Class of 2017 told to ‘stay in the driver’s seat’ at Spring Commencement

Newest Associate Degree Nursing graduates also recognized in separate Pinning Ceremony

Lee College 10 a.m. Graduation ceremony
Lee College recognized more than 630 graduates at the 2017 Spring Commencement held Saturday, May 13, 2017, in the Sports Arena on campus. Sisters Tina Pennington and Mandy Williams, better known as “Red” and “Black,” delivered the keynote address and encouraged graduates to face their fears, polish their soft skills and remain strong and driven in pursuing their dreams.

BAYTOWN, TX — As a capacity crowd packed with family, friends and supporters cheered and applauded from the audience, more than 630 Lee College graduates were recognized for earning associate degrees and certificates of completion at the 2017 Spring Commencement ceremonies.

“You cannot imagine how proud we are,” Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown told the graduates. “As you move forward, know that this is not the end of your journey; it is the beginning. It’s the time where you think about your next steps, and I would also ask you to remember those that will follow you. You have blazed a trail. Thank you for what you’ve accomplished, and for what you’ve done for those that will follow you because of the successes you have earned.”

In their keynote address to the Class of 2017 – which included nearly two dozen IMPACT Early College High School students receiving their associate degrees before their high school diplomas – sisters, authors, educators and entrepreneurs Tina Pennington and Mandy Williams encouraged the graduates to remember that some of the greatest blessings in life can come from confronting the most difficult and challenging situations. Pennington and Williams, better known as “Red” and “Black” respectively, learned that lesson firsthand after Red’s husband was fired from his job and she turned to her sister for help mastering the family’s finances. Black, who earned an MBA in International Finance from New York University and London Business School before retiring from the oil and gas industry at just 40 years old, assured the nervous Red – a Theater Arts graduate at Wake Forest University who became a full-time wife and mother and was initially intimidated by financial terminology like “assets and liabilities” – that the job loss and subsequent processes of learning about personal finance and rebuilding her life would be the best thing to ever happen to her.

The frank and candid messages the sisters exchanged during Red’s period of crisis formed the basis of their national bestseller, “What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!” which features practical guidance and advice about achieving financial health and a richer, more satisfying life. Initially launched by Neiman Marcus, the book has since been adapted into an educational program at KIPP Houston High School and incorporated into book study programs at more than 30 percent of Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison units. Along with financial literacy, Red and Black also emphasize the need for soft skills like critical thinking, problem solving, communication and teamwork.

“Once I started doing personal finance, realized the importance of the soft skills I already had and just stopped to think about things, I realized she was right,” Red told the Lee College graduates. “It really was the best thing for me – but more than that, it was the best thing for my daughters, and to be able to talk with students like yourselves and others we come across.”

As the first woman to race the road course at Indianapolis, Black used racing analogies to present the graduates with an essential life choice: being a passenger who lets life control them, or being a driver who controls their own life. Remember the important corners on the track that require a steady hand, and keep the fun of the curves in perspective of the bigger picture, she said. Most of all, stay in the driver’s seat instead of simply coasting along.

“Think of all the times you could have quit, all the excuses you could have made, but you kept going. You’re here today and you’ve proved that you are strong and driven,” Black said. “None of us know where our lives are going to take us. Take a deep breath, hold on to the steering wheel and throttle on.”

2017 Associate Degree Nursing Pinning Ceremony

Lee College Nurse Pinning ceremony
Lee College welcomed the 60 newest graduates of the Associate Degree Nursing program into the nursing profession at the annual Pinning Ceremony held Friday, May 12, 2017, in the Sports Arena on campus. Each graduate received a pin to signify completion of their Lee College journey and entry into the next phase of their lives and careers.

The 60 newest graduates of the Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) program received pins to signify completion of their Lee College journey at the annual Pinning Ceremony, where they were also welcomed into the nursing profession and charged to devote themselves to the welfare of the patients that will soon be committed to their care.

ADN faculty presented individual awards to students who displayed academic and clinical excellence and best represented the unique spirit of nursing, before calling each student to the stage one by one to be recognized. As a special twist this year, graduates were given the option of having a registered nurse of their choice join Director of Nursing Tracy Allen to congratulate them and affix the coveted metal pins to their starched, white uniforms.

Graduates then lined up to receive the symbolic light of knowledge from their instructors, passing the live flame from one ceramic lamp to the next and reciting the Florence Nightingale Pledge taken by all professional nurses.

Citing a quote from former Pres. Teddy Roosevelt about the importance of striving for success and staying in the arena despite failures and shortcomings, Allen praised the graduates for their consistent effort to complete the rigorous program and prove their knowledge and mastery of the important skills and abilities they need to be effective nurses. The nursing pins they earned at Lee College will become one of their most prized possessions as they continue into the next phase of their lives and careers, she said.

“You are well prepared and ready to enter the workforce in the greatest profession in the world,” Allen said. “Congratulations — we are all very proud of you.”

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 to recognize more than 630 graduates at 2017 Spring Commencement

Graduates of Associate Degree Nursing program will also receive pins in separate ceremony

BAYTOWN, TX – Lee College will recognize the achievements of more than 630 graduates at the 2017 Spring Commencement Ceremony. Tina Pennington and Mandy Williams, sisters better known as “Red” and “Black” who co-authored a book about personal finance and developed an educational program to promote financial literacy, will be the guest speakers.

Spring Commencement will be held at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Saturday, May 13, in the Sports Arena on campus. The ceremonies will also be streamed live online via the Lee College website at www.lee.edu.

Born in New York, Pennington and Williams — or Red and Black, respectively — wrote the nationally recognized best seller, “What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!” after Pennington’s husband lost his job. A Theater Arts graduate from Wake Forest University and stay-at-home mom, Pennington quickly realized how little she understood about the family’s personal finances and turned to her sister for help. Williams, who holds an economics degree from Wilkes College, earned an MBA in International Finance from New York University and London Business School and retired from the oil and gas industry at just 40 years old, responded by taking her sister on a frank and candid three-month tour through the real world of money.

Their book features a wealth of practice guidance and advice about managing personal finances to achieve financial health and a richer, more satisfying life – exploring everything from specific issues like balance sheets and credit cards, to long-term financial planning and more fundamental concepts like values, time management and handling stress. Initially launched by Neiman Marcus, the book has since become the basis of the “Personal Finance & Life 101” program the sisters developed and taught at KIPP Houston High School. The book has also been approved by the Texas State Board of Education as a personal financial literacy textbook, and is being introduced at Texas Department of Criminal Justice units as part of a book study program.

Now authors and educators, Red and Black also write columns about personal finance and are frequently invited for speaking engagements and appearances. They delivered the keynote address at the spring convening of the Educate Texas STEM Accelerator in March, and have also spoken this year at the Greater Houston Partnership’s UpSkill Houston Regional Faculty Summit and the Texas Career Education Winter Conference.

2017 Associate Degree Nursing Pinning Ceremony

Spring 2017 graduates of the Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) program at Lee College will be honored and welcomed into their new profession at the annual Pinning Ceremony set for 7 p.m., Friday, May 12, in the Sports Arena.

As part of the ceremony, nursing graduates will receive a special pin signifying their participation in the Lee College ADN program. They will also recite the Florence Nightingale Pledge, an oath named for the founder of modern nursing and taken by all professional nurses. Faculty members will recognize students who have demonstrated high academic achievement and clinical excellence throughout the two-year program, and lead graduates in a sacred lamp-lighting ceremony that symbolizes the passage of knowledge from one generation of nurses to the next.

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 honors first graduates of the Weekend College

Less than 2 years after program launched, nearly 30 students will receive associate degrees

Lee College's first Weekend College graduation event held in Rundel Hall, 05/07/17
Less than 24 months after enrolling in the Weekend College at Lee College, the first graduates of the innovative program were honored at a ceremony held Sunday, May 7, 2017, and will receive associate degrees at 2017 Spring Commencement. Pictured, back row, from left: Jessica Francis, Olivia Barillari-Davila, Ezequiel Arriaga, Christopher Ramirez, Gerald Garcia, Gabriel Peterson, Tyler Butler, Juan Herrera, Alex Garza, George Jewell and Jose Castillo. Middle row: Raquel Velazquez, Rosa Ibarra Castillo; Reyna Gomez, Jameal Jones, Christy Ary, Cathy Graham and Ronise Devore. Bottom: Brittany Farrias and Cinthia Aguillon.

BAYTOWN, TX — Less than 24 months after entering the Weekend College at Lee College and embarking on a brand-new journey targeted to adult learners and working students juggling school with other responsibilities, the first 28 graduates of the program were honored at a special ceremony held just days before they cross the stage to receive their associate degrees at the 2017 Spring Commencement.

“It is amazing to recognize the very first graduates of our Weekend College program. You all are truly trailblazers. Because of your persistence and cooperation, we’ve developed something that will serve a lot of students in the future,” Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown shared with graduates in a keynote address at the ceremony, held Sunday, May 7, in the Rundell Hall Conference Center. “What you have done sets in motion something that will inspire those who will follow you someday.”

Funded through a $2.7 million First in the World Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the Weekend College gives students the opportunity to earn associate degrees in less than 2 years by attending classes only on Friday evenings and Saturdays. Five majors are offered: Transfer in Allied Health, General Studies – Social Science Concentration, Business Administration and Management, Industrial Welding Technology and Computer and Network Maintenance Technology.

Of the first cohort of students to enroll in the Weekend College in Fall 2015, fully 65 percent are expected to complete their degree programs within three years or less – significantly more than the state average of 12 percent. Much of that success is attributed to the program’s unique design, which keeps the same groups of students together from enrollment to graduation or transfer; offers courses at multiple campus locations, with many delivered in a hybrid format that blends online and classroom instruction; provides block scheduling that enables students to know exactly which courses to take and when they will be held; and ensures Weekend College courses are never dropped or filled to capacity. Students also work with a completion coach who helps them apply and enroll, secure financial aid and conquer any challenges that arise during the program or after graduation.

“You would never have made it through the Weekend College if you didn’t have ambition, faith and belief that this could be done, and you did it,” Brown said. “You challenged yourself in this program, and you should continue to challenge yourself. Never settle for the least; always look for the most. Go out, find, search, seek and make it happen. Education is the one thing that no one can ever take from you.”

At the ceremony, graduates received glass trophies acknowledging their completion of the program and awarded certificates to someone whose support made a difference during their Lee College career — whether it was a faculty or staff member, classmate, parent, spouse or even their child. Reyna Gomez, who will be receiving an Associate of Applied Science degree in Management, thanked Weekend College Completion Coach Jessica Falla for helping her at every step of the journey.

“I started the program really nervous and was going to stop going to school completely, but you were always there from the beginning,” Gomez said, referring to Falla and the other Weekend College staff and instructors whom she got to know in the program. “Nobody knew I was struggling trying to keep up with my classes, but I had a dream to accomplish. Though it wouldn’t be easy, you told me it would be worth it. Thank you all, because I made it.”

The Lee College Foundation also awarded scholarships to four of the top Weekend College students in the 2017 graduating class that can be used to continue their education or for expenses they face as they prepare to enter the workforce. Recipient Alex Garza, who maintained a 4.0 GPA while attending classes and working a full-time schedule of 40-50 hours per week, plans to earn a specialized certification in computer technology and pursue a bachelor’s degree at the University of Houston.

“I would tell anyone thinking about signing up for the Weekend College to go for it,” said Garza, who will receive an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer and Network Maintenance Technology. “You get to know your fellow students and instructors in a way you wouldn’t if you were in a more traditional program.”

The tight, close-knit bond shared by the students, instructors and staff is part of what makes the Weekend College so special. Grant director Victoria Marron encouraged the graduates to stay in touch with each other and their Lee College family as they continue into the next phases of their lives and careers.

“I’m full of thanks, appreciation and reflection,” Marron said. “Creating a program from scratch is no easy task and it takes a village to come together. When you get this degree and walk across that stage, take a moment and look around you. You’ve defeated so many odds and all your cheerleaders have been there to support you. Know that we support you and encourage you still.”

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.

More than 250 grads recognized at 2016 Fall Commencement

BAYTOWN, TX — With their family and friends filling every seat of the Sports Arena, more than 250 graduates crossed the stage at the Lee College Fall 2016 Commencement ceremony to receive their associate degrees and certificates of completion.

2016 Fall Commencement
More than 250 graduates participated in the Lee College 2016 Fall Commencement, held Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, in the Sports Arena on campus. The ceremony was also streamed live online.

“You did it. You made it happen,” said Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown, extending congratulations to both the graduates and the loved ones who supported them throughout their academic journeys. “There were a lot of challenges and obstacles, but you are here this evening and there is so much more to come. Education doesn’t stop tonight; our education lasts a lifetime. You have set a course, your path is before you and now it’s up to you to follow.”

As she praised the graduates’ hard work to achieve their dreams, keynote speaker and Texas State Sen. Sylvia Garcia shared two of her earliest aspirations. The eighth of 10 children born and raised in the small South Texas farming community of Palito Blanco, Garcia first wanted to someday work inside an air-conditioned building rather than outside in sun-scorched fields. Second, she wanted to make sure children in need of medical care would not have to stand in line to receive shots, as she and other poor youth from Palito Blanco did.

Garcia’s parents assured her that if she worked hard, got an education and kept her belief in God, she could reach any goal she set for her future. After earning a bachelor’s degree in social work from Texas Woman’s University and receiving a Juris Doctor degree from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University, the former social worker and longtime public servant realized they were right. A degree is the one thing in life that no one can give you or take away, she said, and the key to opening many doors and possibilities.

“No matter who you are or where you come from, tonight you’re all very equal because that’s the beauty of education: it’s the great equalizer for all Americans,” Garcia said, acknowledging that many Lee College students likely had to juggle their studies with a job, family and other responsibilities.

“You have an education and you have a shot at the American Dream,” she said. “Whether your father is a plant manager or a welder or you were raised by a single mom, inside of the classroom you can achieve anything you set your mind to. It truly is a place where the sky is the limit.”

Though she was elected controller for the city of Houston, became the first Hispanic and first woman to be elected in her own right to the Harris County Commissioners Court and has represented District 6 in the Texas State Senate since 2013, Garcia told graduates that her first two election campaigns were failures. Success and failure are temporary and neither is a reason to grow complacent or discouraged, she said.

“There should never be a time in your life where you’re not challenged, because it is the challenge that stretches you and shows you what you can be come,” Garcia said. “Use your will. Successful people aren’t stronger than others or necessarily smarter than others, but they have to have more desire than others. To succeed, you must desire to succeed more than anything else. Find something you can be passionate about. Find something where you can make your mark on this world. Keep dreaming. Reach for more. Do and dare.”

The message resonated with graduate Stephen Shea, a U.S. Navy veteran who moved to Baytown from Gardiner, Maine, to attend Lee College and pursue a new career in the petrochemical field. A former butcher who was looking for an affordable education that would fully prepare him for work in the industry, he earned an Associate of Applied Science degree in process technology and feels confident about his ability to find a job and hit the ground running.

“I was never a great student and I was nervous about keeping up with my classes, but my experience at Lee College has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Shea, who thanked his wife and family for their continuous support from his arrival in Texas through completion of his degree. “The instructors really encouraged me. They didn’t make it easy, but they were always willing to help. I can’t believe the connections I’ve made.”

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 College to hold 2016 Fall Commencement Ceremony on Dec. 16

Ceremony will also be streamed live online via the Lee College website

Sen. Sylvia Garcia
Sen. Sylvia Garcia

BAYTOWN, TX – Lee College will recognize the achievements of more than 450 graduates at the 2016 Fall Commencement Ceremony to be held at 7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 16, in the Sports Arena on campus. Texas State Sen. Sylvia R. Garcia will deliver the keynote address.

A livestream of the ceremony will also be available online via the Lee College website at www.lee.edu.

A native of the South Texas farming community of Palito Blanco, Garcia has represented Senate District 6 since 2013 and is chairwoman of the Texas Senate Hispanic Caucus. During the 84th Legislative Session, she passed 37 of her bills and served on the Education, Intergovernmental Relations, Transportation and Veterans Affairs & Military Installations committees.

After protecting children and the elderly as a social worker early in her professional career, Garcia entered public service with the city of Houston as director and presiding judge of the Houston Municipal System for an unprecedented five terms under two mayors. There, she worked to make the city court system more effective and efficient for the community. Garcia was later elected to city controller, earning a reputation as the taxpayers’ watchdog, and in 2002 was the first Hispanic and first woman to be elected in her own right to the Harris County Commissioners Court. As a commissioner, she continued her advocacy for working families and the most vulnerable, while also pushing for new jobs and economic development.

Garcia remains active in the Houston community, serving on more than 25 community boards and commissions including the San Jacinto Girl Scouts, which gave her the Board Award; Houston Hispanic Forum; American Leadership Forum; Battleship Texas; and the Museum of Fine Arts – Houston. She has been named “Humanitarian of the Year” by the National Conference of Communities and Justice and chosen as one of “Houston’s 25 Power People” by Inside Houston magazine.

The eighth of 10 children, Garcia’s parents taught her from an early age the value of education and hard work. She is a graduate of Texas Women’s University, which awarded her the Board of Regents Woman of Distinction Award, and earned a Juris Doctor degree from the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University.

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 College honors more than 600 graduates at spring commencement ceremonies

BAYTOWN, TX — Texas State Rep. John Zerwas advised the more than 600 graduates who received associate degrees and certificates at the 2016 Lee College spring commencement ceremonies to never underestimate the value of the gift of knowledge they had been given.

2016 Lee College Spring Commencement“Knowledge gives you the unique advantage to control your own destiny,” said Zerwas, who delivered the keynote address at both the 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. graduations held Saturday, May 14, in the Sports Arena on campus. “Graduates from this institution are highly sought for this very reason, and you should be confident in knowing that your time at Lee College has contributed to the will, capacity and character that will allow you to rally others toward a common purpose and vision.”

Now in his fifth term as the representative for fast-growing Texas House District 28, Zerwas is also in his first term as chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education. He noted the importance of community college education throughout the state, and cited Lee College as a shining example of the instrumental role that two-year colleges play in preparing students to enter the workforce or succeed at a four-year university.

“The state of Texas is going to expect great things from you,” Zerwas said. “Be prepared to build upon this gift of knowledge, such that the certain changes that will occur in your future don’t leave you behind in a cloak of self-righteousness. Graduates from Lee College will have a legacy of impacting humanity through their chosen professions, but also through a passion for benevolence and generosity. You are joining an exclusive group of individuals who will make this place much better for generations to come.”

Among the graduates who walked across the stage at commencement to receive their degrees and certificates were nearly 50 students from IMPACT Early College High School, where students have the opportunity to earn a high-school diploma and 60 hours of college credit simultaneously. The IMPACT Class of 2016 is the third to participate in Lee College commencement since the partnership between the college and Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District began.

“Graduation is never the end; it is only the beginning of the next steps you will take in your lives,” said Lee College Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown, reminding graduates that their achievement has made them role models for others to follow. “Your education is yours forever, and it will serve you well. Congratulations for having the fortitude and the desire to better yourselves, better your families and move out into the world to do what you do best.”

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.

Zerwas to speak at commencement

Rep. John Zerwas
State Rep. John Zerwas, M.D.

BAYTOWN, TX – Texas State Rep. John Zerwas, M.D., will deliver the keynote address at the 2016 Lee College Spring Commencement Ceremonies, set for 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Saturday, May 14, at the Sports Arena on campus.

Zerwas is currently in his fifth legislative term representing Texas House District 28, which encompasses northwestern Fort Bend County and is among the fastest-growing regions in the state. He is in his first term as chairman of the House Committee on Higher Education, and has advocated for increasing access to higher education and expanding opportunities for graduate medical education.

A physician for more than 30 years and one of only four doctors in the Texas House of Representatives, Zerwas brings firsthand experience and knowledge of health care systems to the forefront as a member of the Committee on Public Health. He is past-president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, and has previously served as president of the Memorial Hermann Health Network Providers and chief medical officer of the Memorial Hermann Hospital System. Zerwas also co-founded a Houston-area group practice more than a decade ago that recently became part of U.S. Anasthesia Partners, and he remains active in the operations of the partnership.

Zerwas has earned numerous awards and accolades for his dedication to public service. He was twice selected by Texas Monthly magazine as one of the “Ten Best Legislators,” and received the 2014 Coalition for Texans with Disabilities Award and the 2014 American Cancer Society Cancer Action Award. In 2015, he was named the national Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) Legislator of the Year for writing legislation to preserve patient access to innovative and cost-effective biologic medicines in Texas.

A graduate of Bellaire High School and the University of Houston, Zerwas earned his doctorate in medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in 1980.

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.