How one OCC student went from chef to laboratory scientist

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — An Onondaga Community College student has earned statewide recognition as a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence. But his journey to this point was a unique one.

When he was a chef, Alex Espitia-Casallas knew he liked helping people in anyway he could.

“Through some friends that I had at other restaurants, we were able to form a group that was cooking hot meals for the homeless in my hometown,” Espitia-Casallas said.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and he decided to join the frontlines helping doctors and nurses treat patients in New York City.

“I wanted something new. I wanted something purposeful. I wanted something that aligned with my desire to be useful to my community,” Espitia-Casallas said. “I started researching different degrees in the medical field and saw what was available.”

His experiences led him to Onondaga Community College, where he enrolled in the Laboratory Science degree program. Now, he’s conducting his own research projects.

“I focus on a specific enzyme and how it binds with other proteins,” Espitia-Casallas said. “Kind of work with other mutations of it and deconstruct its mechanism so we can learn more about it.”

After graduation, Alex will be attending SUNY Upstate for the next two years to become a clinical laboratory scientist.

“There’s a huge shortage of clinical lab scientists, and it’s a career that is very underappreciated and not very well known,” said Espitia-Casallas.

While his dreams are coming true, Alex says it’s never too late to make yours a reality.

“Be easy on yourself, don’t take stuff too personally or seriously, and don’t be afraid to take a chance,” Espitia-Casallas said. “You never know what opportunities are going to present themselves to you.”

And you never know the differences those opportunities can make.

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