Students, Donors Connect at Scholarship Breakfast

For Miguel Hernandez, enrolling at Lee College several years ago to earn an associate degree in pipefitting began a series of transformations and promotions that changed his life for the better.

Scholarship Breakfast 2014Now an instructor at the college, Hernandez and his wife, Maria, are also Lee College Foundation scholarship donors with a lofty goal: to give enough money to fill an entire classroom with bright students eager to pursue their dreams.

“It’s been a great satisfaction to see students get the same opportunities that I did,” Hernandez said Friday, April 11, at the 12th annual Foundation Scholarship Breakfast in the Student Center, imploring the students in the room to seek out a job that would allow them to make an impact on the world.

“Don’t embark on a career for material reasons,” he said. “Find purpose in what you do.”

Each year, the foundation breakfast gives scholarship recipients and their donors the opportunity to connect. Students are able to personally thank their donor for the tuition or textbook assistance that helped pay for their education, while donors hear firsthand how their generosity has made a difference.

After spending much of her life as a wife tending to the needs and schooling of her three children, Debra Long arrived at Lee College full of doubts about her ability to be a successful student – even after she learned she would be awarded a foundation scholarship.

“What began as an experiment became a passion,” Long told the crowd at the scholarship breakfast. “After three semesters, 18 honors hours and four conferences, I am filled with wonder at where I am in my life. I honestly would not be standing here if it wasn’t for you.”

The son of a single mother who worked multiple jobs to support a family of five, Fernando Izaguirre fell into drugs and bad behavior before turning his life around and gaining admission into Angelo State University. Working 40 hours a week to pay for school and make ends meet took precious time away from his studies, however, and he ended his first year with grades too low to continue.

Returning home to Baytown to attend Lee College was one of the best decisions he ever made, Izaguirre said. The foundation scholarship he received took a burden off his shoulders.

“I didn’t have to struggle and worry about how I was going to pay for my education,” he said.

Hearing the stories of the students’ ability to overcome their challenges with the help and generosity of Lee College donors “gives me goose bumps,” said Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown.

“I cannot thank you enough,” Brown said at the end of the foundation breakfast. “What you do with these scholarships means so much.”

Debate team vies for national title

When the Lee College Debate Team came together in September for the 2013-14 season, expectations for the brand new organization were modest at best.

After all, none of the seven founding team members — Cody Bijou, Reagan Dobbs, Cassie Kutev, Zachary Martin, Brian Montgomery, Tyra Mouton and Dylan Putt — had ever competed in the International Public Debate Association (IPDA) tournaments that routinely draw hundreds of skilled collegians from around the country.

“At first, all we wanted was to establish something that would last longer than our own time on campus,” said Bijou, a co-captain.

But that was before the team amassed more than 40 awards and honors at 10 different tournaments in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. And with a trip this week to the IPDA National Championship, to be held April 10-13 on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University, team members and coach Joseph Ganakos are far more confident about their chances of taking the top prize.

“Now we’re the top community college in the association,” said Bijou, whose performance throughout the season has earned him the distinction of being the second-ranked novice debater in the nation out of nearly 500 competitors. Fellow captain Martin is ranked No. 1.

“The fact that we’ve been able to literally write history is amazing,” Bijou said. “Everyone is constantly putting their best foot forward.”

The debate team’s unheard-of success in its inaugural season has regularly come against schools with more members and bigger budgets, from in-state rivals like College of the Mainland and Texas A&M University, to powerhouse contenders like Louisiana State University and the University of Arkansas. Members devote 20-40 hours each week to tournament practice, poring over current events and fine-tuning proper argument construction, fact organization and oratory strategy.

In each round of competition, debaters are given five potential topics from politics, philosophy, sports, economics and even pop culture. After narrowing the topics down to a single choice, they then have 30 minutes to prepare their arguments for the stage, where they are judged on delivery, tone, organization and logic, among other factors.

“This is a form of intellectual, gladiatorial combat,” Ganakos jokingly told dozens of supporters last week at a special exhibition held before the team embarks on the 15-hour drive to Murfreesboro and the quest for a national championship. He first envisioned a debate team at Lee College in 2006 and lobbied for its formation every day until his vision became a reality.

“LC debaters have consistently proved themselves against some of the most talented college and university students from around the country,” Ganakos said. “It has been a tremendously special ride.”

Despite the excitement of traveling for competition and the thrill of collecting golden trophy after golden trophy, many debate team members consider the familial bond that has formed between them to be the greatest thing to come from their whirlwind first year of competition.

Everyone is different: Martin has cerebral palsy and sometimes struggles to maintain his endurance at tournaments; Bijou earned a degree in instrumentation; some are majoring in art and music; and others are non-traditional college students. Yet, through debate, they have forged a strong connection.

Even after engaging in fierce, aggressive practice battles with one another, the teammates are able to quickly shake hands and relax into the unique camaraderie that holds them together.

“People are definitely starting to recognize us at tournaments,” said Dobbs, captain-elect for the 2014-15 season. “We’re loud, we all prep together and we help each other. We all agree that the best debates are when you can walk out and feel like a better person, knowing that was a great round.”

Chevron Phillips donates $40,000 for scholarships

Lee College will receive an additional $40,000 from Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. as part of the company’s ongoing Workforce Development Scholarship Program, which supports students interested in petrochemical careers.

Chevron Phillips Chemical announced the additional donation to the scholarship fund April 2 as it celebrated the groundbreaking of the first component of a $6 billion expansion at its Cedar Bayou facility in Baytown. The project includes construction of a world-scale ethane cracker at Cedar Bayou, and is expected to bring approximately 10,000 temporary engineering and construction jobs and 400 permanent jobs to the area.

Chevron Phillips Chemical established the Workforce Development Scholarship Program at Lee College in 2012 with an initial gift of $75,000. Since then, the company has awarded scholarships to 31 students in the process technology, instrumentation technology and electrical technology programs, including eight dual-enrollment students who are completing college coursework while still in high school. The programs prepare students for entry-level operations and/or maintenance jobs in the petrochemical industry.

The additional $40,000 gift will be allotted to the college at $10,000 per year from 2014-17, allowing more students to receive scholarship money over a longer period of time.

“As the demand for qualified process technicians and operators continues to increase, it is our responsibility as a community college to ensure our students are prepared for jobs here, within our local community,” said Lee College Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown. “We thank Chevron Phillips Chemical for continuing the generous support offered through this scholarship program and the opportunity it provides for students to be successful in both the classroom and the workforce.”