Educate Texas gives $750K for STEM degree accelerator

College to lead regional consortium focused on preparing students for petrochemical sector

BAYTOWN – Lee College has been awarded a $750,000 grant from Educate Texas to lead a regional consortium that aims to increase the number of underrepresented students earning science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) credentials and entering the petrochemical workforce.

Posed shot with donation check
Parties involved in the Gulf Coast consortium of the Texas Regional STEM Degree Accelerator initiative gathered in Houston on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016, to announce the grant award from Educate Texas. Pictured (left to right): Woody Paul, ExxonMobil; Debi Jordan, Lee College; Christy Ponce, Lee College; Peter Beard, Greater Houston Partnership; Allatia Harris, San Jacinto College; Dennis Brown, President, Lee College; Craig Beskid, East Harris County Manufacturers Association; Carolyn Watson, Global Philanthropy / JPMorgan Chase; Richard McKeon, Helmsley Charitable Trust; Angela Oriano, Lee College; Ann Pham, Houston-Galveston Area Council; Melissa Duarte, Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District; and Mike Krall, Lone Star College.

Lee College is one of only five institutions of higher education in Texas selected to receive grant funds for the Texas Regional STEM Degree Accelerator initiative. Each recipient convened a regional consortium that includes two-year colleges, four-year colleges, K-12 partners and workforce partners.

Consortium members have examined regional workforce data, identified the STEM pathways in which they plan to work and begun engaging faculty and workforce partners to achieve two goals: redesigning gateway courses in STEM majors to ensure alignment with workforce needs in the petrochemical industry, and providing professional development for faculty to improve teaching and learning in STEM fields.

“Lee College is privileged to serve as the Gulf Coast lead for the Texas STEM Accelerator Grant,” said Pres. Dr. Dennis Brown, noting the importance of coordinated efforts to close the middle-skills gap in the region. “We have to strengthen the education to workforce pipeline through collaboration, but more importantly, through innovation. By bringing all partners — secondary and post-secondary educators, business and industry, workforce boards and others — we are more likely to build strong models that are replicable, scalable and sustainable.”

The STEM Accelerator project is developed in accordance with priorities for education and workforce outlined by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the Texas Workforce Commission. The grant is funded through the Helmsley Charitable Trust, Greater Texas Foundation, Council for Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development (CREEED,) JPMorgan Chase and the W.W. Caruth, Jr., Foundation. It is the first time the Helmsley Trust has ever funded a project outside New York State.

“The Texas Regional STEM Degree Accelerator motivates our education and workforce partners to collaborate at a regional level to develop and refine STEM pathways,” said John Fitzpatrick, executive director of Educate Texas. “These pathways will result in an increased number of students across the state earning STEM degrees that meet regionally-identified workforce needs. We are proud to be working with a strong public-private coalition of national and state foundations, corporations, local business groups and the state of Texas on this pioneering initiative.”

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

CE hosts Magic of STEM for teens

STEM CampersNearly 30 local high school students discovered the magic of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) this summer as part of a week-long, all-expense-paid camp hosted by the Lee College Center for Workforce and Community Development.

Funded through a grant from the Texas Workforce Commission Governor’s Summer Merit Program, The Magic of STEM Camp was designed for participants to learn how science impacts their daily lives. Campers conducted hands-on experiments in the chemistry and biology labs; tested their engineering mettle by programming robots; explored aviation, computer technology, and computer-aided design and drafting with Lee College instructors; and toured the on-campus pilot plant, which is modeled after the facilities found at real-world petrochemical plants and refineries throughout the area. At the end of the camp, students put their new-found skills and knowledge to practice in team competitions against their peers, with prizes awarded to the winners.

“Our instructors and community partners really stepped to the forefront to make the camp a success,” said Kimberlee Whittington, director of Community Education, noting the guidance and involvement of the college’s federal Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSI) STEM grant staff was particularly helpful. “They generously volunteered their time to ensure the campers had an enjoyable and fulfilling experience during their week on our campus.”

The Magic of STEM campers also networked with professionals like NASA engineer Jessie Craft, who showed them how pursuing a STEM education could help build a solid foundation from which to achieve their goals.

“I learned new things about careers I didn’t even know existed,” said Ja’Von Green, a junior at Goose Creek Memorial High School and an avid gamer now considering a future in video game development and design after attending camp.

The Magic of STEM Camp will return in summer 2016. For more information or to be put on the waiting list, contact the Center for Workforce and Community Development at 281.425.6311 or visit

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.”