Mendoza Debate Society off to a winning start on competition season

Four-time national champion debate team says the focus this year is on learning & growth

Mendoza Debate Society at Lee College
A trophy case near the Mendoza Debate Society suite in John Britt Hall is packed with just a few of the hundreds of trophies and plaques the team has won in competition the last four years, including four national championship titles. The Lee College debaters have set their sights on increased learning and growth for the 2017-18 season. Pictured from left: Chrome Salazar, Steven Mena, Julio Martinez, Joselyn Mendoza, Rigo Ruiz, Aria Giacona, Ty Young, and Alyssa Hooks. Additional debaters not pictured are Ashley Cressy, Angel Estrada, Kimberly Gaytan, Maria Gelves, Ben Ginsel, Lacey Gulley, Jeff Holder, Jaden Houseman, Michael Lara, Josh Lyrock, Adam Naiser, Vanessa Rangel, and Leah Sparkman.

BAYTOWN, TX — The glass case that holds the awards earned by the four-time national champion Mendoza Debate Society at Lee College is stacked from top to bottom with gleaming trophies and plaques collected over four years of competition against some of the best college and university debate teams from around the country and across the globe.

“For a two-year college to stand toe-to-toe with universities including SMU, TCU, LSU, Tennessee and Southern Mississippi is a real testament to the quality of students we have on the team,” said Director of Forensics and 2016 International Public Debate Association (IPDA) Coach of the Year Joe Ganakos, praising the strong debaters coming from local school districts like Goose Creek, Barbers Hill and Dayton.

“These students have a work ethic that is nothing short of amazing, and I think they are proof positive of the talent we have in the Lee College service area.”

But for the debaters competing in the 2017-18 season, adding more shiny hardware to their shelves is not the primary motivation for continued success — though they already earned in October two Team Championship awards to kick off the year at the Weevil Wars tournament at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, and Top Community College honors at the Red River Swing tournament co-hosted by LSU in Shreveport and Bossier Parish Community College.

Instead, the team has set priorities they consider much more significant: to learn and mature as scholars and debaters, share the knowledge they gain to benefit others, have fun throughout the rigors of tournament preparation and participation, and cultivate the community they’ve found and built with each other through debate.

“Trophies stop mattering after a while,” said Joselyn Mendoza, who eagerly returned to the team after spending a year away. “We learn about everything from philosophy to sports and absorb so much information throughout the season, then we come home and have so much more knowledge to spread to those around us. That’s crucial to growth as a debater. So much change can stem from our education.”

Many Mendoza Debate Society members feel a strong responsibility to hone their craft and support their teammates beyond the debate suite on campus. They decided not to name captains this year, choosing instead to focus on identifying and sharpening each debater’s unique strengths. Practice sessions are centered on problem solving and analyzing global issues and current events, with each individual becoming a subject-matter expert contributing information and perspectives that make the entire team stronger and more versatile.

“Six months ago, I knew almost nothing about economics. Now I know so much that it’s something my team counts on from me. We contribute to each other’s success,” said Ty Young, an IMPACT Early College High School student recruited by his mentor and teammate Chrome Salazar.

“I’ve learned how to think critically and better assess ideas so I can better articulate my thoughts about a situation,” Salazar said. “I have people celebrating with me in good times and comforting me in hard times. I can be myself. I can have a personality.”

Despite the demands of multiple weekly practices and long weekends traveling as far away as Washington and Idaho to compete, Ganakos and Assistant Debate Coach Christine Courteau are always there to encourage the debaters, provide a listening ear or shoulder to cry on when they need it, and remind them that they’re students before all else.

The family-like bond between the students and their coaches is part of why Alyssa Hooks, who competes individually and in a two-person team with Rigo Ruiz, believes the Mendoza Debate Society is well prepared to notch more victories for Lee College and make lasting memories together this season.

“Expectations are high and we’re ready,” Hooks said. “We’ve transformed into independent thinkers who understand what’s happening in the world. We know our words matter.”

For more information about the Mendoza Debate Society at Lee College, contact Ganakos at jganakos@lee.edu or 281.425.6502.

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.

Spring 2017 grad conquers 20-year cycle of destruction

Adrian Touchstone joined Honors Program and maintained 4.0 GPA during college career

BAYTOWN, TX — Before he was a Lee College Hall of Fame inductee and Honors Program student with a 4.0 GPA and mission to make a difference, Spring 2017 graduate Adrian Touchstone was stuck in a pattern of drugs, crime and incarceration.

It was during yet another stint behind bars that Touchstone finally realized that breaking the destructive cycle and starting down the path to higher education and a more purposeful life would require two major changes to his self-awareness and perspective. First, he had to take full responsibility for himself, his thoughts and his actions instead of blaming other people or difficult circumstances. Second, he had to embrace selflessness instead of the selfishness that had long defined him.

Adrian Touchstone receives his degree from Dr. Dennis Brown, Lee College president
Adrian Touchstone, left, receives his Associate of Arts degree in alcohol and drug abuse counseling from Lee College President Dr. Dennis Brown at the 2017 Spring Commencement ceremony held in May. Touchstone broke a 20-year cycle of drug abuse and incarceration to graduate from Lee College, where he served as a student ambassador and earned acceptance into the Honors Program.

“From the time I was 20 until now, I was trying to figure out how to do the wrong thing, the right way,” said Touchstone, 43, who received an Associate of Applied Science degree in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling at the 2017 Lee College Spring Commencement. He credits his family and loved ones for being supportive despite the odds he faced.

“Taking responsibility gives you power,” Touchstone said. “I started wanting to bring something to life instead of taking out of it. My way of thinking changed to doing the right thing, the right way. I’m taking my stumbling blocks and making them stepping stones.”

Studying to become an addiction counselor fit his new plan perfectly; he could go out into the community and help others conquer the demon of drug abuse that he had one faced. After enrolling at Lee College and starting the program with success, Touchstone earned acceptance into the Honors Program and realized that being two decades older than many of his peers was a strength and not the weakness he had first feared. Voicing his thoughts and listening to his classmates’ views in “The Human Condition,” a unique seminar-style Honors course that emphasizes critical thinking and discussion, showed him how his past experiences could be used to share knowledge with and learn from others. He began to see society and himself through different lenses and felt his mind grow in unexpected directions.

Forging strong, personal connections with motivated and knowledgeable instructors and earning scholarships from the Lee College Foundation made Touchstone eager to give back to the institution. He became a Student Ambassador, completing 90 hours of service in each semester of his first year, and was active in the Drug-Free Campus Committee, the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act Advisory Committee and other organizations that emphasize serving and uplifting others.

With his Lee College journey coming to an end, Touchstone is more committed than ever to recreating a meaningful life. He hopes to pursue a bachelor’s degree at University of Houston Clear Lake, then a master’s, and plans to do his part to positively impact others and make the world a better place. Being recognized by Lee College for his hard work inside and outside the classroom reminds him that making responsibility and selflessness a part of his mindset has been more than worth the effort; in fact, it has literally made the difference between life and death.

“When I started I had no idea where I would be at this point in my life. God was working,” Touchstone said. “I try to be better person every day so I can give God something to work with when He calls me. I want to give people hope and encouragement because there is always something new over the horizon. It’s never too late to start a new journey in life. Lee College is an opportunity to start a new path, follow a new dream and have a new ending. I’ve found myself in many different ways and places every day.”

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 hits record-high enrollment with 7,280 students

BAYTOWN, TX — A record-setting 7,280 students are pursuing associate degrees and certificates this fall at Lee College, marking a more than 5 percent increase from the previous year and representing the highest ever enrollment since the college was founded in 1934.

Preliminary headcount data from the 12th day of class also shows that the fall 2016 semester is the second consecutive fall semester that enrollment at Lee College has increased. Slightly more than 6,900 students were enrolled in fall 2015.

In addition, Lee College leads all community colleges in the state in the growth of contact hours — the number of hours that students are scheduled to receive instruction. More than 1.22 million contact hours have been counted this fall, an increase of 19.5 percent from fall 2014. Contact hours are the basis on which the state Legislature decides how to fund community colleges.

“Everyone played a role in helping us achieve these milestones,” said Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown, who touted the enrollment increase in an address to faculty and staff as they prepared to welcome students back to campus for a new academic year. He also noted that the college had received reaffirmation of its accreditation for the next 10 years by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, a major accomplishment and campus-wide effort that required the college to demonstrate compliance with 95 different standards.

“We continue to grow, and we continue to proudly serve the students and communities in our service area,” Brown said. “In every way and always, what you do makes a difference.”

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 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 named AACC Award of Excellence triple-finalist

President, faculty, staff & industry partner presented with honors at convention in Chicago

AACC 2016 Annual Convention
Lee College was recognized at the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Annual Convention, held April 11, 2016, in Chicago, for being an Awards of Excellence finalist in three categories. Pictured, from left: Dr. Charlene Dukes, chairwoman of the AACC Board of Directors; Vera Walker, student support adviser; Dr. Cathy Kemper-Pelle, vice president of Learning; Dr. Daria Willis, dean of Academic Studies; Dr. Dennis Brown, president; Paul Guilfoyle, ExxonMobil North American Growth Project; Treva Brown-Askey, chairwoman of Developmental Education; Dr. Christina Ponce, vice president of Student Success, Workforce & Resource Development; DeDe Griffith, director of Student Success; Dr. Walter G. Bumphus, president and CEO of the AACC; Connie Tilton, ExxonMobil Baytown Area Public and Government Affairs; and Debi Jordan, executive director of the Center for Workforce and Community Development.

BAYTOWN, TX — Lee College received national recognition as a 2016 American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Award of Excellence finalist in three categories: Exemplary Board/CEO, Faculty Innovation and Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership.

Nearly 1,200 community colleges are members of the AACC and eligible for the Awards of Excellence. Finalists and winners for 2016 were presented with their awards in April at the association’s Annual Convention in Chicago.

The Exemplary Board/CEO award recognized the collaboration and working relationship between Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown and the Board of Regents for promoting effectiveness in governance. Treva Brown-Askey, chairwoman of Developmental Education, was a finalist in the Faculty Innovation category for demonstrating leadership in the development and implementation of a campus program that had a positive impact on the learning experience for students. The Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership category recognized the collaboration between Lee College and ExxonMobil for demonstrating success in advancing the mission of the institution, economic prosperity of the community and learning excellence.

Lee College won the AACC Award of Excellence for Student Success in 2015 for its work to engage the entire campus and community in creating a college-going culture that ensures a successful student experience from high school through higher education. Lee College was also one of four national finalists for the 2015 Award of Excellence in the Exemplary Board/CEO category.

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 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 ranked among Top 50 Best Value Community Colleges of 2016

National ranking follows college being named an AACC Award of Excellence triple-finalist

BAYTOWN, TX — Lee College is one of the country’s Top 50 Best Value Community Colleges of 2016, according to a list compiled and recently released by Value Colleges, an independent online guide that examines value and affordability in undergraduate and graduate college education.

Lee College ranked 14th of 614 U.S. community colleges considered for the Value Colleges list. The Top 50 institutions were selected based on graduation and transfer rates, mid-level salary for graduates and actual tuition. In addition, Lee College was noted for its status as a Leader College in Achieving the Dream, a national initiative to improve student success at community colleges; its selection by the Aspen Institute as one of the nation’s top 150 community colleges eligible for the prestigious Prize for Excellence; its status as one of the top community colleges issuing associate’s degrees to Hispanic students; and its high-quality science and professional programs. The college’s proximity to the thriving job market along the Houston Ship Channel was also mentioned.

Value Colleges initially used data on 1,717 U.S. community colleges to find public, open-admission schools with graduation rates of 45 percent or higher, costs of less than $10,000 per year and enrollment of more than 1,000 students. The data was taken from the College Measures database.

The Value Colleges ranking comes after Lee College received national recognition in April as a 2016 American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Award of Excellence finalist in three categories: Exemplary Board/CEO, Faculty Innovation and Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership. Nearly 1,200 community colleges are members of the AACC.

The Exemplary Board/CEO award recognized the collaboration and working relationship between Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown and the Board of Regents for promoting effectiveness in governance. Treva Brown-Askey, chairwoman of Developmental Education, was a finalist in the Faculty Innovation category for demonstrating leadership in the development and implementation of a campus program that had a positive impact on the learning experience for students. The Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership category recognized the collaboration between Lee College and ExxonMobil for demonstrating success in advancing the mission of the institution, economic prosperity of the community and learning excellence.

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 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.

Ponce selected for Aspen honor

Dr. Christina Ponce

BAYTOWN, TX — Dr. Christina Ponce, Vice President of Student Success, Workforce and Resource Development at Lee College, has been awarded the prestigious Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence.

The Aspen Institute, an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, yesterday announced that Ponce joins the inaugural class of the Aspen Presidential Fellows, a diverse group of 40 extraordinary leaders with the drive and capacity to transform community colleges to achieve higher levels of student success.

Over the next decade, the majority of current community college presidents are expected to retire. At the same time, increasing numbers of students are flocking to community colleges to earn degrees that lead to good jobs, but too few actually graduate. The Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence aims to equip college leaders with the tools they need to dramatically improve student outcomes. The Fellowship is a highly selective yearlong program to prepare leaders aspiring, or recently appointed, to the community college presidency. Fellows will participate in a series of innovative seminars and ongoing mentorship focused on a new vision for leadership, delivered in collaboration with Stanford University faculty and top community college leaders.

“Dr. Ponce arrived at Lee College and immediately put her considerable skills, talents and higher education experience to work in developing new and innovative strategies to expand and enhance our students’ success,” said Dr. Dennis Brown, President of Lee College. “Her selection as an Aspen Presidential Fellow speaks to her belief in the importance and value of community college education, and her commitment to ensuring community colleges will continue to serve and support students for generations to come.”

Ponce 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.

The 2016-2017 Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Experience Fellows hail from 17 states and 30 community colleges. They will begin their program in July 2016 at Stanford University with anticipated completion in spring 2017. Applications for the second class will be available by Sept. 30, 2016. For more information, visit http://aspeninstitute.org/pres-fellowship.

The Aspen Presidential Fellowship for Community College Excellence is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, ECMC Foundation, Greater Texas Foundation, Joyce Foundation and 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 center in nearby Liberty, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 13 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.

Debate Team wins IPDA national community college championship

BAYTOWN, TX – In a feat previously unseen in collegiate debate, the Mendoza Debate Society at Lee College has earned its third consecutive International Public Debate Association (IPDA) National Community College Debate Championship – and Director of Forensics Joe Ganakos has been named the 2016 IPDA Bennett Strange Coach of the Year.

The honors were announced at the 2016 IPDA National Championship Tournament and Convention hosted March 31-April 3 on the Lee College campus. Nearly 500 competitors participated.

Lee College debaters were the IPDA National Championship Tournament Community College Champions – delivering the best performance in the tournament’s 19-year history – and the Season Long Community College Champions, capping off a standout regular season in which the team amassed more than 150 awards and several members reached national prominence for their individual accomplishments.

The duo of captains Kyle Diamond and Rigo Ruiz won the 2015-16 IPDA Team Division National Championship, setting an all-time record for points earned in team debate. When combined with the scores earned by the third-place pair of Emmanuel Perez and Josh Lyrock, Lee College debaters also set an all-time points record en route to winning the IPDA Team Squad National Championship. Jerry McCauley was named 2015-16 IPDA Junior Varsity National Champion, and Diamond finished the season as the 2015-16 Varsity Division National Runner-Up and National Championship Tournament Varsity Finalist.

Overall, the Mendoza Debate Society at Lee College was the top-ranked debate program in Texas for the 2015-16 IPDA season – besting opponents from Southern Methodist University, Stephen F. Austin State University, Prairie View A&M University, East Texas Baptist University, College of the Mainland, San Jacinto College and Tarrant County Community College, among others. The team was also competitive against some of the top universities in the nation, finishing fifth in the IPDA Founders’ Cup race that reflects combined success in the Novice, Junior Varsity, Varsity and Professional divisions.

Diamond and Ruiz will next defend the team’s 2015 Madison Cup victory April 18 at the 2016 James Madison Commemorative Debate & Citizens Forum in Virginia. The competition field will include 36 teams from prestigious debate programs like Stanford University, Cornell University and Emory University.

For more information about the Lee College Debate Team, contact Ganakos at jganakos@lee.edu or 281.425.6502.

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 center in nearby Liberty, the college serves a geographic area of more than 220,000 residents that includes 13 independent school districts. To learn more, visit www.lee.edu.