College to unveil new campus STEM hub, welcome special guests

BAYTOWN, TX — Lee College will celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and national Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) next week with the grand opening of a new campus hub for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and special guest appearances from artist and author Marlon “Marley” Lizama and entrepreneur and recording artist Stefani Vara.

Marlon Lizama
Marlon Lizama

The kickoff for the HSI Week festivities will be the unveiling of the newly renovated STEM Hub at 11:30 a.m., Monday, Sept. 18, in Moler Hall. Funded by a multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education, the original STEM center opened in 2013 to provide students with a dedicated space on campus to use the Internet and printing, receive free tutoring and meet with study groups. The new hub is also funded through the federal HSI STEM grant, which is designed to increase awareness, enrollment and completion of STEM degrees among Hispanic students and other underserved populations.

Lizama — a poet, writer, author and dancer who focuses on the cultural aspect of writing and the arts — will be the special guest speaker at 9:30 and 11 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 19, in the Rundell Hall Conference Center. He is currently the program director of Iconoclast Artist, a creative writing program that focuses on underserved schools and juvenile detention centers. He has published two student anthologies of poetry through Iconoclast and is also the author of “Cue the Writer: Cheers to the Notion of Love, Hate, God and Revolution,” a collection of short stories and poetry from a young immigrant’s perspective. The recipient of the 2015 John P. McGovern Award for his work in the community with the arts, Lizama has traveled to more than 40 countries to advance his mission of using the arts as a tool to connect with others and change lives and perspectives.

Stefani Vara
Stefani Vara

Vara will be the special guest for two “Follow My Feet” sessions at 9 and 11 a.m., Wednesday, Sept. 20, in the Rundell Hall Conference Center. An entrepreneur, professional foot model and recording artist who was raised by fierce Latina women in humble surroundings in Baytown, she has learned that her voice is her strongest asset and life is about diving headfirst into the unknown to blaze your own trail. Now committed to using her varied life experiences to give back to her community, Vara shares her personal journey in her “Follow My Feet” campaign to encourage others to realize their dreams are achievable and nothing is beyond their reach.

HSI Week at Lee College will also include a bash and informational table at the Student Center and gazebo; games of loteria, or Mexican bingo; an open mic session; and the “What’s Your Label” panel discussion hosted by the MAS Raza Collective student organization. All events and activities are free and open to the public. For a full schedule, visit www.lee.edu. For more information, contact Victoria Marron at 281.425.6501 or vmarron@lee.edu, or Daisy Aramburo at 832.556.4026 or daramburo@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 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.

Grant director chosen for national program for Hispanic community college leaders

Victoria Marron
Victoria Marron

BAYTOWN, TX — Lee College grant director Victoria Marron was one of 22 community college administrators from around the country selected for the 2016 National Community College Hispanic Council’s (NCCHC) Leadership Fellows Program, which aims to develop a pool of highly qualified Hispanics and assist them in attaining high-level positions in community colleges.

As part of the program, Marron traveled to the University of San Diego School of Leadership and Education Sciences for two residential seminars. She prepared an individualized professional development plan, engaged in a mentoring relationship with a Hispanic community college leader and attended the NCCHC Leadership Symposium, where she also completed online activities between sessions.

“Assisting in creating policies, offering services and helping students is part of my core,” said Marron, who oversees the college’s $2.7 million U.S. Department of Education First in the World Grant and more than $5.3 million in federal Hispanic-Serving Institutions STEM Grant funding, while also serving as coordinator of the Puente Project mentoring program for academically under-served students.

“I myself had been a Lee College student in developmental education courses, fresh out of high school with a newborn baby. I walk across campus and understand the struggles our students face,” Marron said. “I look forward to continuing my growth and having the ability to continue to learn how to serve all of our students better. Lee College is truly a family and I am very appreciative of the ongoing support from my teams, faculty, staff and administration.”

NCCHC is an affiliated council of the American Association of Community Colleges, a national organization that has provided leadership to the community college movement for more than 50 years. The council works to promote the educational interests and success of the Hispanic community and emphasizes access, equity and excellence for students and staff in community colleges.

Marron is one of more than 250 NCCHC Leadership Fellows who have graduated from the program since its inception. Of the original 72 Fellows, more than 15 are now community college presidents and many others have moved to positions of increased responsibility as executive-level administrators.

“Preparing strong leaders for the future is the primary purpose of the NCCHC Leadership Fellows Program,” said council Pres. Maria Harper Marinick. “A demographic shift is occurring in the United States and we need leaders who can model the way for the growing Hispanic population. Through this program, Fellows gain the knowledge and skills they need to lead higher education into the future and positively impact the economic and civic success of their respective communities.”

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.

Latino students find encouragement through Puente Project

Like all of the students involved in the Puente Project at Lee College, future physicist Hugo Anguiano and budding engineer Verenice Valencia received incredible support on their journey to an associate’s degree and beyond: help with academics, scholarship money, connections with professional mentors, exposure to new cultural experiences and a deeper understanding of their Latino heritage.

Putnte Project students
Students in the Puente Project at Lee College receive academic support, community mentors, opportunities to visit universities and cultural sites around the state, and an in-depth exploration of Latino history and heritage. The program is seeking professionals to serve as mentors to the newest Puente enrollees. From left: Yesica Flores, Stephanie Moreno, Lizbeth Bejar, Mitchell Medrano, Andrea Gallegos, Prescilla Sanchez, Xochitl Cortez, Corie Cole, Cierra Marron, Yoselin Velasquez, Deborah Ridley, Jose Pulido, and Jasmine Cardenas.

But it’s the feeling of having a second family on campus — a Puente family bonded by the shared goal of completing their education and achieving their dreams — that has meant the most of all.

“I like to push myself; I like a little struggle,” said Valencia, now a junior industrial engineering major at the University of Houston who continues to return to Lee College to work as a Puente tutor. “I knew I wanted to move up and advance, and the classes I took gave me more structure as a student and motivation to talk to my professors. But the family part of Puente really helped me out. I found study buddies and my parents got involved in my education. The friends I met in Puente are the ones I still talk to at UH. We all transferred together, and  we still have access to Puente resources and guidance.”

Lee College was the fourth community college district in Texas to host the Puente Project, which aims to increase the number of under-served students who transfer to four-year colleges and universities, earn college degrees and return to their communities as leaders and role models for new generations. Approximately 42 percent of students enrolled at Lee College are Hispanic/Latino, earning the college a federal designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution.

Through Puente, Latino students are provided with academic support centered on integrated reading and writing, English and an introduction to Mexican-American Studies. They visit universities around the state, like the University of Texas and Sam Houston State University, and are invited to participate in academic conferences and unique social and cultural events, like the annual “Noche de Familia” and Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Puente students have also been involved in highlighting the contributions of the Latino community in Baytown, even painting a mural at Sterling Municipal Library that depicted the stories of those who made an impact on Latino and multicultural history in the region.

“The trips and events bring us even closer together because they show us a glimpse of the future and where we can all be if we work harder,” said Anguiano, who has worked as a Puente tutor for 2 years while also pursuing associate degrees in physics and mathematics. “I came here at 9 from Mexico and still feel that I’ve learned a new perspective on what it means to be Chicano in America – the activists and artists, the struggles and meaningful places.”

Puente students are also paired with community mentors who share their professional and academic experiences while motivating the students to reach their goals. All Puente mentors are professionals who have earned a college degree and committed to spending at least nine hours per semester interacting with their mentees. Those who are interested in serving as mentors are invited to a training dinner set for 6-8 p.m.,  Wednesday, Oct. 5, in the Bayer Conference Center on campus.

“I gained a good role model and a friend,” Valencia said, describing the  ExxonMobil engineer who took her under her wing. “Getting a degree is one thing, but getting a job is another. She has spent time to show me what it is to be a professional engineer, helped me with essays and helped me with networking. I’ve learned so much from her educationally and personally.”

And although Anguiano has benefited from his relationship with his mentor and the instructors and staff who keep Puente going, he has also learned how to be a better student and leader. When he earns his doctorate degree, begins conducting research in particle physics and quantum theory and starts finding answers to the age-old questions of the universe, he will remember how the Puente Project at Lee College made a difference.

“I would encourage students to put their energy and focus into Puente,” Anguiano said. “In those classes, you’re more likely to find out what you want to be and do. You don’t have to worry too much about how to succeed in college; you’re part of a family.”

For more information about the Puente Project at Lee College and the upcoming mentor training, contact Sarah Steinkopf at 281.425.6808 or ssteinkopf@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 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.

Marquez urges students to ‘dig deeper’ into history

Lee College Honors Program alumnus and Northwestern University professor John D. Marquez, Ph.D., isn’t surprised or disheartened when his thoughts about racism and its continued and pervasive presence in society make someone angry — in fact, he’s encouraged.

Causing disruption and stirring disagreement come along with the job of being an activist and “agitator.”

“This is the role that artists and intellectuals play,” Marquez told dozens of Lee College students last week in Tucker Hall, where he appeared as part of the third annual Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) Week celebration. “Without facilitating conversations and bringing up issues, we tend to gloss over and mythologize parts of the past as though they have nothing to do with our present.”

A graduate of Robert E. Lee High School, Marquez was also the honored guest at a special reception where he discussed and signed copies of his book, “Black-Brown Solidarity: Racial Politics in the New Gulf South.” The book focuses particular attention on the history of racial tension in his native Baytown — where his parents moved their family decades ago with the hope of earning a good living and achieving the American dream — and how black and Latino citizens came together to fight inequality.

Raised in The Oaks of Baytown — one of the more notorious neighborhoods in the city — Marquez said he and other children from his community were often treated as problems by the local educational system. It wasn’t until he graduated from Robert E. Lee High School, came to Lee College and enrolled in the American Studies honors course with retired instructor John Britt that he believed he could contribute more in school than just athletic ability.

“He was the first person in my life that treated me like a student,” Marquez said of Britt, whom he still considers a role model and mentor. “I impressed a teacher as an intellectual, and I had never felt valued in that way. I’ve been all over the world as an educator and speaker, but that journey started here.”

After graduating from Lee College, Marquez went on to earn his doctoral degree and co-found the Latina and Latino Studies program at Northwestern. His academic success and scholarly pursuits only strengthened his knowledge and resolve as an activist, and he continued to protest and speak out against issues ranging from border militarization to police brutality.

Citing the high numbers of blacks and Latinos currently incarcerated against the low numbers of black and Latino males who have attained a degree, Marquez challenged students to familiarize themselves with the history of their community and its unsung heroes. Be unafraid to speak truth to power, he said.

“Some look at those statistics and blame the victims for their culture, their style of dress, their style of music; they forget that there could be residual effects of a history of oppression and racial tension,” Marquez said. “Try a little harder. Dig a little deeper. The artist in an intellectual society is a moral witness; that’s what unites us all as human beings: the capacity to be honest.”

STEM DAY draws more than 400

Outside instructor Margene Lenamon’s classroom last week at Lee College, a masking-tape outline on the floor — mimicking the chalk outlines of bodies found at grisly crime scenes — welcomed high school students into a lesson centered on forensic science.

Inside the classroom, students found laboratory tables piled high with bone fragments, x-rays, microscopes and kits to be used for collecting and examining DNA. College students stood close by, ready to offer a helping hand.

“We want you to interact, we want you to pick up, we want you to look at, we want you to do,” Lenamon told the students, who were among more than 400 registered participants of the college’s STEM Day event held Friday, Feb. 28, to encourage exploration of science, technology, engineering and math.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors from eight nearby school districts were invited to Lee for STEM Day, which was funded through a federal STEM grant for Hispanic-serving institutions. The students rotated through the Gray Science Building and had their pick from a wide variety of interactive, informational sessions created and led by college instructors.

In one room, a group of sophomores shared their career aspirations with instructor Yinfen Yen in a session about microbes. In another, students donned safety goggles and mixed glue, borax and water to create a bouncy, rubbery “slime” in a session about chemistry and polymers. There were also sessions about the harmonic structure of music as sound waves, forensic ballistics, the human body, environmental science and even the process of refining oil.

“Our goal is to inspire students to look at STEM fields and show them what’s really out there,” said instructor Evan Richards, who coordinated the event and taught a popular session where students used computer software to program robots. “I really want to awaken their minds to all that is possible.”