Each year Onondaga Community College recognizes distinguished graduates who have made a difference in their community and professional life, naming them "Alumni Faces" honorees. On the night of Wednesday, October 6 at 5:30 p.m. in the Frederick Marvin and Ernst Schuh Recital Hall, we will pay tribute to the Alumni Faces Class of 2021. In the days leading up to the event we are proudly profiling our honorees on our website and social media. Today we recognize Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, '03.
If there's anyone who is doing exactly what she should be doing in life, it's Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, '03. When she was a student at Onondaga Community College, Owens-Chaplin was working full time at Kentucky Fried Chicken and living on her own in the Pioneer Homes housing project which is located directly next to the elevated portion of Interstate 81. Today she's an attorney and the lead counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union which is working to make sure the elevated portion of Interstate 81 is replaced with a surface road system known as the community grid. "I lived this. I know what it was like to live there. It's important to ensure the civil liberties of community members are protected and the injustices of the original construction of Interstate 81 are not repeated."
Owens-Chaplin always had big dreams but never knew if she could overcome significant life challenges to make any of them come true. By age 17 she was living on her own while attending Henninger High School. After receiving her diploma she decided to come to OCC and major in Humanities.
Initially, learning how to balance the demands of working full-time and going to college was a huge struggle. Coursework took a back seat. As she developed relationships with professors, her education became more important. When she took a Business Law class it gave her the confidence to pursue a career in law. "The most valuable thing I learned at OCC is realizing that learning is a collaboration and a set of ideas that can open your world. This impacted my confidence to understand my dreams could be a reality."
After earning her degree at OCC, Owens-Chaplin committed full-time to education and her future. She quit her job, moved away, and enrolled at SUNY College at Old Westbury. She graduated with honors, then moved on to the School of Law at the University of St. Thomas in Miami. She earned her law degree and returned to Syracuse with the goal of making a difference in the community.
The Interstate 81 project is now the main focus of her professional life as lead counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union. "My goals are to continue to push Syracuse to be a better place, advocate for policies and laws that ground our city in principals founded in the Constitution, and to never stop learning. Education is evolutionary."
As she continues to advocate for others, she'll return to campus next week to be honored for her community-focused contributions. "Becoming an Alumni Face honoree is a full circle moment for me. It's also a reminder to students who walk the very halls I did that their opportunities are limitless."
Owens-Chaplin is our guest on OCC's podcast, "Chatting About College." You can listen to our conversation by clicking on this link. You can also find "Chatting About College" wherever you download fine podcasts from.