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Meet some of our amazing alumni

We're proud of our alumni who made Jamestown Community College their first step toward their careers.

Photo of Lori Brockelbank
Lori Brockelbank '94

Major: Liberal Arts & Sciences: Social Science
Transfer Institution: State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry
Current Position: Urban Forester and Consulting Arborist for FORECON, Inc.
Current City: Jamestown, NY 

To many, Lori Brockelbank's job may seem difficult to explain. Her children, however, seem to understand it quite easily.

"As my children put it, I am the Lorax," said Brockelbank, urban forester and consulting arborist for FORECON Inc. "I speak for the trees — trying to promote protection and enhancement of tree canopies within urban settings."

Brockelbank's love of trees started as a child growing up in Sinclairville, she said, where she spent a great deal of time exploring and horseback riding in the outdoors. She studied psychology and social sciences at JCC, curricula that she said are helpful to her on a daily basis in the seemingly unrelated field of urban forestry.

"Urban forestry really is a social science," Brockelbank said. "It really diversified my own self, making me more adaptable toward any career choice that came in the future."

After receiving her A.A.S. degree from JCC, Brockelbank "worked many jobs," she said, in the attempt to discover her passion for life. During that time period, she began volunteering for the Green Team at the Chautauqua County Soil and Water Conservation District. By completing tasks, including surveying for dry hydrants and doing soil classification, she said, she rediscovered her true passion: working with the environment.

Brockelbank applied to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry for its program in natural resource management. The transition into the program was smooth, she said, thanks to her previous experience at JCC.

Today, Brockelbank is giving back to the college where she got her start by assisting with its Tree Campus USA designation. With the help of former Jamestown city arborist Doug Hoisington and current arborist Dan Stone, the college’s Jamestown Campus is dotted with a wide variety of tree species — and with Brockelbank's help, it is being recognized for its efforts. In 2009, the college became one of the first three campuses in New York to receive the honor, and the first community college.

"It will be ongoing for many, many years," Brockelbank said of the benefits of the college's tree canopy. "They were such a forward-thinking campus for sustainability, and this looked like a way to promote the many tree species that are on the campus."

Having a variety of trees is important, Brockelbank said, because it lessens the chance for a tree canopy to be decimated by the introduction of an invasive species or insect.

With the help of a number of JCC students participating in an urban forestry internship, Brockelbank collected data about the trees and helped the college apply for the designation. She said the internship continues at the college on an every-other-year basis, and that the students who participate benefit in more ways than one.

"We are working with a group of students to help them be the voices of the future," she said. "It really prepares them for other courses or for the work they want to do in the future. ... No matter what field they go into, we always need those individuals who can speak for the trees."

Remembering faculty members such as Becky Nystrom, Jan Bowman, and Tom Erlandson — with whom she now works on a professional basis — Brockelbank said that JCC helped prepare her to be to the voice for the trees she is today.

"Because of the diversity (JCC was) able to offer, and I think this goes for a lot of other students, it can prepare you well for life, wherever you go," she said. "You have that family you can fall back on."

By Dave Emke '01

Photo of Chris Ecker
Chris Ecker '08

Major: Liberal Arts and Sciences: Math & Science
Transfer Institution: Ohio State University
Current Position: Pursuing his Ph.D. in microbiology at Ohio State University
Current City: Columbus, OH

Some people get hooked on biology after having an ant farm when they’re little, or because they have a fascination with the outdoors. Chris Ecker got hooked on it only after nearly creating a national incident. Unintentionally, of course.

“My senior year of high school, Mr. Brian Fortney and I attempted to grow microbes from soil,” he explained. “Working out of my mom's kitchen, I prepared bacterial growth media, poured it into ice-cream dishes, and grew microbes from soil in the kitchen window. Though I had no understanding of what I was doing at the time, this small project opened up an entirely new aspect of biology to me. I was fascinated.”

But this eureka moment could have turned out very differently.

“Thinking back, this rudimentary experiment was rather risky, as one natural soil inhabitant is Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax. No outbreaks occurred as a result of this work.”

Catastrophe avoided, Chris found that his fate was sealed. He was going to be a scientist.

When Chris came to Jamestown Community College, it was with the intention of studying microbiology, and only microbiology. Even within the biology field, the subject intrigued him in ways that others did not. Then, his classes started.

“During the initial classes of biology, including biology of insects and mammals, and zoology, I became enthralled with all aspects of biology.”

Chris knew exactly what had changed; his professors made all the difference. In particular, he credits professors Rebecca Nystrom, Jan Bowman, and Taylor Pancoast with widening his view and deepening his interest in all aspects of biology and chemistry. 

Spurring this growth was the opportunity to perform actual research right alongside his teachers.

At a time when students at other institutions are still learning theory and getting much of their information from textbooks, Chris was waist-deep in the waters of Chautauqua Lake, taking samples beside Prof. Bowman for a project inventorying and understanding the lake's macroinvertebrate spatial population diversity.

The project was “a far cry from the microbiology objective I began with,” said Chris. Nevertheless, he took full advantage of the opportunity. More than anything else, that project demonstrated for Chris “the importance of passion in teaching and in learning.”

Now a graduate student at Ohio State University and pursuing his doctorate, Chris is still studying freshwater ecosystems, but he's back to working at the micro level. He’s currently researching the genetic regulation of toxin biosynthesis in the cyanobacteria Microcystis aeruginosa, which are responsible for causing harmful algal blooms. Though he's progressed a long way from performing experiments in his mom’s kitchen, in many ways he’s just building on the basics he learned as a student at JCC, collecting samples in Chautauqua Lake, working side-by-side with his professor.

Photo of Andrew Gustafson
Andrew Gustafson '07

Major: Individual Studies
Transfer Institution: State University of New York at Geneseo
Current Position: Assistant Curator
Current City: Houston, TX

Andrew Gustafson graduated from Jamestown Community College in May 2007 with a degree in individual studies. Since then, he's earned a B.A. in history from the State University of New York at Geneseo and an M.A. in history from the University of Houston. Andrew is currently the assistant curator for the Torch Collection, a private Texas history and culture museum and archive located in Houston, Texas.

Like many people, when Andrew graduated from high school he didn't know what exactly he wanted to major in or what type of career he wanted to pursue. Before graduating from Jamestown High School in 2005, he had been exposed to a variety of courses and was considering studying chemistry in college, although he enjoyed writing and had a passion for history as well.

"One great thing about JCC is the variety of courses that are available, and the degree plan for individual studies encouraged me to explore different subjects," he said. "I took introductory classes in a wide range of topics, and was able to see where my strengths lay." Even though Andrew enjoyed his science classes at JCC, his strengths and interests were in the humanities and that is what he ultimately pursued.

After Andrew graduated from JCC, two other major benefits about the college became apparent. "Although my classes were scattered across many different topics, I didn’t lose a single credit when I transferred to SUNY Geneseo in the fall of 2007: everything transferred without a problem," Andrew said. All of his classes also fit into the SUNY core classes requirements. "The classes I took at JCC laid the foundation for the next two degrees I earned."

Another benefit was financial. Since Andrew graduated from high school in the top 10% of his class, he received the USA scholarship from JCC, which meant that his tuition was free for two years. "I cannot praise this advantage enough because it was really the reason I was able to afford to go on to earn higher academic degrees," he stated.

"I was accepted to and could have attended larger, four-year schools directly out of high school, but the cost of tuition was ridiculously high—and for the same core classes that I took at JCC, too. Graduate school is very expensive, and if I had gone to a more expensive four-year school directly out of high school, I could not have easily afforded to work towards my master’s degree at the University of Houston.” While at UH, Andrew studied Tudor-Stuart English history and worked as a teaching assistant before pursuing his career as an assistant curator.

"My decision to attend JCC after high school is the reason why I am where I am today," Andrew said. "I have a great job in the competitive market of the fourth largest city in the United States.  My experiences at JCC have allowed me to prosper six years after I started my associate’s there." Now, today, he is able to work with historical documents signed by Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin, hang pieces of art by Andy Warhol and S. Seymour Thomas, and handle objects such as spurs from the "Wild West" era and saddles that were used in the Mexican Revolution. As he put it, “JCC really was the springboard I needed to get ahead."

Image used by permission of the Torch Collection, owned by Mr. J.P. Bryan, Jr.

Photo of Shawna Gustafson
Shawnna Gustafson '12

Major: Nursing
Transfer Institution: Daemen College
Current Position: Home care nurse, WILLCARE
Current City: Fredonia, NY

After earning a degree in business management from SUNY Fredonia, Shawnna Gustafson embarked on a career as a manager at a Wegmans supermarket. She was happy but not entirely fulfilled with her livelihood.

“I loved my job and loved working for Wegmans,” she said, “but I just kind of knew that I was missing out on something.”

That something was nursing. Shawnna wanted to help people and a make a difference in their lives. She enrolled at Jamestown Community College to get started on the path to the life she wanted.

Living in Falconer at the time, she “realized that JCC had such a good reputation for their program that I knew it would be silly for me to travel an hour” to receive a similar education.

Shawnna began her nursing career at Brooks Memorial Hospital in Dunkirk after earning her RN from JCC. She also began schooling at Daemen College, where she received her BSN.

She spent two years at Brooks before taking a position as a home care nurse at WILLCARE.

Of her transition to home care nursing, Shawnna said: “I wanted to be able to spend more one-on-one time with my patients. At the hospital you have so many that you have to focus on at one time. I felt that with homecare you get a chance to get to know your patients better and spend more time with them.”

Shawnna, on a typical day, travels to a handful of patients’ homes in northern Chautauqua County to provide care and support.

She also is an adjunct clinical instructor at JCC. She takes this role seriously, remembering the profound impact JCC nursing instructors made on her.

“My instructors really made a difference just impacting what kind of nurse I wanted to be and what type of nurse I would strive to be,” she said. “Thinking now as an instructor, I really try to help the students get a good perspective of nursing from an outside viewpoint – not just a book viewpoint.”

Associate Professor Mary Rose Chasler, Shawnna said, has had the greatest influence on her nursing education and career.

“Whenever I talk about her to any of the freshman students now or anybody that is thinking about (enrolling in) the program, I tend to reference her as my mentor,” she said. “She is exactly the type of nurse I want to be. She’s had an excellent career. I had her for most of my semesters for clinical, and I think that she made me the type of nurse that I am, for sure.”

Shawnna, in her everyday professional life, often calls upon her JCC educational experiences for guidance when challenges predictably arise.

“I think JCC teaches you that you have to be focused and you have to pay attention,” she said. “The program, I think, is hard. It definitely isn’t an easy program to get through and neither is a career in nursing. You have to be focused and dedicated to it and pay attention. Otherwise, you’re not going to succeed at it. I think the program, being as difficult as it is, prepares you better for what you actually have to do in the workplace.”

Photo of Jamie Haight
Jamie Haight '01

Major: Liberal Arts & Sciences: Math & Science (with a focus on life science)
Current Position: Biologist with the NYS Health Department
Current City: Jamestown, NY

Ticks and Snake Pits

An encounter with a tick or a swarm of mosquitoes is usually enough to ruin most people's day. Jamie Haight’s day isn’t complete until he’s found at least one.

Jamie, a biologist for the New York State Health Department, does disease surveillance and mosquito and tick investigation in Western New York. What’s particularly impressive is that he was hired for the job during his last semester at Jamestown Community College. Twelve years and several extra training courses and certifications later, including some from the Cornell Medical Veterinary Lab, he can’t see himself doing anything else.

Coming into college, Jamie knew that he wanted to study biology, and become a professional biologist. Something about the work appealed to the self-described eccentric. But if his path once he got to JCC was relatively straightforward, his journey to the college was anything but.

“I had quite a few different jobs growing up, from working fast food to grocery stores to pet stores, from roofing to laying carpet, a 100 mile per night paper route. I even traveled with the carnival freak show and snake pit for a while once I graduated from high school! It's been a long, strange journey!”

A long, strange journey, but one that’s been well worth it. 

The Grosser the Better

In addition to his disease surveillance work, Jamie also does a significant amount of public education for groups ranging from pre-schoolers to elder hostels.

“People think what I am fascinated by is gross,” said Jamie. “But we're surrounded by these things all the time, and people seldom pay them much mind. When they by chance do notice them, they usually end up calling me!”

This aversion to his field of study doesn’t upset Jamie, though. Instead, he sees it as an opportunity and regularly uses it as a tactic when teaching and giving presentations.

“I like using the weirdest, creepiest, and grossest examples in nature,” said Jamie. “Completely creeping and grossing people out makes them remember what they learned. I have had some gaggers, shudders, borderline fainters and yes, even one puker over the years. Not intended, of course,” he added, reassuringly. In the end, though, “the students remember what I teach them. And they love it by the end of my presentation.”

This shock and awe style of instruction came courtesy of former JCC professor Andy Kibler. It’s just one of many ways that JCC and its professors helped shape him into the person he is today. Jamie mentioned professors Becky Nystrom and Jan Bowman as particular inspirations for him.

“These are the people I think about and try to emulate when I am teaching people about what I do.”

In the end, Jamie loves his job and would encourage anybody with a strong stomach and an equally strong interest in the outdoors to consider biology. Put simply, he said, there's no other job quite like it. He does want to clear up at least one misconception, though: "Entomophagy (the consumption of tasty insects, practiced in many parts of the world, prepared in various recipes and forms) is strictly voluntary!"

Photo of Jay Harris
Jay Harris '04

Major: Communication
Transfer Institution: State University of New York at Oswego
Current Position: Multimedia Producer for the Buffalo Bills
Current City: Buffalo, NY

How many young athletes grow up watching their favorite team, fantasizing about the day they’ll be able to don a helmet and take their place among their heroes?

Short of putting on the pads, Jamestown Community College alumnus Jay Harris is living out that childhood dream. As the former sports producer for WIVB-TV Channel 4 in Buffalo and current multimedia producer for the Buffalo Bills, he reports on the teams he worshipped as a boy growing up in Jamestown, NY.

“I grew up a HUUUUGE Sabres and Bills fan,” he exclaimed. “Finally realizing that you can get paid to cover those teams was a major pushing point for me.”

That realization sealed his fate. Jay Harris was going to become a sports broadcaster, no matter what.

Going into it, Jay knew that the road would not be easy. The media world was and is brutal, and it’s only the dedicated few who are able to build a career in it. Plus, Jay had another obstacle to overcome.

“I was really shy coming out of high school,” he admitted. Although he didn’t aspire to be the man in front of the camera, the very nature of his chosen profession meant that his work would be available to the public to judge, and sports fans are never ones to temper their critiques.

Photo of Josh Harris
Josh Harris '98

Major: Social science (liberal arts & sciences)

Transfer institution: State University of New York at Oswego, George Washington University School of Law

Current position: Policy director for The Future of Privacy Forum

Current city: Washington, D.C.

Dr.  Harris, the policy director for The Future of Privacy Forum, a Washington, DC-based think tank advancing responsible data use and consumer privacy, graduated from JCC with a degree in social sciences and a concentration in political science. He went on to graduate with honors from SUNY Geneseo in 2000, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science. In 2004, he earned a juris doctor degree from the George Washington University School of Law and was selected for the White House’s Presidential Management Fellowship program.

As a student at JCC, Dr. Harris participated in the SUNY Model European Union and International Negotiation Modules Project. Those experiences led him to a career in economic policy, during which he worked as an international trade specialist for the U.S. Department of Commerce in the International Trade Administration’s Office of Technology and Electronic Commerce developing and implementing the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation’s Cross Border Privacy Rules System. 

In 2012, he received the U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal, the highest award offered by the department, for his work. Dr. Harris also represented the U.S. Department of Commerce in international groups that included the Organization of American States and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Photo of Christy Lasher
Christy Lasher '07

Major: Liberal Arts and Sciences: Math & Science

Transfer Institution: State University of New York at Geneseo

Current Position: School Administrator

Current City: Salt Lake City, UT

Initially, Christy Lasher planned to go to college to become a doctor. Towards that goal, she took a number of lab science classes while at Jamestown Community College, as well as many required general education courses. Yet it was in those general education courses, particularly psychology and sociology, where she discovered a passion for learning about why people think and act the way that they do.  

"As a full-time student at JCC, I recognized that I wanted to pursue this passion," she said. "As a student assistant in the social sciences department, I developed closer connections with my professors." Through these connections, Christy discovered what career options were available to someone with her interests. She realized that what she really wanted to do was use psychology to help others. What better way to do this, she thought, than as a school psychologist?

After earning her associate’s degree, Christy transferred to the State University of New York at Geneseo to major in psychology. While at Geneseo, she came across quite a few other students who had gone to JCC.

"There seemed to be consensus among us that transferring to Geneseo from JCC was not very difficult, and that most if not all JCC credits were accepted at Geneseo." Two short years later, Christy graduated from Geneseo with a B.A. in psychology and a minor in communication.  

Afterwards, "I was accepted into a grant program at Alfred University, which allowed me to receive my master’s degree in school psychology at very little financial cost," she said. "During my time at Alfred, my coursework and practical experiences confirmed that I was in the right field for me." Christy's suitability as a school psychologist was further confirmed during an internship at Letchworth Central School District in Gainesville, NY, where she earned a certificate of advanced specialization in school psychology.

Christy applied for jobs across the country, but mostly in New York State. This process was daunting, as it seemed that there were few open jobs in her field. However, she was eventually contacted by Early Light Academy, a charter school in Utah, to interview for a position as a school psychologist. Although it was difficult to leave the Jamestown area, Christy decided to move to Salt Lake City to pursue this opportunity. 

Happily, "since moving to Utah, I have had a number of exciting experiences, including hiking, learning to mountain bike, and skiing at some of the most well-known resorts in the country," Christy said.

Christy spent two years as a school psychologist at Early Light Academy, where her main roles included student assessment, counseling, teaching a social-emotional wellness curriculum, and helping teachers understand how to best educate each of their students. Upon entering the 2014-2015 school year, Christy was asked to be the assistant director of her school. Though much of her role as assistant director involves directly supporting student success, she is now more involved in school-wide decisions and the “behind the scenes” operations of a school.

Christy believes that her experiences at JCC were critical in leading her to where she is today. "JCC allowed me to explore different fields of study before going to a larger university. As an officer in the Student Senate and a member of Student Ambassadors, I developed leadership skills that would have been more difficult to obtain at a larger school. Overall, the things that I learned in and out of the classroom at JCC have allowed me to be successful at a career that I love."

Photo of Anita Cizek Moore
Anita Cizek Moore '97

Anita Moore is a nurse, actress, and mother. Ms. Moore is program director of research quality improvement at the University of Maryland’s Greenebaum Cancer Center and Jamestown Community College Class of 1997 alumna. She spoke at Jamestown Community College’s 2013 Commencement in May.

While at JCC, Ms. Moore studied nursing and was a member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, serving as president from 1996 to 1997, and represented JCC as a Phi Theta Kappa international delegate in 1996.

During her time at the College, Ms. Moore was named recipient of the Carnahan-Jackson Scholarship, Seager Presidential Scholarship, Jamestown Community College Trustee Award, and was named a JCC Alumni Nurse of Distinction Award in 2012.

Moore continued her education and earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing at The Johns Hopkins University in 2001 and a master’s degree in clinical research management at the University of Maryland in 2010. Last year, Moore earned national recognition as a designated certified clinical research professional.

In her current position, Ms. Moore audits clinical research conduct at the University of Maryland, manages the data safety monitoring quality assurance committee at the Greenebaum Cancer Center, and is a frequent presenter on clinical research management issues. In her “free time”, she is an actress – appearing in films, commercials, and television series.

1.   What sparked your initial interest in healthcare and what has sustained your motivation to continue learning about it and impacting the field?

What sparked my initial interest in healthcare is that I just wanted to help people. I began nursing school at the Jamestown Community College Cattaraugus County Campus in the fall of 1994. I graduated Valedictorian of my nursing class in 1997, and became a Registered Nurse.

After graduation, I began working in a Family Practice office in Coudersport, PA and was so interested when the pharmaceutical representatives would come in to educate about the new medications coming out on the market. Learning about the up-and-coming advances in healthcare sparked my interest in research – research is the front line of discovering new therapies. However, I needed to pursue at least a bachelor’s degree to obtain a career in “research” as a Clinical Research Nurse. I eventually moved and enrolled in the RN to BSN program at The Johns Hopkins University, School of Nursing in Baltimore, Maryland. I obtained my Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in 2001.

Upon graduating, I worked for almost 10 years as a Clinical Research Nurse, and was then motivated to obtain my Master’s degree in Clinical Research Management in 2010 from the University of Maryland School of Nursing to advance into a director’s position. I have been the Director of Research Quality Improvement at the University of Maryland Medical Center in the Greenebaum Cancer Center for the last two years. In November, 2012, I passed the Society of Clinical Research Associates (SoCRA) examination to earn the national recognition as a designated Certified Clinical Research Professional (CCRP).

2.   Aside from clinical research, you are an actress. What about that field draws you in, and are any skills between the two distinct subjects — healthcare and acting — related?

Before I became a nurse, my sister and I were “extras” in the movie, “Major League II” [photo]. I always say that after being in that movie, “the [acting] bug bit me”.

What drew me in about being an actress is that there is no other experience like being in front of a camera, being next to famous actors, and watching as the scene unfolds. Later when the movie, film, or commercial is released, it is so fun to watch the final product and looking for yourself or other actor friends on the screen.

In my current position as the Director of Research Quality Improvement, I am constantly giving presentations and educational sessions. Both the acting and presenting give me the confidence to get up in front of an audience or a room full of people to perform or deliver. Some auditions for commercials or films have specifically asked for “real” nurses. I have auditioned for nursing roles for television shows, acetaminophen and diabetes commercials, and landed one part as a nurse in the movie “The Invasion” with Nicole Kidman.

3.   What is a typical day like for you?

My hours are pretty much – Monday – Friday, 9-5. In my position, I manage the Data Safety Monitoring Quality Assurance Committee (DSM/QAC) which oversees the conduct of research within the Greenebaum Cancer Center. A typical day is spent either auditing research protocols and the conduct of a particular study, presenting educational sessions to research or clinical staff, or gathering information for a DSM/QAC meeting. The DSM/QAC reviews adverse events experienced by participants on studies, deviations from the conduct of research protocols, and monitors the studies to assure that the patients or participants remain safe while enrolled on a clinical trial.

If I am booked for an acting role, I will schedule a day off to be on set.

4. Overall, how did college — and your education at JCC — help prepare you for your career?

When I arrived at JCC in the early 1990’s, I had 2 small children (ages 7 & 4), no bank account to my name, no job, no degree, and no income. When I became a student, JCC gave me stability. It is a very trusting environment, and because of my time at the college, I transformed from a very dependent individual to a very strong and self-reliant person.

Attending school at JCC was the first time in my life when I really felt secure in that I was headed in the right direction. Between learning the skills I needed to become an RN, I also learned resilience and perseverance – all which still carry me through life today. During my days at JCC, I also learned leadership skills. I was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, was an international representative to Washington, DC, and I served as the president of our local chapter my last year as a student here. I gained the confidence I never was able to attain before. JCC taught me to value my education, and I feel that my foundation is solid from my time spent at JCC.

5.   What does it mean for you to have spoken at the 2013 Jamestown Community College Commencement Ceremony?

Speaking at the 2013 JCC Commencement Ceremonies at the Cattaraugus County Campus and at the Jamestown Campus were the most amazing experiences. It was great to be back to a place in which gave me my foundation for my education, for my nursing career, and for my life. It was truly an honor to speak at both commencements.  What an awesome experience! It is something that I will cherish for life.

6.   What advice do you have to share with SUNY students?

If you dare to dream big, your mind will put itself in a focused and positive state. People who get into the habit of dreaming big are more likely to accomplish their goals than those who don’t. Don’t ever stop having goals, don’t ever stop having dreams, and don’t ever stop moving forward in life. So go out there and Dream Big! Think outside of the box.  Never settle. Always keep moving forward. And always have your goals and dreams in front of you for your reach. Always remember your days at SUNY. They are your foundation for your future. Your foundation is solid from your time spent at SUNY. Value your foundation and keep that same motivation and drive within you to get to that next step.

This article was originally published on the SUNY blog

Photo of Jason Scott
Jason Scott '06

Major: Individual Studies
Transfer Institution: State University of New York at Geneseo
Current Position: Ph.D. Candidate in Mathematics
Current City: Raleigh, NC

While a student at Jamestown Community College, Jason Scott found his interests spread out among computer science, mathematics, law, and politics, which led him to eventually declare a major in individual studies.

As a member of the top 20 percent of his Jamestown High School class, Jason was a recipient of a USA (Unified Student Assistance) Scholarship. While taking classes, he helped support himself by working at the JCC bookstore, and he also volunteered on the Student Senate. Jason credits his time with the Student Senate with preparing him for the professional world, and providing him with several networking opportunities.

"Leading meetings about issues on campus with students and faculty was a tremendous experience, because I may find myself on a university committee again as a faculty member," he said. "As I took part in application screening and interviewing, I learned invaluable lessons about the academic hiring process."

Originally, Jason intended to major in computer science and become a software developer. However, during his first year at JCC he happened to take courses in Korean politics and constitutional law with two excellent instructors.

"The structure of Dr. Greg Rabb's Korean politics class was incredibly innovative. The class took part in a simulated negotiation with other classes from other colleges. Each class represented a different country with its own interests and objectives during the negotiation," Jason said. "The realistic nature of the course struck me and ended up sucking me in completely. The latter course, taught by Steven Sweeney, took a similar, reality-based approach in that we wrote briefs on famous Supreme Court rulings similar to how a paralegal would brief a lawyer in the real world."

These experiences led Jason to change his major to individual studies, where he could craft his coursework to reflect his new interests and his new goal: law school. "Mr. Sweeney guided me through this process and gave me great advice about the value of mathematics in law, because he believed that mathematics taught one to think logically and formulate an effective argument." After graduating with an A.S. in individual studies from JCC, Jason easily transferred in 2006 to the State University of New York at Geneseo, and declared majors in math and political science.

"My interest in law never waned, but the job outlook and the potential for a fully funded Ph.D. in mathematics lured me in," Jason said. "I ended up with a B.A. in mathematics from Geneseo instead of a double major. Today I am a fully funded Ph.D. candidate at North Carolina State University. My tuition is waived and I even earn a stipend in exchange for teaching or research responsibilities. I earned my M.S. in applied mathematics a few years ago, and am on schedule to earn my Ph.D. shortly. My Ph.D. dissertation is about automated fault detection in real life systems."

Jason's research could help construct more advanced computer programs that find problems with the operation of airplanes, power plants, or complex machinery. After graduation, he hopes to teach at the college level and continue research. At JCC, Jason said that he found a quality but affordable college experience, with the added benefit of making friends while playing ping-pong in the Student Union. "JCC was the start of my career development and I would recommend JCC to anyone."

Photo of Justin Sorensen
Justin Sorensen ‘07

Major: Fine arts: studio arts
Transfer Institution/Additional Education: Kutztown University, Bucknell University, Rhode Island School of Design
Current Position: Art instructor, Williston State College
Current City: Williston, North Dakota
Website: justinsorensen.us

Justin Sorensen remembers his first thoughts about higher education.

“I wasn’t actually planning on going to college after high school...I ended up getting a full time job working in a factory.” With his friends away at college and nothing to do during the day, he decided to take a class at JCC. That class set him on the path to where he is now: a professional artist and art instructor at Williston State College.

Justin was always interested in art and photography, but it wasn’t until he took a drawing class at JCC with Yu Kanazawa, director of visual and performing arts, that he realized how vast opportunities in the art world could be. Kanazawa recognized Justin’s potential, and encouraged Justin to devote himself to art and explore his options.

One particular conversation with Kanazawa has stayed with Justin and continues to influence his work. “[Kanazawa] asked me why I’m doing this, and by that I mean, what’s my reason for making art...I gave him some reason about wanting to have exhibitions, and it’s a pretty shallow and superficial reason, and he looked at me again, and he said I need to go deeper. And I said that I’d also like to have a book written about my work or something, and he said again, you have to go deeper.”

As Justin developed his skills and continued his studies, he kept the conversation he had with Kanazawa close and followed his advice. He dug deeper.

Kanazawa’s words made Justin “ferociously critical” of his work and the reasons for making it. “I started to realize that art wasn’t just located in the studio...I started to see that there was as much significance in the moments when I wasn’t really making anything, or those moments leading up to the art. So that’s become more important to me as I’ve been developing as an artist, just those moments between.”

Justin’s current art depicts stunning representations of transience, and an appreciation for the journey, not just the outcome. “I’m trying to make objects or events that we directly experience as inhabiting a body that is moving through the world...that’s basically what life itself is.” His works cover a wide range of physical techniques, from hyperrealistic still life to performances and multi-dimensional pieces.

One such piece is his One Year Performance (The Souls of My Shoes), in which he walked around for one year with a stone in his shoe. “It was a piece about endurance and seeing how far I could go with something.” Unable to wear that single pair of shoes every day for a year, he questioned his success. “I don’t know if I failed or if it’s a work about perseverance and keeping with it, even though you’re not going to fully reach your goal.”

Justin is currently developing the art program at Williston State. He is concentrating on showing his students how a reason for art overcomes its stereotypical definition - again, digging deeper.

“The perspective that I'm seeing among students seems to prioritize a product of some kind. In other words, art has to be painting or drawing...When you tell them that art can be other things - things which don't necessarily prioritize skill, but emphasize concept - they tend to dismiss it and say that it isn't art. It's fascinating because it is within everyone's reach to make art.”

Justin notes the change between his first reasons for making art and his goal now. “I hope that people can walk away from my work feeling a little less alone in the world…I don’t know if I’m really interested in having books written about me anymore, or being collected by museums or anything like that. I think it’s just trying to make those connections or those relationships.”

For Justin, it all comes back to Prof. Kanazawa’s original mantra to dig deeper. It’s a lesson that Justin endeavors to teach to his own students now. Dig deeper. Always dig deeper.

Leah Yerpe Phoenicis
Leah Yerpe '05

Major: Fine arts: studio arts
Transfer Institution/Additional Education: SUNY at Fredonia, Pratt Institute
Current Position: Artist
Current City: Brooklyn, NY
Website: leahyerpe.com

When Leah Yerpe was just beginning her journey as an artist, she would create her own galleries with her friends, transforming an apartment or empty storefront into a house of art. “There was one,” she remembers fondly, “We decided to turn the living room of this house into our art gallery, and we took the address [to name it]…123 Whatever Street Gallery…with awful yellow wallpaper with flowers; it did not look like a real art gallery. I remember we even got an ad in the local newspaper about this exhibition.”

Leah laughs as she concludes, “It was just this college living room.”

Though Leah acknowledges that those exhibitions will always remain among her favorites, her work has a presence in esteemed galleries and publications in New York, across the United States, and around the world. Case in point: last year, one of her drawings, Medusa II, was used as the cover of New York magazine.

Leah graduated with a fine arts degree from Jamestown Community College in 2005. She continued her art education at SUNY at Fredonia and Pratt Institute, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn. In her artwork Leah focuses on the human figure. She explains, “We can relate to human bodies… When you use the human body, you can use that body language, a nice, subtle way of conveying information without having to actually write it out in a text.”

Leah began her art journey at Jamestown Community College. “I knew that I wanted to pursue art…I knew that I wanted to spend my life making things, creating things, and I wanted those things to go out into the world, for people to see them.” She adds, “Art school is very expensive, and artists, believe it or not, are not guaranteed to make a lot of money right away.” JCC was a great way to get two years of college education, save thousands of dollars in tuition and fees, and construct an art portfolio.

Her time at JCC was well spent. Leah welcomed the atmosphere of artistic professionals who were willing to give her “a dose of reality” while fully encouraging her passion. Her most influential professor was Yu Kanazawa. Leah took numerous art classes from Kanazawa, including her first drawing class. In this class, Leah remembers, “I fell in love with drawing the human body in a way that I hadn’t before, and I think that kind of set me on the path that I am on now.”

She also remembers the challenge Kanazawa placed before her. “I would do what I would think is a really good job, and the professor would say, ‘That’s really great, now what can you do to make it better?’” JCC, she realized, was a place where “all of a sudden I can really challenge myself and I’m being encouraged to challenge myself, and not take the easy road.” Leah knew that the artist’s path was not for the faint hearted. “You are going to have to work so unbelievably hard in order to just scratch the surface of this career field. You have to have an incredible amount of drive and determination.”

Leah demonstrated that conviction as she continued her studies and shared her talent with the art world. To Leah, success “would mean that I’m able to make my artwork full time…I can earn a living off of my work, and that people can see it, it is actually out there in the world; that to me is success.”

Living in Brooklyn, with her artwork in numerous exhibitions and publications, Leah is indeed successful, though she attributes some of it to luck. “I feel very lucky. I’ve worked incredibly hard to make this happen, but there’s a lot of luck that comes into play too. I like to acknowledge all the people who have taken the time to take me seriously as a creative person, and to see potential in my work, and for them to invest in me. I feel very grateful for those opportunities.”

In Leah’s words, her JCC college experience “worked out perfect.” From the freedom to choose her education to the support of caring professors and the encouragement to experiment, Leah knew that JCC was a great fit. She continues to work by Kanazawa’s creed: “You have to constantly improve…That is something that I live by as an artist now; I’m constantly looking for ways that I can make my art more sophisticated, and just better.”

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