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.

New Plan Offers Discounts for ’21 GC Grads

With student persistence and success their primary goals, the Lee College Board of Regents approved a plan that will save 2021 Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District (GCCISD) graduates hundreds of dollars this fall. Under this dynamic plan, GCCISD graduates who register for at least 12 credit hours will receive an $800 discount on their tuition and fees, while graduates who register for at least 6 credit hours will receive a $400 discount during the Fall 2021 term.

“Approval of this support plan shows that Lee College is committed to helping students continue their educational goals and overcome the impacts from the coronavirus pandemic,” said Gilbert Santana, Chairman, Lee College Board of Regents.

To receive the discounts, students must be 2021 graduates of GCCISD and seeking a degree or certificate. Students must complete the FAFSA or TASFA prior to registration, but the assistance is considered first-dollar, which means it is awarded to students regardless of the amount of financial aid they receive.

To encourage persistence at Lee College, these discounts will continue in Spring 2022 for 2021 GCCISD graduates who earn a C or higher in all of their fall classes.

“As things slowly start to return to normal, we want to encourage students to keep striving for the degree or certificate they have always dreamed of achieving,” said Dr. Lynda Villanueva, Lee College president. “This plan is one way to bolster their dreams and give students a helping hand to persist in their education.”

This most recent plan is in addition to the free books already being offered to all students currently enrolled at Lee College.

The Student Assistance plan includes:

  • 2021 GCCISD graduates who enroll full-time will receive an $800 discount on their tuition and fees.
  • 2021 GCCISD graduates who enroll half-time will receive a $400 discount on their tuition and fees.
  • These conditions will also apply for 2021 GCCISD graduates who enroll in Spring 2022, provided they earn a C or higher on all classes they took in Fall 2021

Visit the Student Support Plan website for more information on how to qualify for discounts. https://www.lee.edu/free/.

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 receives largest gift ever, $5 million from MacKenzie Scott

Lee College is honored to announce it has received a $5 million gift from author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott
MacKenzie Scott

The gift recognizes Lee College’s innovative work to support its most underserved students, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The unsolicited gift is the largest gift ever received in the college’s 87-year history.

Lee College President Dr. Lynda Villanueva commented, “We are overwhelmed by Ms. Scott’s generosity, and we are thrilled to be recognized for our transformative student success work.”

In 2020, Lee College awarded more than $2 million to students for unmet basic needs like food, housing, childcare and medical expenses through its Lee Cares program. Dr. Villanueva said, “This incredible gift will let us significantly expand our work supporting our students and community as we emerge from this global health crisis.” The college also offered free tuition during Summer 2020 and partnered with local school districts to provide free tuition for 2020 graduates for the fall semester. The result was a 41 percent increase in enrollment in the summer and an overall 1 percent increase in headcount for the fall. Dual enrollment at local high schools also increased by 18 percent over the previous year. 

“This donation recognizes the College’s visionary leadership — along with the really hard work of our faculty and staff to ensure our students realize their educational goals. This gift is confirmation of the life-changing work that is being done by Lee College, work being recognized nationwide,” said Lee College Regents Board Chair Gilbert Santana.

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 Specialist Joins Dept. of Ed Roundtable

Dr. Brandon Warren, Lee College Huntsville Center’s Transition Specialist, met with U.S. Department of Education Secretary, Miguel Cardona in a roundtable discussion about extending government funded Pell Grants to currently incarcerated students.

Image of Dr. Brandon Warren, Lee College Transition Specialist, Huntsville Center
Dr. Brandon Warren, Transition Specialist, Lee College Huntsville Center

Warren was recommended by the Vera Institute of Justice to participate as a key contributor in the virtual discussion, because of his expertise in transition operations and his first-hand experience with education in prisons.

“The most important thing I wanted to point out was the undeniable value of having college in prison,” said Warren. “Beyond the practical benefits of saving taxpayers money by reducing recidivism rates and increasing employability once prisoners get out, there’s also a personal transformation and a family restoration that happens when students in prison accomplish their educational goals.”

He further recommended that all degree and certificate programs should come from accredited institutions like Lee College, and the coursework should be just as rigorous as the institution’s “free world” counterparts. Warren also emphasized his belief that people in prison with long-term and life sentences should not be excluded from accessible education.

“Even if someone is serving a long-term or life sentence and will never get out of prison, they are the ones who create and maintain the culture inside the prisons,” he said. “If they change, the entire prison culture will change for the better.”

Having served several years in prison himself, Warren is a formerly incarcerated student and an alumnus of the Lee College Huntsville Center. In 2015, he returned to the prison system, but this time to help other currently incarcerated students prepare for success after their release.

As a Transitional Specialist for the Lee College Huntsville Center, Warren does this by assisting in job placements, continuing education, and helping incarcerated students find the resources they need to live a constructive and meaningful life outside the prison walls.

In 2020, Warren earned a Doctor of Education from the University of St. Thomas, and he continues to pour into Lee College Huntsville Center, the very place that gave him his fresh start in life.

Dr. Lynda Villanueva, Lee College President, said she is proud of the valuable mission that continues to be accomplished at the Lee College Huntsville Center.

“Lee College believes in second chances and the transformative power of education in the lives of students and their families,” said Villanueva. “We are honored that our institution was represented as part of this critical discussion with Education Secretary Cardona.”

Lee College’s Huntsville Center currently provides academic and technical programs to more than 1,200 incarcerated students at eight Texas Department of Criminal Justice units.

LC Board Elects New Chair, Officers

The Lee College Board of Regents unanimously elected Gilbert Santa to serve as chairman of the Board of Regents for the next two years. Other newly-elected officers included Judy Jirrels, vice chair; Mark Himsel, secretary; Daryl Fontenot, assistant secretary. The Board of Regents is reorganized every two years to coincide with the election schedule. 

Gilbert Santana, New Chairman of the Lee College Board of Regents
Gilbert Santana, Chairman LC Board of Regents

As a native Baytownian and Lee College alumnus, Santana has lived and worked his entire life in Baytown. He owns BDI Resources and Staffing Connection, and proudly offices on Texas Ave. Santana serves on various committees and boards for the City of Baytown, GCCISD Education Foundation Board, Rotary Club of Baytown, Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital Board, Baytown Chamber of Commerce Board, Lee College Foundation Board and several other local organizations. 

“I am honored to be selected to serve as chair of this hard-working and dedicated group of individuals whom I also consider to be my dear friends,” Santana said. “Lee College is a blessing and a strength to our community and our state, and I am excited to be a part of this wonderful institution.”

Lee College President, Dr. Lynda Villanueva said she is enthusiastic about the future and what it has in store for Lee College.

“The Board of Regents and Lee College remain focused on improving student experiences and outcomes, and ensuring that we are the workplace of choice for faculty and staff,” said Villanueva. “I believe we have an amazing team in place to make these things happen.”

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.