Seeing What’s Important

Dawn Penson (right) is a blind Human Services major with a 4.0 grade point average. She is pictured with Nancy Carr (left), Director of OCC’s Office of Accessibility Resources. Penson and Carr are in Coulter Hall where Penson receives assistance with many of her on-campus needs.

Onondaga Community College students have selected Dawn Penson to represent them on the Board of Trustees during the 2019-2020 academic year. Penson is energetic, eternally optimistic, and an outstanding student. She is also blind. Her inspirational story is below.

Dawn Penson isn’t interested in bling… whether its your new Michael Kors handbag, your designer jeans or your latest and greatest cell phone. She views the world much differently than most of us. “The best thing about me being blind is that I can’t see what anyone looks like. I can’t see if they’re young, if they’re old or what they’re wearing. I see character.”

Penson is a 41-year-old mother of three who started going blind earlier this decade when she was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. Despite the fact it is a hereditary eye disease, she is the first in her family tree to be impacted by it. “I keep a positive attitude 99.9% of the time. I’m a glass half-full person. I have faith and I believe everything happens for a reason.”

Penson uses Centro’s Call-A-Bus program to get to and from campus every day.

Her seemingly endless optimism was put to the test recently. Penson was born and raised in Central New York and eventually moved to Texas at age 18 where she would spend nearly two decades. During her time there she thought she had earned the equivalent of a high school diploma. But when she returned to Central New York and attempted to access her credential, she learned she had paid to attend a Texas school which was a scam and had nothing to show for it.

She now had to start over academically and that meant pursuing a GED here. In an apparent cost-cutting measure New York State had allowed the test to become privatized. The company in charge of it, Pearson VUE, had never made a version of the test for someone who was blind. Making the test would take a year-and-a-half because of the various levels of approval required along the way. At one point Penson was offered the opportunity to receive a passing grade on the math portion because of the difficulties in creating the test. “I said ‘absolutely not. If you waive it for me you have to waive it for someone who can see.’ There’s no reason in this day and age why you can’t make something accessible.”

While the test was being created, Penson spent the summer of 2018 taking classes at OCC and learning her way around campus. She arrived daily thanks to transportation provided by Centro’s call-a-bus. She walked from one end of campus to the other while using her white cane and being guided by a Mobility Instructor. With each step she became more comfortable in her learning environment.

Penson works with Professor Laurel Saiz in Ferrante Hall as part of Independent Study for ENG 104, Composition and Literature.

In December Penson finally took the new GED test which is known as the TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion). She had a reader and a scribe during the test so questions could be read to her and answers could be written down. It took her four days to complete the test. In January she received a phone call and was informed she had passed the test. “I was so excited and so relieved!” Penson had become the first blind student in all of New York State to pass the TASC and the first blind student to earn her high school equivalency in Onondaga County in eight years.

Penson’s success meant she could matriculate into the Human Services major where she owns a perfect 4.0 grade point average and is on track to receive her associate degree in May of 2020. Her goal is to one day advocate for the disabled with a focus on policy and legislation. That’s why earlier this week she was in Albany, lobbying state lawmakers for a blind person’s right to parent. Under New York State law a blind parent can have a child taken away because he or she is blind.

Leadership is nothing new for Penson. She has been on the board for the National Federation of the Blind and is currently on the board for Arise which assists people with developmental disabilities and their families. She is also a member of OCC’s Student Association and serves as a Senator-At-Large. She may have an even more significant role on campus next fall. Penson is being nominated for the Student Trustee position by Nancy Carr who is the Director of the college’s Office of Accessibility Resources. Carr’s office, along with the Testing Center which are both located in Coulter Hall, assist Penson with all of her on-campus needs. “We are all so amazed by her optimism and sense of humor. She finds ways to go around obstacles in ways that help others so they can benefit from her experience,” said Carr. “I hope I can open doors for the next person and make a small difference,” added Penson. “I want everyone in the disability community to be successful.”

Penson story was highlighted recently by WSYR TV, Newschannel 9’s team of reporter Jeff Kulikowsky and videographer Marty Sicilia. You can view the story here.

Apprenticeship Program Sparks Careers

Students in the Apprenticeship Accelerator Career Training Program were paid to learn at Feldmeier Equipment, Inc. of Syracuse.

Jessica White was employed as a cashier when she heard about Onondaga Community College’s Apprenticeship Accelerator Career Training Program. “I was working in the retail industry. This was an opportunity to do something different and gain knowledge and skills.” In October White and eleven other students began coming to Feldmeier Equipment Inc. of Syracuse five days a week. They were paid while training for positions including welder and metal refinisher. Fledmeier employees taught students work skills while OCC instructor Bill Cullen focused on the soft skills they would need to be successful both in the work place and in life. “We wanted people to have good character, integrity, learnability and teachability. That’s what employers are looking for,” said Cullen.

Bill Cullen (left) speaks with students at Feldmeier Equipment, Inc.

On Friday, January 11 the students celebrated the end of their training and the start of a 4-year apprenticeship with Feldemeier which makes stainless steel processing equipment for a wide range of businesses including those specializing in pharmaceuticals, biotech and cosmetics along with brewers, food, dairy and beverage processing facilities. “The biggest obstacle for us growing our business is having an adequate number of employees. This gives us a great start toward our goals. We couldn’t be more excited. We can’t compliment OCC enough on their efforts and what a great job they did,” said Dave Pollock, Feldmeier’s Vice President of Sales.

This is the third time OCC has utilized the Apprenticeship Accelerator Career Training Program and the third time it’s been a success. “The fact people can start earning money the day they are in school, then get an apprentice level paycheck within 12 weeks time is definitely a big factor. Having the employer be part of the training ensures the students coming out have the skills they need. It guarantees success,” said Mike Metzgar, OCC’s Associate Vice President of Economic & Workforce Development.

Jessica White

Of the 12 students beginning their apprenticeships 10 are welders and two are focused on metal finishing. White is a welder and she’s thrilled with how the entire process went. “It feels great! This has exceeded my expectations. What we learned here didn’t just help us just get a job. It also gave us skills we are going to need for our entire life. I’m really glad. I love the environment here. It’s like a big family.”

The success White and her classmates experienced was the subject of a story by WSYR TV Newschannel 9 and reporter Jeff Kulikowsky and photographer Mark Folsom. You can view the story here.

The Apprenticeship Accelerator Career Training program is the product of a unique collaboration coordinated by OCC’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. Training is provided by OCC with additional apprenticeship, project and employer support provided by the American Apprenticeship Initiative, the Manufacturers Association of Central New York, the New York State Department of Labor and the Onondaga County Office of Economic Development.

Honoring Our 2018 Alumni Faces

The 2018 Alumni Faces honorees on stage in the Recital Hall are (left to right) Jim Campagna, ’79, Nancy Pasquale, ’90, Mark Re, ’85, OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill, Jeremy Thompson, ’09 and Jerome Thompson, 2006-2009. Honoree David Bamonte, ’81 was unable to attend the event.

The 2018 Alumni Faces ceremony was filled with emotion. One by one the honorees walked on stage, received their awards and expressed heartfelt gratitude for those who helped them achieve success. They thanked their spouses, their families and faculty members at OCC who played critical roles in their development. You can watch the entire event here.

This year’s celebration was held in the Recital Hall on the night of October 3. It included six distinguished former students who were recognized for their professional achievements and contributions to the college and the community. The honorees included:

David Bamonte, ’81

  • High School: North Syracuse
  • Major at OCC: Music
  • Profession: Educator and Trumpet Player
  • David has traveled the world playing the trumpet with acclaimed conductors such as Leonard Bernstein and Zubin Mehta. Today he is a member of the Oregon Symphony and a professor at Portland State University. Unfortunately Bamonte was unable to attend the ceremony.


The 2018 Alumni Faces etchings are on display in the main hallway of the Academic II building.

Jim Campagna, ’79

  • High School: North Syracuse
  • Major at OCC: Radio & Television
  • Profession: Television News Director
  • Jim is News Director at WSYR TV, Newschannel 9. Throughout much of his career he shared his expertise with the next generation of professionals, serving as an adjunct professor in OCC’s Electronic Media Communications (EMC) major from 2001 to 2015. Today he continues to serve as a member of the EMC Advisory Board.


Nancy Pasquale, ’90

  • High School: The Convent School
  • Major at OCC: Humanities
  • Profession: Educator and Advocate
  • Nancy was a founding member of the college’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, the national honor society for community colleges. She taught English at Fayetteville-Manlius and Solvay High Schools until she retired in 2015. Today she serves a co-chair of the OCC Advantage fundraising initiative.


Mark Re, ’85

  • High School: Bishop Ludden
  • Major at OCC: Business Administration
  • Profession: Real Estate Regional Manager
  • Mark is Vice President and Regional Manager of Howard Hanna Real Estate Services. He has been a steadfast supporter of OCC, serving on the Foundation Board since 2004. He is co-chair of the OCC Advantage Fundraising initiative.


Jeremy Thompson, ’09

  • High School: LaFayette
  • Major at OCC: General Studies
  • Profession: Professional Lacrosse Player
  • Jeremy was an All-American lacrosse player at Lafayette High School, OCC and Syracuse University. He was also a two-time New York State Champion and a National Champion with the Lazers. He and his brother Jerome are the face of Nike’s line of Lacrosse gear and part owners of Thompson Brothers Lacrosse.


Jerome Thompson, 2006-2009

  • High School: LaFayette
  • Major at OCC: General Studies
  • Profession: Professional Lacrosse Player
  • Jerome and his brother Jeremy are the face of Nike’s line of Lacrosse gear and part owners of Thompson Brothers Lacrosse. Jerome helped lead the Lazers Men’s Lacrosse team to National Championships in 2007 and 2009. Both he and his brother Jeremy continuously give back to the Native American community and are icons and role models for their work.


Earlier in the day several of the Alumni Faces honorees spent time on campus, speaking with students about their time at OCC and answering their questions. You can view a slideshow of them on campus below.

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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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The Pros Train Here

WSYR TV, Newschannel 9 staff members train on the latest newsroom information management system at OCC.

Members of WSYR TV, Newschannel 9s staff are learning the latest in newsroom information systems at OCC. News and Production team members were on campus September 15 for training in how to use the newest version of the Associated Press’s Electronic News Production System which is referred to as ENPS within the broadcast industry. ENPS assists in the production of more on-air content than all competing products combined. It helps broadcast professionals manage program rundowns, assignments, contacts, messaging, news wires, archives and interconnected devices. Students enrolled in OCC’s Electronic Media Communications (EMC) program are learning on the same system Newschannel 9 is upgrading to.

“The EMC department is fortunate to have a strong partnership with NewsChannel 9.  It was a great opportunity to have their staff and EMC faculty utilizing our facilities to continue their professional development.  We are also proud that many of the Channel 9 people who attended the training earned their degrees here,” said EMC Department Chair Mike Kaminski.

“WSYR TV has had a great relationship with OCC and this professional workshop is one more example. Many of our employees in News, Production, Sales and Engineering are proud alums of OCC,” said News Director Jim Campagna. He is a 1978 alumnus of OCC and what was then called the Radio & TV program. WSYR TV’s General manager, Bill Evans, is a 1989 alumnus of OCC’s Business Administration program.

You can learn more about our EMC program here.

9/11 Remembrance Events

Onondaga Community College is preparing to pay tribute to those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. A series of 9/11 Remembrance events are planned on campus, marking the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Events on Monday, September 11 include:

  • Remembrance Ceremony, 8:30 a.m. at the 9/11 memorial on the south side of the Whitney Applied Technology Center near the traffic circle.
  • Dan Cummings

    Panel Discussion, 11:15 a.m. in Mawhinney Hall room 345. Participants will provide a real-life retrospective from the vantage point of first responder, citizen and member of the media. Panelists include Peter Alberti, former Onondaga County Emergency Management Director; Rebecca Hoda-Kearse, OCC’s Associate Vice President of Student Engagement and New York City resident at the time of the 9/11 attacks; and Dan Cummings, Managing Editor and Anchor/Reporter for WSYR TV, Newschannel 9.

  • All Day: Members of the campus community are asked to stop by the lobby of the Gordon Student Center to sign a “Thank You” banner in appreciation of our first responders. The banner will be presented to the Onondaga Hill fire department.
  • All Day: Complimentary beverages for all Veterans, active duty military and first responders will be available September 11 in both the Gordon Cafeteria and Mawhinney Cafeteria.

2017 Commencement Student Speaker

Henry Humiston

Henry Humiston will be the student speaker at commencement. He is a 46-year-old dual major who will receive degrees in Nuclear Technology and Electrical Engineering Technology.

Humiston grew up in Liverpool and was diagnosed with ADHD at age 12. He earned his GED and became a professional drywall finisher. A back injury led him to rethink his career options. At his mother’s urging, he enrolled in OCC. During the summer of 2012 he began taking classes at OCC @ Liverpool before eventually coming to the main campus.

During the 2016-17 academic year Humiston served the campus community as an officer in the Student Association. In April, he was named the top student in the College’s Nuclear Technology major. He has accepted a job offer from Exelon and will begin working at Nine Mile Point in June. “Excited and blown away don’t even begin to describe how I feel about being selected,” said Humiston. “OCC has been the best second chance a person could ask for.”

OCC’s Commencement will be held Saturday, May 13 at 10 a.m. in the SRC Arena.

In the week leading up to commencement, WSYR-TV Newschannel 9 profiled Humiston on the evening news. You can view the story here.

NASA Team on TV

Newschannel 9 videographer Mark Folsom captures OCC NASA team members Nathan Johnson (left) and Neil Minet (right) creating a substance which resembles the surface of a comet.

OCC’s NASA Team has received some well-deserved recognition in the Central New York media. WSYR-TV Newschannel 9 reporter Jeff Kulikowsky and photographer Mark Folsom came to campus April 26. They shot video and conducted interviews with the students. The story aired in that night’s 6 p.m. newscast. You can view it here.

Next month the six students who make up OCC’s NASA Team will travel to NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. They’ll bring with them a device they’ve created which astronauts will use in an underwater experiment.

Planning began last semester when OCC was selected to be one of more than two dozen teams which would submit designs for tools or devices which astronauts would use during explorations. Most of the schools selected were prestigious four-year college and universities with large budgets. Only three community colleges were selected.

OCC’s team named itself the “Lazernauts.” They began working on an anchoring device that would hold packages on the surface of a comet, asteroid or small moon. The Lazernauts used a 3-D printer to create an auger made out of Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene, or ABS plastic. It’s the type of material used to make Lego’s. Each design was thoroughly tested and analyzed. Throughout the process the team stayed in touch with a NASA Astronaut who served as their team mentor. The astronaut gave advice and made sure they were staying on schedule.

The Lazernauts also created a hard substance for the auger to drill into which would simulate the surface of a comet or small planet. The process included the mixing of dry ice with hot water, creating the type of fog show you might see at a concert.

When they travel to Houston the Lazernauts will watch an astronaut dive into a 40-foot-deep pool and attempt to use their auger in wet sand. The astronaut will wear a GoPro camera. The OCC students will be in a control room, communicating with the astronaut.

OCC’s Lazernauts are:

  • Natalia Montilla, team co-leader               Nottingham High School
  • Brian Richardson, team co-leader             Liverpool High School
  • Nathan Johnson                                            Homeschooled
  • Allan O’Mara                                                  Homeschooled
  • Neil Minet                                                       Marcellus High School
  • Doug Weaver                                                  Chittenango High School

Learning Politics


Chol Majok brought a simple yet powerful message to students at Onondaga Community College. “You should vote because it is a fundamental right for you. Voting is a privilege I will never take for granted.” Majok is one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, a refugee who came to the United States 15 years ago. He came from a country in which voting was not a right.

Chol Majok
Chol Majok

Majok’s first opportunity to vote in the United States was in 2008. “I couldn’t wait for the November election. I was excited. I saw this country as full of opportunities. I couldn’t wait for the polls to open. When I walked out I held my head so high because I had done something I couldn’t have done in Sudan.”

Majok wants students to get energized about taking part in the process and he brought his message to campus just 34 days before voters would elect a new President. Following his lecture students had the opportunity to register to vote. Any student registering who lived in one of the College’s four residence halls would be able to vote at a community polling district located on campus.

Majok’s presentation was sponsored by OCC’s Politics Club. The organization is led by Associate Professor of Social Sciences Christopher Thuot. The Politics Club has played a critical role in informing the entire campus community about the choices in this election cycle.

On Wednesday October 19 the Politics Club hosted a faculty panel discussion on the 2016 election followed by a viewing party for the final Presidential debate. WSYR-TV, Newschannel 9 covered the event and did a live report on the story during its 11 p.m. news. You can watch their coverage here.

The panel discussion and debate watch party were the latest in a long line of events the Politics Club has organized throughout the year.

  • Student Jessica Rivera registers to vote. Seated are Politics Club members Alicia Willenborg and Jamie Stevens.
    Students register to vote outside the C-SPAN Bus.

    Hosted multiple voter registration drives including one in September when the C-SPAN Bus stopped on campus on its way to the first Presidential debate on Long Island.

  • Hosted Debate Watch Parties for all of the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates.
  • The College serves as a community polling location on campus which encompasses two election districts in the Town of Onondaga. The public service provides students an opportunity to interview voters and conduct exit polling. All students living on campus who registered here by October 14 were eligible to vote on campus. Election day transportation will be provided by a campus shuttle bus.
  • Members of OCC’s Politics Club have worked and will continue to work as election inspectors at polling places throughout Onondaga County.
  • As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, a panel was organized to discuss the Hispanic/Latino perspective on the upcoming election. Voter registration forms were also available at this event.
  • The Politics Club and Office of Student and Leadership Engagement teamed up on Constitution Day (Sept 16) to hand out copies of the pocket version of the Constitution to students.
  • During the spring 2016 semester the Politics Club hosted forums with each of the four Congressional candidates. The question-and-answer sessions helped decide whom to vote for in the primaries.
  • Onondaga County Democratic Board of Elections Commissioner Dustin Czerny spoke with students about the voting process.
  • Politics Club members worked with OCC adjunct faculty and community political expert Dick Woodworth when he brought his collection of political memorabilia to campus on Super Tuesday.

Professor Thuot is proud of what students in the Politics Club have accomplished. “All of the events that the Politics Club has hosted over the past several months are aimed at promoting civic engagement and making OCC students aware of what is at stake in the upcoming election,” he said. “The Club is delighted to see so many members of the OCC community engaged in discussions about the future of American democracy and is proud to be part of the college’s efforts to promote participation in the democratic process.”

Bill Quigley

TOP OF STORY Bill Quigley with Channel 9 021Bill Quigley has overcome more adversity than one person should have to deal with. He’s dealt with cancer, divorce and job loss. Those obstacles make today’s successes that much sweeter.

Quigley graduated from Clarkson University in 1990 with a degree in industrial distribution. He was laid off in 2011 and struggled to find a job. “I was behind the curve on technology changes and my experience as a sales engineer was too specialized,” he said.

A few years later Quigley’s life was unraveling. He was a father of five still looking for work and going through a divorce. That’s when he had lunch with an old roommate from Clarkson and things began to change. His friend worked at the Ginna Nuclear Power Plant in Ontario (near Rochester). “He talked about how great his job was, how challenging it was and how rewarding it was. It seemed very interesting.”

A couple of days later Quigley saw a news story on Channel 9 (WSYR TV) about the Nuclear Technology program at OCC. A few positions were still available for the fall semester. “Everything just came together from there! I called OCC, they sped me through the enrollment process and in August 2014 I began taking classes. It was the direction I was looking for.”

Bill Quigley receives a plaque from OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill as he is named the top student in the Nuclear Technology major in April 2016.
Bill Quigley receives a plaque from OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill as he is named the top student in the Nuclear Technology major in April 2016.

In his first year on campus Quigley earned a perfect 4.0 grade point average. At age 45 he was the oldest student in the Nuclear Technology major but he never felt out of place. “It was great to be back in school. Our program is so intense we all work together all of the time. We form study groups, we help each other and get to know each other. It’s like a little family.”

Quigley’s outstanding first year earned him an internship at Exelon’s Nine Mile Nuclear plant in Scriba. He was loving life until life presented him with another obstacle. “I was diagnosed with stage three esophageal cancer. I had to cut my internship at the plant short so I could have surgery.”

Quigley’s surgeon advised him to quit school but he couldn’t. “This was something I needed to do. I needed to get through this program.” Quigley had surgery and returned to college in time for the start of the fall 2015 semester. “September and October were a real challenge. I didn’t have my strength back yet. I had to take naps during the day to get through school.”

Quigley never missed class and maintained his perfect grade point average on the way to being named the top student in his major and earning his degree in May 2016. As he looks back he realizes the critical role coming to class everyday played in his recovery. “It was the determination to get through the program and the routine of school that really helped me get through it.”

In May Quigley was profiled in a television news story by Channel 9 (WSYR TV) reporter Jeff Kulikowsky. You can watch the story here.