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.

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/

Texas Nonprofit Theatres honors Lee for hosting youth conference

Dr. Dennis brown accepts the plaque on behalf of Lee.
Lee College received an award plaque this month from Texas Nonprofit Theatres for hosting the organization’s 22nd annual Youth Conference, which brought 400 young people from across the state to campus for a week of performances and workshops. Pictured, from left: Walter Stricklin, Performing Arts Center director; Dr. Veronique Tran, Vice President of Instruction; Dr. Onimi Wilcox, Dean of Academic Studies; Ryan Martin, production specialist; Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown; Kim Martin, technical theater instructor; and Mark Hall, vice chairman of the Board of Regents.

BAYTOWN, TX — Lee College earned recognition this month from Texas Nonprofit Theatres (TNT) for hosting its 22nd annual Youth Conference. The gathering brought 400 young thespians and their directors and chaperones from across the state to campus for a summer camp-style week of performances and workshops.

Kim Martin, technical theater instructor and an officer on the TNT Board of Governors, presented the honorary plaque from the organization at the June meeting of the Lee College Board of Regents. The 2017 TNT Youth Conference, held from June 6-11 at the Performing Arts Center and various buildings around campus, marked the second consecutive year that Lee College has been selected to host the event.

“The TNT executive committee and officers wanted to give deep gratitude to Lee College for the wonderful job of providing amazing facilities, extraordinary service and unwavering support as hosts,” Martin said. “They can’t stop telling me how wonderful this place is. I’m proud of that and proud to be with Lee College, and I want you to know people from around the state recognize that, too.”

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.

Warford named Student Success Person of the Year

Award honors Warford’s diligent work to help students overcome financial barriers

Pam Warford selected Student Success Person of the Year
Pam Warford, executive director of the Lee College Foundation and director of Foundation and Donor Development, was honored as Student Success Person of the Year at the May meeting of the Board of Regents for her work to help students overcome financial barriers to their education. Pictured, from left: Executive Vice Pres. Dr. Christina Ponce, Director of Student Success DeDe Griffith, Warford, former Board of Regents Chairman Ronn Haddox, and Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown.

BAYTOWN, TX — Lee College has awarded Pam Warford, executive director of the Lee College Foundation and director of Foundation and Donor Development, the honor of Student Success Person of the Year for her tireless work and continuous efforts to help students overcome financial barriers that might otherwise prevent them from pursuing higher education.

DeDe Griffith, director of Student Success, presented Warford with the award plaque in May during a special presentation at the regular meeting of the Lee College Board of Regents.

“Her heartfelt desire to see students succeed and her diligent work at meeting their financial needs has fostered a culture of caring for students who may not have even attended college had it not been for scholarships,” Griffith said of Warford. “She provides the college with great communication with our external constituents, serves as a legislative liaison for the college, builds relationships and provides a spirit of camaraderie.”

In the nearly two decades she has spent at Lee College, Warford has been instrumental in helping secure funding for scholarships and other forms of support that help students reach their educational goals. With her leadership, the Lee College Foundation Gala raised a record $175,000 in 2016 – dwarfing the $9,800 raised at the gala when Warford arrived at the college in 1999. In addition, the fund balance of the Lee College Foundation increased from $4.7 million to more than $10 million during the same time period. Under the guidance of its Board of Directors, the foundation will award approximately $600,000 to students in the 2017-18 academic year.

When Hurricane Ike struck the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008, Warford created the Student Success Fund to help those facing extraordinary circumstances pay for college-related expenses. She helped implement the first online scholarship application and expanded the types of support and availability of scholarships to ensure all students are eligible for assistance – whether 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, or in the Lee College Huntsville Center for students incarcerated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Warford also supported the creation of the Britt/Hodgin Second Chance Scholarship benefiting students in the offender education program, and even found funds to purchase uniforms for the Model United Nations student organization to wear in a national competition earlier this year.

Though pleased by how much the college’s resources have grown over the course of her career, Warford gets the most joy from connecting with students and hearing how they were able to pursue their education and achieve their dreams with the support of the foundation and its donors. Receiving the Student Success Person of the Year honor for her work is incredibly humbling, she said.

“Seeing students get excited about their futures is the ultimate gratification,” Warford said. “Their success makes everything we do worthwhile.”

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 a finalist for three national AACC Awards of Excellence

A large group of people stands before the Board of Regents holding awards.
Lee College was presented with three awards from the American Association of Community Colleges as a finalist for national Awards of Excellence in three separate categories: Advancing Diversity, Faculty Innovation and Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership. The awards were displayed to the community at the May meeting of the Lee College Board of Regents. Pictured, from left: Connie Tilton, Woody Paul and Brian Nagel of ExxonMobil; Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown; Interim Vice President of Instruction DeDe Griffith; former Board of Regents Chairman Ronn Haddox; Grant Director Victoria Marron; Interim Dean of Academic Studies David Jaroszewski; Executive Vice Pres. Dr. Christina Ponce; Director of Workforce Development Marsha Tuha; 2017 graduate Jazmine Rodriguez; and Dean of Applied Sciences Layton Childress.

BAYTOWN, TX — Lee College has been honored as a finalist for the 2017 American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Awards of Excellence for Advancing Diversity, Faculty Innovation and Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership. It is the second consecutive year that Lee College has earned national recognition as an AACC Awards of Excellence finalist in three of five total categories — a rare feat among the nearly 1,200 community colleges that are members of the association and eligible for the awards each year.

The AACC presented Lee College with the three finalist award trophies in April at its annual convention in New Orleans. The awards were displayed to the community this month at the regular meeting of the Lee College Board of Regents.

The AACC Advancing Diversity Award recognizes the college that has contributed significantly and over a sustained period of time to advancing diversity in community college leadership, the community and within higher education as a whole. Lee College was honored for the success of the Puente Project, an academic mentoring program that aims to increase the number of educationally under-served students who transfer to and enroll in four-year colleges and universities, earn college degrees and return to their communities as leaders and role models for new generations. Puente students — many of whom are low-income or the first generation in their families to attend college — have presented research at academic conferences, taken leadership roles on campus, advocated for social justice and volunteered their time and talents to serve and uplift the local community. More than a dozen Puente graduates have gone on to pursue bachelor’s degrees at universities around the state since Lee College became the fourth community college district in Texas to host the program.

Treva Brown-Askey, chairwoman of the Developmental Education Division, was the college’s nominee to receive the AACC Faculty Innovation Award, which recognizes faculty members who have demonstrated leadership in the development and implementation of a campus program that has had positive impact on the learning experience for students. The outcome of the program must result in the improvement of student completion numbers within a course or degree field, and nominees for the award are expected to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to student access and success. Brown-Askey was also nominated and named a finalist for the Faculty Innovation Award in 2016, due in large part to her efforts to make educational opportunities more equitable for all students and create opportunities for students to learn and be successful both inside and outside of the classroom. Additionally, she has led and coordinated the “College Bound School” partnership with Drew Elementary School in the Crosby Independent School District, which is part of the ongoing Cradle to Career Network effort to create a college-going culture for local youth by engaging all members of the community in providing wraparound support as students transition into college.

The AACC Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership Award honors local, regional and national collaboration between a college and corporate partner that has achieved demonstrable, multi-year success in advancing the mission of the institution; the economic prosperity of a community, region or the nation; and the learning excellence of students. Lee College highlighted its longstanding partnership with ExxonMobil, which has provided resources to support the education and workforce needs of Lee College students and the community for 82 years. In just the last 5 years, ExxonMobil has enhanced its support by sponsoring the Lee College EnergyVenture camp for middle-school students exploring careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics; continuing to provide 3-to-1 matching gifts from its foundation for donations made to colleges and universities by employees and retirees; providing annual gifts of $125,000 to help meet the needs of the college’s petrochemical and technical studies programs; supporting capstone internships for students; and providing $1.8 million for the Community College Petrochemical Initiative. ExxonMobil staff members also come to classes to share their insights and experiences with students, participate in panel discussions and serve on college committees.

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 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.

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.