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Syracuse Alumni Turn College Town into Hometown

Graduates speak to the success they’ve found in Central New York.

It used to be that after graduation, you’d move to a big city to begin your post-college life and career. But for many Syracuse University graduates, staying in Central New York is the new normal. The reasons are many—less job competition, a better work-life balance and a lower cost of living, among others. Graduates also enjoy easy access to resources through the University’s Alumni Association. “My net worth is only as good as my network,” says acclaimed sommelier Chacine “Cha” McCoy ’07, who owns a wine boutique in downtown Syracuse. Her story is one of many that’s reshaping the area’s economic narrative—from Brain Drain to Brain Gain.

Every Building Tells a Story, Says Publicist Elana Bodow ’12

Headshot of Elana Bodow.

Elana Bodow ’12 belongs to one of New York City’s top public relations firms. But you’re more likely to spot her in Manlius than Manhattan. “I love the sense of community that Syracuse offers as well as the beauty of our natural surroundings,” says Bodow, who works remotely as senior vice president of Barbara Wagner Communications. She began her career in luxury residential public relations and quickly climbed the corporate ladder, earning a place on City & State’s inaugural “40 Under 40” list. “I’m not exaggerating when I say that every day, I am grateful for my Syracuse education,” says the triple major in public relations, political science and history. “Knowing what makes a good story—and what doesn’t—is something I learned early on as a student.”

Being Back in Syracuse ‘Feels Right’ for Alex Brewer ’12 and Molly Nelson ‘14

Alumni Alex Brewer and Molly Nelson sitting and smiling.

Before the pandemic, Molly Nelson ’14 and Alex Brewer ’12 lived out their dreams together at ESPN in Connecticut. “We were ready to start a new chapter when a job opportunity presented itself in Syracuse. We knew that we’d love living here again,” recalls Nelson, who joined SIDEARM Sports in 2021. A broadcast and digital journalism major who minored in information management and technology, she now works for one of her former professors, Jeff Rubin ’95, G’98. “Being back here feels right,” admits Brewer, a communication and rhetorical studies major who is vice president of operations for the online gaming site The couple has come full circle, having met as students at CitrusTV and WJPZ-FM and tied the knot in Hendricks Chapel in 2017. “Our favorite part of being Orange is the group of friends that we’ve made at Syracuse who are now family,” Brewer adds.

News Anchor Megan Coleman ’02 Proud to Call Syracuse Home

Headshot of Central New York News Anchor, Megan Coleman.

Megan Coleman ’02 has worn about every hat in her 20 years at NBC3 in Syracuse—anchor, reporter, producer, content manager, web editor and social media contributor. “What’s been constant is my curiosity about the world around me,” says the Edward R. Murrow and Emmy Award-winning broadcaster. A broadcast journalism major, Coleman cut her teeth interning at WAER and NBC3. “My professors left an indelible mark on me, giving me the skills that I needed to become a journalist,” she says. Following a brief stint in Waco, Texas, after graduation, Coleman returned to NBC3—and Central New York—for good. Today, the Kansas native, married mother of three is something of an anomaly in an industry where people frequently pick up and leave. “I’m a card-carrying Central New Yorker,” Coleman says. “I love the gorgeous landscape and our community, which has embraced me as one of its own.”

Aarick Knighton ’16 Leverages Social Media to Benefit SUNY Upstate

Aarick Knighton working on computer.

When Aarick Knighton ’16 majored in information management and technology, social media was in its infancy. Today, he does it for a living. Working at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Knighton oversees social media content for the public and media relations office. “I get to do a lot of things, including editing and creating content,” says the Syracuse native, who spent a year in New York City after graduation. Knighton brings extensive experience to the region’s only academic medical center, having served as a social media strategist for his alma mater and a campaign manager for Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh G’05. “I find a peace of mind in Syracuse that I don’t get anywhere else,” admits Knighton, noting the importance of place in today’s digital world. He also believes that everyone—and everything—is a potential brand. “I invite you to join in the conversation because you never know who’s listening.”

Engineer Emily Mahana ’18 Bridges the Opportunity Gap

Headshot of Emily Mahana.

Emily Mahana ’18 is all about building bridges. A design engineer for consultants Barton & Loguidice, she oversees bridge rehabilitation and replacement projects across New York state. “I improve roads and bridges for the general public,” says the civil engineering major, whose first such project occurred near her family’s campground in Tug Hill. Mahana was a senior at Syracuse when she joined the beauty pageant circuit. As both Miss New York for America and Miss Upstate New York, she has encouraged women and girls to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “Many people believe that to succeed in a male-dominated world, you need to conform. I think the opposite is true,” Mahana continues. “By living my life like an open book, I shatter stereotypes and serve as a role model for others.”

Sommelier Cha McCoy ’07 Bottles Success

Sommelier Cha McCoy standing outside business.

Chacine “Cha” McCoy ’07 appreciates the full-bodied taste—and versatility—of a Syracuse degree. The only African American woman in her civil engineering class, the former Saks Fifth Avenue executive has reinvented herself as a premier wine expert, event sommelier and beverage director. She recently added “proprietor” to her resume with the opening of The Communion Wine + Spirits in downtown Syracuse. “I believe in the future of the Finger Lakes wine region, and I want to be accessible to local wineries,” says McCoy, whose boutique carries natural, organic and sustainable wines from all over the world, including Central New York. Her entrepreneurial spirit took flight at Syracuse, where she befriended mentors like Assistant Dean Karen Davis ’83, G’91 and joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, which led to her leadership of the National Pan-Hellenic Council. “Syracuse taught me that my net worth is only as good as my network,” says the globe-trotting tastemaker. “I carry that with me wherever I go.”

Ryan ’11 and Christie Novak ’10, G’11 Find Sweet Success as Chocolate Makers

Ryan Novak sitting inside of business.

Ryan Novak ’11 was 15 when he started mopping floors and washing dishes at the Chocolate Pizza Company in Marcellus. He occasionally performs these tasks today, but as owner of the region’s largest chocolate maker, the former Orange placekicker works from a bigger playbook. “I’m in the smile business. Our gourmet products make people happy,” says the entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises major. Ryan’s surprising success is well known—how he acquired a hole-in-the-wall storefront before his senior year and along with his wife, Christie ’11, G’10, the chief financial officer who transformed it into a thriving enterprise. “Everyone has a backstory,” says Ryan, who under the guidance of Professor Ken Walsleben ’83, negotiated a long-term buyout because no bank would touch a 21-year-old. The Novaks believe that positive customer interactions are the secret sauce to success. “In the beginning, everybody saw a small-town business. Ryan and I saw a national brand,” Christie says. “We believe in what we do.”

CenterState CEO’s Rob Simpson G’01 Charts Economic Growth for CNY

Headshot of Rob Simpson.

The foyer of Maxwell Hall bears an inscription that’s etched into the heart of Rob Simpson G’01. “Broadly speaking, it says we should leave our city better than we’ve found it,” says CenterState CEO’s president, referring to the 2,000-year-old Athenian Oath. “The oath is a timeless reminder of civic responsibility.” A graduate of the master of public administration program, Simpson is charged with creating an economic roadmap for Central New York. He’s especially proud of CenterState CEO’s role in helping secure a $100 billion investment from Micron Technology. “It’s the largest economic development project in New York state history, resulting in about 9,000 new jobs,” Simpson says. “The project represents unparalleled civic teamwork from the private sector and every level of government. It also reinforces a critical lesson for civic leadership—that when you work together, you win.”

For Kristy Smorol ’05, Better Health Is a Heartbeat Away

Kristy Smorol standing outside smiling.

When Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field earlier this year, Kristy Smorol ’05 and the rest of the world watched as he received CPR before being whisked away by an ambulance. “I have never seen an interest in CPR like I saw in the days following his collapse,” recalls the marketing communications director for the American Heart Association in Western and Central New York. Responding to a 200% spike in the Association’s web traffic, she embarked on a regional media tour about the importance of Hands-Only CPR and automatic external defibrillators. Such celebrity comes naturally to the former newscast producer, who majored in broadcast and digital journalism. “The connections I made at Syracuse have played a big part in my career and have grown through my involvement with our alumni network,” Smorol says. “Whether your professional life follows your degree program or not, your time on campus can prepare you for almost anything.”

Iting Christina Trout G’10 Connects Visual Arts with Brand Enrichment

Portrait of Christina Trout.

Iting Christina Trout G’10 is more than visual storyteller. “I like to solve problems,” says the senior art director at Pinckney Hugo Group, a Syracuse-based marketing communications firm. Trout honed her analytical skills as an M.F.A. student in the Department of Film and Media Arts. “My background in film and video influences my design approach, making me more concise and well-rounded,” says Trout, who also has served as a video producer for her alma mater. Fluent in strategy, branding and leadership, she thrives at the nexus of creative work and business management. “Doing the work is different from leading the work,” Trout continues. “I’m a business professional first and a creative professional second.”

Kelly ’04 and Bachir Yahi ’05, G’07 Owe Success to Each Other and Their Community

Portrait of Kelly and Bachir Yahi.

All roads lead to Syracuse for Kelly ’04 and Bachir Yahi ’05, G’07. An architect and interior designer, Kelly is a partner at Dwyer Architectural, a New York state-certified women-owned business enterprise that does health care and higher education design. She traces her twin passions to Syracuse, majoring in environmental and interior design and attending the Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello Syracuse University Program in Florence, Italy. “Syracuse taught me that architecture and interior design have an interdependent relationship, and I enjoy balancing the two in my work life,” says Kelly, who met Bachir through their involvement with the Phi Sigma Pi national honor fraternity. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering, Bachir also owes his career to the University and credits former professor Ercument Arvas G’83 for helping him land his first job. “I stayed there for 16 years before joining SRC Inc., where I’m now a principal radio frequency engineer,” he says. “Syracuse gave us each other and a community that have allowed us to thrive in our careers. This is absolutely where we belong.”

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