A thank-you letter to Debbie Sydow

— A true leader has been defined as someone who “inspires others to produce excellent results over and over and over.” I don’t know anyone who fits that description better then Dr. Debbie Sydow from OCC. Dr. Sydow and I came into county government the same year. At that time many felt OCC stood for “Only Chance at College.” Morale was low, achievements were slim and, after 40 years, the campus was decaying.

Flash forward to today. OCC is currently the fastest-growing college in the country. Currently, almost half of college-bound students from Onondaga County go to OCC, and 95 percent remain in the community once they graduate. The school has developed a reputation for academic excellence that allows students to transfer to four-year schools, sometimes at the same tuition as they enjoyed at OCC. OCC has become an economic engine in developing workforce training programs for companies like Byrne Dairy, Dupli Graphics and St. Joseph’s Hospital. These have allowed our local companies to prosper with a steady stream of skilled workers. There are now dorms on campus, and OCC has proudly produced multiple national championship sports teams. The campus itself is the envy of many four-year institutions. Yet with all of this improvement, the cost to local taxpayers and to students has risen very little. OCC is rated the most cost efficient college in the SUNY system. This is a story that is remarkable from every perspective.

I have watched and supported this transformation over the last decade. All of this can be directly attributed to the vision and constant inspiration of Dr. Sydow. Her mantra has always been one of “opportunity and access.” If we could make available to everyone the opportunity of a better life through quality education, we would reap dividends for generations to come. This message inspired many of the best and the brightest in this community to volunteer their time and resources to create an institution that has responded to our local economy in a way that past leaders only dreamed about.

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