Lee College fights perception as Region XIV play begins

By Alan Dale | Courtesy of the Baytown Sun

It’s full steam ahead for Lee College athletes as it pertains to getting back on the court for the fall of 2021.

Both the basketball and volleyball team are in the midst of preparing to get respective rosters together following the shut down of athletics for the 2020-21 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic as the majority of other Region XIV teams begin competition. 

“All the coaches are out there actively recruiting for the upcoming season and nothing has changed from our original statement that we were suspending athletics for one year due to the pandemic,” Lee College athletic director Graeme Cox said. “Some of the coaches are saying they are hearing some weird things out there that really disappoints me that other people are talking smack and don’t even know what’s going on.

“Maybe that’s the world we live in now. I don’t understand why people would think that when we haven’t made an announcement and the coaches would not be recruiting and we wouldn’t be paying them to recruit a team if we weren’t going to have a team.”

Cox said the main issue is the rhetoric floating around that Lee College had or was planning to cut their athletic programs.

Roy Champagne, the men’s basketball coach, confirmed at least one recruit has hesitated on signing with the school until he knows for sure if the Rebels will play in the fall.

“Right now, it’s not shaping up good at all,” Champagne said. “We are actively recruiting, and there are kids interested in coming, but they are leery if there is a season, a team, or a program next year. That’s coming from them. Once perception becomes reality to them …

“Yes, we are actively recruiting and we actively recruited last year and we didn’t have a team and the season is being played. That’s the issue. Why go to Lee when you can go to 12 other schools in Region XIV that are playing?”

Champagne doesn’t know for sure where that stimulus is being created, but it could come from a lack of information put out since June from the college or his competitors could be disseminating such information as well.

“We have only put out one statement,” Champagne said. “I have been recruiting long enough and I know what tools (coaches) use and how they go about it.”

Champagne confirmed he has offered out a scholarship that is yet to be signed basically due to a wait-and-see approach.

Cox said the pandemic can still potentially change plans, saying, “you don’t know what’s going to happen, but we are moving forward and are optimistic that the vaccine is going to work and enough people will take the vaccine and the community is protected. We are just charging forward.”

Cox said the school is moving forward in its housing plans for athletes and upgrades being made to make sure that is a go.

“We are doing everything we can,” Cox said.

Essix has also been working the recruiting trail and said she has signed one player for next season, adding Texas City middle blocker Ashlynn Lewis, to the roster which still includes Barbers Hill alum Kylee Kejonen who remained at the school.

“I am doing my best to build the spots that I need to replace the players who transferred,” Essix said. “I would agree with Roy. It’s kind of like the players are holding out committing to see if they get another offer. Division I’s are not really recruiting right now.

“Junior colleges should get a lot of good players this year, but players are holding out to see if they get a Division I offer and that’s where I see some of the hesitation on my end.

The NCAA is currently playing the second half of its campaign,  backlogging many recruiting efforts.
“I am going off of what the administration told me,” Essix said. “They are saying they are planning to have a season and allowing us to recruit and to sign players. But it’s pretty fair for the players to feel that way as well because they want to play.”

Champagne has been teaching more classes and trying to recruit as much as he can. He also confirmed he is mulling the possibility of retirement. 

“I am eligible to retire as of May,” Champagne said. “I’ll be 52 years old this year, but I can coach until I am 75.”

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.

Auto dealers donate $200K to local groups

By Michael Pineda / Baytown Sun

Roger and Kim Elswick pose before their business
Roger and Kim Elswick

The Baytown Chamber of Commerce had its October Business Exchange Thursday, but it was the charity of Roger and Kim Elswick that stole the show.

The Elswick Automotive owners announced donations of just under $200,000 to benefit community charities, along with funding that will go toward feeding families for a week. Roger Elswick said the business had taken a hit early in the pandemic but has recovered in recent months, allowing the opportunity to give back.

“It’s a new thing,” he said. My wife and I have felt that throughout all that has gone on in the pandemic, a lot of people have been struggling, and we have been blessed, and we wanted to help. We picked the organizations that could benefit from the donation that has been most affected or provided services for the community.”

The Rotary Club received a $4,500 donation after the cancellation of its main fundraiser, the Annual Shrimp and Catfish Festival. Missouri Street Church of Christ received $10,000 for its food pantry. Also receiving $10,000 was Project Blue and the Pregnancy Resource Center. Bridge Over Troubled Waters received $17,500, while the Lee College Foundation was given $30,000 to supplement CARES Act funding that allowed for education assistance.

An estimated $115,000 will go toward feeding families of four for a week. Food will be dispersed on dates in October, November and December. In announcing the donations, Kim Elswick said the couple had been fortunate their business had not been affected.

“We feel we’ve been called by God to give back in every way we can,” she said. “We’re extremely blessed to be part of this community and are thankful for the support that allows us to expand and return that blessing, at least in part, to the Baytown area.”

Among those on hand to accept for the Missouri Church of Christ was Kim Martin, an elder with the congregation who is active in its food ministry. He said 150 people are fed each week through its pantry. Martin said they have to ask people their income as part of its services, and a lot of people have answered $0.

“We tell them our hearts are with you,” Martin said. “This will help so much.”

Project Blue, founded by Mary Zaruba Pinney in memory of her brother Marcus, is operated by Mark Pinney and Dr. Jim Zaruba after her untimely passing. Proceeds go toward helping police officers who face serious illness or injuries outside of their duties. It has donated over $280,000 to officers and hosts the Jailbreak Run.

The Pregnancy Resource Center offers realistic alternatives to abortion. It had to cancel its golf tournament fundraiser due to the pandemic. Bridge Over Troubled Waters assists victims of domestic violence, which has increased since stay-at-home mandates were enacted.

Lee College will be able to use its donation to help students impacted by the pandemic. Dr. Lynda Villanueva, president of the college, gave credit to board members for taking steps to innovate in response to the pandemic. She said the donation will allow more students to pursue their academic endeavors.

The Elswicks have enlisted help from others to fulfill its goal of feeding Baytown families. The plan is to feed 1,250 families, with 250 on Oct. 17, 400 on Nov. 21, and 600 on Dec. 19. Faith Family Church has been recruited for its expertise in food dispersal. Kroger will bag the food and transport to the church, while Wismer Distributing will offer usage of a refrigerated truck. The Kiwanis Club is also helping, selling 300 cases of apples at a discounted rate and supplying volunteers to bag them during distribution of food.

Elswick Automotive, which is building a new facility, Community Honda off the I-10 East access road between Garth Road and East Main, has remained active in support of the community prior to announcement of the donations. Most recently it made a donation to the Baytown Chamber Capital Campaign helping provide to the realization of construction of a new building. It has also helped under the radar, donating air scrubbers to the ventilation system of Baytown Little Theater, which allowed it to reopen.

“We are just very blessed, and we give all to the glory of God,” Roger Elswick said.

Kids at College Program Takes Virtual Learning to New Level

A child attends a virtual summer camp
Ethan, 10, learns Javascript while participating in a virtual summer kids camp via computer.

Baytown, TX – With community gatherings canceled, sports leagues sidelined and play dates nowhere in sight; many parents were left wondering how to keep their children engaged and entertained during the long summer months of the pandemic. The solution for several local families was the Lee College Center for Workforce and Community Development Kids at College summer program.

This summer, Lee College teamed up with Black Rocket, a national leader in tech education, to offer students virtual summer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Camps.

Families were able to choose from a wide variety of cutting-edge courses with topics like coding, game design, eSports, virtual reality and more. Each week top teachers led students in live group classes, and then students convened into smaller breakout sessions with customized learning coaches.

As a bonus, Lee College offered $100 scholarships for up to three classes per student thanks to a generous gift from a local donor earlier this year.

Estefana White from Anahuac said the classes were a huge help for her family this summer, and thanks to the Lee College scholarship, her 10-year-old son Ethan was able to take three classes instead of one.

“We were so grateful for these classes, and the scholarship made it even better,” said White. “It was a big relief for us as parents to have something that we knew our son would enjoy learning about, but would also keep him engaged over the summer. These were the first STEM-related classes he has attended, and they really boosted his motivation to learn more.”

Thirteen-year-old Ciera from Baytown also completed three classes in Python programming, coding and JavaScript. Because Ciera aspires to be a software engineer when she grows up, she was excited to learn how to design video games and explore different programming languages first-hand.

Ciera’s mother, Billie Baker, believes the Kids at College program has started preparing her daughter for a successful STEM career.

“The earlier kids are exposed to these types of programs, the more comfortable they will become,” said Baker. “If kids can have direction and learn about technology at a young age, I believe they will have a better chance to succeed.”

From fine arts to creative writing to sports, Baker said she has always been impressed with Lee College’s wide variety of summer courses offered for kids. She said this summer was no exception with Lee College providing access to high-caliber classes that are typically more expensive on other learning sites.

“Not only are these classes an affordable and effective way for our kids to explore technology, but it helps them feel connected with a local college and gets them thinking about actually going to college one day.

“The pandemic has taught us that we need to learn the technology; you never know what’s going to happen. The Kids at College program establishes an easy pathway that can lead kids to career and academic success,” said Baker.

There is still one week remaining in the Summer 2020 Kids at College program, and the Lee College Center for Community and Workforce Development is planning a full list of virtual learning opportunities for Fall 2020 as well.

“The Kids at College Program provides an important outlet for children to learn while doing activities they love,” said Katherine Norland, Kids at College program manager. “We love hearing about the fantastic experiences our students had during our online summer courses and anticipate more amazing stories with the fall online learning opportunities.”

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.

Summer enrollment soars to record numbers

Baytown, TX – Lee College enrollment this summer has reached nearly 5,000 students making it the largest summer enrollment in the College’s 86-year history. Up nearly 50 percent from this time last year, student summer enrollment is climbing as well as the number of credit hours students are taking.

“While other colleges and universities are struggling with enrollment right now, the news of our record enrollment gives us hope and excitement for the future,” said Dr. Lynda Villanueva, Lee College President. “However, numbers represent more than statistics or a line on a graph. Lee College cares about the community and we are continuously innovating around the pandemic to meet each individual where they are and help them succeed. Now is the time for people to go to college and not delay their dreams for higher education.”

All Lee College classes were transitioned online in March 2020 with the exception of hands-on classes, which were resumed in May. Since then the College has provided technology assistance as well as emergency financial support for students in need. Last April, the Lee College Board of Regents approved a plan to utilize more than $2 million in funding from the federal stimulus to pay for qualifying students’ tuition, e-books and fees for the Summer 2020 semester.

“While free tuition has been a driver for the College’s high enrollment, the certainty that higher education and training can provide is empowering, which has greatly supported our enrollment,” said Dr. Donnetta Suchon, Vice President of Student Affairs at Lee College. “I think more people are seeing that higher education is an effective pathway into gaining new skills and preparing for new careers in an ever-changing environment.”

Most students enrolled at Lee College this summer are first-time college students under the age of 20, but the College continues to see growth across all areas and student backgrounds. According to the registrar’s office, 60 to 70 percent of students enrolled in the summer typically choose to continue their education at Lee College in the fall.

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.

Trustees vote to waive summer e-books, tuition, fees

Baytown, TX — The Lee College Board of Regents approved a plan Thursday (April 23) to utilize more than $2 million in funding from the federal stimulus to pay for students’ tuition. Lee College is waiving tuition, e-books, and fees for the Summer 2020 semester for all in-district residents, out-of-district residents who attended Lee College in Spring 2020, any person in the Lee College service area who has been displaced or suffered a loss of income due to COVID-19, and students who graduated from our service area high schools in the 2019-2020 academic year.

“You may not be able to go off to university and live in a dormitory, and you may not have as much income as you did before the pandemic, but you can afford to go to Lee College, and you can’t afford to postpone your college dreams,” President Lynda Villanueva said.

The free tuition proposal is part of a comprehensive plan, Lee Cares, designed to meet the needs of Lee College students who have suffered financial hardship due to the impacts of COVID-19. An additional $2 million of CARES Act stimulus funding is being used to pay for expenses related to the coronavirus outbreak, including materials and technology, food, housing, and childcare.

“When many members of our community are struggling with the COVID-19 fallout, Lee College is committed to ensuring that education will always be the foundation upon wihc the success of our community is built,” Villanueva said. “I am determined to make it easier for our students to get the education they need to improve the quality of their lives, and that means removing financial and technological barriers for students in our community.”

Lee College continues to respond to the coronavirus pandemic by implementing measures to help students navigate these extraordinary circumstances. Here are some steps the College has taken in recent days:

• Lee Cares Emergency Fund—Assists students by providing emergency financial assistance to students who are unable to meet immediate essential expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Credit/No Credit – Because of the disruption caused by the transition to distance learning education, students will have the option to convert any or all of the letter grades they earn in their Spring 2020 classes to Credit/No Credit grading.
• Laptop/Chromebooks/Hotspots — The college has purchased new laptops and tablets for students who need them to participate in distance learning. If you are a student in need of a device, go to www.lee.edu/leecaresemergencyfund.
• Donations — Lee College Nursing Department donated several medical supplies to the Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital to help with the nationwide shortage of medical supplies.
• SBDC—Offering virtual SBA loan application consultations for local businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lee to receive $4 million from Federal CARES Act

Lee College will receive a little more than $4 million from the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund as part of the $14 billion in support for colleges and universities and their students under the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Of the more than $4 million, half of the money — or approximately $2 million — will be earmarked for emergency financial aid grants for Lee College students.

From its share of the funding, Lee College will award cash grants to students to pay for expenses related to the COVID-19 outbreak, including materials and technology, food, housing, and childcare. Lee College President, Dr. Lynda Villanueva, has appointed a task force to develop a plan for distributing the money to students. The group, which is working on a tight deadline, plan to begin disbursements as soon as possible. Details on how students can apply for the emergency aid will be shared broadly as soon as they are available.

These federal dollars will supplement Lee College’s ongoing efforts to provide financial relief for students in need of assistance. Since the pandemic began, Lee College has provided aid to more than 150 students who suffered expenses related to COVID-19 disruptions, including Chromebook computers and food.

The Department of Education plans to announce guidance for the second half of the funds allocated to post-secondary institutions — in Lee College’s case, approximately $2 million — in the next two weeks. This funding is intended for direct institutional use to cover costs associated with changes to educational delivery and campus operations as a result of coronavirus disruptions. Lee College wants to use these federal stimulus funds to pay for student tuition and lessen the impacts of the pandemic on the college’s student body.

The CARES Act provides $31 billion overall for education aid at all levels, including $14 billion in funding to institutions of higher education and students. The Department of Education based college awards on two factors: the share of recipients of federal Pell Grants, and overall undergraduate enrollment numbers.