Lee College boasts award-winning video, website

Lee College Marketing and Public Affairs garnered national attention recently when it was awarded the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations (NCMPR) Gold Medallion for video production and Bronze Medallion for website at the District 4 Conference in Hot Springs, Ark., Oct. 21-23.

“Our website is critical to the mission of our institution and the success of our students,” said Dr. Lynda Villanueva, Lee College president. “For many students, the website serves as their first impression of Lee College. Even before they step foot on our campus or complete an enrollment application, it gives them a powerful visual representation of what we have to offer. Congratulations to our Marketing and Public Affairs team on a job well done!”

The new Lee College website was completed and rolled out to the public in August 2020, shortly after the pandemic hit. Roger Demary, web services manager for Lee College, worked to lead the effort remotely. The goal of the upgrade was to implement a design that would allow the college’s website to grow and change incrementally, rather than being locked into a redesign mentality.

“We wanted a product that was flexible enough to adapt to changing wants and needs without requiring a complete overhaul every time we considered a significant adjustment,” Demary said.

According to Demary, moving to a top-tier product was a big change, but it offered much better tools, including the capability of adding a lot more personalization to the site.

“For example, if you let us know you’re a prospective student when you visit the website, on subsequent visits you may see information geared specifically toward that group,” he said. “If you say you’re a parent or an international student, same thing. This will open several marketing options we haven’t had.”

The Lee College video was awarded the Gold Medallion by NCMPR for its exceptional storytelling, diversity and creativity.

Chris Coats, assistant director of Marketing and Public Affairs at Lee College, originally created the video for use during new student orientation sessions. The goal of the video was to give a broad view of Lee College and its diverse populations, while highlighting fields of study that exist within those student populations.

“It’s a quick way to show people that there are other people like themselves, and they are succeeding in college. Maybe you can do it too,” said Coats. “Of all the things I do, I like making videos the most. I enjoy visually conveying the story of Lee College.”

“It’s rewarding to speak with students who have been positively impacted by the school. It has changed their life – either in determining their career trajectory, or enabling them to be a better provider for their family,” he said.

NCMPR District 4 covers Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming. The Lee College website and video have both been entered in the NCMPR national contest, which will take place later this year.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Lee College claims first place in Landscape Design Challenge

A photo of a Lee College garden entered inthe contest

All-America Selections (AAS) has named Lee College its 2021 first-place winner in Category I of its annual Landscape Design Challenge. The theme for this year’s contest was, “Diversity in the Garden.”

Category I includes gardens with fewer than 10,000 visitors per year.

Read more about the awards.

For more — including photos from the Lee College submission — see this link.

The Aspen Institute Names Lee College one of 150 U.S. Community Colleges Eligible for 2023 Aspen Prize

Aspen Top 150 prizeWASHINGTON, D.C. — The Aspen Institute has named Lee College one of the 150 institutions eligible to compete for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among America’s community colleges. The colleges selected for this honor stand out among more than 1,000 community colleges nationwide as having high and improving levels of student success as well as equitable outcomes for Black and Hispanic students and those from lower-income backgrounds.

“We are honored to be named to this prestigious list of remarkable institutions throughout the United States who are dedicated to serving all students regardless of their background,” said Lee College President Dr. Lynda Villanueva. “To be recognized for our focus on student success and equity by the Aspen Institute is a testament to our strategic vision, and the substantial effort our college has invested in making that vision a reality.”

The Aspen Prize spotlights exemplary community colleges in order to elevate the sector, drive attention to colleges doing the best work, and discover and share highly effective student success and equity strategies. Since 2010, Aspen has chosen to focus intensively on community colleges because they are — as First Lady Dr. Jill Biden stated at the 2021 Aspen Prize ceremony — “a powerful engine of prosperity.”

But student outcomes vary enormously among community colleges, and improving those outcomes is essential to securing our nation’s economic future, strengthening communities, and ensuring that diverse populations experience economic mobility and prosperity. With these goals in mind, the Aspen Prize honors colleges with outstanding achievement in five critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success, and equity for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.

“In an era of persistent inequity and workforce talent gaps, our nation’s best community colleges are stepping up to deliver more degrees to increasingly diverse students so they are prepared for the good jobs waiting to be filled,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “Leaders of exceptional community colleges understand that achieving excellence requires expanding college access and increasing degree completion, but it doesn’t stop there.  They are committed to ensuring that all students — including students of color and those from low-income backgrounds — graduate with the skills needed to secure a job with family-sustaining wages or successfully transfer to and graduate from a university. That same commitment that stands at the center of the Aspen Prize: to advance the goals of social mobility and equitable talent development.”

The eligible colleges represent the diversity and depth of the community college sector. Located in urban, rural, and suburban areas across 34 states, these colleges serve as few as 230 students and as many as 57,000. Winning colleges have ranged from smaller institutions serving rural community and smaller towns—including Lake Area Technical Institute (SD, 2017 prize winner) and Walla Walla Community College (WA, 2013) — to large community colleges serving major metropolitan areas, including Miami Dade College (FL, 2019) and San Antonio College (TX, 2021).

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

“Celebrations of the Dead” Brings Culture to Life

In a small but intriguing art studio on the edge of campus, several students gather around a well-worn but sturdy worktable to talk about dead people.

It’s not about murder mystery shows or the latest TikTok trend. These students are exploring the tradition of using retablos, or devotional art, as a way to honor and remember special people in their lives who have passed away. Slowly, the students get to work using pencils, paint, charcoal, and glue as they research, laugh, cry, and remember.

From soulful and somber to dynamic and colorful, people around the world have many different ways to pay tribute to loved ones who have died.

This month, Lee College will create space for everyone to experience a variety of diverse cultures and traditions during, “Celebrations of the Dead,” Oct. 28-Dec. 3, at the Performing Arts Center gallery. The exhibit will take a closer look at artwork relating to Dia de los Muertos, All Hallows Eve and the Celtic festival of Samhain.

“We didn’t call it ‘Dia de las Muertos,’ because we wanted to include all the cultures that honor the dead,” said Elena Poirot, Lee College Visual and Performing Arts faculty member. “We want to encourage students to research all the history of the different celebrations and be more inclusive of each one.”

In the spirit of inclusivity, several Lee College departments joined in on this unique platform to learn about global traditions alongside one another.

“It’s a great opportunity for the college to include English, humanities, Spanish, and other departments, so everyone can be a part of something together. It’s not just about having fun, but it’s about learning the history of different cultures and working together all in one location,” said Poirot.

The exhibit will kick off 1-4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 28, at the Performing Arts Center with a free opening reception and workshop featuring traditional food, music, art, and traditional crafts for all ages.

People in the community are encouraged to be part of the exhibit by creating retablos to display at the art gallery. Retablos are typically made from a small piece of wood or metal, and they depict an image or symbol that pays homage to a special person or memory. Free art supplies to create a retablo are available at the Lee College art studio.

“You don’t have to be an artist to create these retablos,” said Poirot. “There are so many different ways to honor someone. There’s no wrong way to do this.”

Even for those who aren’t interested in creating their own art, Poirot encourages everyone to stop by the come-and-go event on Oct. 28 to experience different cultures first-hand.

“Swing by and try something new, get something to eat, and learn about different cultures around the world,” she said.

For more information about creating retablos or about the “Celebrations of the Dead” exhibit, contact Elena Poirot at 281.425.6485, or epoirot@lee.edu.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Lee selected for Greater Texas Foundation Grant

Lee College students facing unexpected financial troubles no longer have to put their education on the back burner, thanks to a generous grant from Greater Texas Foundation to participate in the Texas Emergency Aid Roadmap program. Lee College was one of 10 community colleges selected by the program to receive a total of $122,500 over a three-year period. The funds will be distributed to students who face unexpected and untimely crises that could prevent them from completing their education.

“Lee College was selected to participate in the Texas Emergency Aid Roadmap for demonstrating a strong commitment to student success and a thoughtful approach to meeting students’ needs,” said Leslie Gurrola, Director of Programs & Strategy for Greater Texas Foundation. “We’re excited to extend the reach and impact of the good work that is already happening here.”

The Texas Emergency Aid Roadmap is a three-year, $1.5 million grant program funded by Greater Texas Foundation to help ten community colleges across the state develop efficient, equitable, sustainable emergency aid programs to ensure students receive the support they need to persist through financial crises.

“Some crises affect entire communities; others are personal. Either way, the effects on students can be devastating,” said Sue McMillin, President & CEO, Greater Texas Foundation. “The Texas Emergency Aid Roadmap program is designed to help colleges be there for their students no matter what crisis they’re facing.”

In spring 2021, Lee College began working toward meeting the immediate needs of students in emergency situations by establishing the emergency aid fund through the Student Resource and Advocacy Center. Aimed at helping those who may be experiencing basic living or childcare insecurities, the program has served more than 40 students since its inception.

“Our students shouldn’t have to give up on college when they encounter financial barriers,” said Kelli Forde-Spiers, Lee College Executive Director of Basic Needs & Title V Grant Project. “This emergency aid funding will allow Lee College to support students experiencing unexpected, emergency financial challenges, in turn encouraging them to focus on their educational success. We are grateful for this partnership with the Greater Texas Foundation and Reos Partners which will expand our ability to serve the Lee College community.”

Based in Bryan, Texas, Greater Texas Foundation is a private foundation that supports efforts to ensure all Texas students are prepared for, have access to, persist in, and complete a postsecondary education. Since its inception in 2001, the foundation has approved more than $100 million in grants to support Texas students.

For more information about Greater Texas Foundation, visit www.greatertexasfoundation.org. For a complete list of resources available for Lee College students, go to www.lee.edu/srac/.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Gift will fund three scholarships

From left: Lee College Vice President Angela Oriano-Bradshaw, Ph.D.; Lee College President Lynda Villanueva, Ph.D.; Makena Elswick; Community Toyota Owner Kim Elswick; Community Toyota President and CEO Roger Elswick; and Port of Houston Commissioner and Lee College Foundation Chair Steve DonCarlos.

Community Toyota Owner Kim Elswick and Community Toyota President and CEO Roger Elswick made a $30,000 gift to the Lee College Foundation to endow three scholarships for Lee College students.

The Elswicks have a longstanding philanthropic history with Lee College, the Lee College Foundation, and the community.

The Elswicks presented their gift during the celebration of the grand opening of the Community Honda Dealership in Baytown.

Thank you to the Elswicks for their continued generosity and support.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Local musicians, artists on tap for annual Coffeehouse

A singer and guitarist on stage

After a yearlong break because of COVID, the Lee College Coffeehouse is illuminating the stage once again for a fun evening of entertainment, talent and creativity at the Black Box Theater on Saturday, Oct. 2, at 7 p.m.

The annual musical showcase brings together a diverse group of singers and songwriters from around the community, and gives them a platform to share their talents.

Ken Booker, director of Instrumental Music at Lee College, has organized and implemented this unique community event for over a decade. When he started the Coffeehouse in 2009, his goal was simply to provide a high-quality venue for artists in the community to do what they love. Booker is excited to once again be able to bring that opportunity back to local performers.

“As a musician and composer myself, I know that any time an artist gets the opportunity to be part of something like this, it’s a good thing because it provides that creative outlet everyone needs,” said Booker. “Giving them a venue to do that gives me so much satisfaction. I really like to see it happen.”

Local musician, Tony Jackomis has performed at the Lee College Coffeehouse many times, both as a solo musician and as part of a group. He enjoys playing this event because of the feedback from the crowd and the opportunity it brings to grow as an artist.

“The event attracts people who really love music and know a lot about it,” said Jackomis. “It’s a rare experience to play to a room full of people like that who are watching with intent and listening to every note.”

“For me, it’s been a place where I’ve been able to experiment and find myself as an artist. The setting is so intimate, and when you’re performing you really get a good sense of what the audience is responding to – what works and what doesn’t. The audience has greater access to the performers as well,” he said.  

To keep the audience on their toes, the Coffeehouse venue has also welcomed poetry readers, rappers, comics – even a juggler has taken the stage in the past!

An audition is required to perform at the Coffeehouse, and there are still a few spots left. Anyone interested in auditioning for the show can contact Ken Booker at kbooker@lee.edu for more information. Tickets to the Coffeehouse are $5 at the door, and light snacks and drinks will be available for purchase. All proceeds from the event benefit students of the Lee College Music Club. The Black Box Theater is part of the Lee College Performing Arts Center located at 805 W. Texas Avenue in Baytown.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite education center in nearby South Liberty County, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Publication spotlights Lee’s push to help students with basic needs

Lee College has been highlighted in a Community College Daily article that discusses the ways in which several colleges have made good use of unsolicited funds received recently from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

Scott unexpectedly donated $5 million to Lee College in June, in recognition of the college’s work to support students in need, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The article recognizes the $2 million that Lee had spent in advance of Scott’s gift on assisting students with basic needs, such as food and medical expenses.

Lee College President Dr. Lynda Villanueva is quoted as saying, “Coming to college shouldn’t mean that students should have to do without life’s necessities.”

Read the full article here.

ExxonMobil gift benefits students from GCCISD, Barbers Hill

ExxonMobil donated $20,000 to Lee College and created two endowed scholarships focusing on local student excellence.

The ExxonMobil Advanced Technology Scholarships will be offered to select students graduating from Goose Creek CISD or Barbers Hill ISD who plan to pursue a petrochemical career through training at Lee College.

Baytown Chemical Plant Site Manager Wim Blokker said, “ExxonMobil is proud to establish these scholarships to aid in student success. We have the best in Baytown with Lee College and their premier energy education programs, and this scholarship funding will help us achieve our goal of helping petrochemical students fund their education. Our hope is that many will pursue a career at ExxonMobil Baytown.”

From left, Lee College Major Gifts Director Jennifer Garcia, ExxonMobil Baytown Area Public & Government Affairs Manager Aaron Stryk, Lee College Provost Douglas Walcerz, Lee College President Lynda Villanueva, ExxonMobil Baytown Chemical Plant Site Manager Wim Blokker, Lee College Board of Regents Chair Gilbert Santiago, Lee College Associate Vice President Dometrius Hill.

Helping Students Help the Planet


Emily Macias (left) and a fellow student collect sediment samples for the Living Shorelines Project.

Emily Macias has always known she wanted to work in the wild. Since she was a kid, she dreamed of spending her days as a marine biologist, zoologist, or even a veterinarian. But it wasn’t until she came to Lee College that she discovered how to make her dream of working with wildlife a reality.

After high school, Macias enrolled at Lee College in hopes of later transferring to a university as a marine biology major. Little did she know that her experiences at Lee College were just the beginning of a fascinating career path in environmental science.

Jim Dobberstine, environmental science faculty member at Lee College, was one of the instructors and mentors who helped Macias discover a love for environmental science and set her future in motion.

“[Jim] took us on field trips to places like the eco center and Armand Bayou Nature Center, and brought in guest speakers to lecture us on what they do with their careers,” Macias recalls. “The guest speakers and field trips were eye-openers for me, and I battled for a moment with what I wanted my career choice to be.”

That summer, Macias volunteered for the Living Shorelines Project lead by Dobberstine. An ongoing team effort between Lee College, University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) and the Galveston Bay Foundation, the Living Shorelines Project offers students first-hand experience in field research and lab work.

“I learned many things from that project, but most importantly, I decided to continue my career in environmental science,” said Macias.

The Living Shorelines Project aims to understand various shoreline erosional trends and how they affect plant and marine life throughout the Bay Area. The data is then used to compare unrestored natural marsh sites and traditionally armored sites near each project. Students from Lee College, in collaboration with students at UHCL, work alongside professionals in the respective fields from Lee College, UHCL, Galveston Bay Foundation, Texas Parks and Wildlife, and others.

“Often times, these students are in a transfer pipeline, so getting them involved on this level gives them not only research credentials at the freshman and sophomore level, which is very unusual, but it also provides them an opportunity to matriculate with upper-level students,” said Dobberstine.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for students to start working on a project such as Living Shorelines, and a few years later, they naturally transition to a leadership role within the program as part of the partnerships developed under the program.

“I look at these things as career development, so the longer they are in it and the more different layers, the better,” said Dobberstine. “They are prepared for whatever career direction they’re going in or academic direction, in some instances where they’re going to grad school. It gives them that type of preparation on several different levels.”

A stellar example of the program’s success, Macias received an associate’s degree in environmental science from Lee College, then transferred to UHCL where she is currently majoring in environmental science and specializing in chemistry. She continues to work at Lee College as a lab tech in the environmental science and chemistry labs, and serves as a leader and mentor to students active in environmental science field research projects.