Eric Allyn (left) presented OCC $1 million dollars in honor of his wife, Meg O'Connell (right). The money will be used for the creation of the "Meg O'Connell Center for Social Justice and Community Impact."

 Love Story Leads to Path of Student-centered Giving

The qualities that drew Eric Allyn
to Meg O’Connell (above) while they were students at Dartmouth are the same as those that prompted him to establish a milestone gift in Meg’s honor at Onondaga Community College this spring: her dedication to building community, love of education, and helping others realize their potential.

Married for 35 years, Meg and Eric share a love story that is rooted in shared values and mutual support.

As the idea for a gift to honor his wife was percolating, Eric turned to OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill for advice about impactful giving. “Knowing Meg as well as Casey and I do led us down a singular path: a student-focused project that would help the Central New York community and individual educa- tional and professional development,” says Eric.

With a meaningful purpose, the Meg O’Connell Center for Social Justice and Community Impact was born. Eric’s gift of $1 million to the OCC Foundation to honor his wife will fund support for students to pursue volunteer and service-learning opportunities they may not otherwise have the financial support to explore.

Gaining Work and Leadership Skills

About 80% of OCC’s students work 30 hours
a week or more. Each year, the program will support a cohort of 20 students who will earn a stipend that fills the gap from lost wages. “I’m so pleased students will be able to support local efforts, gain work and leadership experience, and use their expertise to improve our com- munity,” says Meg.

The ideals and practice of learning, service, and social justice can be traced to her family culture. “My father was a former Jesuit priest,” shares Meg, who was raised in the Rockville, Maryland area. “He inspired within us a sense of social responsibility and giving back. We volunteered at non-profits from a young age.”

Improving the World

Meg and Eric became soulmates in college, dedicated — individually and as a couple — to improving the world, first as schoolteachers abroad and then as business and community leaders when they settled in the Syracuse area.

Eric is the great-grandson of William Noah Allyn, who co-founded Welch Allyn Inc., a Skaneateles-based medical device maker,

in 1915; the Allyn family sold the company
in 2015 to Chicago-based Hillrom. The Allyn Foundation supports efforts to address poverty and related issues in Central New York.

Meg served as Chair of the OCC Board of Trustees from 2010-2012 and 2013-2015, as well as Interim President of the college from 2012-2013. She is Executive Director of the Allyn Family Foundation and leader of the Syracuse Urban Partnership, which constructed and operates Salt City Market in downtown Syracuse. She’s involved in many civic organizations and community projects, including Blueprint 15, a plan to transform more than 1,000 units of public housing in Syracuse into livable structures and neighborhoods.

Onondaga Community College is vitally important to Meg and Eric’s view of what our community needs. “Many students who may not have had the opportunity to attend college get their educational start at OCC,” says Eric. “Here they receive the attention and support to blossom and go on to richly deserved educational and career paths.”

Meg adds, “I love OCC and what it represents and provides. We couldn’t be more honored to support this great cause: our students.”

Enrich the Lives of OCC Students

Students studying outside

Our students take on tough challenges every day, and our goal is to help reduce barriers they may face. Did you know that 58% of our students are the first in their family to go to college? Or that 51% have lived in low-income housing?

The Onondaga Community College Foundation does more than just provide scholarships: We help address student needs by supporting initiatives such as OCC’s Community Care Hub, providing emergency funding, contributing to college readiness programs, and so much more.

When you give, you help champion accessible, affordable higher education that enriches the Central New York community.

Learn more and donate at


OCC Advantage Advances First Class of High School Students

What’s better than graduating from high school knowing your first two years of college will be tuition free? Twenty Central New York high school students are about to find out as mem- bers of the first group to complete the OCC Advantage Program.

Launched in 2016 with seed money from major donors and countless generous individuals, OCC Advantage is a college and career readiness program for high school students at partner schools. Students build study skills and join college and career prep workshops.

Participants who maintain eligibility throughout high school and successfully complete the program earn funding toward their first semester’s tuition at OCC, with the opportunity to earn additional funding for a maximum of two years.

Whether attending Onondaga to earn
a terminal two-year degree or transfer- ring to a four-year school to complete a bachelor’s, the students and their families save considerably on tuition bills.

Participating high schools in the OCC Advantage program are East Syracuse Minoa Central High School; Jordan- Elbridge High School; LaFayette Junior- Senior High School; Onondaga Senior High School; and Solvay High School.

To learn more about the OCC Advantage Program or to make a gift, contact the Foundation at 315-498-2213 or email

OCC Advantage

EOP Assists Promising Students

Onondaga Community College’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) provides access, academic support, and financial assistance to first-time, full-time students who show promise for succeeding in college but who may need additional support.

In March, 35 EOP students (including those pictured here) were honored during a ceremony in Storer Auditorium for maintaining a cumulative grade point average of
3.0 or better. Each student was recognized individually by EOP Director Denise Valdes.


EOP Assists Promising Students

The program is designed to strengthen personal development and assist in building academic skills as students transition to the college’s social and cultural environment.

To learn more, visit


Damon Gilstrap

Accessibility Resources Ensure Equal Opportunity

Meet Damon Gilstrap. He went from having a fifth-grade education level
in 2015 to earning his GED to then attending Onondaga and graduating in May 2022 with two prestigious honors from the State University of New York: the Norman R. McConney Jr. Award for Student Excellence, given annually to students in the Educational Opportunity

Program who exceed academically while overcoming personal obstacles, and the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence — Special Award for Overcoming the Odds, presented to just one student in New York State.

If anyone has triumphed over challenges, it’s Damon: At
age nine, he found his mother dead from an overdose; was shuffled among various foster homes; was accidently shot once; dealt drugs, for which he served time in prison; and rehabilitated himself after suffering a stroke in 2006 caused by three undetected brain tumors.

Damon’s own determination was guided by Daneen Brooks, a counselor, instructor, and accessibility coordinator for the Office of Accessibility Resources (OAR) at OCC, who worked with Damon while he pursued his degree in social services. OAR serves 1,000 students each year, at no additional cost. The office works to ensure that students with disabilities have an equal opportunity in all aspects of the educational environment.

Learn more at



What matters most to Dave Cook (right) is not where he ended his career, but where he started. And that, many years ago, was at Onondaga Community College.

The Syracuse native attended Corcoran High School and began studies at OCC in the fall of 1970. In 1972, he transferred to SUNY Potsdam, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in political science. “OCC was not a fallback college for me,” says Dave. “It was the most frugal way for me

to earn a four-year degree.”

After a successful 30-year career with the Social Security Administration, Dave decided to “pay back” the insti- tution where he began his college education. He made a gift of $25,000 in 2018 to help fund the OCC Advantage Program (see page 4).

Dave Cook

He’s now funding an annual award for students in the Hospitality Management program and has donated his 1967 Oldsmobile 442 convertible to the Automotive Technology program. In retirement, Dave is also finding time at long last to complete his associate degree at — where else — OCC.

Cruising Into a Classic OCC Experience

For many, a certain car may come to be known as their “baby.” Such was the case with Dave and his 1967 Oldsmobile 442 convertible. When he learned about the first donation ofa classic vehicle to the Automotive Technology program for renovation and restoration, his wheels started to spin.

“I’d had the car for seven or eight years and was impressed by how Ryan Beckley ’98 steered the students who wanted to learn a trade,” says Dave. According to Ryan, a critical shortage of auto techs around the country has enhanced job prospects for graduates of the program. Once Dave’s Olds 442 is ready to hit the road again, it will be raffled off to raise funds for the Foundation.

Cooking Up Success for Hospitality Students

The recipe for success in life, according to Dave, isn’t necessarily based on grades, but on ingredients including heart, soul, inspiration, and determination.

This philosophy is the basis for the Dave Cook Award for Student
Success in Hospitality. “I call it the ‘Dave Cook solid C, barely B
scholarship.’ It’s intended for those students who don’t qualify for the awards the ‘A’ students get, but who are making the effort and have potential,” he explains. His $25,000 donation will provide an annual award of $1,000 for a full-time student or $500 for a qualifying part-time student.

Legacy Society: Supporting OCC Into the Future

The Legacy Society at Onondaga Community College comprises those who have included OCC in their estate plans or with a life income agreement, helping to ensure support for OCC’s mission for years to come.

A planned gift can provide substantial tax advantages, especially on gifts of stocks and real estate. Learn more by calling (315) 498-6060 or visiting


Becoming Nurses: Like Mother, Like Daughter

OCC mother and daughter Nursing degree program alumnae Niokey Williams '21 (left) and Candace Cathcart '15 (right).

Candace Cathcart ‘15 (right) and Niokey Williams ‘21 are living proof that Onondaga Community College does help make dreams come true.

At just 16, Candace gave birth to daughter Niokey. Through the years, the mother-daughter duo encouraged each other in pursuing their shared career aspiration of becoming nurses. “I was a young mom, but Niokey and I knew hard work and mutual support would lead to our success,” says Candace.

Their dreams were realized in December 2021, during the OCC Winter Graduation, when Niokey, 32, received her nursing degree. Although Niokey began her studies before her mom, Candace completed the program in 2015. In

fact, after the 5 p.m. ceremony at SRC Arena on campus, Candace took the short drive to SUNY Upstate Community Hospital for the start of her nursing shift just two hours later.

Little did she real- ize that her work uniform that evening would be tinged with tears of joy.

For nursing graduates, a pinning pre- sentation signifies a major milestone toward becoming a practicing nurse. The small pin symbolizes the hard work and dedication that led to the completion of coursework and clinicals.

For mother and daughter, the pinning was infused with heightened emotion as they at long last attained their goal. “My daugh- ter surprised me right before graduation started, asking me to leave the stands and come on stage to pin her,” says Candace. “It meant the world to me that I was able to share the moment with my daughter.”

Niokey says she’ll move forward with the cherished memory of sharing the spotlight with her mother: “I’ve always wanted to be a nurse and to make my mom proud.”

Student-planned Unity Day Brings Campus Together

Students give back to the OCC community in many ways, including planning and staffing a full day of activities on what’s known as Unity Day. This year’s event on Feb. 23 paid tribute to retiring OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill and Jamaican singer, songwriter, and musician Bob Marley, considered one of the pioneers of reggae.

The day’s theme, “One Love, One Heart,” was a nod to Marley’s anthem of the same name, written during the 1970s. According to event co-chair and OCC student Angel Gonzalez, Unity Day allows everyone on campus to experience other cultures and celebrate the differences that can unite us, rather than divide us. “Unity Day should be held at all institutions; it can change views,” he says.

A wide variety of activities were held across campus from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., including the serving of Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Soul Food cuisines; musical performances, henna tattoos, Cross Faith Necklace Making; LGBTQ information tables; Pride and Yoga for Unity; and an evening performance presented by Pride Alliance.

The event was organized by the student-led Unity Day Committee, which included Angel, Elyssia Baez, Kenneth Bivens, Grace Earle, Dreeasia Garner, Damon Gilstrap, Thuw J-Elmi, Heather Patrick, Tyler Reynolds-Woods, Allyssa Sievers, and Nya Williams.

All activities were sponsored by Onondaga Community College’s Council on Diversity & Inclusion, Diversity Services, Extraordinary Men of Distinction, ASL Club, Psychology Club, South Asian Students Club, Spanish Club, Student Government Association, Barnes & Noble, CNY Arts, OCC Foundation, and the eight Schools of OCC.

For a complete roster of the day’s features, visit

Students Help Students in Our Community

Onondaga Community College’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) spent the fall 2021 semester working on a major project that focused on mental health and disability. For their efforts, the OCC chapter received an award for “Distinguished Honors in Action Project” during PTK’s international conference in early April.

The project entailed collecting and donating books to the Children’s Learning Center in Ferrante Hall and hosting a “Living Library” on campus. The project culminated with the creation of 200 mental health care bags for students at Syracuse’s Dr. Weeks Elementary School.

OCC Cares

PTK students labeled each bag with touch- ing messages, such as “You Are Loved” and “OCC Cares.” Inside were stress balls, bubble makers, fidget spinners, and pencil sharpeners.

Due to COVID-19, PTK members could not bring the bags to Dr. Weeks and spend time with students. Instead, they delivered them, but did not have the opportunity to meet the students in person. The Dr. Weeks’ students were so excited by the gesture that they posed for photos and posted messages on social media.

Honored to Serve

“We’re so honored we were able to help such an amazing group of students,” said OCC PTK Chapter Co-President Caitlin Wiltsey. “Even though we could not go into the school as originally planned, this project was a great success.”

Congratulations to the OCC PTK members for their caring and creative spirits, and for the special recognition of their community enhancement project.

Chapter Ranked Third in the World; New PTK Members Inducted

Onondaga Community College’s chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) is ranked third in the world, announced during PTK’s international conference held in Denver in early April. This is the fourth consecutive year that OCC’s chapter, Alpha Sigma Zeta, has been ranked in the top ten out of nearly 1,300 international chapters.

In March, Angel Gonzalez (below) was one of nearly 200 students inducted into our PTK chapter by OCC President Dr. Casey Crabill. The event featured a recap of outstanding achievements during the academic year, recognition of milestones earned by current student members, news about chapter-wide honors, and the induction of new members.

Honoring Dr. Crabill

A highlight of the ceremony was recognition for Dr. Crabill, who is retiring at the end of the academic year. PTK Co-Presidents Caitlin Wiltsey and Katie Sullivan presented a Phi Theta Kappa blue stole to Dr. Crabill in recognition of the national PTK Michael Bennett Lifetime Achievement Award she received, extended for her many years of unwavering dedication to student success.

New York State’s Most Distinguished Chapter

During the ceremony, PTK Advisor Dr. Annie Tuttle provided a review that highlighted student projects during the past year. She also shared that OCC’s PTK chapter had just been named the Most Distinguished Chapter in New York State for the fifth consecutive year.

During the international conference, the OCC chapter also received the Beta Alpha Continued Excellence Award, presented to a school that’s held a Distinguished Chapter designation for three years or more, and OCC’s PTK leadership was named a Distinguished Chapter Officer Team.

Dr. Tuttle was elected Secretary of the Association of Chapter Advisors.

We applaud the academic achievements of our newest inductees and the commitment of the OCC PTK chapter toward excellence and service.

New PTK Members Inducted

Upcoming Events

TBT – The Basketball Tournament – July 22-25

We’re excited to announce the return to the Onondaga Community College campus of TBT – The Basketball Tournament. The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation in 2020 and 2021 of this nationwide summer basketball event. Once again, Boeheim’s Army, comprised of Syracuse Orangemen alums, will take to the court in the SRC Arena for a chance to win $1 million in tournament prize money for our regional team. Thirty-two teams have signed on to compete in eight regions of the U.S.

Watch for more details as “July Madness” takes over at OCC!

Cruise & Views – Presented by Maguire Dealerships – Sept. 24

Mark your calendar now for a fun event to benefit OCC students: the 2nd annual Cruise & Views car show at OCC, presented by the Maguire Dealerships. Classic
car and street rod enthusiasts will display their vehicles during this entertaining festival featuring food, beverages, and tours of the Automotive Technology Center. Come meet OCC students and view

the progress to date on
the 1957 Chevy truck that will be raffled off during 2023. To register your ride, visit Watch for details to come!

Cruise & Views Logo