Onondaga Community College Alumna Lanessa Owens-Chaplin '03 will receive a prestigious national award next month. She is one of only three recipients of the 2023 Outstanding Alumni Award from the American Association of Community Colleges. Owens-Chaplin is an attorney and lead counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union. For several years the focus of her work has been making sure the elevated portion of Interstate 81 is replaced with a surface road system known as the community grid.
"I'm honored to be recognized. This is a reminder to students who walk the very halls I did that their opportunities are limitless," said Owens-Chaplin.
"We're so proud of Lanessa and everything she's accomplished. She has dedicated her life to helping those going through the same struggles she experienced. She's a shining example of the power of a community college education, and the difference people can make when they dedicate their lives to helping others," said OCC President Dr. Warren Hilton.
Two decades ago while attending OCC, Owens-Chaplin was living on her own in the Pioneer Homes housing project which is located directly next to the elevated portion of Interstate 81. "I lived it. 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."
During her time as a student at OCC, Owens-Chaplin took a Business Law class which gave her the confidence to pursue a career in law. She completed work toward her Humanities degree in 2003, earned her bachelor's degree from SUNY College at Old Westbury, and her law degree from the University of St. Thomas in Miami. She returned to Syracuse with the goal of making a difference in the community.
The Interstate 81 project became the main focus of her professional life. In recent years Owens-Chaplin has been recognized repeatedly for her efforts. In 2021 the College named her a distinguished Alumni Faces honoree. At OCC's Commencement Ceremony in 2022, she received a SUNY Honorary Degree, Doctor of Humane Letters. And late last year United States Senator Kristen Gillibrand recommended Owens-Chaplin for the Advisory Committee on Transportation Equity within the U.S. Department of Transportation. "Lanessa is a dedicated public servant committed to helping her community and fighting for environmental and racial justice," said Senator Gillibrand.
Owens-Chaplin will receive her Outstanding Alumni Award from the American Association of Community Colleges during a ceremony next month in Denver.
The OCC Foundation works to support students with programming, emergency funding, and awards that help students get to the finish line. To learn more about how you can support students, please contact Steffani Williams, Director Development & Annual Giving at firstname.lastname@example.org.