Varona sisters, alumni and co-founders of OCOA, to deliver commencement address

Cory Varona-Corniel and Nicol Varona Cancelmo to address Penn State Berks graduating class
Cory and Nicol Varona

Cory Varona-Corniel and Nicol Varona Cancelmo

Credit: Courtesy of OCOA

WYOMISSING, Pa. — A new class of nearly 150 Penn State Berks students will receive their baccalaureate and associate degrees at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16, at the Santander Arena in downtown Reading, when Berks hosts its fall 2023 commencement ceremony.

Penn State Berks alumni and sisters Cory Varona-Corniel and Nicol Varona Cancelmo, founders of OCOA, a high-end, curly hair care line inspired by the beauty of the Dominican Republic, will give the keynote presentation.

When Cory and Nicol were growing up in the Dominican Republic, they were taught that their natural curly hair was "pelo malo," or "bad hair." It wasn’t until they moved to the United States that they learned to truly embrace their natural beauty and curls, they said. That’s when they took matters into their own hands and founded OCOA.

The name OCOA means a place between mountains in the extinct indigenous Taino language. Ocoa is also the hometown of the founders’ mother. It is located in the southern region of the Dominican Republic, and well-known for its agriculture.

The sisters' journey to create OCOA began in 2018 when Cory became certified as a natural formulator and developed the first base for their products, while Nicol helped to test them.

According to the OCOA website, its purpose is to honor curly-haired Latina women, while helping them to find confidence in their authentic natural beauty by using high-end, clean, minimal ingredients from their homeland and their culture.

Both sisters are Reading High School and Penn State Berks alumni: Cory graduated from Penn State Berks with a bachelor of science in business with a finance and accounting concentration in 2011, and she went on to earn an MBA with a concentration in finance at Penn State Great Valley in 2018. She serves as the CEO of OCOA. Nicol earned a bachelor of science in business with a marketing concentration and a minor in Spanish in 2013 and went on to earn her social media certification from Georgetown University. She is the CMO (chief marketing officer) of OCOA and she is also employed as a marketing manager at SEI.

The sisters have been recognized with the 2023 Berks County Latino Chamber Young Entrepreneurship Award. They are also 2023 Black Ambition Top 50 Finalists, 2023 Square Forward Scholars and part of the Amika x SoGal Rooted in Growth 2023 Cohort. In addition, they are alumni of the Digital Undivided – Philadelphia Breakthrough 2022 Cohort and the Credo for Change 2022 Cohort.

In addition to these accomplishments, they both serve on the Penn State Berks Latino Advisory Council. The two successfully juggle careers, marriages and caring for young children with founding a company together.