her 26 year tenure she regularly patrolled the west side of the city and specialized in interviewing children who had been involved in traumatic events. Johnson shared numerous stories with students from her career. She also explained to them the value of communicating with people. “90 percent of police work is talking people down. People are elevated and irritated. It’s better to listen to them and have them listen to you.”

“I hope that my students grasped how incredibly dedicated and brave these women were and still are,” said Professor Stuccio who is also a former Syracuse, North Syracuse and Cicero police officer. “The sacrifices they made for their community can never be underestimated. Their incredible willingness to share their lives with students is part of their continued commitment to our community.”

You can learn more about OCC’s Criminal Justice major here.

The OCC Effect: Nor Rizek

Nor Rizek (right) with her brother and current OCC student, Jamel Rizek (left).

Nor Rizek grew up in Onondaga Hill and attended Westhill High School until her junior year. Rather than enjoy summer in Central New York she packed up and moved to the West Bank in Palestine to live with family for the next two years. While there, she finished her high school degree and worked as an English teaching assistant at an all-girl’s secondary school.

Rizek returned to the area in 2011, took a phlebotomy course and became a certified technician. She enrolled at Onondaga Community College in the spring of 2012. “I knew I wanted to be a doctor, but didn’t know how to go about it, so OCC was very familiar and I knew I could get my start there while keeping cost to a minimum until I found my path.” During her time at the College she volunteered at a local fire department. She arranged her school schedule around rush hours at the family restaurant to make sure she would be there to assist her father. Whenever her community needed her, she would hurry to the firehouse, get her gear on and hop on a fire truck. Today she continues to serve the community as a volunteer at the Howlett Hill Fire Department.

Things took a turn in 2014, when Rizeks’ mother passed away during the second semester of her sophomore year. The grief was too much to bear and she left school. “It was a tough decision but at the time I needed to step back in order to eventually move forward.” Rizek moved to Hawaii and finished her associate degree. She kept the dream alive of becoming a doctor by enrolling at Harvard University where she is currently pursuing a degree in biology, psychology and legal studies.

Rizek plans to take the Medical College Admission Test next August and anticipates graduating in 2020 after she finishes her research study. Medical schools on her short list include Tulane, Louisiana State University and SUNY Upstate Medical University. Despite the rigors of traveling back and forth from Syracuse to Cambridge to take classes, her determination is unwavering largely because of the lessons she learned at OCC. “I was and remain inspired by all of the students there who are usually working, raising a family or overcome their own difficult situation all while taking classes in order to create a better life for themselves.”

This type of perseverance and faith is something she reinforces with her siblings, especially her brother, Jamel, who is a second year student at OCC. “I tell him every day that he is in a good place and if he ever needs help there is more courage in asking for it than waiting for things to get worse. OCC provides you with the confidence and foundation to advance yourself to accomplish whatever it is you set out to do.”

Women’s Tennis Team Earns First Regional Title In 26 Years

OCC’s Women’s Tennis team proudly displays its first Regional Championship trophy since 1992. The team is (left to right): Head Coach Matt Stevenson, Katie Lesselroth, Kaitlynn Ryan, Micah Mixon, Kennedy Myers, Talitha Freeman, Jennifer Lapp, Jordan Cole and Assistant Coach Kathleen Grimm.

Onondaga Community College’s Women’s Tennis team made history over the weekend. The Lazers won their first NJCAA Region III Championship since 1992 and second in program history.

The victory was a total team effort. Each of the seven members of the team earned either First Team or Second Team All-Region honors by making it to a championship match in either singles or doubles.  The Lazers competed in 8 of the 9 championship flights over the weekend and crowned 6 individuals in 4 separate flights.

On Saturday, the doubles pairing of Katie Lesselroth (Westhill HS) and Jennifer Lapp (Pulaski HS) capped an undefeated season with a championship at second doubles. Kaitlynn Ryan (Fulton HS) and Talitha Freeman (Westhill HS) were winners at third doubles, overcoming a team that had beaten them during the regular season.

After scoring an upset victory over the #2 seed in the semifinals, Micah Mixon (Marcellus HS) was eventually beaten by the #1 seed and 1st singles champion.  Katie Lesselroth (Westhill HS), Jennifer Lapp (Pulaski HS) and Kaitlynn Ryan (Fulton HS) also lost in the finals at 2nd, 3rd and 4th singles respectively.

Kennedy Myers (Mexico) HS, 5th singles, and Jordan Cole (Phoenix HS), 6th singles, won their championship matches on Sunday morning and those wins clinched the Regional Title for the Lazers.

Onondaga’s Matt Stevenson was named Region III Coach of the Year.

The Lazers will now prepare for the NJCAA National Championships which will be held in Peachtree City, GA November 2-4. Last year OCC finished 5th in the national tournament.

The members of the 2018 Women’s Tennis team and their high schools are:

  • Jordan Cole           Phoenix HS
  • Talitha Freeman     Westhill HS
  • Jenny Lapp            Pulaski HS
  • Katie Lesselroth     Westhill HS
  • Micah Mixon         Marcellus HS
  • Kennedy Myers     Mexico HS
  • Kaitlynn Ryan        Fulton HS

Good luck in the national tournament Lazers!

Rising Up To Lead

Allison Guzman-Martinez is the Student Trustee for the 2018-19 academic year.

There was a time when all Allison Guzman-Martinez had was hope. She and her two sisters, brother and mother had left Long Island because they could no longer afford to live there. They wound up in downtown Syracuse in the Salvation Army’s Emergency Family Shelter where they would live for one month. Guzman-Martinez was a junior in high school. Every morning she would board a Centro bus to get to school. Survival was the goal. “At the time I didn’t see myself being successful in college. I want people to know you don’t have to start in a good place to end up with a bright and successful future.”

After graduating from Westhill High School in 2017 Guzman-Martinez came to OCC. Today her future is bright. Later this month on the morning of September 25, she’ll walk into room 210 in the Whitney Applied Technology Center and sit at a long table in the center of the room along with Onondaga Community College’s Board of Trustees. As the new Student Trustee she will sit side-by-side with bank presidents, school superintendents and other high-powered local executives as she debates and votes on resolutions critical to the future of the college. “I’m excited as a woman and as a Latina to really come forth and be a representative for our students on campus. It’s an opportunity to bring diversity and a new perspective, I’m hoping students can see me as a beacon of hope and an inspiration and know they can succeed too.”

Guzman-Martinez’s parents are natives of Honduras. Spanish was always and still is today the language of choice at home. Her ability to speak two languages fluently led to her working as a translator for Spanish speaking patients at SUNY Upstate Medical University Hospital. “I liked helping the Latino community because patients do come in to the hospital scared. We’re there to comfort them, to defend the patient, to protect their rights and to make sure they’re not violated. We’re the bridge between doctor and patient. It’s been a blessing to have that job and opportunity.” Guzman-Martinez entered OCC as a Humanities major but her time as a translator changed everything. “Working with patients opened me up to the medical field. I decided to major in Mathematics & Science because I want to be a doctor.”

Guzman-Martinez admits when she graduated from high school, OCC was her only option. She’s made the most of her time here. Guzman-Martinez has served the campus community as president of Spanish Club and as a member of the Basic (Brothers and Sisters in Christ) Club. Now she is adding Student Trustee and Diversity Council to the list. “I’m proud to be part of this school. This is a building block and foundation for where I’m going to go. Onondaga Community College will always be the place that led to wherever I go.”

2018-19 Student Officers

The 2018-19 Student Association Officers are (front row, left to right) Calli Giron, Allison Guzman and Leigh-Ann Dence. Back row, left to right: Petey Maxwell, Seth Bae, Breanna Cherchio and Liam Stewart.

Meet the new team of Student Officers! They were elected to their positions during the spring 2018 semester. During the academic year they will provide support for Student Clubs and Organizations, the Student Government Association, the Lazer Lounge, student leadership development and campus-wide activities.

In their roles the student leaders will meet monthly with OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill. One of the students is also a member of the Board of Trustees and will be involved in decision making at the highest level.. The 2018-19 officers are:

Leigh-Ann Dence, President

  • High School: Central Square, class of 2016
  • Major: Architectural Technology & Interior Design


Liam Stewart, Vice President of Clubs and Organizations

  • High School: Saratoga Springs, class of 2015
  • Major: Communications


Seth Bae, Vice-President of Media

  • High School: Fairfax in Los Angeles, class of 2013
  • Major: General Studies: Liberal Arts & Sciences


Breanna Cherchio, Vice-President of Entertainment and Programming

  • Home schooled, from Camillus
  • Major: American Sign Language


Allison Guzman, Student Representative to the Board of Trustees

  • High School: Westhill, class of 2017
  • Major: Mathematics & Science


Calli Giron, Student Representative to the OCCA Board

  • High School: Chandler HS in Arizona, class of 2015
  • Major: Criminal Justice with a minor in Liberal Arts General Studies


Petey Maxwell, Student Representative to the OCCA Board

  • High School: Windsor HS in Colorado, class of 2016
  • Major: Exercise Science


The Student Officers are headquartered in the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement which is in room G114 in the Gordon Student Center.

LaQuida Cummings

LaQuida Cummings
  • High School: Westhill, Class of 2015
  • Major at OCC: Liberal Arts & Sciences

LaQuida and her family are finally together again. It’s taken 16 years for them to immigrate from their home country of Guyana in South America to the United States. “The only word I can use to describe how I feel is ‘overjoyed.’ We haven’t all been together in so long. It feels great!”

LaQuida’s oldest sister, Shawnica was the first to come to the U.S, arriving in 2001. Five years later her mother followed, leaving LaQuida behind with another older sister, Tiffany. “At first it was really hard being away from my mother but I got used to it,” LaQuida said. “My sister took her place and my older brother was there too.” Four years ago LaQuida and Tiffany came to the U.S. together. In July, their brother Shawn immigrated to the U.S. Their other brother, Devon, also arrived in July but continues to maintain a residence in the Caribbean.

LaQuida has worked hard to overcome a language barrier. In Guyana the native language is Creolese which she describes as sounding like broken English. “When I first came here people really couldn’t understand me. It wasn’t until about now that I’ve been able to interact with people without them saying, ‘What did you say again?’”

LaQuida graduated from Westhill High School in 2015 and knew where she was going next. Her sister Shawnica had earned a degree from OCC in 2005. Her sister Tiffany was already taking classes here on the way to earning her degree in May 2017. “Both told me OCC was a great place to start your journey. I thought I would come here first before moving on.”

LaQuida has adjusted quickly to college-level work. She’s a Liberal Arts & Sciences major who has performed well enough to be invited to join international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. Outside class she works as a Student Ambassador, giving tours to prospective students. She has also served as a peer connector, advising fellow students.

LaQuida will earn her degree next May. She plans to transfer and pursue a degree in journalism. “When I was younger there was a lot going on in my country. I would get out a pen and a paper and write down whatever it was that I saw on the news. It intrigued me. I followed the news a lot. I want to be able to bring the news to people without being biased. A lot of the websites where people get their news from are very biased.”