AACC honors Lee College for diversity efforts

Lee College employees pose with diversity award.
Dr. Dennis Brown, Lee College President; Mark Himsel, Lee College Regent; Judy Jirrels, Lee College Board of Regents, Secretary; Jessica Falla, Lee College HSI STEM Grant Success Coach; Susan Moore-Fontenot, Lee College Regent; Victoria Marron, Lee College Executive Directory HSI Initiatives; Pete Alfaro, Lee College Board of Regents, Chair; Gina Guillory, Lee College Regent; Michael Pounds, Lee College HSI STEM Grant College Completion & Transfer Coach; Gilbert Santana, Lee College Regent.

When Lee College was recognized this week with the American Association of Community Colleges’ Award of Excellence in the category of Advancing Diversity, the honor reflected innovative work by people and departments across campus.

In announcing the award, Lee College President Dennis Brown said, “This recognition is a testament to the tremendous work being done by our faculty and staff in creating a culture that empowers our diverse student population to thrive, succeed and realize successful futures — whether they choose to continue their education or move on to rewarding careers.”

The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) is the primary advocacy organization for the nation’s community colleges. The association represents nearly 1,200 two-year, associate’s degree-granting institutions and more than 12 million students. “Winning in a category or being identified as a finalist for a category is always a huge honor,” says Brown. “For any institution, it’s like the Academy Awards for community colleges.”

Joining Brown in receiving the award were Lee College’s Executive Director of Hispanic Serving Institution Initiatives Victoria Marron, Executive Vice President Dr. Christina Ponce and Vice President of Workforce and Corporate Partnerships Dr. Angela Oriano.

Victoria Marron said the efforts to improve the college experience for historically under-served populations benefits all students.

“We’re really trying to plan for the future growth, not just of our community, but of the college and addressing our growing Hispanic population is important for us as a college,” she said.

“We’ve been very blessed in having several different grant awards, and by centralizing those awards it allows us to work collaboratively across Lee to help all students.”

A prime example, Marron said, is the STEM lab, which is open to all students. “When the grant was written, because it comes from the Hispanic Serving Institutions department in the Department of Education, they’re expecting certain measurements and certain other activities to target low-income and Hispanic students.”

In making the award, the AACC statement said, “Lee College has taken a strategic, proactive approach to addressing inequities hindering the persistence of its under-served students, especially the growing Latino population.

“With a grant from the U.S. Department of Education Hispanic Serving Institution division, coupled with other funding sources, the college established a centralized Hispanic Serving Institution Initiatives Department.

“The HSI Initiatives Department allows the college to provide students with a centralized hub to take advantage of academic support,” the statement continued.

“The college has targeted communities with the lowest college-going rates by taking its Mobile Go Center, which includes a wide array of resources, directly to families. Lee College also has offered city-wide STEM recruiting activities.”

Marron said, “What set us apart is that we took a really proactive approach to planning for the future.”

One of the innovative programs Lee has implemented is Weekend College which enables people who are working full-time to attain an associates degree or technical certification in 24 months or less by attending class on Friday evenings and Saturdays.

Marron said, “One of the things we’ve learned over the last six years is really how to leverage different grant funds with high-impact best practices. That formula is really making a difference. As a result, for example, we were able to develop a plan and write a successful grant application for our First in The World Grant, which in turn helped us develop our Weekend College.”

Lee College’s Weekend College has achieved a three-year graduation rate of 70 percent, far exceeding the 20 percent three-year graduation rate for Texas community college students overall.

The First in the World grant requires research comparing student outcomes in the grant-funded program with similar students in traditional programs. Marron said the Weekend College students have shown higher GPAs and higher graduation rates in that research.

“Much of this success can be attributed to the pathways we created that laid their whole degree plan out for them. They knew what they were taking every single term. And they were assured that wouldn’t change. We coupled that with intensive support from a college completion coach.”

Marron said the Lee College designation as a Hispanic Serving Institution is through the U.S. Department of Education. Criteria include that at least 25 percent of full-time students are Hispanic and that the institution’s students are eligible to receive Pell grants.

The designation makes the college eligible for some additional funding sources and requires an effort to streamline and improve services.

“When you can target and provide assistance to your under-served populations, you are providing services to all students,” Marron said. “That’s the beauty of this kind of scalability of practice and resources.”

“Advancing diversity doesn’t mean that we’re saying we’re as diverse across campus as we need to be, rather we’re advancing to the point of where we’re going to be.

“We got an award and we’re incredibly grateful for it, but this is just the beginning.”

Lee College was also a finalist in the award for College and Corporate Partnership. Joining Brown in receiving that finalist award were Bob Cautadal, manager of the ExxonMobil Chemical Plant, and Connie Tilton of the ExxonMobil Public Affairs Office.

Lee College has been honored by AACC multiple times in recent years — in 2017 as an AACC Award of Excellence Finalist for Advancing Diversity, Faculty Innovation and Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership. In 2016 as an AACC Award of Excellence Finalist for Faculty Innovation, Exemplary Board/CEO and Outstanding College/Corporate Partnership, and in 2015 as an AACC Award of Excellence Winner for Student Success as well as an AACC Award Finalist for Exemplary Board/CEO.

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.

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.

Student group to host event honoring Orlando victims

The OHANA student organization at Lee College invites the community to join them this Tuesday, June 21, for a diversity celebration and vigil in honor of the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando.

The event will begin at 6:30 p.m., at the gazebo located near the Student Center. OHANA members and other participants will share a meal to celebrate the differences that make the Lee College campus and community a rich and inclusive place to learn and grow. Free refreshments will be provided.

At 8:15 p.m., participants will walk the perimeter of the campus in memory of the 49 people who died in the nightclub massacre, and as a symbol of the college’s ongoing commitment to diversity.

Founded at Lee College in September 2015, OHANA aims to use education, support and advocacy to create a more safe and accepting environment for all people – regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. As part of their work, the organization hosts events and activities that bring awareness of LGBTQ+ issues.

For more information about the OHANA Diversity Celebration and Vigil, contact adviser Jessica Falla at 281.425.6241 or jfalla@lee.edu.

Lee College offers more than 100 associate degree and certificate programs, as well as non-credit workforce and community education courses, that prepare its diverse student body for advanced higher education; successful entry into the workforce; and a variety of in-demand careers. With the main campus and McNair Center located in Baytown, Texas, and a satellite 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