Chicago, Batavia, and the Future

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Dennis Austin

“What is a Batavia, NY”? were among the many questions, family members, friends, and colleagues had asked me as I began to prepare for the move from the glamorous city of Chicago to a region where there were more cows than people.

For most of my life Chicago was home. The people, the culture, the food, the music, and other key characteristics that define our great city, was an everyday experience I had come to know since I was born. For goodness sakes, I was born in 1993, a year the Chicago Bulls accomplished their first three-peat. If Basketball was our religion, Michael Jordan would be God himself. I had made good memories here, met interesting people, and lived a steady life.

Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan

So why leave?

When people from this region would find out about my Chicago origins, I was always asked by default “Why Leave?” “Why Batavia?”

Chicago skyline at night

For me, it was simple. I had grown tiresome of the fast-paced lifestyle that had encumbered my ability to be more flexible as it pertained to seeking opportunity. There was also the reality of friends moving across the country for academic and professional reasons, collapsing my social circle at home. Working in a hospital call-center, albeit with zealous colleagues whom I heap nothing but praise on to this day (except for one individual), was not something I envisioned for myself when younger. If anything, compared to previous years spent travelling across the country campaigning for politicians, this was a rather tedious tenure. While there were several enjoyable conversations with patients and physicians alike, I was beginning to grow weary of my long-term prospects and thus sought an opportunity to change course. In late summer 2017, I began a vigorous search for community colleges with on-campus accommodation housing and respectable tuition fees. At the end of this search were two colleges, GCC being one of them. On November 3, 2017, by way of a 12-hour Amtrak journey I made my way from the city Michael Jordan made famous to Rochester, N.Y. Assisted by my former advisor Lourdes Abaunza, I would register for Spring 2019 classes, spurring a new relationship with this community.

I remember my first day arriving on a cold and wet January vividly. Upon exiting my ride-share, I was introduced to the harsh Western New York weather with heaps of rain pouring down upon my face and luggage. I hurriedly grabbed my bags and began a brief sprint to a room beneath the safety office at College Village. I would be given my keys and a packet for new residents, including an itinerary of weekend activities. Escorted by a tall and lanky Resident Assistant known as Matt, I would find myself standing in the middle of my new home, miles away from the comfortable settings that had become familiar to me. The experience was foreign to me. The absence of 24/7 buses and trains with sprawling downtown buildings that made the city glow, was foreign to me. However, I soon became accustomed with my new surroundings. Learning about the region and inhabitants served as a history lesson. People I saw as strangers would become friends, some of them lifelong.


Getting acclimated to a classroom setting was an entirely different set of challenges. I recall my first class. Math 091 taught by Professor Mark Siena. I remember arriving 25 minutes before class began at 7:45 am.  Awaken by the sound of my alarm at 6:30 am, I began to get ready for my first day of school in nearly five years since dropping out of high school. As the semester persisted, I would eventually find my place academically and socially. While there was hesitation to return, I did the following fall. It has not been easy being in Batavia. My race and sexual orientation as a gay man has proved to be an issue for some people.  However, my brash and abrasive attitude gave it back in kind. Regardless of those struggles, there is some virtue during my time here. It is a theme I have kept coming back to recently.

Resilience has been a major theme in my life. I was born and grew up in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods. Left with a single mother at home who herself combated the issues of education and poverty as a child, me and my other siblings did not have the proverbial “silver spoon” by any stretch of one’s imagination. What we were given in place of the materialistic possessions not affordable to us, was education. My mother did not have the privilege of finishing her education, thus, she worked hard to ensure we would be the generation of our family to break the glass ceiling of the issues that afflicted my mother’s generation. When I left high school, she was obviously disappointed. I was always seen as the “one with potential” and for that to occur was an emotional hardship for the both of us. However, as life would continue for me, I would find myself in the company of high-profile politicians, working on their campaigns. Meeting President Obama was a turning point in my life as I began to realize the potential I truly had. How to revive and sustain it? Well, I set out to try. In 2016, I obtained my GED and the following year returned to work. It was during this time I began to be honest with myself and future ambitions.

When I was six-years old, my first Presidential Election was George Bush vs Al Gore and while not old enough to properly comprehend the events of that evening it left a small child on Chicago’s south-side awestruck. That feeling never left and would manifest itself over the course of my life. I wanted to be a politician. Which office would I hope to occupy? Senator does sound tempting. However, in order to attain that level of power and prestige, one must obtain an education. A conscious choice I made when arriving at Genesee Community College. Since being here I have been active in various clubs and organizations, winning numerous awards for academic and extracurricular achievement. At present I am working on a lengthy thesis paper, a project that I have come to appreciate for its rigor and challenge.

As for what is next upon departing Batavia? I go back home and then to the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, studying Political Science. I will not lie. I am hopeful for the future, but somewhat demurred that as this process continues, I will not get any younger. Comical, I know, however it does present a concern of how long I wish to be in academia. Time will tell. For now, I am excited at the prospects of what my new institution will offer.

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus

As I prepare to graduate, I would like to take this time to thank the various professors, faculty and friends for imparting on me wisdom, advice, and friendship through the good times and rather questionable times. More importantly, I am thankful for the opportunity to understand the culture and way of living in this community. I have always believed that getting outside your comfort zone presents an opportunity to grow, and I feel that I have. My advice to those who are younger: Do not be afraid to take risks. The outside world can be intimidating, however, never turn down an opportunity to grow. Whether that process occurs through incidents of failure and frustration, learn to appreciate the journey.

I learned a valuable lesson from two mentors of mine who passed away a few years ago. Life is a like a train station, we all arrive and depart from stops—those stops being certain chapters in our lives. So, enjoy those “stops” along the way and more importantly, appreciate the people you encounter as you venture toward greater opportunities that await you.

Thanks to the many people who left an invaluable mark on me during my time at GCC.

As conductors on Chicago trains say “Doors Closing. Next stop is…”

CTA Train station in Downtown Chicago



Dennis Austin is a graduating Sophomore from Genesee Community College. He will enroll at the University of Illinois’ Champaign-Urbana campus in January.

GCC Internship Program: Inside Look

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By: Ta’tiana Lee

My first internship is literally changing my life! I am an intern with the Marketing & Communications department at Genesee Community College, also called MarCom, and already have experience gained in areas that I never thought would be within my reach. I have documented and created event calendars throughout the local community. In doing this I found great free sites to advertise publicly and the structure and manner of creating an event. I got the opportunity to work under a trained photographer while practicing photography myself. At this moment, I knew that I would enjoy being a part of MarCom at GCC.

The hours are flexible and my portfolio will definitely look a lot better because of the opportunities provided by MarCom. I have two days minimum in an office setting and one day minimum working from home. New opportunities come often and they are things to brag about. For instance, I arrived on one of my office days to a professional videographer hired by the school. I was able to witness the beginning process of videography. I was even able to sit in and brainstorm with the team for that project, which included my supervisor and the videographer himself. Not only was I able to sit in and bear witness but I actually felt as if I had a voice. That opportunity will forever stay with me because it became motivational in a way. It reminds me that this can be my life and that I can have a career!

I am also a student at Genesee Community College and MarCom is very understanding when it comes to education. If I have a test or need the day to study, they will not only assent but they would help me find the time to make up the hours that I’ve missed. My goal was to gain experience in an office like setting and in the business world and MarCom has made it possible for me to do exactly that plus more. I can’t wait to blog an update with even more experiences gained by completing my internship with the Marketing & Communications department at GCC.

Here is a picture taken by me at Discover the Stars

This was the first event that I had attended for GCC’s Internship Program. This was also where I was able to learn from and work under a Professional Photographer. It was filled with students and donors, which made the moments I’d captured even more special.

Here is a picture I captured at an event for student athletes

At this event I got to practice taking in motion shots. This event was the same day as Discover the Stars.

Here is a picture taken by me at the Homecoming Weekend Car Cruise

This picture was taken at a car show at Genesee Community College. I love cars so this event was also a lot of fun.

Seeking a Challenge

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By Dennis Austin

As a GCC Honor’s Program student, I approached Professor(s) Garth Swanson and Anne Wood last semester with a goal in mind: complete a thesis project with a 100-page count. Suffice to say, I was met with concerned reaction. Thesis projects of this size and stature are not normally undertaken by community college students.  Initially, I was discouraged in approaching this project, and advised to seek a more specific topic with a shorter page length.

 I said no.

 I’m glad I did.

Throughout my tenure here at Genesee Community College, I have searched high and low for opportunities to expand and build upon my intellectual capabilities, which undoubtedly will serve me will in later stages of life. I had gotten used to the usual essay outlines which my professors feverishly assigned me. In essence, writing an essay became too simple of a task. The routine became boring, predictable, and mundane. There is no intention of disrespect toward my professors. One in particular remarked to me that their reason for being a light course load was their concern that many students would be unable to keep if they increased the rigor.

Not entirely unpredictable but unfortunate. Education, to me, should be an opportunity for students to dive deep into a subject of their choice and familiarity, with no restrictions applied. Many days and nights pondering what the next academic challenge could be. As a six-year old, my first Presidential Election was Bush V. Gore. While not of an age to properly perceive the events of that campaign, I was enthralled by the pomp and circumstance of that evening. Getting older led to more political awareness which eventually I found across the “pond.” Inspired by the events of Brexit and previous political developments in the country, compelled me to choose Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as the basis for my project. While already familiar with her Premiership, I wanted to examine how her government’s economic policy and theory, led to what I deem as an unraveling of the British working-class.

Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

Currently in my research, I am reviewing her flagship policy known as the MFTS (Medium Term Financial Strategy), in which her decision to raise interest rates, eliminate credit controls, and how the concentration of Britain’s money supply range, led to unsavory conditions for lower-income individuals and families. For example, 1981 saw a peak of unemployment at 3 million, which was the highest number recorded since the Great Depression. During the period of 1979 to 1980, industrial production fell by 6.4%, with downturn in manufacturing output and capacity, at 20%.

As the project continues throughout the semester, it is with great intention to (hopefully) provide updates on newer findings and to offer further explanation of how her policies were applied in working-class Britain.

Professor Swanson remarked to me that this is the first project of its kind for our Honors Program. While there have been other creative projects in the past, nothing of this nature has been done before. To our knowledge, there has been no other student at this institution, past or present, who conducted and penned a project of this magnitude.

Why 100 pages? To admit, there is some braggadocio involved, however I feel that for the first time since arriving on campus that there exists a subject within familiar realms which require a discipline and focus arguably unlike any other form of study I have taken here or anywhere. Not just due to page requirement or quantity of work involved. It is due to the fact that I am asked to go beyond my comfort zone in search of not just finishing the project, but in search of my own potential, henceforth the insistence that I adhere to this project—from start until finish. I have been given the support, encouragement and occasional sternness from my professors, since this project began. They know what I am capable of and as such, are holding me to a high standard.

As I prepare to graduate from GCC, I hope this project in some way can inspire one student to go outside of their familiar realm and seek an opportunity to truly challenge themselves. Not for the prospect of failing, but for the virtue of expanding one’s creativity. This has been a journey and while the final page has not yet been penned, this has been an experience that I will appreciate many years from now.

Mental Health on Campus

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By Dennis Austin

College marks an important period in a student’s life. As students begin to transition into adulthood, college is a playground of sorts, a place where experimentation, deep thought, and pondering on what lies ahead are all on the menu. Some students define their college experience through partying, sexual exploration, intense academic rigor, or a combination of sorts. However, for many students they are not in the least concerned with these activities as their energy is more focused on getting themselves out of bed, dealing with an anxiety attack or flirting with the idea of suicide.

Over the past few years mental health has become a hallmark on college campuses across the world. More attention and resources have now been dedicated in assisting students who struggle with their internal demons, which for many, is a case of life and death. Here at Genesee Community College, there is a noticeable sense of despair which afflicts much of the student body. I myself have seen people in my own social circle openly admit to cutting themselves, failed suicide attempts, amongst many other tragic stories. One student in particular had cut themselves multiple times in their abdomen, an event which required an overnight hospital stay.

Earlier this month at the behest of GCC President James Sunser, me and College Village Resident Assistant Randy Bumbury, visited Monroe Community College and advocated for more resources on campus to deal with this crisis. In a room filled with State legislators across various regions we plead our case as to why this issue requires urgent action. Jeanie Burdick is a fine counselor here at GCC and has performed her job well, but she is only one individual. Given that our estimated student population is well over 1,000 (more if our campus centers and distance learning students are calculated), there is simply not enough resources available to address the needs of students.

To be blunt, we need money. Monetary backing would ensure we could afford more than one full-time, qualified counselor as well as expanding our services at the Counseling Center. Thus, GCC could provide more options for students to better manage their health outside of what currently exists, such as Therapy Assist Online, a useful tool students can use, but doesn’t completely solve the problem. The issue we have is not a lack of motivation or skill. That much among faculty is present. We just don’t have the “cache” if you will, to go beyond our constraints and truly make a difference.

Dennis Austin is a graduating sophomore, majoring in Liberal Arts & Sciences. He is graduating this semester and will be attending the University of Illinois in January.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or dial 911. If you need to make an appointment with our Counseling Center, please contact Jeanie Burdick at jlburdick@genesee.edu or call (585)-343-0055 ext. 6219. The Counseling Center is open weekdays, Monday-Friday, from 9 AM to 4:30 PM.

Meet our newest blogger: Pinn!

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Pinn Duong – International Student at GCC

Heyo GCC fellows!

I’m Pinn and I’m an international student from Vietnam. This is my first semester at GCC and I’m majoring in Computer Information Systems at GCC. This is an intro blog so I’ll will throw at you some random intro points about me:

  • Having been at GCC for 6-7 weeks, I’m pleasantly surprised to find so many international Japanese students are enrolling at GCC. I’ve always been fascinated with Japanese culture and I never imagined coming to GCC would offer me an indirect cultural exposure to “The Land of the Rising Sun.”
  • Coming from the tropical and humid equatorial climate of Vietnam, I’m preparing myself (physically and mentally) to fight head on with the intense winter sneakily creeping into Batavia.
  • One thing I crave the most after coming to the US is coconut water, which is much more expensive here compared to my home. But on a brighter note, I have easier access to fresh blueberries, cherries and certified-quality nuts (walnut, pecan, almonds…) which can be considered a luxury in Vietnam.
  • I love K-pop and my favorite group is Epik High. Tablo, a Korean-Canadian leader and producer of the group, studied English Literature at Stanford University so many of his songs are produced in English. I am rarely interested in rap, but many of Epik High’s rap songs are at the top of my playlist because of their poetic nature and clever wordplay. If you have only heard about K-pop for BTS, I recommend you check out one of Tablo’s English raps, “Dear TV which tackles the modern demon of tech and entertainment shows.
  • I love graphic design and have been tinkering with and learning to use Adobe software since middle school. I used to think I could take on graphic design as a career but I later realized I lack the artsy-ness and patience, so I’m keeping it as my hobby.  

I read almost all the student writing on this blog before arriving at GCC and their blogging provided many helpful tips about being in America and being a student at GCC.

I hope my future blogs will be able to do the same for other students.

Behind the Curtain – What it Takes to Put on a Fashion Show

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It’s all-hands on deck for the fashion show committees, finalizing Marketing strategies, Front of House spray painting decorations, Back of House making hair and makeup schedules, Finance putting together basket raffles and Planning Committee organizing scenes! We are all very excited to show everyone what it’s really like to be Limitless!

Meet the Planning Committee!

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Planning is the largest department of them all, they have worked hard on organizing meetings, putting together the lineup and making sure every scene coordinator is keeping up with their looks! Pictured above (left to right) is Kali Nichols, Aleah Libori, Emma Prior, Kaeli LaFrance, Annika Staffo, Julia Karabinas and Kento Takayama. If you see them around ask them about their scene!

Finance Committee

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With coordinating colors, the finance committee is responsible for budgeting the entire show. The kept up with fundraising and put together the various themed baskets that will be raffled! They also counted money and had to organize the spreadsheets and finalizing the program! Meet the Finance Committee, Ayaka Yamanaka, Larry DeWitt and Becca Bishop.

Marketing Committee

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In today’s day in age figuring out social media is its own superpower! The Marketing Committee girls have been blasting and spamming your Instagram and Twitter feeds with updates and reminders on the show. Know the girls behind your screen- Nicole Favata has been taking over Instagram, Gianna Monti has been snapping on Snapchat, Hannah Donnelly writing the blog posts, and Jewel Watters has been tweeting away on Twitter! Not pictured is Emma Mckenna who went on WBTA to discuss Limitless and the fashion industry.  Make sure to follow all GCC Fashion accounts for more information and pictures!

Back of House

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They may be tiny but they are mighty! Hard to believe such an important committee only has two people but trust Ashley Barclay and Camilo Pernett with all of the duties! Ever watch a runway show and wonder how all of the models got their hair and makeup done in time for the walk? It’s all about scheduling- these two coordinated when and where each scene’s model gets their hair and makeup runway-ready!

Front of House

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Girls with such good taste must be a part of the Front of House Committee. Diamond Jones, Jordan Brown and Sarah Wescott are making the Arena look completely unrecognizable with their styles. They have worked hard outside of the classroom finding and booking entertainment, coordinating with a shuttle bus company and putting out a schedule to pick our attendees. They have also have been gathering decorations and getting the delicious reception food prepared!

 

Fashion Show Tickets – ON SALE NOW!

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GCC’s 38th annual fashion show, “Limitless” is on Saturday, May 4, 2019 at 7 p.m. in the Richard C. Call Arena. It will be a night of fashion, inspiration, innovation and inclusivity. There will be a vendor fair starting at 6 p.m. and continuing after the show with businesses from all over the GLOW region.  In addition, there will be pre-show entertainment and a reception after the show to meet the designers, models, and more!

Tickets to the show are just $5 for general admission and $25 for VIP – which includes SWAG bags and preferential seating.

The best part – tickets are now easier to get! Click here!

Or, visit www.dailynewstickets.com and search for Limitless!

Follow us on our social media for all updates!

Twitter-@trendygcc

Instagram-@gccfashionprogram

And, of course, this blog on GCC’s website!FashionShowBlog.jpg