Student Spotlight
Alex Espitia-Casallas
Alex Espitia-Casallas is a 31-year-old student who will complete his Laboratory Science degree this semester. He plans to transfer to SUNY Upstate Medical University and major in Medical Technology.

Alex Espitia-Casallas spent a decade working as a baker before he decided it was time to do something else. He had attended college immediately after graduating high school in Reno, Nevada and left after one semester. "My first time in college was a total failure. I didn't know what I was doing or what I wanted to do. It hung over me like a gray cloud for a long time.

Espitia-Casallas moved to New York City in early 2020, just as Covid was changing the way we lived. Later that year he began volunteering at New York Presbyterian Hospital. "I wanted to do something that helped people and thought health care would be good. Originally I wanted to do Nursing. I was volunteering in the neurosurgery recovery ward. I got to meet lots of good people working as a patient liaison. A lot of patients there were recovering from long covid. The experience showed me I wouldn't be a good nurse, but I still wanted to do something in health care that wasn't patient facing."

He eventually moved to Albany and planned to go to school there, but discovered Onondaga Community College's Laboratory Science program. He decided to attend an orientation session on campus and enjoyed it. "I really liked the school, the people I met, and the atmosphere. I also liked that the program was designed to transfer to Upstate."

In the fall of 2022, Espitia-Casallas returned to a college classroom. "I was definitely hesitant and wondered if I could do it. Very quickly I met older students and a lot of others who have been in my corner the whole time and done a great job of making me feel welcome and comfortable here."

His performance in the classroom earned him membership in the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society where Dr. Annie Tuttle is helping him with the college transferring process. He also became a Meg O'Connell Social Justice Scholar, and an active member in the Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program which is known as C-STEP. "I love C-STEP. The leadership, Leslie (Reid) and Colleen (Stevens) are really great people. They work really hard to connect students and create opportunities for students. Being able to do research as an undergraduate through C-STEP was a life-changing experience."

Through C-STEP, Espitia-Casallas participated in two research sessions at SUNY Upstate Medical University. At the conclusion of his internship, he was offered a paid student research session which he is taking advantage of this semester. Espitia-Casallas will complete his degree in May. He plans to transfer into Upstate's Medical Technology program which will put him on the path to becoming a clinical laboratory scientist.

After a challenging start to his higher education journey in Nevada, Espitia-Casallas has rebounded and flourished at OCC. He credits the welcoming environment he found here and the impact it had on his performance. "OCC is a really great school. It is so accommodating and supportive, especially for older students. There's a really nice sense of community. I would recommend this school to anyone. It's a hidden gem."

Onondaga Community College
SUNY Upstate Medical University