Women in STEM Rising

Judy Drabicki

I have served as the Director of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Region 6 for more than a decade. In that time, we have doubled the number of female employees in the region, which covers St. Lawrence, Jefferson, Lewis, Herkimer and Oneida counties. In the five-county region, 50 women are currently employed in professional roles—a significant increase from the past.

    DEC offers excellent careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), careers in high demand that have been traditionally filled by men.

    In Susan S. Silbey’s 2016 article, “Why Do So Many Women Who Study Engineering Leave the Field,” from the online Harvard Business Review, Silbey noted that engineering is the most male-dominated field in STEM, with just 13 percent of women making up the workforce.

    DEC’s Region 6 Environmental Engineering Unit currently employs six women engineers, up from just one a few years ago. While all employees are selected because they are the best qualified for the job, at DEC we actively encourage managers to hire women, particularly in professions such as engineering, law, and biology—all fields where women are traditionally under-represented.

    Yuan Zeng is a professional engineer for DEC’s Division of Material Management in Watertown. Zeng has worked for DEC for more than 20 years. “I like my environmental career for its positive impact on the environment, such as air pollution control and waste reduction,” says Zeng.

    Her advice to younger generations who may also want a similar career path is to do well in school, intern with professionals, and demonstrate a strong work ethic.

    Jennifer Lauzon is a professional engineer in DEC’s Potsdam, St. Lawrence County office. She says, “My job has never been the same and is always adapting to the current environment. I like that the work I am doing will, in some way, benefit the environment and benefit the world that we live in.”

    Her advice for young women that like math and science and see themselves in an engineering career is to get a dual degree in engineering and engineering & management (E&M).

    As regional director, I see multiple benefits in increasing the number of women in all aspects of the DEC workforce. First, having been underrepresented in the past, seeking equity will mean the absolute best people are doing the work of protecting the environment. Second, women often have a different approach to problem-solving and conflict resolution, which benefits our collective decision-making. And third, the role models women present to the hundreds of students we meet through DEC’s outreach efforts benefits all of the young men and women interested in entering the field of environmental protection—they will see for themselves that DEC is a welcoming agency that employs a diverse group of New Yorkers from a variety of backgrounds, genders, in a range of demanding professions.

    Regardless of gender, our day-to-day business is handled by a team of highly skilled professionals. Working together, we are committed to the DEC mission, the health and safety of New York’s environment, and the communities that we call home. 

Judy Drabicki is regional director, Region 6 NYSDEC, with a career that spans three decades of ensuring the natural beauty of the north country is protected and enjoyed for generations to come. She oversees a staff of more than 200 people, including engineers, biologists, permit writers, Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation officers, operations staff, and many others.

Breaking Biases


It can often be difficult for individuals with criminal convictions to find employment or housing, even years after serving their sentence. Even with protections in place, some employers and landlords can’t fight an unconscious bias towards these individuals. Local attorney Matthew Porter has begun using a new law passed in October of last year to protect his clients from such bias.

    New York State does not have any laws in place to erase, or expunge, criminal records. Instead, New York offers a processes for sealing certain criminal records. For an individual experiencing additional hardship due to an old conviction, applying to have their records sealed may be an attractive option.

     “When a person’s record is sealed it is not erased, but any related fingerprints, booking photos, and DNA samples may be returned to the individual or destroyed, and records of their crime will no longer be available to the public,” explained Mr. Porter.

    Under New York’s Executive Law Section 296(16), employers are prohibited from inquiring about or taking any discriminatory action based on an individual’s sealed record. This means that if a record is sealed it cannot be considered in an application for employment.

    “However,” said Mr. Porter, “this law does not apply to law enforcement agencies, nor to those charged with federal licensing for firearms or other deadly weapons.”

    The two processes for having criminal records sealed are outlined in New York’s Criminal Procedure Law Sections 160.58 and 160.59. Section 160.59, effective October 2017, has created a new opportunity for individuals who have not been convicted of a crime in the past ten years to apply to have their criminal convictions sealed.

    Due to the individual nature of applying this new law, Mr. Porter is unable to state that any conviction will be automatically sealed. However, he was able to provide certain requirements a person must meet in order to apply to have a conviction sealed under the new law, primarily including but not limited to:

  • The individual may have up to two convictions, including only one felony conviction;
  • To be considered an “eligible offense” the conviction(s) must not have been for any of the following:

    ◦ sex offenses,

    ◦ other crimes requiring sex offender registration,

    ◦ Class A felonies (including but not limited to the following non-violent felonies: aggravated enterprise corruption, criminal possession or sale of a controlled substance in the first or second degree, operating as a major trafficker or conspiracy in the first degree)

    ◦ violent felonies, and

    ◦ attempts to commit any ineligible offenses under the categories listed above;

  • It must have been at least ten years since either

    ◦ the date the sentence was imposed, or

    ◦ the date of release from the individual’s last period of incarceration; and

  • The individual must not have been convicted of any new crimes during the ten-year waiting period.

    Once the application is filed, the local district attorney’s office has forty-five (45) days to notify the court whether they will oppose sealing the record. Then a judge must consider a number of factors in determining whether to grant a sealing application, including:

  • the amount of time since the individual’s last conviction,
  • the circumstances of the offense the individual seeks to have sealed,
  • any other convictions,
  • the individual’s character,
  • statements by any victims of the offense,
  • the impact sealing will have on the individual’s reintegration into society, and
  • the impact sealing will have on the public.

    Any experienced criminal attorney can help individuals determine whether they are eligible for sealing and to guide them through the sealing application process. The attorneys at Conboy, McKay, Bachman & Kendall, LLP, with offices in Jefferson County and St. Lawrence County, understand this new law and have begun aiding clients in having their criminal records sealed.

AMANDA COLTON is from Ogdensburg. In 2016, Amanda received her J.D. from Hofstra University and she is currently pending admission to the bar. Once admitted, Amanda will be practicing in the areas of domestic relations and criminal law.

Snow is the Life for Yerdon

Carolyn Yerdon, holds sign of snow accumulation in Lewis County. 

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What Exactly Does Your Chamber of Commerce Do?

Kristen Aucter

The number of times I have heard this from business owners in my short time at the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce has been surprising, though, in a way, it shouldn’t be. I found myself asking this question when branching out into the business world and wanting to be more involved in the community as well.

    Previous experience across the country had provided me with the insight that if you were interested in a particular geographical area, that the chamber of commerce was the place to find information. But these experiences did not necessarily delve into the details of what they did.

    Breaking it down to bare bones, it’s all about supporting the business community. Not only should chambers be a spokesperson for local businesses, but they should also provide services and benefits to increase the success of the business community. The combination of these work to create a connected environment in which businesses, and in turn the community, flourish.

    It is true that all businesses go through stages of growth. The plateaus are nice, when a business and its people can rest and enjoy the rewards of a job well done; however, most business owners aren’t willing to sit for long before seeking the next challenge. A primary function of a chamber of commerce is to support and promote businesses regardless of their stage in the game; not only with membership benefits, but with networking opportunities. In small communities like ours, there are other local businesses and experts who can help you to your next stage.

    Finding these connections at a chamber networking event is one of the greatest opportunities that a chamber of commerce offers. Think of it as joining a private club, where all members are willing to help one another. Success for one encourages success for the others. Networking leads to stronger businesses and stronger businesses lead to a more stable economic foundation in the community.

    The most successful business owners are willing to give back, because years ago someone paid it forward to them. Paying it forward is good for business. While many studies show that chamber members rank networking as number one on their list of benefits from the chamber, that is not the only thing of value that they have found.

    According a study done by The Shapiro Group Inc. in 2012, if a customer knows that a small business is a member of the chamber of commerce, they are 44 percent more likely to think positively of it and 80 percent more likely to purchase goods or services from the company in the future. More or less, businesses that are chamber members get more customers simply because of their association with the chamber.

    Getting your information out can be a costly venture for any business. Marketing services offered by chambers provide a great return on investment for your membership fee. In addition to thousands of referrals made by chamber staff each year they also have website, community events, print advertising and last, but not least, social media to assist in your marketing needs.

    In a way, a chamber of commerce works for the population as a whole, encouraging the development of infrastructure, recreational areas, innovations for established and new industries. These advancements also encourage population growth. The increase in residents leads to an increase in demand for services like real estate, insurance companies and construction jobs, improving the economy of an area. And who connects these people with the businesses who can meet their needs? You guessed it: a chamber of commerce.

                While chamber benefits do vary from region to region, I think you will find the advantages of being part of your local chamber community far outweigh the cost. At the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce we are always searching for ways to help our businesses succeed and encourage our members to come talk to us with new ideas. Because at the end of the day the question shouldn’t be “what does a chamber of commerce do?” but “what doesn’t a chamber of commerce do?” 

Kristen Aucter is the president and CEO of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. Contact her by emailing kristen@lewiscountychamber.org.

Third Quarter Sales: Tri-county home sales drop to lowest price point

BY: Marcus Wolf
Realtors sold more homes in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties during the third quarter last year than any third quarter in the past four years, with prospective homebuyers securing stable employment cited as the reason.

    Third quarter median home prices for both counties, however, fell to their lowest during that time as homes, particularly foreclosures, were sold at lower prices.

    “We’ve seen economic recovery in Jefferson, Lewis and St. Lawrence counties,” said Lance M. Evans, executive officer of both the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and St. Lawrence Board of Realtors. “From the big downturn, unfortunately, we also had some foreclosures.”

    The number of houses sold in Jefferson County during the third quarter increased from the same time in 2016 by 34 units, or 10.3 percent, from 330 units to 364, according to the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors.

    At the same time, the third quarter median home price in Jefferson County fell from the same quarter 2016 by $16,750, or about 11 percent, from $152,000 to $135,250.

    Vickie L. Staie, president of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors, said the U.S. Department of Defense has been stationing more soldiers and federal employees at Fort Drum and providing more long-term work to some current Fort Drum workers, which has led to more home purchases.

    Investors have also driven up homes sales during the third quarter by continuing to purchase foreclosed homes on the cheap and refurbishing them to later sell at a higher value, which has also lowered the median price.

     “I think it’ll have a great effect. We’re eliminating many zombie homes in our area,” Mrs. Staie said.

    Zombie properties are homes that owners abandoned after they stopped paying the mortgage and before banks began the foreclosure process.

    Homes sales during the third quarter in St. Lawrence County were up from the same time in 2016 by 23 units, or 11.3 percent, from 204 units to 227, according to St. Lawrence Board of Realtors.

    The third quarter median home price in the county fell from the same quarter in 2016 by $7,250, or 7.2 percent, from $101,250 to $94000.

    Richard J. Wood, president of the St. Lawrence Board of Realtors, said the Canton-Potsdam Hospital expansion continued to bring more homebuyers to the county. Several people also moved from a different home within the county to expand or downsize, which also drove up homes sales.

    “I think it has a lot to do with the length of time on the market,” Mr. Wood. “People want to wrap stuff up before it gets to the cold weather.”

    Prospective buyers also bought several foreclosed properties in the county, which Mr. Wood, who owns RJ Wood Real Estate LLC in Gouverneur, said brought down the median price.

“I’ve seen homes go right now that have sold for $10,000,” he said.

    Unlike Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, home sales in Lewis County remained relatively flat in the third quarter compared to the same time in 2016.

    The number of houses sold in Lewis County decreased slightly from the same time in 2016 by two units, or about 3.3 percent, from 61 to 59.

    The median home price for the third quarter in Lewis County, however, decreased from the same quarter in 2016 by $20,000, or 17.4 percent, from $115,000 to $95,000.

    Mrs. Staie, who also owns Staie on the Seaway Real Estate Services LLC and Appraisals USA in Alexandria Bay, said several sellers’ asking prices were too much when compared to their market value, which keeps them on the market for a while. Many homes that sold during the third quarter were winter camps and cottages.

    “That brought (the median price) down a bit,” she said.

    Home sales from January to September last year increased from the same time in 2016 in all three counties. 

    The number of houses sold during the first three quarters increased in Jefferson County by 130 homes, or 18.3 percent, from 711 to 841; in Lewis County by 13 homes, or 8.9 percent, from 146 to 159, and in St. Lawrence County by 63 homes, or 12.7 percent, from 496 homes to 559.

    Foreclosure and waterfront home sales drove up the number of units sold last year in Jefferson County, Mrs. Staie said. The Kraft-Heinz plant expansion in Lowville led more people to buy homes in Lewis County, she said.

    “I think people are seeing the advantage of buying over renting,” Mr. Evans said. “It looks like we’re going to have a lot higher number for units sold than we had in previous years.”

    The median price for homes during the first three quarters of 2017 in Jefferson and Lewis counties, however, fell compared to the same time last year.

    The median home price for the first three quarters this year decreased in Jefferson County by $3,500, or 2.5 percent, from $138,500 to $135,000, and in Lewis County by $15,500, or 14.7 percent, from $90,000 to $105,500. Both price drops were driven by foreclosure sales, Mr. Evans said.

    “There are always foreclosures. There will always be foreclosures,” Mr.  Evans said.

    The median price in St. Lawrence County for the first three quarters of 2017, however, has remained relatively flat for the past four years.

    The price for the first three quarters of 2017 only increased by $1,000, or 1.3 percent, from $88,000 to $89,000.

    “We don’t have huge jumps,” in price, Mr. Wood said.

    Statewide, home sales in the third quarter decreased from the same quarter in 2016 by 1,248 units, or 3.1 percent, from 39,693 units to 38,445 units, according to the New York State Association of Realtors. The statewide third-quarter median home price, however, was up this year by $12,500, or five percent, from $249,000 in 2015 to $261,500.


Retail Woes? A look into the 2018 tri-county economy

The Gander Mountain in Watertown was slated to remain open after another company acquired it, but remains closed.

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Snow Ridge Gets Lift From Family Dynamic

Cynthia J. Sisto, right, and her son, Nicholas Mir are co-owners of Snow Ridge Ski Resort in Turin. They are looking to create a new image and revitalize the resort with new events and programs.

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Attention Educators: Ag teachers needed!

Jay Matteson

BY: Jay Matteson

September 22 was National Teach Ag Day.  I had never heard of the day. But as I learned more about its purpose recently, it became necessary to share this story with you. National Teach Ag Day is organized by the National Association of Agricultural Educators.  A small part of the observance is to say thank you to the existing ag teachers across the United States for the fantastic job they do.  The primary reason for National Teach Ag Day is to highlight a gaping demand for ag teachers.

    The website for Teach Ag Day is www.naae.org/teachag/index.cfm. The website makes very clear the purpose of the day is to “bring attention to the career of agricultural education, get students thinking about a possible career in agricultural education, and support agricultural teachers in their careers.”  There is currently a national shortage of agricultural educators at the high school level. Mrs. Tedra Bean, the Belleville Henderson High School Agricultural teacher recently told me, “there are 40 schools interested in starting agricultural education programs, but they don’t have agricultural teachers.”  Bill Stowell, ag educator at South Jefferson High School supported Mrs. Bean’s statement, adding that recently 24 ag teachers were added across New York state.

    Mr. Stowell and Mrs. Bean indicate that ag education programs at the high school level have three components: classroom instruction; FFA membership and participation; and supervised agricultural experiences.  The classroom instruction includes regular classroom instruction and laboratory learning.  Classroom instruction may cover sciences, business development, and a variety of other courses that develop the knowledge base of the student.  Laboratory instruction involves hands-on learning that may include handling animals, plants, food products, and technology. FFA brings a great opportunity to build leadership and communicative skills as well as the critical tools of time management. FFA (www.ffa.org) also allows students to join with thousands of students across the U.S. sharing common interests in a dynamic and large youth-led organization.  Supervised Agricultural Experiences provide students the opportunity to go into fields of their interest and gain true work experience. They may work in a number of fields that could include communications, farming, agribusiness, veterinary, environmental stewardship, and many other agricultural related career paths.   All three components combine into an ag education program that is a powerful tool to prepare students for the many career opportunities that exist in agriculture. 

    Those who graduate from college with a degree in agricultural education have more than one career opportunity they can pursue. Yes, there is tremendous opportunity to become a high school agriscience teacher with the huge demand that exists. College graduates might also follow a path towards being an ag literacy coordinator, an ag education professor in college, farm business management instructor, or a variety of other possibilities.  Here in New York state students graduating high school could pursue an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and then go on to SUNY Oswego to obtain their masters degree. There are many ag education programs across the nation to look into. The Teach Ag Day website mentioned earlier provides many resources for those interested to look at. 

    In addition to the ag programs at South Jefferson and Belleville Henderson schools, there are ag programs at Carthage, Indian River and Alexandria schools in Jefferson County.  In Lewis County ag programs exist at South Lewis, Beaver River and Lowville school districts. St Lawrence County has ag programs at Canton, Gouverneur and Edwards Knox schools along with a specialized program through BOCES called the St. Lawrence Agriculture Academy.   Unfortunately Oswego County does not have an ag education program despite their agricultural industry.

    With so many schools across the nation showing an interest in developing agricultural programs in their schools, and ag teacher positions going unfilled, students will take a second look at this opportunity.   Workforce development is critical to any industry, including agriculture, and having a robust offering of agricultural classroom opportunities in our high schools is important if we want to maintain our food supply.  At the core of providing educational opportunities in agriculture, is the all-important agriculture teacher. Thank you for doing what you do.

Tough Decisions, Positive Results: Carthage Area Hospital shows profit after years of restructuring and reorganizing strategic plan

Rich Duval CEO at Carthage Area Hospital.

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Finding Your Food: Regional food hubs connect consumer with food

Peter Martins displays a handful of strawberries at Martin farm on Needam Road in Potsdam.

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