More than 500 students were eligible to take part in SUNY Oswego’s December Commencement on Saturday, Dec. 15, finding skills, strengths and direction to prepare them for their next steps.

The Monday after Commencement, wellness management major Wilmer Jimenez was set to start as the health and wellness coordinator for the Spanish Action League in Syracuse -- a position that seemed like a distant dream not so long ago.

Jimenez came to the United States by himself from Guatemala at age 14. He worked overnights on a dairy farm and recalled looking up at the sky and dreaming of a better life. His uncle Joselito Vasquez and aunt Ruth Vasquez, an Oswego alumna, took him in, helped him get his green card and guided him toward making his hopes a reality.

For Jimenez, the possibilities and new job help him pay things forward, as he has supported other relatives going to school and in need of his time. “I’ve always loved helping people,” said Jimenez, who also has worked on the Oswego County Opportunities Homeless Services street outreach team. “That’s what I do.”

Jimenez will begin the newly created position for the Spanish Action League, where he will develop programs benefiting the health and well-being of children, parents, cancer patients and others. “I’m really excited because I have so many ideas and I want to see what we can build together,” he said.

After earning an associate’s degree at Cayuga Community College, Jimenez said Oswego’s health promotion and wellness program was the only place he wanted to continue his education, and it has more than lived up to his hopes. “The professors are amazing. I love every one of them. They are strong role models,” Jimenez said. The classes prepared him for his new job and faculty gave him helpful advice for applying for and interviewing for it.

“I feel very welcome,” Jimenez said of his time at SUNY Oswego. “It feels like a family here. They make me feel at home at this school.”

Telling stories

Journalism major Mic-Anthony Hay has flourished as a visual storyteller and filmmaker. He is especially proud of the documentary, “Only 982 - A Holocaust Refugee Story,” that he and Juliet Giglio of the cinema and screen studies faculty produced about two Jewish refugees who fled Europe during World War II and came to a one-of-a-kind shelter at Oswego’s Fort Ontario. “It’s an important story, and I hope more people will learn about it,” he said of the documentary, which has been screened locally and is expected to air on public television. “It was an opportunity to give back to the community and school that has welcomed me.”

Screenwriting and nonfiction writing classes “really taught me how to structure stories and tell stories in a concise manner,” Hay said. “These classes really helped me polish my skills. A lot of my professors are my mentors.”

Through SUNY Oswego’s Outdoors Club, Hay was able to explore nature and produce photos in the Adirondacks and Letchworth State Park that started a visually driven journey. Those pictures and Hay’s other content on Instagram, where his @micanthonyhay account has more than 43,000 followers, have earned him work and recognition with a variety of partners.

Most notably, Sony discovered him there and made him a brand ambassador, which has included trips to Alaska and Arizona to showcase such subjects as wildlife and wild country. He will continue to do some work with Sony, which has also provided some impressive networking opportunities, plus freelance photography and filmmaking; his time in college has included working with Oswego County Promotion and Tourism in collaboration with I Love New York, as well as other agencies and brands.

On campus, Hay said, working for Campus Recreation not only allowed him to create quality content and campaigns, but also “gave me a taste of a professional working environment.” He also has studied abroad in Norway and Iceland to further broaden his horizons.

Hay also credited the state’s Educational Opportunity Program, which first helped him at Dutchess Community College and then when he transferred to Oswego. The program provided a kind of family as well as help with academics, finances and life in general, he said.

Inclusive teaching

Megan Russell, who adds a master's in special education (grades 1 to 6) to her bachelor's degree from Oswego, gained additional experience and insights in her classroom experience.

While student teaching in the Liverpool fourth-grade intergrated co-teaching (ICT) classroom of Nicole Farfaglia, a special educator and alumna of Oswego's graduate program, they collaborated to integrate assistive technology -- such as Clicker 7, Co-Writer and Snap & Read -- into their classroom on a daily basis to support our students in having increased access and participation with writing tasks. 

Russell presented at the most recent New York Reading Association Conference on "the progress that one of our students made after receiving explicit writing instruction and the support of assistive technology," said Russell, who is currently interviewing with multiple districts for full-time special education openings in Central New York.

"She used a graphic organizer on the software Clicker 7, to organize her ideas before writing, and then used Co-Writer to type her fictional narrative," Russell explained. "The accessibility tools of speech feedback and word prediction have helped Chloe and all our students to produce a clearly organized and well-developed fictional narrative with effective language conventions (spelling, capitalization, punctuation) that meets the fourth-grade level writing standards. We are so proud of them!"

Russell has used her Instagram account, @AllCanLearn_WithMissR, to share her some of her teaching experiences, materials, supports and successes with other teachers. "It’s been so great to connect with other special educators and see what they have implemented in their classrooms," she said.

Being a member of the Laker varsity volleyball team as an undergraduate "showed me the importance of teamwork, communication and collaboration -- all important skills to have as a special educator," Russell said. "In addition, working as a respite direct care-worker at the Oswego YMCA and as a teaching assistant in OCM BOCES Summer School Autism Program have provided me with extensive opportunities to grow as a prospective special educator. I continue to value relationship-building with the students that I work with and am looking forward to creating a classroom environment that is grounded in the principles of love, acceptance and inclusion."

Internships pave way

Finance major Madison Dent is currently weighing job offers from two leading financial firms in Buffalo, with a January 2019 start date anticipated for whichever one she chooses.

“I think my internship experience has helped me the most,” said Dent, whose internships have included placements at GEICO, Raymond James and Novelis. “I have made connections, learned how to work on multiple teams and present creative ideas to management. These internships have given me real life experiences and have enhanced my resume to land a future job.”

Her coursework helped lay a foundation as well. “I also have learned analytical skills in my finance and accounting classes that have allowed me to receive these multiple internship opportunities,” Dent said.

“I am really happy I chose to attend SUNY Oswego and I appreciate how much the professors have challenged me and helped me create the best opportunities for myself,” Dent said. “My advice to future graduates is to use the resources SUNY Oswego offers, such as visiting the career center, critiquing your resume and making connections with faculty members.”Public justice graduate Ryan McHale, who plans to attend law school, also credited internships for much of his growth at Oswego. He worked for the New York State Department of Transportation’s Office of Civil Rights, doing data analysis related to awarding contracts. He also interned with the New York State Justice Center’s investigative unit, which provides protection for people with special needs.

McHale also conducted noteworthy research with criminal justice faculty member Jaclyn Schildkraut, an internationally recognized expert on the topic of mass shootings. Together they presented “Covering Rampage: News Consumers’ Perceptions about Mass Shootings in the Media” at the annual meeting of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences in New Orleans in February, thanks in part to a campus Scholarly and Creative Activities grant.

“The research and presentations were a great opportunity. We try to figure out what people who consume the news perceive about mass shootings,” McHale explained. “Hopefully it’s a stepping-stone to perhaps make the media better at presenting these things and maybe even better prevent them from happening.”

Serving as president of the Public Justice Club for a year and a half taught him about leadership, communication and organizational abilities, while serving as a resident assistant in the residence halls helped build his time management and people skills, McHale said.