Umez honored for advocacy, humanitarianism

Awards from Houston African Community, others recognize service to Nigeria and diaspora

Dr. Bedford Umez, Lee College
Dr. Bedford Umez, Lee College

Maria Igwilo, before surgery
Maria Igwilo, before surgery. Lee College government faculty member Bedford Umez received the Flamingo Award for Educational Excellence from the Houston African Community for his scholarly work and efforts to raise money for Maria Igwilo, an elderly Nigerian woman whom he met by chance during a visit to Lagos, to have life-changing maxillofacial surgery. The images show Igwilo before and after her surgery, which was performed by the global charity Mercy Ships.

Maria Igwilo, after surgery
Maria Igwilo, after surgery

BAYTOWN, TX — Lee College government faculty member Bedford Umez left Nigeria more than 30 years ago for the United States, intent on completing a university degree and uplifting others through philanthropy borne out of the genuine care and concern for his fellow man that was instilled in him from a young age.

In the last year, Umez has received three awards for his advocacy and humanitarianism on behalf of his native Nigeria and the African diaspora. The Houston African Community presented him the Flamingo Award for Educational Excellence for his scholarly work and efforts to raise money for life-changing maxillofacial surgery for Maria Igwilo, an ailing and elderly Nigerian woman he met by chance at a Lagos church during a visit to Nigeria. The Igbobuike Club of Houston honored him for outstanding and dedicated service to Houston’s Igbo community, and he received the Oji-River People’s Forum Award for his selfless sacrifices to advance the local government of Enugu State in Nigeria – in part by securing more than 2,000 signatures in a successful petition to make Enugu’s local airport an international airport, and providing college scholarships for students in his hometown of Akpugoeze.

Yet despite these honors, the KFC Star Employee Award from his early days in the United States is among the few certificates Umez displays most prominently in his campus office. For him, the award serves as proof of the value of working hard at every endeavor.

Raised in poverty by a widowed mother who relied on subsistence farming and never received an education, Umez worked in fast food restaurants and won academic awards to finance bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science from Southeastern Oklahoma State University (SOSU). Named the Most Outstanding Student in both economics and political science while at SOSU, he went on to the University of North Texas for graduate work and became a Teaching Fellow, earning a full scholarship for both a master’s degree in public administration and doctorate in political science.

“This is a great country where a poor person like me can get a college degree,” said Umez, whose mother borrowed heavily just to put him through high school in Nigeria. “God doesn’t come down from Heaven to help people; he helps people through people.”

To that end, Umez also sponsors a cash scholarship for the best student in Social Sciences at SOSU and is a strong advocate for effective, transparent and compassionate leadership. He credits his spirit of giving to his strong-willed, disciplinarian mother and the way she raised him and his two siblings to value hard work, honesty and empathy for others.

“Bad people must be confronted or else they remain bad,” he said, echoing words his mother always told him.

For Umez, that means demanding good governance and justice from politicians, business leaders and those in power. When he learned in 2014 that Nigerian lawmakers were earning monthly salaries of more than $140,000 while citizens lived in abject poverty, he sponsored a petition that helped push legislators to cut their pay by 25 percent a year later. He also authored a petition to stop former Pres. Olusegun Obasanjo from borrowing $1 billion from the International Monetary Fund, and petitioned against European airlines for overcharging African travelers.

A longtime educator who has taught at numerous colleges and universities, Umez has also been a Visiting Scholar to the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan. He has published five books used as textbooks at Nigerian universities, written several articles on Nigerian and African political and economic development and reviewed books on American government and politics. He remains active in the Nigerian community and Diaspora, currently serving as president of the Nigerian Foundation in Houston and the Nigerian Leadership Council and coordinator of the Aguata High School Alumni Association in the United States.

Umez believes that leadership is action, not a position, and hopes the fulfillment of his educational dreams and commitment to philanthropy are an inspiration to fellow Africans and his students at Lee College and beyond.

“Nothing is really impossible to one who is willing to work harder,” he said.

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 recognizes top students for academic and extracurricular achievements

Honors Day
Lauralyn Dickerson (left) smiles as she accepts the Safety Management Award from Dr. Charles Thomas, chairman of the Process Technology Division, at the 2017 Lee College Presidential Honors Day held Tuesday, April 11, 2017. The annual event recognizes the top students in every Academic Studies and Applied Sciences discipline at the college.

BAYTOWN, TX — As Lee College prepares for the end of the semester and the 2017 Spring Commencement Ceremony, dozens of the best and brightest students received awards and recognition for achieving excellence this year in academic programs and extracurricular activities.

At the annual Presidential Honors Day in the Performing Arts Center, top students in every Academic Studies and Applied Sciences discipline were called on stage one by one to receive plaques and certificates. Faculty members selected many of the honorees for their outstanding grades and performance in the classroom or laboratory, mastery of key course concepts and skills and display of intellectual curiosity and growth. Others were chosen for having a strong work ethic and enthusiasm for subject matter, helping and encouraging their classmates and being persistent in overcoming obstacles to reach success.

“Lee College has positively impacted our lives and the least we can do is represent it well. You all have met that mark,” said Kyle Diamond, a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee and president of the Student Government Association for the 2016-17 school year. “Your excellence in service and academics guarantees that Lee College will maintain its spot as a point of pride in this community.”

The first-ever Presidential Recognition Luncheon in the Rundell Hall Conference Center complemented the traditional Honors Day ceremony, celebrating students for high achievement in co-curricular and extracurricular activities – from presenting original research at academic conferences, to performing in a national theatre festival and playing well on the basketball and volleyball courts. Students received medallions and certificates for winning campus, district, regional, state and national awards and scholarships through participation in the Honors Program, Webb Historical Society, Mendoza Debate Society, Model United Nations, Visual and Performing Arts, Athletics and Service Learning.

Honors Luncheon
New inductees into the Lee College Hall of Fame were honored at the first-ever Presidential Recognition Luncheon, held Thursday, April 20, 2017, to celebrate student success in co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Pictured (l-r): Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown; Hall of Fame inductees Justin Mathews, Adrian Touchstone and Brenna Sallee; and Vice Pres. of Student Affairs Dr. Donnetta Suchon. Not pictured: Hall of Fame inductees JaVonte Cooper and Cynthia Rose Pizana.

The five newest inductees into the Lee College Hall of Fame were recognized at both Honors Day and the Recognition Luncheon: JaVonte Cooper; Justin Mathews; Cynthia Rose Pizana; Brenna Sallee, who was named Most Representative; and Adrian Touchstone. Hall of Fame honorees are the students who best represent academic excellence, extracurricular involvement, campus leadership and dedication to community service.

“You take Lee College far beyond Baytown — throughout the region, into the state and even to the nation’s capital and New York City — and you have made this institution something very special,” said Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown, who presented the awards to each honoree at the luncheon. “Your involvement has made a difference in your life, and the tools you’ve gathered here will serve you well today and into the future. One day, someone will follow in your footsteps and thank you for leading the way.”

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.

Registration open for Rebel Golf Tournament to benefit Lee College student athletes

Annual event in June also includes award ceremony for outstanding community member

BAYTOWN, TX — The Lee College Athletic Department invites local golfers to hit the links and help raise money to support Runnin’ Rebel and Lady Rebel student athletes at its annual golf tournament, which will also include a special award ceremony honoring an outstanding community member.

Registration for the 2017 Rebel Golf Tournament will begin at 7 a.m., Friday, June 23, at the Eagle Pointe Golf Club in Mont Belvieu. Participants will have breakfast provided by tournament sponsor Chick-fil-A of Baytown before an 8:30 a.m. shotgun start, then return to the clubhouse for a catered lunch courtesy of sponsor Follett Corporation. Golfers can also compete in “Closest to the Pin” and “Longest Drive” contests on the course and enjoy door prizes and a silent auction.

The Lee College Legends Award will be presented to Taylor Henckel, a graduate of Nederland High School and Lamar University who owns and operates Chick-fil-A of Baytown. Established in 2008, the award recognizes an individual who has had a positive impact on Lee College and the Rebel Athletic Department.

“Taylor has been a great friend and contributor to the advancement of Lee College Athletics,” said Roy Champagne, head coach of the Runnin’ Rebel Basketball Team. “The tournament is a wonderful opportunity for our community to recognize one of our local leaders as we have fun and raise money for student-athletes. I encourage all golfers to join us.”

The entry fee of $100 per player or $400 per team includes greens fees, a golf cart, range balls, all meals and a team photo. Super tickets for mulligans and a pay-or-pick hole will be available for purchase in advance or at the door.

For more information about the 2017 Rebel Golf Tournament or to register, contact Champagne at 281.425.6594 or rchampagne@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.

Families invited to learn more about Kids at College summer program at Lee College

Annual Summer Preview Day on April 29 to include registration information, fun activities

BAYTOWN, TX — Families looking to keep their children and teenagers engaged, active and entertained this summer are invited for a sneak peek of the Kids at College program offered by the Lee College Center for Workforce and Community Development.

The third annual Kids at College Summer Preview Day is set for 9 a.m.-noon, Saturday, April 29, in the gymnasium on campus. The fun-filled event is free and open to the public, and will feature hands-on activities, interactive demonstrations and information sessions about dozens of educational, creative, career exploration and athletic camps and workshops designed for youth aged 5-17 years. Camps will run weekly from June 5 through August 17.

Kids at College options include everything from arts and crafts, culinary arts and theater production, to creative writing, private music and voice lessons, gaming, engineering, drafting and design, Minecraft, volleyball, basketball and more. Professional educators, artists and Lee College coaches and student-athletes teach the camps and classes, which will be held at the main campus in Baytown and the Lee College Education Center – South Liberty County.

Parents and families that attend Kids at College Summer Preview Day will be able to register for camps on the spot, enjoy prizes and giveaways and win vouchers to help pay for any applicable registration costs. For more information about Preview Day or the Kids at College program, contact the Center for Workforce and Community Development at 281.425.6311.

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.

VP DeDe Griffith awarded Aspen Presidential Fellowship

Griffith is one of only 40 nationwide selected for community college leadership program

DeDe Griffith
DeDe Griffith

BAYTOWN, TX — DeDe Griffith, interim Vice President of Learning at Lee College, has been awarded the prestigious Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence and will participate in a highly selective leadership program aimed at developing a new cadre of outstanding leaders capable of transforming student success at community colleges across the United States.

The Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, announced today that Griffith joins the 2017-18 class of  Aspen Presidential Fellows, a diverse group of 40 extraordinary administrators from around the country who will embark on a year-long fellowship in July. Delivered in collaboration with the Stanford Educational Leadership Initiative and top community college leaders, the program focuses on a new vision of leadership and aims to guide new and aspiring community college presidents to dramatically change student outcomes in four areas: learning; completion while in community college and of bachelor’s degrees after transfer; employment and earnings after graduation; and equitable access and success for underrepresented minority and low-income students.

“As an administrator and faculty member at Lee College for the past two decades, DeDe has been instrumental in developing and implementing innovative strategies and programs that enhance student success,” said Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown. “Her selection as an Aspen Presidential Fellow is a testament to the effectiveness of her student-centered philosophy and her commitment to strengthening community college education to ensure future generations of students are able to achieve their dreams.”

According to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), 365 presidents left their posts over the last year. This staggering rate of turnover is happening at the same time that increasing numbers of students — including growing numbers of minority, low-income and first-generation college students — are flocking to community colleges to earn degrees that lead to good jobs and careers.

The 2017-18 Aspen Presidential Fellows hail from 24 states and 38 community colleges of varying sizes. Griffith was selected through a rigorous process that considered her abilities to take strategic risks, lead strong teams and cultivate partnerships and focus on results-oriented improvements in student success and access. A past recipient of the Lee  College Faculty Excellence Award and the John & Suanne Roueche Excellence Award, Griffith also shared in institutional recognition through the AACC Award of Excellence of Student Success and coordinates and oversees many initiatives to provide greater access and completion support to all students. She is currently completing a Doctorate of Education in Professional Leadership in Education. For more information, visit http:///as.pn/1ky.

The Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, College Futures Foundation, ECMC Foundation, Greater Texas Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, and the Kresge Foundation.

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.

Foundation brings donors together with scholarship recipients

Six people posing, both donors and student recipients
Donors to the Lee College Foundation met the recipients of their scholarships Friday, April 7, 2017, at the 15th annual Foundation Scholarship Breakfast. The annual gathering allows students to share with donors how their generosity has made a difference. Pictured from left: Louise Mann, donor; Drake Salinas, student; Nancy Mann, donor; Denia Aleman, student; Michael Mann, donor; and Claudia Wyles, representing corporate donor Community Resource Credit Union.

For the individuals and businesses that donate to the Lee College Foundation, there is no greater proof of the positive impact of their generosity than meeting and hearing the stories of students awarded tuition and textbook scholarships.

Students like Maryori Portillo, a first-generation college student and recipient of the Wallace Heaner Tuition Scholarship and John and Stella Pepper Textbook Scholarship who had children at a young age and dropped out of high school. After earning her GED and experiencing difficulties in her first try at higher education, Portillo came to Lee College and enrolled in two classes: English and speech. Instructors recognized she had special talent, but the cost of out-of-district tuition and other expenses nearly forced her to quit school after just one semester.

“They immediately saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself and introduced me to the Honors Program,” Portillo shared April 7 at the 15th annual Foundation Scholarship Breakfast, where donors connected with scholarship recipients and learned firsthand how the funds made a difference in their lives.

“Thanks to the scholarships, I was able to return to school,” she said. “I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to go to sleep without college tuition keeping you up at night. It’s a weight lifted off your shoulders and a worry gone. I would not be standing here without your help.”

Or students like Audra Smith, a process technology major and intern at Chevron Phillips Chemical who received a workforce scholarship from the East Harris County Manufacturers Association (EHCMA). EHCMA donated $170,000 to Lee College this year for student scholarships and other support for craft and technology programs.

A donor and two students stand and pose.
The Lee College Foundation hosted a reception Tuesday, March 28, 2017, for students who received workforce scholarships from the East Harris County Manufacturers Association (EHCMA) to meet managers and other personnel from the association’s member companies. EHCMA donated $170,000 to Lee College this year for student scholarships and other support for craft and technology programs. Pictured (l-r): Jarvis Booker, student; Bear Estrada of Ohmstede; and Tevin Goodman, student.

Just before she started classes, Smith lost her home to a fire and learned her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Four months into the program, her mother passed away – and soon after, so did her father and grandfather. Knowing she would not have to worry about paying for school helped her persist in the program despite her losses, determined to earn her degree and keep the promises she made to herself and her family.

“Workforce scholarships help us, as students, achieve our greatness,” Smith told managers and leaders from EHCMA’s member companies in late March at a student and donor networking reception hosted by the foundation. “By donating money for these scholarships, you all are changing lives every day.”

Under the leadership of its Board of Directors, the Lee College Foundation has raised outside funds since 1968 to provide for student needs. The fund balance for the foundation now exceeds $10 million and all students are eligible to receive scholarships — those pursuing academic and technical degrees, as well as those enrolled full-time, part-time, in dual-credit classes for high-school students to earn college credits, in non-credit classes offered by the Center for Workforce and Community Development, and in the Lee College Huntsville Center prison program.

Although the foundation has historically focused on accepting scholarship funds, board members consider other worthwhile initiatives that directly affect student success and promote the student’s ability to reach their education goals. To that end, tax-deductible contributions from industry and private donors also support the Student Success Fund, created to help those facing extraordinary circumstances pay for college-related expenses that might otherwise derail their journey.

“One of the most heartwarming things about Lee College is knowing how much this community loves this institution,” said Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown. “The consistent outpouring of generosity helps ensure students can do the three most important things: enroll, persist and graduate. We want them to get here, stay here and leave here with a degree.”

For more information about donating to the Lee College Foundation, contact Executive Director  Pam 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 14 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Completion Coach motivates Weekend College students to persist to graduation

Jessica Falla, Weekend College Completion Coach
Jessica Falla, Completion Coach for the Weekend College at Lee College, counsels a student during a session in her office. The Completion Coach works with Weekend College students to offer support and help break down barriers they encounter before enrolling in the program and through graduation. A free information session about the Weekend College is set for Thursday, April 13.

BAYTOWN, TX — As a community college graduate who took developmental classes, commuted to her Queens, N.Y., campus and juggled schoolwork with caring for her grandmother, Jessica Falla is especially well suited for her role as the Completion Coach for Lee College’s innovative Weekend College program.

Whenever a Weekend College student needs help with a problem inside or outside of the classroom, Falla is only a phone call, text message, email or visit away — and many students credit the consistent, warm and knowledgeable support of their Completion Coach for motivating them to conquer challenges and persist toward their degree.

“The common ground is that everyone is filled to the brim with responsibilities. No one can be just a college student; they have all of these roles they play that have to remain intact even while they go to school,” said Falla, who holds a Master of Education degree in school counseling.

“I understand what it’s like being pulled in so many different directions, and I was always grateful for the personal interactions I had with staff and counselors when I was in college,” she said. “I want students to walk into my office and feel they can relax and open up. Whatever barrier they’re facing, I take it on with them and we will overcome it together.”

Weekend College students can earn associate’s degrees in less than 2 years by attending classes only on Friday evenings and Saturdays. Funded through a $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the program caters to adult learners and others who want to advance their careers but have to balance classes with work and other responsibilities.

A free information session for prospective Weekend College students will be held from 7-8:30 p.m., Thursday, April 13, in the Rundell Hall Conference Center on campus. Faculty, staff and current students will outline the five different majors offered — Transfer in Allied Health, General Studies – Social Science Concentration, Business Administration and Management, Industrial Welding Technology and Computer and Network Maintenance Technology — and give details about enrolling for the Fall 2017 semester. Information will be available in English and Spanish, and refreshments will be provided.

Additional information sessions are set for May 21, June 10, July 18 and Aug. 2.

Weekend College students are kept together in small cohorts of 18-25 people from enrollment to graduation or transfer. Courses are offered at multiple Lee College locations to make them more convenient, and many are delivered in a hybrid format that blends online and classroom instruction. With block scheduling, students know exactly which courses to take and when they will be held — and once accepted into the program, they are guaranteed to always have the classes they need for their degree.

For her part as Completion Coach, Falla considers herself to be a student advocate. She regularly drops by classes and makes herself available on Fridays, Saturdays and any day students need her. She helps them decide if the Weekend College is the right fit for their goals; connects them to campus and community resources; invites them to bring their children and families to college events; and breaks down the parts of applying for and attending college that overwhelm them the most.

It’s also important to encourage students to take ownership of their education and be accountable for their own learning and success, said Falla, who enjoys being a role model and trusted adviser as they pursue higher education and work toward a brighter future.

“I get to know these students for two years and watch them graduate,” she said. “We’re very lucky to see them grow, adjust and reach their reward. It’s a great and wonderful experience.”

For more details about the Weekend College at Lee College or the upcoming information sessions, contact Falla at 281.425.6421 or Outreach and Recruitment Specialist Sharon Guillory at 832.556.5776, or visit www.lee.edu/weekend.

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.