College honors more than 370 graduates at spring commencement ceremonies

For Judge Don Coffey, attending Lee College and being elected to the Board of Regents were significant emotional events that changed the course of his life. He hoped the Class of 2015 would look back on their graduation day and realize they, too, had been profoundly changed by their college experience.

“I view this degree or certificate that you have earned today as a contract,” Coffey told the more than 200 graduates who participated in spring commencement exercises during his keynote address. “This contract can never be revoked, and it will last forever. My hope for you is that today will forever change your view of what you can achieve. We, the Lee College family, are in the business of changing lives.”

Family and friends packed the Sports Arena for the 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. commencement ceremonies, which were streamed live online through the college website. Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown opened the events by congratulating the graduates and encouraging them to show appreciation to the loved ones whose support made a difference as they worked to complete their Lee College education.

“I’m seeing so many smiles and broad grins on our graduates’ faces and they certainly deserve it,” Brown said. “You’ve worked hard and today is your day — but it is also just the beginning of your future. There are many more successes that you will achieve in your life.”

Seated amongst the graduates in the morning ceremony were 28 students from the IMPACT Early College High School, a partnership between Lee College and the Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District (GCCISD) that allows students to simultaneously complete their high school diploma and earn 60 hours of college credit. GCCISD Superintendent Randal O’Brien joined Brown on stage to present degrees and certificates to the IMPACT students.

“IMPACT Early College High School blends the high-school curriculum with the rigors of higher education,” O’Brien said. “Parents and families, thank you for being a difference-maker in the lives of these students. Students, I charge you to go further, strive to quest for knowledge, become a lifelong learner, and create change for a better world.”

Board of Regents Chairwoman Susan Moore-Fontenot offered similar wishes to the Class of 2015, urging the graduates to see the milestone as an opportunity to take stock of their lives and assess the bright futures ahead of them. Lee College provided them the knowledge, vision and confidence to pursue their dreams, she said.

“You have been trained by master teachers who are the lifeblood of this college,” Moore-Fontenot said. “You are to great places and will make a significant impact in so many lives, and you’re well-equipped with marketable credentials to face this daunting world.”

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Cotten and incumbents Hall and Himsel win election to Board of Regents

Weston Cotten

Baytown attorney Weston Cotten will join incumbents Mark Hall and Mark Himsel on the Lee College Board of Regents after taking the third-largest share of the votes in the May 9 election, narrowly beating fourth-place finisher Gina Roberson-Rivon.

Cotten, Hall and Himsel will be sworn into their seats at the May 20 board meeting, beginning 6-year terms of service as board members. Hall and Himsel each won about 20 percent of the total votes, while Cotten took nearly 16 percent. Rivon finished with just over 15 percent, and recently retired instructor Dan Mendoza was next in line with slightly more than 12 percent of the votes.

Cotten decided to run for the Lee College board position in February. He has been practicing law since 1982 after graduating from Stephen F. Austin State College and South Texas College of Law. He was also the longest-serving Board of Trustees member on the Goose Creek CISD board, serving from 1990 until 2008.

Three generations of Cotten’s family have attended Lee College, including himself and his father, and Cotten has also served as an instructor at the college. The Highlands-Lynchburg Chamber of Commerce recently honored him as the recipient of the Terry Davis Memorial Award, which recognizes a person who has supported the Highlands-Lynchburg community by supporting organizations to which he or she belongs and benefiting the community as a whole.

Full results of the 2015 Lee College Board of Regents election are available here.

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This Week in Innovation – Showing students they can master literature

Doing Literature: Using the Cognitive Learning Strategy of Elaborating to Help Students Interpret Texts

By Suzanne M. Swiderski

One of the courses I most look forward to teaching is “Introduction to Literature,” a general education course intended to (re)familiarize students with such foundational literary elements as character, plot, and theme by exploring written texts in the genres of drama, fiction, and poetry. Over the years, I have been delighted by the depth of understanding displayed by students who aspire to a career in designing buildings, or mapping land formations, or saving lives, rather than interpreting the written word.

And yet, at the beginning of most semesters, I am always disheartened to hear from a good number of these students that they cannot “do literature.” Based on their prior experiences in English courses, they believe that, although they are capable of understanding non-fiction—after all, they can read the textbooks for their other courses—they are, for the most part, incapable of “understanding literature” because doing so requires skills possessed solely by self-professed “book geeks.”

Trying to convince these students that they have been “doing literature” their entire lives, however, has proven futile. I have reminded them that, from the time they were born, people around them have been reading texts to them, and they have understood the meaning of these texts. I have also reminded them that, from the time they could speak, they have been conveying what is happening to them and what is happening around them, all the while emphasizing the importance of these events. Despite these reminders, I cannot seem to persuade them that these activities from their pasts have any relevance to their present lives as students of literature.

So, early in my teaching of this course, I decided to turn from my background in English to my other background, in educational psychology, to try to change their minds. I drew upon my understanding of cognitive theories of learning, which explain the development of knowledge in an individual’s mind, as well as of the specific cognitive learning strategy of elaborating to provide my students with experiences designed to demonstrate that they can, indeed, “do literature.”

Cognitive Theories of Learning: Knowledge Development in the Individual Mind
Cognitive theories of learning focus on the processes occurring within an individual’s mind to explain the way that knowledge develops or learning occurs. Two relevant explanations, offered by psychological constructivist theorists and information processing theorists, account for both the creation and the processing of knowledge in the mind.

According to psychological constructivist theories, which are grounded in the work of Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget, an individual’s knowledge base consists of an accumulation of mental structures, known as schema, that are built (constructed) as the individual interacts with the environment. Each structure includes pieces of information that reflect an individual’s idiosyncratic personal history, such that the same pieces of information will differ slightly from one individual to the next. When an individual encounters a new idea or engages in a novel experience, the structure relevant to this idea or experience is altered. Therefore, the mental structures comprising an individual’s knowledge are continually modified as the individual interacts with an ever-changing environment.

Additionally, according to information processing theories, such as those offered by the team of American psychologists Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin, along with those of British psychologist Alan Baddeley, the memory system in an individual’s mind consists of three components: sensory memory, working memory, and long-term memory. Sensory memory is activated when information from the environment is initially encountered. An individual must first perceive this information and then deem it important before this information can be attended to and represented, or encoded, in a mental form. Next, working memory is activated with the appearance of this mental representation. The mental representation created by the individual is stored and processed in working memory, which has capacity and durational limits. Finally, long-term memory is activated when either the mental representation has been processed and is ready to be stored in a more permanent manner, or the mental representation needs to be processed with a previously stored representation in order to be fully comprehensible.

The Cognitive Learning Strategy of Elaborating
Cognitive strategies for learning can assist in the development of knowledge within an individual mind when they are integrated into educational activities. These strategies can help to construct a schema that accurately represents the information that comprises a particular idea. Also, they can help to encode information in working memory and enhance the meaningfulness of information during its encoding.

One particularly useful cognitive learning strategy is that of elaborating. According to the team of Scottish psychologist Fergus Craik and Australian psychologist Robert Lockhart, elaborating involves making connections between new and old pieces of information about a specific topic. First, an individual must recognize what is already known about an idea by bringing into working memory any related schema. Then, the individual must identify the additional pieces of information about the idea that need to be understood, which requires this new information to be clearly and appropriately delineated. Last, the individual must determine the relationship(s) between what is already known and what needs to be understood about the idea. Once a comparison of the known and the unknown leads to the identification of relevant similarities and/or differences, the process of elaborating is complete.

Elaborating in the Classroom: Students “Doing Literature”
Before I could bring anything into my classroom, I needed to review the learning outcomes for my course because I wanted to pair the strategy of elaborating with a goal I had already identified for my students. In doing so, I recognized that two of these outcomes were appropriate: (1) to understand the “language of literature,” the formal elements that comprise literary texts, so they could know and be able to use such terms as “setting” and “voice” to explain the components of a text; and (2) to strengthen their identity as readers of literature, so they could continue to think of themselves as individuals who are gaining additional knowledge about and experience in understanding literary texts. Therefore, I realized that using elaborating would be an appropriate way to begin achieving this goal.

Next, I needed to determine the most appropriate place, within the overall design of the course, to present the strategy of elaborating, along with my rationale for its use. I decided that I needed to introduce this strategy as early in the semester as possible in order to have sufficient time to engage my students in experiences that demonstrate its usefulness to them. I also decided that I needed to present this strategy in as explicit a manner as possible, not only to highlight its connection to research about cognitive approaches to learning, but also to increase their intrinsic motivation to engage with it. Therefore, I planned to spend a class period during the first week of the semester familiarizing students with this strategy.

In preparing for this class period, I realized that I needed to spend a minimal amount of time providing students with background information about elaborating. After all, unless they were psychology majors, they were unlikely to find its basis in research as fascinating as I did. Instead, I needed to focus their attention on how to use this strategy by verbally walking them through the way that I, as a reader, would do so. More importantly, if I were going to begin convincing them about their literary abilities, I needed them to use this strategy with texts they already knew. So I chose, for that class period’s reading assignment, a well-known short story, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”

As the students were settling into their seats, I could hear them whispering to each other about the reading for the day. So, I began the class period by asking them why they thought I had assigned a text that was more commonly read by toddlers than college students. After entertaining a few responses, all variations on “you’ve lost your marbles,” I launched into my mini-lecture about the cognitive learning strategy of elaborating. Following the mini-lecture, I had the students form small groups to discuss the day’s reading, by first reviewing with them a common technique of prewriting—the 5 Ws and H (who, what, where, when, why, and how)—and then asking them to find the information associated with each of these elements in the story. Once they had completed this task, we discussed their responses as a full group, analyzing the six elements as individual components and as a combined whole. Throughout the entire discussion, I was careful to ask the students exactly where in the text they had found their particular answers. Having finished this, I pronounced to my students that they had just “done literature.”

When some students looked perplexed and others voiced their disagreement, I explained to them what they had just done. In reading the fairy tale, they had read “literature,” because the boundaries of that domain, in the current century, were quite elastic. In identifying the 5 Ws and H of the tale, they had pointed out the foundational elements of this short story, from characters to plot to theme. In putting these elements together, using words and phrases from the tale itself as support, they had constructed interpretive readings of the text. All of this, I offered, was the essence of “doing literature.”

Over the semesters that I have taught “Introduction to Literature,” a small group of students has scoffed at this activity. These students usually approach me immediately after this class period, informing me that they do not wish to spend their entire semester focusing on children’s stories because they want to study literature that a college graduate can expect to know. I respond by assuring them that, for the remainder of the semester, they will be reading texts that I believe will challenge them, in any number of ways, and inwardly I smile.

The majority of students who have participated in this activity, however, seem to have appreciated it. They have told me that this single class period helped to improve their attitude toward taking this course, and that they no longer dread approaching assigned course readings. They also have revealed that, when the reading of a particular text feels almost like slogging through a pool of quicksand, they return to identifying the 5 Ws and H, believing that if they can find these pieces of information, they will have taken an initial step toward understanding the reading. Perhaps most importantly, however, they have shown me week after week through their persistent engagement with assigned readings and their insightful interpretation of these readings, that they are indeed quite capable of “doing literature.”

Swiderski is an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. She can be reached by email to

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Rebel Rousing: Faculty member pens book chapter & a salute to boot-campers

Faculty member pens chapter in new NCTE book about writing instruction

Dr. Michael Gos of the English and Humanities Division is the author of a chapter in the new National Council for Teachers of English (through CCCC) book Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction (Beth L. Hewett and Kevin Eric DePew, Eds).

The chapter, “Nontraditional Student Access to OWI,” discusses difficulties faced by such underserved student groups as working class, incarcerated, remotely rural, older adults and military (active and veteran). The book is available in both paperback and hardcover and may be read free of charge as an e-book at:

Congratulations, Michael! 

Fifth Annual Kinesiology Club Boot Camp ends on high note

Dozens of faculty members, staff and students recently completed the fifth annual Kinesiology Club Boot Camp, ending a monthlong series of twice-a-week workouts designed for participants of all fitness levels.

Kinesiology Club students guided boot-campers through the workouts under the supervision of Graeme Cox, chairman of the Kinesiology, Athletics and Wellness Division.

The boot camp is a fundraiser supporting student trips in July and December to the Texas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (TAHPERD) conferences.  Students also present the boot camp workouts to professionals at the conferences, making the college employee camp a great learning experience.

All participants who made it through boot camp received a t-shirt and certificate.

Way to go, boot-campers! Never let them see you sweat ;)

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Weekly Wellness from Jason Summers

10 Changes You Can Make In Your Kitchen That Lead To Weight Loss

By April McCarthy

From investing in single-serving containers to putting healthy eats at eye level, here are 10 changes you can make in your kitchen to help you start losing weight today.

While eating healthier is on the to-do list for many, our kitchen can make it harder to eat healthy, and easier to fill ourselves with snacks and junk food. But there are ways to make the home more conducive to better eating. Planning meals in advance can go a long way, but it is also important to plan how the foods you buy go into your kitchen.

Making good food easier to see and access and making unhealthy foods harder is the trick to a healthier eating environment. Here’s how you can rearrange your kitchen to encourage healthy eating habits.

1. Clear your counters
Easily visible food provides a constant reminder of its availability, and is likely to be eaten first. So make sure snack foods don’t have a prominent place. The last thing you want is a clear cookie jar on the counter.

2. Buy a fruit bowl
It’s important to make sure the visible fruits and vegetables are ones that are easy to eat and don’t invite flies to sit on them. Store apples, oranges, bananas and as opposed to grapes, pineapples and mangoes.

3. Invest in single-serving containers
When stashing away leftovers, it is best to put them away in meal-size portions, whether for future lunches or dinners. At times, calorie-dense dinner leftovers might make for a more appealing snack than baby carrots, but you may be less likely to dig in if you know it will leave you hungry at lunch the next day. Choosing freezer-safe containers will give you even more storage options.

4. Get see-through jars
Follow the school lunch program recommendations, which limit calorie-dense foods like complex starches, fats and proteins but make fruits and vegetables completely available in whatever quantity people want. Some fruits and vegetables need advance prep and cutting, but once they go into the refrigerator, they should be in clear containers, to remind you of what to grab when you are hungry between meals.

5. Use your freezer more
If you don’t have a definite plan for your leftovers, then avoid tossing them in the refrigerator. A freezer allows you to put away food for future use rather than snacking down on leftover lasagna instead of eating an apple. It also allows for better meal planning.

6. Put healthy eats at eye level
Depending on the type of refrigerator you have, you may benefit from some rearranging.

Some refrigerators with a freezer on the bottom have clear vegetable bins at eye level. But if you have a refrigerator where the freezer is at the top, and the vegetable bin is at your knees, then there’s a good reason not to keep your veggies in the drawer. Opaque bins keep your healthiest — and more perishable — foods hidden. So if you have them, don’t put fruits and veggie in the crisper, instead, put them higher up, in a visible spot.

7. Prepare fruits and other snacks in advance
As much as you avoid it, some snacking is bound to happen. So it is worth buying the products that are in little, single packages. It’s much easier to know exactly what you’re eating.”

But for the frugal, those small packages represent an extra expense, so pick up some small bags and doling out portions of snacks that are healthier.

Some similar prep work can help with snacking before dinner. In addition, have on hand healthier snacks, such as cut veggies, that are already parcelled out.

8. Add non-food accessories to your kitchen
Food prepared at home is almost inevitably healthier than takeout, so it’s important that cooking at home is an enjoyable experience.

Keeping kitchen counters free of books, bags and papers so that they can be used to prepare food is a start. Some even keep a television in their cooking space, but you should ensure that it should be kept at a spot when you can’t watch from the table.

9. Eat only in the kitchen
When people eat anywhere in the house, other activities they do while eating will often trigger a signal in the brain to start eating.

Many people eat while watching TV, or just start snacking. Confining all eating to the kitchen can put a dent in that, she said.

10. Get smaller plates and taller, narrower glasses
A recent research suggested how we decide what to eat and how to eat depends on the plate and portion size.

Larger plates lead to eating larger portions — people tend to finish what they put on their plate.

Dish size is a potential aid for people looking to get new dishes, or willing to replace old ones. Have smaller plates. That advice can carry over to glasses, given the number of calories some beverages contain. You’ll drink less from a tall glass than a glass that is wider. It also gives the illusion of having more.

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Lee College ranked nationally for preparing students for high-paying careers

Lee College is ranked No. 2 in the nation for contributing to the economic success of its graduates, according to a new report from the Brookings Institution that analyzed two- and four-year institutions based on the “value-added” approach.

The report, “Beyond College Rankings: A Value-Added Approach to Assessing Two and Four- Year Schools,” is the first to develop measures of “value added” for a broad array of two- and four- year colleges. To do so, it analyzes data on economic outcomes for graduates of these institutions, adjusting them for the characteristics of their students at the time they are admitted and other factors. The resulting measures capture the contributions that the colleges themselves make to their graduates’ eventual economic success.

Compared to popular college rankings, the value-added method focuses on how well colleges contribute to student economic success, rather than simply their ability to attract top students. Lee College earned a perfect 100 score based on the report’s criteria, tying with first-ranked New Hampshire Technical Institute Concord.

“These college-specific data can be used to learn about, evaluate, and improve college performance,” said Brookings Fellow Jonathan Rothwell, who co-wrote the study with Senior Research Assistant Siddharth Kulkarni. “Colleges serve very diverse populations. The advantage of measuring value-added is that it adjusts a school’s rankings based on the type of college and the characteristics of its student body.”

Click here to read the full report from the Brookings Institution.

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Judge Don Coffey to deliver keynote speech Saturday at commencement

More than 180 graduates will receive associate degrees and certificates of completion Saturday, May 9, in two commencement ceremonies at Lee College. Judge Don Coffey, a graduate of Lee College and the longest-serving member of the Board of Regents, will be the keynote speaker at both ceremonies.

Commencement exercises will be held at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. in the Sports Arena on campus. A livestream of the ceremonies will be accessible via the college website.

A Baytown native who has been practicing law in the city since 1993, Coffey was elected presiding judge of the Harris County Justice of the Peace Court for Precinct 3, Place 2, in 2010. Before entering the University of Houston School of Law, where he received his Juris Doctor, Coffey worked for ExxonMobil for 10 years in the same Baytown refinery from which both his father and grandfather retired. He also completed a Bachelor of Science degree in political science at the University of Houston, graduating magna cum laude, and worked for the Texas Senate while in law school.

Coffey was first elected to the Lee College Board of Regents in 1984 while still a student pursuing an Associate of Arts degree in liberal arts. He has served as chairman of the board four times, and was also a vice-chairman of the Lee College Foundation Board of Directors. A member of the Lee College Hall of Fame, Coffey is active with the Baytown Rotary Club and Baytown Lions Club and has served on committees for the city of Baytown and the Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District.

Coffey and his wife, Jenice, have been married since 1978 and are charter members of Cedar Bayou Grace United Methodist Church. The couple has one son, Stephen, who also graduated from Lee College and is currently attending the Washington University School of Law.

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Associate Degree of Nursing pinning ceremony set for Friday

The dreams of the latest class of Associate Degree of Nursing graduates will be realized Friday, May 8, during the program’s annual Pinning Ceremony, where the new nurses will be officially welcomed into the profession.

As part of the ceremony, to be held at 7 p.m. in the Sports Arena, nursing graduates will receive a special pin signifying their participation in the Lee College program. They will also recite the Florence Nightingale Pledge, an oath named for the founder of modern nursing and taken by all professional nurses.

Faculty members will recognize students who have demonstrated high academic achievement and clinical excellence throughout the 2-year program, and lead graduates in a sacred lamp-lighting ceremony that symbolizes the passage of knowledge from one generation of nurses to the next.

The rigorous 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 also complete rotations in the college’s state-of-the-art Simulation Center, a replica of a hospital setting complete with high-fidelity mannequins that breathe, sweat, bleed and even give birth.

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Mexican-American Studies to host art showcase on Cinco de Mayo

Students from the Mexican-American Studies and Puente Project programs at Lee College will present the “Hope Is In Y(OUR) Hands” art show on Cinco de Mayo to showcase projects that shine a light on social and cultural issues affecting Baytown and the local community.

Hope Is In Y(OUR) Hands will be held from 5-9 p.m., Tuesday, May 5, at The Promise Center at 2609 Market St., in Baytown. The event is free, open to the public and presented in collaboration with the MAS Raza Collective. Refreshments will be served.

Students whose art and presentations will be featured at the show are members of the Mexican-American Studies Class of 2014-15 and part of the Puente Project, an academic support and mentoring program that aims to increase the number of underserved students who transfer to 4-year colleges and universities, earn college degrees and return to their communities as leaders and role models for new generations.

For more information about Hope Is In Y(OUR) Hands, contact Cynthia Pizana, Puente student and co-chairwoman of the MAS Raza Collective, at 281.917.7355 or

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Tickets still available for Casey Abrams, The Midtown Men shows

There’s still time to get your tickets for two exciting live concert events coming this month to the Performing Arts Center: American Idol finalist Casey Abrams this Saturday, May 9, and 1960s-style crooners and Broadway veterans The Midtown Men on Friday, May 22.

Casey Abrams

The Casey Abrams show will begin at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, May 9, in the PAC main performance hall. Tickets are $20-30 and can be purchased online or by calling the Box Office at 281.425.6255.

The 24-year-old Abrams is an Austin native whose childhood home resonated with the music of the 1950s and 1960s. At 10 years old he moved to Palm Springs, Calif., to attend the prestigious Idyllwild Arts Academy. By sixth grade, he had begun playing the electric bass guitar and later developed mastery of the guitar, upright bass, cello and drums.

It was Abrams’ deft handling of the upright bass and soulful, jazz-tinged vocals that helped him earn a sixth-place overall finish in Season 10 of “American Idol.” Shortly after his “Idol” appearance, Abrams began working on his self-titled debut album – singing, co-writing, and playing the bass, acoustic guitar, drums, Wurlitzer and even a recorder. Since the recording was released in 2012, he has toured extensively and was recently cast in the upcoming movie comedy, “Offer and Compromise.”

The Midtown Men

The Midtown Men concert is set for 7:30 p.m., Friday, May 22, in the PAC main performance hall. Tickets are available for purchase online or by calling the Box Office at 281.425.6255.

Clad in Rat Pack-inspired suits and accompanied by a powerhouse 7-piece band, The Midtown Men have brought the greatest hits of the 1960s to life in more than 2,000 shows around the country – including a live, 90-minute concert special broadcast by PBS. The group’s repertoire includes classic songs by The Beatles, The Rascals, The Four Seasons, Motown Records and many more.

Each member – Tony Award winners Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria and Daniel Reichard, and Tony Award nominee J. Robert Spencer – is a  veteran of the  Broadway hit “Jersey Boys,” making The Midtown Men one of the first musical groups formed by principals from a high-profile show. Critics have praised the quartet for their chemistry, authenticity, signature sound and high-energy performances at every concert.

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