Lee College Huntsville Center inmate debaters top Wiley College

After beating Texas A&M last year, inmate team wins again at invitational behind bars

Craig Caudill and David Mains cross-examine Wiley College debater Andre Earls
Lee College Huntsville Center inmate debaters Craig Caudill (center) and David Mains (right) cross-examine Wiley College senior debater Andre Earls (left) during the second annual George Beto Invitational Debate held Friday Oct. 6, 2017, inside the Huntsville “Walls” Unit prison. The inmates won the debate in a vote of 4-1, claiming their second victory against a free world college after beating debaters from Texas A&M University last year.

BAYTOWN, TX — Despite besting Texas A&M University last year in the first George Beto Invitational Debate inside the Huntsville “Walls” Unit prison, the inmate debaters from the Lee College Huntsville Center went into the second annual Beto invitational with the Great Debaters of Wiley College this month feeling just as much the underdogs.

But the judge’s ultimate 4-1 decision in favor of Lee College — which argued against the resolution that “online education detracts from the college experience” — said something else: they may be locked behind bars without access to the myriad academic and cultural resources of the free world, but these inmate debaters should not be underestimated.

To ensure an even playing field for competition, neither Lee College nor Wiley College was given advance knowledge of the resolution to be debated. After narrowing down their topic from a list of five options, the teams were provided the same research materials and 30 minutes to prepare their cases before taking to the podium.

Craig Caudill and David Mains, who debated on behalf of the Huntsville Center team, built their argument around several key points: that the college experience is subjective and means something different to every student; that online education can contribute to the college experience by helping students become more independent and responsible; that online education can make the college experience more accessible to more people; and that online education can be a valuable supplement to the traditional on-campus experience.

The LCHC debate team and Dr. Dennis Brown, with awards
The Lee College Huntsville Center inmate debate team celebrates with Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown (center) and coaches Jeremy Coffman (far left) and Adam Key (far right) after winning the second annual George Beto Invitational Debate, held Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, inside the Huntsville “Walls” Unit prison, against the Great Debaters of Wiley College. At the first Beto invitational held last year, the inmate debate team earned a victory over Texas A&M University.

“It’s overwhelming; you never know how a debate is going to go,” said Caudill, who also debated for the Huntsville Center team against the Aggies. “We were a little nervous because we’re outside of our normal routine, and the topic was outside of our wheelhouse. But we went with what we had, used our passion and our heart, and with the help of our coaches we got the win.”

Unlike last year when they had only six weeks to get ready for the debate against the Aggies, the Huntsville Center debaters had a full year to practice their debate skills, polish their deliveries and embrace the lessons learned from their victory the first time around. Senior Warden James Jones also agreed to allow the debaters to spend Friday and Saturday evenings at the unit in preparation for the invitational against Wiley — and national champion coaches Adam Key and Jeremy Coffman joined the team as often as possible to serve as their opponents and offer more seasoned competition.

“Debate has gone from being an extracurricular activity to something they actually build their lives around,” said Key, who pursued Wiley College for the team’s next opponent given the institution’s pioneering history in debate.

A small historically black college in Marshall, Texas, Wiley earned international recognition in 1930 when its team participated in the first interracial debates in history against the University of Michigan and Oklahoma City University. In 1935, Wiley debaters won the national championship against the all-white team from the University of Southern California. Their story was chronicled in the 2007 film, “The Great Debaters,” starring and directed by Denzel Washington.

“These guys are good enough that I could take them to any tournament in the world, but I can’t because of who they are,” Key said of the inmate debaters, likening their experience to those of Wiley debaters who were routinely denied the opportunity to compete because of their race. “In eight years of coaching, I’ve never been as proud of any group as I am about this one. Win or lose, that will never change.”

Though they lost, both debaters from Wiley College said the experience of participating in the George Beto Invitational behind bars would stay with them for life. Freshman Rahmane Dixon said she felt honored to play a role in showing the world that inmates can acquire superior communication skills and offer something valuable to society, and senior Andre Earls even counted the debate against the Huntsville Center team among the highlights of his seven years of competition.

“This event is a representation of the power of speech and debate,” Earls said. “It means so much to me because that’s what debate is supposed to be: accessible to everyone. I’m cherishing the moment and I feel good for having been a part of it.”

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 15 school systems. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

For fifth time running, Lee College named an Aspen Prize Top 150 U.S. Community College

$1 million prize for community college excellence recognizes outstanding achievements

Aspen Top 150 LogoBAYTOWN, TX — Lee College was named today as one of the top 150 community colleges in the United States eligible to compete for the $1 million 2019 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance in American community colleges.

This is the fifth consecutive time that Lee College has been selected an Aspen Prize Top 150 Community College from a pool of nearly 1,000 public two-year colleges nationwide.

“Everything we do at Lee College is centered on serving our community and providing a quality education that empowers our diverse students to confidently navigate their futures,” said Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown. “Our recognition as a Top 150 Community College and eligibility to compete for the Aspen Prize is a testament to the leadership and commitment of our Board of Regents, and the value and impact of the work that our talented faculty, staff and administrators do for our students everyday. We truly believe that every Lee College student can be successful.”

Awarded every two years since 2011, the Aspen Prize recognizes institutions with outstanding achievements in four areas: exceptional student outcomes in student learning; certificate and degree completion; employment and earnings; and access and success for minority and low-income students.

Lee College will move forward to the next round of the competition for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence by submitting an application to be reviewed through a rigorous evaluation for a spot on the top ten Aspen Prize finalists list. After the top ten finalists are named in May 2018, the Aspen Institute will then conduct site visits to each finalist and collect additional qualitative data. A distinguished Prize Jury will select a grand prize winner, finalists with distinction and rising stars in spring 2019.

Estimates from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce suggest that out of the 11.6 million jobs created in the post-recession economy, 11.5 million require at least some college education. The vast majority of students who enroll in community colleges do so because they believe that post-secondary education will provide them a path to rewarding work, stable employment, and family-sustaining wages.

“Especially in the current social and economic climate, it is exceptionally important that our nation’s community colleges develop the diverse talent needed to fuel democratic engagement, social mobility, and economic opportunity and growth,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the Aspen Institute College Excellence Program. “Through this competition we’re working to inspire other institutions across our country to ensure more students succeed in college and their lives beyond those campuses.”

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 15 school systems. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu/

Foundation looks to gala to help students persist

Postponed after Harvey, Foundation Gala now set for Nov. 10 at Sylvan Beach Pavilion

BAYTOWN, TX — After making its own generous donation this semester to help Lee College students affected by Hurricane Harvey afford the costs of tuition, textbooks, transportation, food and even home repairs, the Lee College Foundation is preparing to host its annual gala in November and raise funds to ensure students can continue their education and finish what they started.

“Helping our students to recover quickly in order that they may focus on their education is in keeping with our board’s mission,” said Jennifer Marcontell, chairwoman of the Foundation Board of Directors. Board members make decisions for and lead the activities of the foundation, including raising outside funds to fulfill student needs and awarding scholarships to thousands of deserving recipients.

“Our first priority is to our students and their education,” Marcontell said. “Education creates opportunities and opens doors. We want this for as many young people as possible in our community.”

To date, 174 students have received financial assistance from the college’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, established shortly after the storm reached the local area. Contributions from the foundation and corporate and individual donors have been used to pay Fall 2017 tuition bills, purchase textbooks lost or washed away in floodwaters, buy gas or bus fare, and help fix home damages.

“It’s really about persistence,” said Pam Warford, executive director of Foundation and Resource Development. “Many of our students get started on their education but run into financial obstacles that take them off course. Donations to the foundation enable them to persist in their classes until they earn their degree or certificate.”

Now, the board is hoping for another record crowd at the 32nd annual Foundation Gala set for Friday, Nov. 10, at Sylvan Beach Pavilion. The gala, which was initially postponed out of respect for those who suffered losses in Harvey, is the premiere event to raise money each year for scholarships and other forms of student support.

“Our foundation, from the generous support of our gala, creates opportunities for students who may not otherwise have them,” Marcontell said. “We expect some effects from the recent storm setback, but we know that our patrons look forward to this event each year and will continue to support our efforts as they can. We all benefit when our students succeed.”

As chairwoman of the board, Marcontell’s goal is to provide encouragement and experience for her fellow “incredibly hard-working members.” Additional officers also elected to serve in 2017-18 include Judy Wheat as vice-chairwoman and Gilbert Santana as treasurer.

“I believe in education and I believe in Lee College,” Marcontell said. “I believe that the work we do to support our students in receiving an excellent education will benefit our community for generations to come.”

For more information about the foundation or to purchase tickets for the 32nd annual Lee College Foundation Gala, contact Warford at 281.425.6361 or pwarford@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 15 school systems. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Senior Adult & Travel Program hosting showcase of tours for next year

Free event will detail 2018 trips to Australia, Portugal, California, and New York

Cape Cod trip group photo
More than 70 travelers stop for a picture during the sold-out Lee College Senior Adult & Travel Program trip to Cape Cod and the Islands in August, which include guided tours and visits to Boston, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. The program will host a free showcase Tuesday, Oct. 10, at Tucker Hall on campus to highlight new tours planned for 2018, including Australia, Portugal, California and New York.

BAYTOWN, TX — For first-time participants Barbie and Gerry Plocheck, the allure of taking a trip with the Lee College Senior Adult & Travel Program was simple: all the arrangements for transportation, accommodations and activities would be made for them — they needed only to pack their bags, board a charter bus in Baytown and head off on their August adventure to Cape Cod and the Islands.

Senior adults can learn more about following in the footsteps of the Plochecks and dozens of other happy travelers at the 2018 Travel Showcase set for 5 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 10, at Tucker Hall on the Lee College campus. Program Manager Lynne Foley and representatives from Collette Vacations and Premier World Discovery will detail all the trips planned for next year, including Australia, New Zealand and the Fiji Islands; Portugal, the Estoril Coast, Alentejo and Algarve; the Pacific Northwest and California; and New York City and the Hudson Valley. Refreshments will be served.

“We’ve traveled a lot on our own but we’d never traveled on a completely guided and arranged group trip,” said Barbie Plocheck, who especially enjoyed the walking tour of Boston’s historic sites, spending time on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and having the chance to get acquainted with new friends. She and her husband are already thinking about joining the upcoming trip to Australia, a destination on their bucket list.

“It’s much easier; you don’t have to make any decisions, and there is always someone there to call on if you need something,” she said. “They choose outstanding places, and we saw all the highlights we would have wanted to see had we planned it all on our own. It was perfect.”

Though DeAnne Duvall and her husband, Les, have been retired for 5 years and taken trips together with the Senior Adult & Travel Program, she thought the Cape Cod tour would be a great time to reconnect with her girlfriends. Like her, many of the people she met had previously traveled with Lee College and were eager to do it again.

“Everybody was extremely positive and fun. They want to travel and have someone else do all the legwork,” said Duvall, a former teacher who appreciated how Foley and the tour guides made everyone feel safe, comfortable and welcome. “I loved that all we had to do was get on the bus and go. They made sure we were all taken care of, and there were no worries about booking an airline ticket, finding places to park, making hotel reservations or anything like that. We’ve had nothing but positive experiences.”

For more information about the 2018 Travel Showcase or getting involved with the Lee College Senior Adult and Travel Program, contact Foley at 281.425.6311 or lfoley@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 15 school systems. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Lee hosts free open houses for launch of Risk Management Institute

UPDATE (Oct. 13, 2017): The event in Liberty has been cancelled.


BAYTOWN and LIBERTY, TX – The Center for Workforce and Community Development (CWCD) at Lee College will host an open house for the debut of its Risk Management Institute. Thanks to a generous donation by Texas Mutual Insurance Company, the Risk Management Institute was created to offer free seminars, workshops, and safety training classes on health and safety for employers, employees, seniors, and the general public. The Institute’s tagline touts, “You are priceless. Safety knowledge is free,” and reflects the Institute’s goal of providing free safety education for the Baytown area and surrounding communities. Members of the media are welcome and encouraged to attend.

When: 10 a.m.-11 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017

Where: Phyllis Davis Room, 909 Decker Drive, Baytown, TX, 77520

Details: The open house will celebrate the opening of the Risk Management Institute. Door prizes will be available and refreshments will be served. Immediately following the open house, the CWCD will provide a “Safety First” workshop from 11 a.m.-12 p.m., with instructors from Lowe’s Home Improvement. Seating is limited, and registration is required. To register for the event, call 281.425.6311 or register online at www.lee.edu/rmi.

The CWCD will also host an open house at its South Liberty County location. Immediately following that event, the institute will provide a “Rebuilding – How To and Where to Start” workshop from 11 a.m.-12 p.m., with instructors from Lowe’s Home Improvement. Industry leaders, personnel, students, and the general public affected by Hurricane Harvey are encouraged to attend this free course. Seating is limited, and registration is required. To register for the event, call 281.425.6311 or register online at www.lee.edu/rmi.

Other upcoming free safety courses provided by the Risk Management Institute include:

OSHA Recordkeeping
When: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. , Friday, Nov. 10, 2017
Where: Phyllis Davis Room, 909 Decker Drive, Baytown, TX 77520
Instructor: Cindy Lewis

Surviving Violent Encounters
When: 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017
Where: Phyllis Davis Room, 909 Decker Drive, Baytown, TX 77520
Instructor: Peter Harrell

The Art of Conflict Resolutions
When: 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Friday, Dec. 1, 2017
Location: Lee College Education Center – South Liberty County, 1715 TX-146, Liberty, TX 77575
Instructor: Peter Harrell

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 15 school systems. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Lee College hosts Mental Health and Suicide Awareness Week

Free events & activities include improv show, resource fair with local health organizations

BAYTOWN, TX – Statistics show that suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, yet many don’t know about mental health and are unable to recognize the signs of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other mental illnesses.

The first-ever Mental Health and Suicide Awareness Week at Lee College is an effort to change that through events and activities that explore the symptoms, risk factors and treatments for mental illnesses; break down stigmas and misconceptions; and connect participants to available and affordable local resources. All events are free and open to the public.

“We want people to talk about mental illness as freely as they would talk about a broken bone or another physical health concern,” said Anajery Valadez, an academic advisor in the Lee College Counseling Center and co-organizer for the week.

“As children we are taught to take care of ourselves physically — wear a helmet if you ride a bike, brush your teeth, put a band aid on a cut — but we were not educated on how to heal our emotional wounds or how to care for ourselves psychologically,” she said. “We can only change that by reducing the stigma and educating the community about mental illness.”

Highlights of Mental Health and Suicide Awareness Week include:

Tuesday, Oct. 3

Mental Health and Suicide Improv Show and Discussion – 6 p.m., Student Center

Houston improv teams will use laughter and humor to help break down the barriers that stop people from talking about mental health and suicide. A discussion will follow the show. Pizza and refreshments will be served.

Wednesday, Oct. 4

Mental Health and Suicide Resource Fair – 10 a.m.-noon, Rebel Roost Patio & Gazebo

Several local organizations that advocate for mental health and those living with a mental illness will be part of the fair, which will highlight low-cost mental health services available in the community. Student clubs and organizations will also be on hand to provide information about on-campus resources and ways to stay mentally and physically healthy.

Training/Workshop: Ask About Suicide to Save a Life – 11 a.m., Bayer Conference Center

The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD will provide an overview of suicide and suicidal behavior, including risk and protective factors. Participants will be trained to gather more information about a person at risk of suicide and take action. Pizza and refreshments will be served.

Presentation: In Our Own Voice – 12:30 p.m., Bayer Conference Center

Presenters from the National Alliance of Mental Illness Houston will give personal accounts of living with mental illness — from their initial diagnosis and darkest days, to receiving treatment and developing coping skills and future goals — and share what long-term recovery looks like. Pizza and refreshments will be served.

Presentation: Depression and Bipolar Disorders – 2 p.m., Bayer Conference Center

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance of Houston will talk about depression and bipolar disorders, confronting social stigma and advocating for the rights of people living with mental disorders. Presenters will also share information about free and local support groups that help individuals, family members and friends understand these difficult yet treatable mental disorders. Pizza and refreshments will be served.

Thursday, Oct. 5

It’s Real: College Students and Mental Health Documentary and Discussion – 1 p.m., Bayer Conference Center

This documentary encourages students to be mindful of the state of their mental health, recognize when they are struggling and take steps to seek health. A group discussion about the film will be held after the screening. Pizza and refreshments will be served.

Workshop: Emotional Hygiene and the College Student – 6 p.m., Bayer Conference Center

In this interactive workshop, participants will discuss ways to cope with daily stressors that can affect mental health and the importance of emotional self-care. Light refreshments will be served.

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 15 school systems. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.