Nearly 650 graduates receive degrees & certificates at Spring Commencement

A crowd of graduates in cap and gown, seen from the back. One reads, Thanks Mom and Dad

As a crowd packed to capacity with their family, friends, loved ones and supporters cheered and applauded from the audience, nearly 650 graduates walked across the Sports Arena stage to receive associate degrees and certificates of completion at the 2017 Spring Commencement.

“You cannot imagine how proud we are,” said Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown. “As you move forward, know that this is not the end of your journey; it’s the beginning. It’s the time where you begin to think about your next steps, and I would ask you also to remember those that will follow you. You have blazed a trail for them. Thank you for what you’ve accomplished, and for what you’ve done for those that will follow you because of the successes you have earned.”

In their keynote address to the Class of 2017, sisters Tina Pennington and Mandy Williams — better known as “Red” and “Black,” respectively — encouraged the graduates to remember that some of the greatest blessings come from the most difficult and challenging situations. They learned that lesson firsthand after Red’s husband was fired from his job and she turned to her sister for help mastering their family’s finances. Black assured a nervous Red — intimated by financial terminology like “assets and liabilities” — that the job loss and subsequent process of learning about personal finances and how best to rebuild her life would be the best thing to ever happen to her, despite her fears.

Their frank and candid exchanges formed the basis of the best-selling book, “What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!,” which has been adapted into an educational program taught at KIPP Houston High School and incorporated into book study programs at more than 30 percent of Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison units. Along with financial literacy, the sisters also emphasize the importance of soft skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, communication and teamwork.

“Once I started doing personal finance, realized the importance of soft skills and just stopped to think about things, I realized she was right,” Red told the Lee College graduates. “It really was the best thing for me — but more than that, it was the best thing for my daughters and to be able to talk with students like yourselves and others we come across.”

As the first woman to race the road course at Indianapolis, Black used racing analogies to present the students with an essential life choice: being a passenger who lets their life control them, or being a driver who controls their own life.

Remember the important corners on the track and keep the curves in perspective of the bigger picture, she said, and stay in the driver’s seat instead of coasting along.

“Think of all the times you could have quit, all the excuses you could have made, but you kept going. You’ve proved that you are strong and driven,” Black said. “None of us know where our lives are going to take us. Take a deep breath, hold on to the steering wheel and throttle on.”

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Associate Degree Nursing program honors 60 new graduates at annual pinning

Several nursing graduates hold candles

The 60 newest graduates of the Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) program at Lee College received pins to signify completion of their Lee College journey at the annual ceremony where they were also welcomed into the nursing profession, and charged to devote themselves to the welfare of the patients that will soon be committed to their care.

At the ADN Pinning Ceremony, faculty presented individual awards to students who displayed academic and clinical excellence and best represented the unique spirit of nursing. They then called each graduate to the stage one by one to be recognized. As a special twist this year, the students were given the option of having a registered nurse of their choice join Director of Nursing Tracy Allen to congratulate them and affix the coveted metal pins to their starched, white uniforms.

Graduates then lined up to receive the symbolic light of knowledge from ADN faculty, passing the live flame from one ceramic lamp to the next before reciting the Florence Nightingale Pledge taken by all professional nurses.

Citing a quote from former Pres. Teddy Roosevelt about the importance of striving for success and staying in the arena despite failures and shortcomings, Allen praised the graduates for their consistent effort to complete the rigorous program and prove their knowledge and mastery of the important skills and abilities they need to be effective nurses. The nursing pins they earned at Lee College will become one of their most prized possessions as they enter the next phase of their lives and careers, she said.

“You are well prepared and ready to enter the workforce in the greatest profession in the world,” Allen said. “Congratulations; we are all very proud of you.”

The Lee College nursing program emphasizes practical experience that prepares students for the realities of a clinical setting. From their first semester, students are required to spend time in both traditional classes and the laboratory and hands-on clinical environment. They are also encouraged to become lifelong learners and continue their education beyond the associate degree, following the example of several Nursing Division faculty members who have earned and are pursuing doctoral and master’s degrees in the field.

“I know what you went through; I see students who have persevered and worked hard to make it here tonight,” Lee College Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown told the graduates at the pinning ceremony. “You should be extremely proud. You have chosen a noble profession and a rewarding and exciting career, and I hope you will always remember where you came from. Your hands are blessed and they’re going to do great things.”

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TRiO Student Support Services program celebrates its Spring 2017 graduates

Six TRiO graduates pose

After he made it through three major brain surgeries, doctors didn’t want Christopher Garza to try going back to school. But last week, there he was — standing alongside five other students to be recognized by the TRiO Student Supports Services program for completing degrees and/or certificates in Spring 2017.

Nine TRiO graduates were honored in all.

“Everything I do is for God and God alone,” said Garza, who earned a certificate in Computer Aided Drafting and Design and plans to continue at Lee College through the TRiO program to pursue an associate degree. “I hope to one day make my parents proud.”

Like Garza, many students credit TRiO with helping them conquer challenges that otherwise could have completely derailed their college journeys. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the program offers a range of assistance to help low-income students, first-generation college students and students with disabilities at Lee College to progress through the academic pipeline — from financial aid, registration, graduation and transfer assistance, to individualized education plans, individual and group tutoring and student success workshops.

At the 2017 TRiO Student Support Services Program Graduation ceremony held Thursday, May 11, in the Rundell Hall Conference Center, guest speaker and former TRiO participant Yvette Ruiz shared memories from her own experience attending Galveston College. As the first in her family to pursue higher education, she didn’t really know what to do with herself or her life besides work. By the time she returned for a second try at earning a degree, she had a husband, a child she felt guilty about leaving to attend night classes, and plenty of lingering doubts and fears about her ability to be successful in college.

Being part of the TRiO program kept her focused on her goals and motivated to work through any obstacles she encountered, Ruiz said.

“Surround yourselves with people who will encourage you, ask for help and don’t be afraid,” she told the Lee College TRiO Class of Spring 2017. “We must be uncomfortable in order to grow. I had moments of failure when I wanted to give up, but those were the moments I knew had to sign up for classes again. Practice does not make perfect; it makes progress. You can do it, and we all can do it if we stand together and hold each other accountable.”

Graduate Jadale John fought back tears as he accepted his TRiO plaque and sash at the ceremony in recognition of his Associate of Applied Science degree in Electrical Technology. Both his mother and grandmother were also TRiO participants at Lee College who successfully completed the program and earned their degrees, setting an example for him to follow and encouraging him every step of the way.

“Trust TRiO,” John said. “Trust the process.”

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College making 190 recorded oral histories digitally accessible via the Internet

Reel-to-reel audio spools in player

Lee College is going to bring the voices and stories of Texas veterans to new life as part of a special project to digitize and securely archive 120 oral histories of former military service members, as well as approximately 70 oral histories that cover the history of Baytown.

Developed by the Lee College Library, the Baytown Veteran/Local Oral History Project is being funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services through a grant to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. The TexTreasures Grant aims to increase accessibility to library treasures by helping member libraries make their special collections more accessible to researchers in Texas and beyond. Lee College is one of 13 libraries, colleges and universities across the state awarded a TexTreasures Grant for fiscal year 2017.

As part of its digitization project, the Lee College Library will make about 96 hours of recorded veteran oral histories available for listening online. Once converted, the files will be sent to the Portal to Texas History at the University of North Texas for preservation storage, metadata creation and Internet access.

“This project allowed Lee College to migrate valuable oral information interview from obsolete audiocassette tapes to digital MP3 files. This will help preserve them for a longer period of time,” said Paul Arrigo, library director. “Since they are now in digital format, the library can also share these oral histories to the entire world, whereas previously people had to come to the Lee College Library to listen to them.”

Members of the community can hear the oral histories for themselves – including 35 hours on the history of Baytown – at the fourth annual Veteran’s Appreciation Day to be held from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., Saturday, June 10, at VFW Post 912 on North Main Street in Baytown. Attendees can climb aboard the Lee College Mobile Go Center to listen to the stories and learn more about the digitization process from Lee College librarians, and enjoy family activities like helicopter rides and memorabilia displays at the event.

For more information about the Baytown Veteran/Local Oral History Project, contact the library at 281.425.6379 or

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Rebel Rousing: Employee kudos, news, views, hires & resignations

Jill Gos

Jill Gos

Jim Richardson

Jim Richardson

Lee College faculty members Jill Gos of English and Humanities and Jim Richardson of Technical Studies were honored with Excellence in Education Awards at the 2017 Spring Commencement.

Developed in 1969 by a Lee College alumna, the awards are intended to give public recognition to outstanding instructors and/or counselors. A faculty committee selects two recipients each year — one who has served the college for 10 years or less, and another with more than 10 years of service — based on several criteria: excellence in education, professional and personal integrity, effectiveness in area of responsibility, ability to communicate enthusiasm for learning, ability to communicate effectively with colleagues and students, leadership in development of college programs, sincere concern for students and fellow faculty members, and loyalty to Lee College and the community its serves.

Congratulations to you both, Jill and Jim! Given your service to the college, our students and our community, these awards are very well deserved.

Jason Summers, Quanisha Eaglin and Roy Champagne shared news and information from Wellness, Community Education and Athletics last month with the Baytown Healthy Community Initiative, which selected Lee College for its member spotlight.

The initiative’s mission is to mobilize the community to promote health and stop cancer before it starts by raising awareness of the importance of healthy behaviors, creating and advancing advance community-based strategies to inform local, national, and international policy that enhance cancer prevention and control, and increasing appropriate health behaviors and activities that can have a direct impact on cancer risk reduction in five areas: diet, physical activity, preventive care, UV radiation exposure and tobacco use.

Summers and Rosemary Coffman serve as Lee College representatives on the steering committee. Collaborating organizations also include GCCISD; YMCA of Greater Houston; United Way of Greater Baytown and Chambers County; Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital; the City of Baytown; Baytown Chamber of Commerce; Baytown Economic Development; Communities in Schools, ExxonMobil; Harris County Public Health; Harris Health System; Legacy Community Health; Love Network; and Our Promise for West Baytown.

“Lee College continues to be an integral part of our community and this was once again another opportunity seized by the college to share its wonderful work with community leaders and members,” Summers said.

Thank you all for taking on the additional responsibility of representing Lee College and getting involved in the work to create a healthier community!

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More than 600 graduates to be recognized Saturday at Spring Commencement

Close-up of students' hands holding diplomas

Lee College will recognize the achievements of more than 600 graduates this Saturday, May 13, at the 2017 Spring Commencement Ceremony. Tina Pennington and Mandy Williams, sisters better known as “Red” and “Black” who co-authored a book and developed an educational program about personal finance, will be the guest speakers.

The Spring Commencement Ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in the Sports Arena on campus. A live stream of both events will be available online.

Born in New York, Red and Black wrote the book, “What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!,” which chronicles exchanges between the sisters after Red’s husband loses his job. Panicked due to her lack of knowledge about personal finance, Red turns to Black for help taking control of her financial life — learning about everything from balance sheets and credit cards to long-term financial planning and values like time, management and handling stress. The book was launched by Neiman Marcus and has since become the basis of “Personal Finance & Life 101,” a class the sisters teach at KIPP Houston High School that has also been approved by the Texas State Board of Education as a personal financial literacy textbook. The book has also been studied at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s (TDCJ) Stringfellow Unit and is now being introduced at other units throughout the TDCJ system.

A Theater Arts graduate of Wake Forest University, Red was initially a full-time wife and mother before becoming an author, columnist, public speaker and teacher. Black has an economics degree from Wilkes College, now Wilkes University, and an MBA in International Finance from New York University and London Business School. She retired from the oil and gas industry at 40 and has since become an entrepreneur, publisher, author, columnist, public speaker and teacher.

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Lee College names Veronique V. Tran, Ph.D., as new Vice President of Instruction

Dr. Veronique Tran, posed photoLee College has named Dr. Veronique V. Tran, a visionary higher education professional with more than 15 years of leadership experience at public and private institutions, as its new Vice President of Instruction. Following a unanimous vote of approval in May from the Lee College Board of Regents, Tran’s appointment to the position will be effective June 1.

Tran comes to Lee College from Lone Star College – University Park in northwest Houston, where she currently serves as founding dean of the Division of Math and Sciences. In that role, she has successfully led the division through a period of record 32-percent campus enrollment growth largely attributed to strategic expansion of hybrid, online, telelearning and dual-credit offerings. She led the instructional team that designed the 50,000-square-foot Center for Science and Innovation that will open this fall, and has received the Ignite! Innovation Award, Chancellor’s Faculty Technology Innovation Teaching Grant and numerous Campus Technology Advisory Council Grants. She also regularly presents at conferences on topics such as data analytics, technology tools, faculty engagement and transformational change.

Known as a servant leader who supports faculty and staff and encourages them to continually innovate and enhance the quality of their teaching and programs, Tran has held key leadership positions in academic and faculty affairs at Rice University and the University of Houston. She has developed and led campus-wide initiatives to enhance student success and applied her accreditation expertise as a change management consultant for several institutions. Further, she has implemented various high-impact practices, such as helping faculty integrate inquiry-based learning in the curriculum and mentor undergraduate researchers.

Tran also has interest in service learning and civic engagement, global learning, promoting study abroad and supporting international students. She formalized international articulation agreements between universities in Vietnam and UH for programs in Business and Hotel and Restaurant Management, and co-developed a program that promotes cross-cultural understanding among college students. She has served on national review panels for the Boren and Gilman study abroad scholarships and the National Science Foundation. A longtime advocate for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) who is frequently invited to speak and host outreach activities for middle- and high-school students, Tran enjoys integrating the arts into STEM. As a former engineer and biomedical researcher, she brings technical expertise in STEM fields to the Vice President of Instruction position – especially in the oil and gas and health industries.

“We are pleased to welcome Dr. Tran to Lee College and look forward to advancing our 83-year legacy of educational excellence and high-quality teaching and learning under her leadership as Vice President of Instruction,” said Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown. “Throughout her career in higher education, Dr. Tran has shown great skill in devising and implementing effective strategies that will strengthen academic resources and truly address the needs of students and communities we serve. I am confident in her commitment and ability to help Lee College fulfill the institutional goals outlined in the Vision 2022 Strategic Plan, particularly in preparing and empowering current and future generations of students to successfully navigate their futures.

“I also thank DeDe Griffith for stepping up to take on the responsibilities of the Vice President of Instruction position in an interim capacity while the national search was conducted,” Brown said.

After immigrating with her family to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War through the refugee program, Tran and her sister became the first in their family to graduate from high school and attend college. She began her collegiate journey at North Harris Community College before continuing on to UH, and worked four years as an upstream facilities engineer for Shell Western Exploration & Production, Inc., upon receiving her bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering in 1991. Tran then attended graduate school at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and the University of Texas at Arlington, where she earned a doctorate in Biomedical Engineering in 2002 and pursued research interests that included development of a bio-artificial pancreas for Type 1 diabetes treatment and biodegradable polymers for drug delivery. She completed postdoctoral studies at Yale University and returned to her alma mater in 2004 to help build the Biomedical Engineering program at UH. She subsequently took on leadership roles at Rice University and UH, serving as director of the Quality Enhancement Plan, founding coordinator of the Tier One Scholars Program and adviser for nationally competitive study abroad scholarships before becoming a founding dean at Lone Star College – University Park. She now resides in League City with her husband, Tim, and their two teenage sons.

“During my visit to Lee College, I felt a kindred spirit with faculty and staff who share my passion for serving students,” Tran said. “I look forward to collaborating with internal and external stakeholders to expand our dual-credit and academic transfer course offerings. I am most excited about partnering with local school districts, universities, community organizations and industries in the Gulf Coast region to open new opportunities for our students. I envision our students engaging in enriching freshman and sophomore experiences that will open doors and help them find their path, whether it be joining the workforce or pursuing advanced degrees.”

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First class of Weekend College graduates celebrated at special ceremony

Posed photo of smiling Weekend College graduates

Less than 24 months after entering the Weekend College at Lee College and embarking on a new journey designed for adult learners and working students juggling school with other responsibilities, the first 28 graduates of the program were honored at a special ceremony held just days before they cross the Sports Arena stage to receive their associate degrees.

“It is amazing to recognize the very first graduates of our Weekend College program. You all are truly trailblazers. Because of your persistence and cooperation, we’ve developed something that will serve a lot of students in the future,” Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown shared with graduates in a keynote address at the ceremony, held Sunday, May 7, in the Rundell Hall Conference Center.

“What you have done sets in motion some thing that will help inspire those who will follow you someday. You would never have made it through the Weekend College if you didn’t have ambition, faith and belief that this could be done, and you did it,” Brown said. “You challenged yourself in this program, and you need to continue to challenge yourself. Never settle for the least; always look for the most. Go out, find, search, seek and make it happen. Education is the one thing that no one can ever take from you once you have it.”

Funded through a $2.7 million First in the World (FITW) grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Weekend College allows students to earn associate’s degrees in less than 2 years by attending classes only on Friday evenings and Saturdays. Five majors are offered: Transfer in Allied Health, General Studies – Social Science Concentration, Business Administration and Management, Industrial Welding Technology and Computer and Network Maintenance Technology.

Of the first cohort of students to enroll in the Weekend College in Fall 2015, fully 65 percent are expected to complete their degree programs within three years or less — significantly more than the state average of 12 percent. Much of this success is attributed to the program’s unique design. The same groups of 18-25 students are kept together from enrollment to graduation or transfer. Courses are offered at multiple Lee College locations to make them more convenient, and many are delivered in a hybrid format that blends online and classroom instruction. Block scheduling ensures students know exactly which courses to take and when they will be held, and Weekend College courses are never dropped or filled to capacity.

Weekend College students also work with a completion coach who helps them apply for the program, secure financial aid and conquer any challenges that arise while they are enrolled in school and even after graduation.

At the ceremony, graduates received glass trophies acknowledging their completion of the program and had the opportunity to award a certificate to someone whose support made a difference during their Lee College career — whether it was a faculty or staff member, classmate, parent, spouse or even their child. Reyna Gomez, who will be receiving an Associate of Applied Science degree in Management, thanked Weekend College Completion Coach Jessica Falla for helping her at every step of the journey.

“I started really nervous and was going to stop going to school completely, but you were always there from the beginning,” Gomez said, referring to Falla and the other Weekend College staff and instructors whom she got to know in the program. “Nobody knew I was struggling, trying to keep up with my classes. But I had a dream to accomplish and though it wouldn’t be easy, you told me it would be worth it. Thank you all because I made it.”

The Lee College Foundation awarded scholarships to four of the top Weekend College students in the 2017 graduating class that can be used to continue their education or apply to expenses as they prepare to enter the workforce. Recipient Alex Garza, who maintained a 4.0 GPA while attending classes and working a full-time schedule of 40-50 hours per week, plans to earn a specialized certification in computer technology and pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston.

“I would tell anyone thinking about signing up for the Weekend College to go for it,” said Garza, who will receive an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer and Network Maintenance Technology. “You get to know your fellow students and instructors in a way you wouldn’t if you were in a traditional program.”

That tight, close-knit bond shared by the students, instructors and staff is part of what makes the Weekend College so special. Grant director Victoria Marron encouraged the graduates to stay in touch with each other and their Lee College family as they enter the next phase of their lives and careers.

“I’m full of thanks, appreciation and reflection,” Marron said. “When you get this degree and walk across that stage, take a moment and look around you. Creating a program from scratch is no easy task and it takes a village to come together. You’ve defeated so many odds and all your cheerleaders have been there to support you. Know that we support you and encourage you still.”

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Third annual Kids at College Summer Preview Day draws hundreds of families

Hundreds of families enjoyed games, prizes and hands-on activities and meet-and-greets with instructors at the third annual Kids at College Summer Preview Day, which gave the community a sneak peek at the wide array of youth camps and classes that will begin next month at the Lee College campus in Baytown and Lee College Education Center – South Liberty County.

With the giant inflatable Rooty the Rebel outside to welcome nearly 350 participants to Preview Day, more than a dozen instructors and vendors inside the Sports Arena greeted families and shared information about their summer camps and activities — from AutoCAD and Theatre Production to Art Extreme, Bowling, Creative Writing, Culinary Arts, EnergyVenture, Etiquette and Manners, Health and Fitness, Rebel Heat Dance, STEAM & Science, Volleyball and more. Camps will run weekly from June 5 through August 17.

As parents and guardians gathered information and made arrangements to register for Kids at College camps on the spot, children created artwork, collected souvenirs and giveaways, played blackout and regular bingo, and even competed in a hula-hooping contest. Local businesses like Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread, Kroger and Target, and organizations like the Lee College Alliance alumni association, were among the donors whose gifts to Preview Day — including gift cards, free food and cases of water, vouchers, science kits and a drone — totaled more than $1,200.

“The event was a great success,” said Kimberlee Techeira, director of Community Education at the Center for Workforce and Community Development. “We greatly appreciate all the individuals who helped with planning and setting up, and we also thank the community for showing their support. Overall, the attendees had a great time.”

Missed the fun of Kids at College Summer Preview Day? There’s still time to sign up for camps and classes! Get more information here or contact the Center for Workforce and Community Development at 281.425.6311.

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RebelRousing: Employee kudos, news, views, hires & resignations

Jerry HambyAfter earning certification as a Texas Master Naturalist in 2015, English and Humanities instructor Jerry Hamby has reached a new milestone and earned a new pin of recognition: completing 500 hours of community service coordinated through the Gulf Coast chapter.

Hamby has volunteered more than 150 hours since January alone, spending much of that time at the 200-acre Exploration Green park being developed on the site of the old Clear Lake City Golf Course. Over the course of six community planning events this spring, he helped plant 230 trees and 2,000 native wetland plants — and is well on the way toward completing 1,000 total hours of community service.

When he’s not in the classroom or out in nature working to improve 2018 Texas Poetry Calendar coverthe environment, Hamby is enhancing his photography skills. One of his images, a photo of the Palo Duro Canyon taken last summer, has been selected for the cover of The Texas Poetry Calendar for 2018. The calendar will be published in June and features Hamby’s shot of the Red Star Ridge, a geologic formation known for its beautiful scenic overlook of the iconic Lighthouse Hoodoo. It is the second time that Hamby has had his photo  appear on the calendar cover.

Congratulations on all your accomplishments, Jerry!

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