Discover CNY Day

May 9, 2018

By Alice Maggiore, Communication Manager, Downtown Committee of Syracuse

Innovation, Education, Revitalization and Communication – Those were four themes to emerge from the LGS Class of 2018’s Discover CNY Day. Classmates found a compass conveniently introducing these topics attached to their lanyards when they first met (bright and early!) in the Chiefs Parking Lot. With design team members as their orange-clad chauffeurs and tour guides, LGSers quickly discovered the compass would serve as a literal roadmap, setting the pace of  – and framing the expectations for – their day.

The design team hoped the class would also apply these four words as tools to help others see our CNY community through our (soon-to-be-if-we-aren’t-already) ambassador eyes.

All Aboard…

The LGS Train departed the Chief’s gates at 8:15 am sharp to ride familiar roads to the OCM BOCES parking lot (first introduced to LGSers on Education Day). This is where we met a representative from the 174th Attack Wing, New York Air National Guard, who performed a roll call before letting us onto his base. We boarded buses – one labeled “S” the other labeled “U” to foreshadow another destination of the day – and rode to the base, introducing our class to a world that takes innovation to new heights.

The 174th is a gem in our backyard (literally, remember we parked at BOCES J) that many from our class did not know existed. And even those who did know about its mission may not have grasped all that goes on at the base. In essence, the 174th is a community – 1,300 passionate employees strong! – and with a vast array of cutting-edge technology and astounding state-of-the-art equipment, it protects and serves the nation, all from our little corner of the world.  The economic impact of the base leaves a $140 million footprint on Syracuse.

We got to get up-close-and-personal with an MQ-9 reaper drone (which was a lot bigger than I think many thought – certainly bigger than I imagined!), and you could hear the gasps ripple through our classmates when they learned about all that this unmanned aircraft can do in the sky, while its pilot steers and calls the shots from the ground. Senior Master Sergeant Ian Tucker and Colonel Catherine Hutson (LGS Class of 2002) – both boasting impressive credentials – were candid and gracious to talk to us. The class was in awe to be treated to a snapshot of how they spend their days and learn that Colonel Hutson, the Maintenance Group Commander for the 174th Attack Wing, New York Air National Guard, has served more than seven years on Active Duty. In her time with the Air National Guard, she served as the Maintenance Officer in Charge of 250+ personnel at Joint Base Balad in Iraq, for the last F-16 combat deployment from the 17th Fighter Wing (2008).

As one of the first two instructors for the planned MQ-9 Field Training Detachment based here in Syracuse, Senior Master Sergeant Ian Tucker knows the MQ-9 better than most (if not best of all!). He first enlisted 20 years ago as an F-16 Aircraft Fuel Systems Mechanic, and has held roles maintaining Pratt & Whitney F100-220 and GE’s F110-100 jet engines. SMS Sgt. Tucker has deployed or participated in Operations: Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom and Noble Eagle.

In addition to its work in the skies, the 174th Air National Guard had boots on the ground within hours following the horrific events of September 11, 2001. These servicemen and women also played a vital role in helping Southern Tier neighbors dry out from the one-two punch of Hurricane Lee and Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, as well as New York City’s tropical event in Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Certainly, a highlight of the 174th visit was being able to see an MQ-9 take off, bringing the title of the presentation (The Sky is the Limit: How the 174th Keeps CNY Grounded and Looking Up) full circle.

Next up, we were off to the Melo Center at Syracuse University to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into Orange Athletics. John Wildhack, Syracuse University’s Athletic Director, shared his story and experience, sprinkling in leadership advice, and – though we didn’t realize it at the time – a hint into the dome’s future.

As is the case whenever you get a large group together, I’m sure each of us in the room took away something different from the presentation. While all 52 of us in attendance may very well have identified 52 different morsels (and then some!) to use as fuel as we go through this leadership journey, this is what rose to the top for me:

Leadership Lesson #1: If an opportunity comes, and it puts you outside of your comfort zone, take it – It often yields really good results!

Wildhack revealed that he had to take his own advice when he accepted the job as SU’s Athletic Director. Very comfortable with his work and family life in Connecticut, Wildhack was ESPN’s executive vice president for programming and production (he oversaw all ESPN and ABC game, event and studio production among other management and scheduling responsibilities) when Syracuse University came calling. He actually turned down the Athletic Director job twice. When a headhunter finally came – whom he insisted meet him in Connecticut – and was successful in getting him to start thinking seriously about the gig, Wildhack insisted that he spend an afternoon with Chancellor Syverud at Syracuse University. He told us he wanted to understand the budget and get a true feel for what he would be responsible for should he accept the offer. Ultimately, while he did leave Syracuse that day knowing that this was where he wanted to be, he realized the decision wasn’t only his to make. He discussed it with his family and decided that unless the vote was unanimous (4-0), he would decline the offer a third time. Turns out, the third time wouldn’t be the charm. The vote turned out to be unanimous, 4-0, and now,  Wildhack is happily 21-months into a gig he was hesitant to take.

Leadership Lesson #2: If people feel they’re supported, they’ll stay. If you’re a leader, support them and challenge them. Let them do their jobs and treat them as experts in such.

When Wildhack accepted the Athletic Director position, he was humble enough to admit that even though his title declared him the “top dog,” he had the most to learn. As the newest guy on campus, he knew that he had to learn from his colleagues in order to build credibility among his staff, coaches, teams and his boss, the chancellor.

Prompted from a question from an LGS Classmate, this leadership morsel came about in the context of retaining talent. 80% of people leave their jobs for something other than money. I was astounded when Wildhack shared this statistic with us. Hit home for me, probably because that was true in my own work history. Wildhack elaborated, sharing other examples: A lack of respect, the desire for more of a work-life balance, to make a difference… These are just a few of the reasons why folks may decide to dust off their resumes. He says one of the keys to retaining talent is to foster an environment where people know they’re supported. He suggests giving people the freedom to take risks as a tool to use to get there, encouraging celebrating the successes when the risks work – and being accepting when they do not. “If something doesn’t work, that’s fine,” he says. “Tweak it and move on.”

By the way? That hint about the dome’s future? Wildhack touched on upgrades coming that would make the Dome a more desirable sports-destination in this technology/social-media/selfie driven world. A week after we met Wildhack, the local news reported on a $118 million renovation coming to the Dome. Check out this Syracuse.com article for more information.

Speaking of Syracuse.com… That’s the direction that our compass was pointing next. Syracuse.com and The Post Standard are one of the keepers of our community’s stories, and the writers that tell those stories are experts when it comes to exposing neighbors to gems in our community. After lunch (which in case you’re curious was an array of delicious pizza and salad from Mario and Salvo’s Pizza, exposing LGS Class of 2018 to a flavor of Central New York J). John Lammers, the director of content for Advance Media New York – the publisher of Syracuse.com and The Post-Standard – provided examples of how telling those stories also lead to action. Whether it’s encouraging folks to pay their property taxes early, rallying around a family in need, collectively ragging (or bragging about, depending who you ask J) on the weather, the stories we read about in the paper keep our community connected. They also hold a greater power; they catalyze a larger conversation. Lammers also touched on how the digital age has expedited the desire for information, fielding some tough questions from LGSers.

Before the pizza fully kicked in (cheese has tryptophan!), the LGS Class of 2018 was forced to walk it off! We were treated to a rooftop view atop Advance Media, serving as a precursor to a tour with a view.

We met the Downtown Committee for a walking tour exploring revitalization and rooftop views throughout Downtown Syracuse. The design team wanted to incorporate a Downtown Syracuse element, as Downtown is where symbolically, Central New York comes together. We were split into three groups – sorted by the three starring letters of the day, “C” “N” and “Y” and – and walked through SKY ARMORY, the Marriott Syracuse Downtown and State Tower. Tours were led by my boss, Merike Treier (Executive Director of the Downtown Committee and an LGS graduate, Class of 2007), my colleague Bethany Holbrook (Marketing and Events Coordinator for the Downtown Committee) and I.

At SKY Armory, Nicole Samolis told the story of how she fell in love with the former Wells & Coverly Department store space and transformed it to three unique floors fronting both Walton Street in the heart of Armory Square and Downtown’s Main Street, Salina Street. At the Marriott Syracuse Downtown, Michael John Heagerty took us to the Grand Ballroom, and showed us the Figure Eight in the sky – symbolic of the eight months it took a crew to thoughtfully paint the breathtaking scene – and behind a few nooks and crannies to uncover Ballroom secrets. And, at State Tower, LGSers were treated to two unique rooftop views: One from a studio unit on the 17th floor, and the other from the Community Terrace on the 11th floor. Guest tour guides Kimberly Cronk and Andrew Gearhart told the building’s $41 million restoration story, walking LGSers through the building’s transformation from predominantly an office building into a thriving office, retail and 63-unit (plus penthouse!) residential community.

After the tour with the view, it was back to the Chiefs for a “parking lot party” (to quote Lee Brice!) and ballgame! Liehs & Steigerwald catered our LGS tailgate, and each member of the design team was responsible for bringing a different CNY-themed beverage, including Saranac beer and soda and local wine! As a bonus, LGSers were encouraged to invite their spouses and family members to help everyone get to know one another a little bit better. One of Central New York’s most well-known ambassadors, Chiefs General Manager Jason Smorol, even rolled up in his golf cart to say hello and welcome us to the ballgame.

Each LGS Class of 2018 member received Swag Bags, peppered with flavors and freebies from CNY businesses, as well as coupons. Hopefully, this left everybody’s sweet tooth satisfied and looking forward to more LGS Fun on Health & Human Services Day coming up on June 13. Can’t wait to see how they pull the thread on the theme of connections (first introduced on Leadership Day and carried through on Envisioning the Future, Education and Discover CNY Days) to inspire us all! J

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