Student Spotlight
Shelly Dunham
Shelly Dunham

It's been just about a year since Shelly Dunham had to make one of the biggest decisions of her life. For 33 years she had worked at Natur-Tyme, a health and wellness store on Erie Boulevard in DeWitt, where she served as Store Manager. In the spring of 2023 the owners informed their employees the business would be closing for good. "When I knew my job was coming to an end, I was at a crossroads. I could follow the money in my current skills and possibly get a job somewhere in retail management, or I could follow my heart and work with a population of people I am very interested in and passionate about."

Several years earlier Dunham had started volunteering regularly with We Rise Above The Streets Recovery Outreach, an organization which encourages people to live up to their full potential by breaking the cycle of homelessness and criminality. She loved the organization's mission and the opportunity to help others. So when it was time to make her life-changing decision, she chose a path which meant the most to her.

In the fall of 2023, Dunham enrolled in Onondaga Community College's Human Services degree program and walked into a college classroom for the first time. "I felt comfortable and that says a lot because I don't feel very comfortable out of my comfort zone."

Her first semester went so well, she was inducted into OCC's chapter of international honor society Phi Theta Kappa. "It meant a lot to me. It was an honor. I've worked really really hard. This doesn't come naturally to me. I'm proud of the grades I'm getting and I'm putting a lot of work into it. This is my job right now and I'm giving it 110 percent."

Dunham's success has become a focal point for her entire family. Her husband, son, and twin daughters who are juniors at West Genesee High School are all enjoying her achievements. "They're so excited for me. I took a Sociology test last week and they knew I was getting it back today. I texted them when I got it (she earned a 99%) and they were all excited. We celebrate each other's grades. With our daughters being in high school, I can relate to them now in a way I never could. They help me sometimes with technology, and they're super encouraging."

She also attributes much of her success to the faculty. "I've had great professors. They really want to see you succeed. I'm excited to learn, and I've been learning things that will undoubtedly help me."

The environment Dunham has found on campus has also been very appealing. "When people ask me what I like about OCC most, I say 'the diversity. I love the different people here from all walks of life.'"

A year from now, Dunham will be in her final semester. Her goal is to continue the type of work she is doing at We Rise Above The Streets Recovery Outreach. "I want to be on the front lines, out in the community, working with and talking with people who really need help. That's where I see myself."

Onondaga Community College
West Genesee High School