6 extraordinary community college degrees in New York

wine glasses and wine barrels

From sleep specializations to wine selling to professionally wheeling and dealing, New York offers an absolutely fantastic selection of community college degrees that simply aren't available in other states. These outside-the-box two-year degrees are largely driven by and designed according to local demands, and they are few and far between in many other locales. Here are six two-year degrees, in no particular order, that you'll be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

1. Polysomnography

Hudson Valley Community College (part of the State University of New York system), Troy

Designed for those interested in the study of sleep and sleep disorders, polysomnography degrees train students to work in sleep labs, hospitals or neurologists' offices, says Patricia Hyland, department chair for Hudson Valley's cardiorespiratory, polysomnography and emergency medicine programs.

"[Polysomnography professionals] have to be able to evaluate the different stages of sleep and what's happening to these patients in each of the stages of sleep, when they may go apneic, when their oxygen saturation drops too low or when they don't ventilate themselves properly," Hyland explains.

The science-heavy curriculum includes courses in anatomy, pharmacology, neurodiagnostics, psychology and polysomnography data analysis, but students also get a first-hand view of the field by putting in time at the school's training sleep lab and by completing clinical training through hospitals and labs throughout the capital district. If pulling the night shift in a sleep lab isn't appealing, Hyland says that students can also find post-college jobs as EEG technologists.

2. Wine Marketing

Tompkins Cortland Community College (SUNY), Dryden

The state's recent explosion of wineries — 416 and counting, according to the New York Wine & Grape Foundation — led Tompkins Cortland to create a degree that would help prepare students to work in the marketing, distribution, sales, tasting room management or promotional ends of wine and microbreweries, says wine marketing chair Brandon Seager. Using the school's convenient location in the Finger Lakes wine country, this degree provides courses in viticulture, enology, sensory evaluation and hospitality. Classes are mixed with the practical education students get through completing a 150-hour internship through a winery, distributor or wine publication.

"Especially for students coming right out of high school, 18 years old, it might sound like kind of a sexy, glamorous type thing, … but it's not necessarily all glitz and glamour because there's a lot of actual work that needs to be done," Seager says of the wine industry. "We don't just sit around and taste wine all day."

Seager is quick to point out that tasting is a valuable part of the curriculum and that students are allowed to taste wine in the classroom (and only in the classroom because SUNY campuses are dry), but they'll also learn basic business skills like entry-level accounting and wine merchandising.

3. Zoo Technology

Jefferson Community College (SUNY), Watertown

Biology, animal ethics, exhibit design and animal behavior are the academic basis for this degree, but much of the real learning takes place outside the classroom. Those enrolled in this degree start off caring for horses and other farm animals at nearby Old McDonald's Farm. Students then move to New York State Zoo in Watertown where they work under the mentorship of a professional zookeeper. Second-year students also get one-on-one mentorship at Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse.

"Through the course of their program, [students] will have worked with domestic species, native wildlife and your more traditional zoo animals, and hopefully that will give them a very broad experience," says Mark Irwin, zoo technology program director. "They may take care of birds in one situation and reptiles in another or hoofstock in another."

Once they've got the degree, students can move into entry-level zookeeping or zoo education or apply some of their credits towards a four-year veterinary tech or biology-related degree.

4. Casino and Gaming Management

Schenectady County Community College (SUNY), Schenectady

This degree is much more than fun and games, says Martha J. Asselin, acting president of Schenectady County Community College.

"[Casino and Gaming Management students] are learning regulations for gaming," Asselin explains. "They're learning how the revenue operations, lodging, event management, the marketing, hospitality of the program. There are a breadth of different opportunities there."

Launched in September 2013, this degree focuses on providing students with a top to bottom view of the casino business — everything from how games are run to surveillance and security protocols — and offers students the chance to intern at an area gaming establishment.

5. Food Processing Technology

Genesee Community College (SUNY), Batavia

The dairy-centric town of Batavia is the perfect place to learn the ropes of food regulations and sanitation. Classroom learning covers food safety, sanitation and hazard analysis, food labeling, analytical methods, unit operations, and food and dairy processing — plus business and science courses and a required internship. After graduation, students will be prepped and ready to work in the two new yogurt plants coming to Batavia or in a wide array of dairy and food processing centers nationwide.

"[Graduates] can be a regulatory expert, they could be a packaging buyer, they could be a production operator, they probably could be a supervisor [ or] work in the lab doing food analysis," says Rafael Alicea-Maldonado, dean of math, science and career education at GCC. Additionally, they can also go into food storage, logistics and transportation, or quality control.

GCC also wins big points because of the transferability of its degrees. After completing a food processing technology degree, students can enter the working world or transfer to an enormous range of public and private four-year schools.

6. Science for Forensics

Borough of Manhattan Community College (part of the City University of New York system), New York City

"CSI," "NCIS" and "Law and Order" come to life as students learn the science behind forensic evidence examination. Designed in partnership with John Jay College of Criminal Justice, this associate degree allows students to knock out their basic biology, chemistry, physics and calculus at the two-year level before transferring. However, before enrolling, it's wise to do some research on what it's like to actually work in the forensics field, says Lalitha Jayant, an associate professor at BMCC.

"Many [forensic] students think that once a case comes to them, they're the one who's going to solve," says Jayant. "... More often than not, they're just given a number and they're just running the experiment, printing the data and explaining it to the law enforcement officer."

With their associate degrees in hand, students can transfer to John Jay and begin as a third-year student. Many also attend other institutions and pursue four-year science or pharmacology degrees, Jayant says.


Dr. Rafael Alicea-Maldonado, Dean of Math, Science and Career Education at Genesee Community College, Interviewed by the author, June 18, 2014

Martha J. Asselin, Acting President of Schenectady County Community College, Interviewed by the author, June 18, 2014

Science for Forensics Joint Degree, Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York,

Food Processing Technology, Genesee Community College, State University of New York,

Polysomnography Associate in Applied Science, School of Health Sciences, Hudson Valley Community College,

Patricia Hyland, Department Chair for Hudson Valley Community College's Cardiorespiratory, Polysomnography and Emergency Medicine Programs, Interviewed by the author, June 18, 2014

Mark Irwin, Zoo Technology Program Director at Jefferson Community College, Interviewed by the author, June 18, 2014

Dr. Lalitha Jayant, Associate Professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College, Interviewed by the author, June 18, 2014

Zoo Technology A.A.S., Jefferson Community College, State University of New York,

"Wineries By County," New York Wines,

Casino and Gaming Management A.A.S., School of Hotel, Culinary Arts & Tourism, Schenectady County Community College,

Brandon Seager, Wine Marketing Department Chair at Tompkins Cortland Community College, Interviewed by the author, June 17, 2014

Degrees and Certificates: Wine Marketing, Tompkins Cortland Community College,