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After nearly thirty years, Syracuse resident follows his dream

Retrains in Morrisville State College’s aquaculture program
MORRISVILLE, N.Y.—As Tracy Oram sat in the classroom and began taking notes, his fingers clutched tensely around a pen, he knew his life would never be the same again.

After all, it had been nearly 30 years since he had been a student, and, at age 47, he wasn’t sure if he was cut out for the classroom.

Being back in school has been a life-changing experience for the Morrisville State College student—one he never anticipated.

Oram, a Syracuse resident, lost his job when Carrier Corporation closed its Syracuse manufacturing plant where he had been a machinist for 25 years.

Concerned with the trend of manufacturing jobs leaving the United States, he chose not to find another job in the manufacturing career he’d trained for his whole life and took a leap of faith, deciding to go back to school.

He enrolled in the aquaculture and aquatic science program at Morrisville State College, where he is now a second-year student.

It took some coaxing to get him there.

“I panicked and questioned how I could start all over again at my age,” he said. “I was scared to death about going back to school, even more scared than finding another job because I never considered myself a scholarly type of individual.”

Encouragement from his family and friends and assistance through Central New York Works, an agency that aides displaced workers, made his decision easier.

Despite the fear that it had been so long since he had been in a classroom, Oram never let the lapse of time stand in the way of his goals. He focused on his studies and surprised himself, earning a 4.0 his first semester and a spot on the President’s List.

He’s faced his share of challenges along the way.

“One of the hardest parts about being in the classroom again was finding what method of study worked best for me,” Oram said.

He found the magic in repetition, using flash cards to ace his first college English exam. It was enough to ease his classroom apprehension. Once he overcame his fear, he found a new love for learning and a fascination with Morrisville State College’s aquaculture curriculum.

He’s learned about breeding fish and has been involved in every life cycle of fish, from spawning and egg care to fry rearing and fingerling grow-out, broodstock selection and management, and harvesting for the college’s fish sales, in addition to calculating feed rations and various aspects of operating the college’s aquaculture facility, where brook, brown, rainbow and tiger trout are raised. The college also has tilapia.

“I enjoy the hands-on approach to the program,” Oram said. “I am applying what I learn in the classroom and I’m also doing interesting projects like fabricating piping.”

Whenever he has encountered an obstacle in the classroom, professors have always been there to provide assistance.

“Everyone has been very supportive,” Oram said, “They’ve offered study tips and encouragement along the way.”

Daily life has also posed some challenges. Juggling the roles of full-time student and full-time parent while trying to maintain a house and provide for his family isn’t easy.

“I have a lot at stake here,” he said. “I am taking school very seriously now. I’m too old to mess up.”

His new experiences have taught him a lot about mental discipline.

“There are many times when I’ve had to force myself to sit down and study even though I’d rather be doing something else,” he said.

Being a full-time returning adult student has affected other aspects of his life, too. He doesn’t have much time to enjoy his hobbies, activities at his church, or spend time with his wife, Cheryl, and their six-year-old son, Paul.

But the family has adapted well to changes they’ve had to make in their lives since Oram started school, such as learning to live more simply since they are relying on Cheryl’s income and his unemployment benefits.

“Now we fix broken items as opposed to paying someone to fix them or buying new ones,” he said. “We’ve tightened our belts with everything.” They even gave up their satellite television.

Oram’s future plans are uncertain. After he earns his associate degree, he would like to pursue a bachelor degree, but the federal grant which currently pays for his schooling runs out next year and he will no longer be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Whatever the case, Oram is prepared to make any sacrifices for what he may reap in the end. With so many people rooting for him and with his strong faith in Jesus Christ, he believes anything is possible.

He hopes some day to run his own tilapia hatchery.

In the meantime, Oram faces the challenges of studenthood with confidence and has embraced a new outlook on life.

“Never take what you have for granted,” he said. “Tomorrow is uncertain. You have to enjoy today.”

Morrisville State College’s aquaculture and aquatic science program provides students with training in aquaculture, fisheries biology, limnology and aquatic biology. The program incorporates hands-on training utilizing an operational aquaculture complex with a wide assortment of laboratory and field equipment. Students may choose from two concentrations, aquaculture technology or aquatic sciences.

Morrisville State College offers 12 bachelor degrees and a wide variety of associate degrees and options. Considered to be one of the most technologically advanced colleges in the nation for its ThinkPad University program and wireless technology initiative, the college recently became the first in the nation to comprehensively replace landlines in residence halls with individual cellular phones. Morrisville State College was also chosen as one of the top five colleges in the nation for campus activities by Campus Activities magazine. The Morrisville State College Norwich Campus offers programs in business, transfer, technologies, liberal arts/education transfer, and nursing to Chenango County area residents and employers.