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UHCL empowered: Three generations, three journeys of discovery

Written by staff. Posted in Schools

UHCL 3GenThree generations of women from one family have discovered the power of a University of Houston-Clear Lake education. From left, alumni Sarah Elam, Tracy Elam and Patricia Ware all credit UHCL with helping them discover and achieve important goals

A University of Houston-Clear Lake education has empowered three generations of one family to discover and explore their passions.

When Sarah Elam graduated in May with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science, she joined her grandmother and mother as a UHCL alumna.

Not only have they shared an alma mater, all three have discovered more about themselves through their education at the university.

Patricia Ware, Sarah’s grandmother, earned a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities in 1983 and a Master of Arts in Literature in 1987. Discovery came in her creative writing classes, where she was inspired by the personal stories of her classmates.

“Creative writing gave me an outlet that I needed very badly, I didn’t realize until I came here the benefit of being able to express your feelings. That was the most important thing to me, being here. I enjoyed every minute of it" said Patricia Ware.

Sarah’s mother, Tracy Elam, earned a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences in 1984. Her degree laid the foundation for a successful career she discovered later in life – teaching.

As a veteran biology tutor for Barbers Hill Independent School District, Tracy often draws on experiences from her science courses and work in clinical research to give meaningful connections and examples to her students as they prepare for standardized testing.

“The background has helped me so much in the field. It actually applies to them. That’s what catches their attention, it isneat to see the light come on and feel like you’ve made a difference" said Tracy Elam.

Tracy and Patricia’s studies at UHCL overlapped, and the two recalled sharing a psychology class.

For Sarah, the older of Tracy Elam’s two daughters, attending UHCL was part of discovering her ideal career. In going outside the classroom onto the UHCL campus with her environmental science classes, Sarah discovered her love of working in the outdoors and her goal of becoming a park ranger.

“I liked being outside doing actual research,” she said of a particular project where students measured trees, tracking the growth based on data collected by previous students over the course of several years. “It made the science more hands-on and applicable.”

Through all three journeys, the women had both the university and each other for support.

Sarah recalled that her grandmother’s curiosity and interest in her environmental science made her, in turn, a better student.

“I’d teach her what I learned, and I could remember it better,” said Sarah Elam.

Tracy said Patricia has always encouraged her children and grandchildren to challenge themselves and avoid easy answers.

“You always made people think,” Tracy said to her mother during the group interview.

As part of that encouragement, Patricia has enjoyed seeing each member of the family become an expert in a different area of study.

“Our conversations are always interesting because we each have a different field,” said Patricia Ware.

The three UHCL alumni encouraged current students to get involved in the university, advice each of them has taken to heart – Patricia was a two-time short story winner in the UHCL’s literary journal Bayousphere, Tracy was an officer in the science club and both of them traveled together in a study abroad trip to China when the country first re-opened to tourism in the 1980s.

“It’s important to try and get involved, I still have very good friends I met while attending UHCL. We still have those connections" said Tracy.

Looking ahead, Patricia and Tracy anticipate a bright future for Sarah as she uses the knowledge, skills and passion she learned at UHCL to keep exploring the world and discovering more about herself. Just as they have, empowered by a UHCL education.

For 40 years, UH-Clear Lake has empowered individuals to find their passion and pursue their goals. This #UHCLempowered profile series celebrates the students, alumni, faculty and staff who impact their communities and the world. Follow #UHCLempowered hashtag on social media to learn more about how the university is changing lives.

To empower the next generation of UHCL students, find out how you can support the university at For more about the university, visit

UHCL receives Second Chance Pell Grant

Written by staff. Posted in Schools

University of Houston-Clear Lake became one of just 67 colleges and universities selected to participate in the Department of Education’s new Second Chance Pell pilot program. An experiment announced in July 2015, the pilot program will test whether participation in high quality education programs increases after expanding access to financial aid for incarcerated individuals. It will allow eligible incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants and pursue postsecondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs and support their families when they are released.

“We believe in second chances, we have to give people who have paid their debt to society a fair shot at college and careers together we can make that a reality” said John B. King Jr, secretary of Education.

The announcement of the program builds on President Barack Obama’s administration’s commitment to create a fairer and more effective criminal justice system, reduce recidivism and combat the impact of mass incarceration on families and communities through educational opportunity.

“This is wonderful news for our students in the Ramsey Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice,” said Billy Satterfield, executive director of student financial aid and registrar.

“Many struggle to meet the financial demands that can come with attaining an academic degree.

The Second Chance Pell grant will help qualified students with those costs tremendously” said Satterfield.

The U. S. Department of Education noted that selected colleges and universities will partner with 141 federal and state penal institutions to enroll roughly 12,000 incarcerated students in educational and training programs. Institutions selected for the Second Chance Pell pilot program may provide Federal Pell Grants to qualified students who are incarcerated and likely to be released within five years of enrolling in coursework.

According to a news release issued by the U.S. Department of Education, “access to high quality education is vital to ensuring that justice-involved individuals have an opportunity to reclaim their lives and restore their futures. Through this partnership with the Department of Education and institutions of higher learning around the country, this program will help give deserving incarcerated individuals the skills to live lives of purpose and contribute to society upon their release. The Department of Justice will continue to pursue additional efforts to reduce recidivism, promote opportunity and give justice-involved individuals a meaningful second chance” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Since its inception in 1974, UHCL has offered classes at TDCJ. The courses are offered through the School of Human Sciences and Humanities and lead to a bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences and graduate degrees in humanities and literature.

“The benefits of educating offenders are both visible and varied,” said Rick Short School of Human Sciences and Humanities Dean. “The recidivism rate for students who earn college degrees has been consistently lower than the rate for the general population.

“In the long-term, this translates into a substantial savings of taxpayer dollars.”

More than 600 degrees from UHCL have been awarded to students within the TDCJ program. Graduates of the program have gone on to complete advanced degrees at other institutions and taken jobs with a wide variety of organizations.

“This program has made a difference — a difference that extends far beyond the confines of the university,” said William P. Powers Jr., UHCL Director of TDCJ-ID. “They enjoy a support base that includes availability of a job placement service and career/vocational and personal counseling.”

The Second Chance Pell pilot program, builds upon previous administration efforts and responds to recommendations put forth by President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Task Force to promote successful alternatives to incarceration and eliminate unnecessary barriers to re-entry into society.

Currently, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world with approximately 2.2 million people incarcerated in American prisons and jails. A 2013 study from the RAND Corp. funded by the Department of Justice found the incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. The corporation also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.

For more information about the UHCL School of Human Sciences and Humanities TDCJ program, email Powers, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or call 281-283-3385. To find out more about UHCL, visit or call 281-283-7600.

Hawk1 taking UHCL research to new heights

Written by staff. Posted in Schools

UHCL Hawk1Photo by George Mattingly II University of Houston-Clear Lake Senior Research Scientist and Lecturer Mustafa Mokrech prepares the Environmental Institute of Houston’s drone for flight. The body of the drone can carry sensitive measurement equipment for use in research and teaching.

University of Houston-Clear Lake has a new perspective on local habitats and wildlife with the addition of some high-flying equipment.

Hawk1 is the first unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, of UH-Clear Lake’s Environmental Institute of Houston. The vehicles, more commonly referred to as drones, have grown in popularity for all sorts of applications, from military to recreational.

UHCL researchers can use the drone to take high quality aerial photography as well as infrared scans, which have a number of research applications. The craft’s design also allows it to be fitted with additional scanners and measurement tools.

“Hawk1 is very versatile. It has a variety of cameras, not only visible, but also other spectrums,” said George Guillen, EIH executive director. “It’s an integrated tool that can be used for all types of analysis.”

In one recent application, Hawk1 is being used to map oyster beds in Bastrop Bay. Oyster beds are exposed at extremely low tides, which only occur during specific tidal and weather conditions. As such low tides only last a short time, Hawk1 is essential for surveying the area quickly and accurately. The same goes for monitoring coastal birds or stretches of local prairies.

“Because of changes in the bay, dredging, sea level rise, there’s a lot of interest in what’s going to happen in that habitat,” said Guillen.

Guillen said that as drones become more popular, it will become vital that students have access to hands-on experience with the drones, which has the ability to simultaneously collect data, images and precise geographic location and will be invaluable to researchers. Combining data with maps is key to geographic information systems, which are increasingly vital in fields as diverse as environmental science, oil and gas production and sociology.

“GIS is really important for students to learn. This is the future. The traditional way of collecting data with aircraft will diminish with the rise of photogrammetric system UAVs” said Senior Research Scientist and Lecturer Mustafa Mokrech.

Hawk1, which received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration in February, usually relies on autopilot to follow a predetermined flight path. However, it is only unmanned in the sense that no one physically rides the vehicle. The drone requires a team of at least four people to operate it in the field, including one pilot with a remote control; one person to manage the UAV from a computer and two spotters to watch for birds, planes or other unexpected obstacles.

The drone’s measurements and positioning are accurate to within 2.2 centimeters from an altitude of 200 feet, and Mokrech said the device can become even more accurate with upgrades.

EIH has big plans for Hawk1 in the future, including building a program so students can learn more about drones, incorporating its data into existing courses and developing monitoring programs for local natural areas.

“This is just the start drones are with us and will stay with us for a while” said Mokrech.

To find out more about UHCL’s Environmental Institute of Houston, visit

SJC to launch cost-cutting open source degree program

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SJC OER: Dr. Laurel Williamson, San Jacinto College deputy chancellor and president, discusses the new Open Educational Resources degree program with Mark Johnson, North Campus English and modern languages department chair. Photo credit: Rob Vanya, San Jacinto College marketing, public relations, and government affairs department.

San Jacinto College is preparing to launch a general studies associate degree program that will provide significant cost savings to students due to not purchasing traditional course materials such as high-cost textbooks.

In lieu of traditional print textbooks that can cost as much as $300 per copy, students who participate in the new program will use digital Open Educational Resources course materials which are free and accessible online. San Jacinto College full-time students currently pay approximately $700 per semester for printed textbooks, which amounts to nearly one-third of the total spent on tuition, fees and textbooks per term.

San Jacinto College will pilot OER courses during the spring 2017 semester and the full OER general studies associate degree program is tentatively scheduled to be available for students with the start of the fall 2017 term.

Some San Jacinto College faculty have already been using free OER materials on a limited basis but the new general studies associate degree program will make exclusive use of OER material as curriculum, which will be a first for the College.

The OER concept, informally called “open source,” is becoming more widespread among colleges and universities around the nation. “Free, open source materials have been used by many faculty around the country for some time now,” said Mark Johnson, SJC North Campus English and modern languages department chair. “OER degrees have been started at colleges in Virginia and New York and provided dramatic savings for students. For example, students at Virginia’s Tidewater College saved over $60,000 in textbook costs during the first semester of its OER degree launch. Tidewater also had a significant increase in student completion rates in its OER courses” said Johnson.

Johnson is coordinating the launch of San Jacinto College’s OER general studies associate degree program and recently attended a national OER conference in San Francisco. At the conference, he learned that OER classes have other benefits in addition to reducing costs. “With OER materials, instructors actually have more higher quality materials than ever before, with OER, rather than textbook publishers determining course content, faculty share their expertise and take the lead role as subject matter experts who choose, review and create free and sharable course texts. More importantly, when our faculty use OER material they become heroes to students by removing financial barriers and creating equity in education in a way that’s never been done on such a large scale” said Johnson.

The launch of San Jacinto College’s OER general studies associate degree is supported in part by a $74,676 grant from Achieving the Dream through Austin Community College, the main recipient in Texas and one of four partners in the project. Other partners are El Paso Community College and Alamo Community College. Money from the grant will pay faculty to develop courses and help pay for faculty training. The result will be courses where students do not pay for course materials.

Courses based on open source curricula can even be more effective, than courses that employ printed textbooks, said Dr. Laurel Williamson, San Jacinto College deputy chancellor and president. “Using open source materials provides a great deal of flexibility because faculty and students are not locked into the use of a specific text for a two- to three-year period, there is no issue with publishers going to new editions or making changes to an expensive text after it has been in print for a single year” said Williamson.

Williamson said there will be a rigorous review of all OER course materials by faculty members. “The quality of the curriculum will be comparable to what is available in traditional textbooks, we will continue to maintain the high standards we expect in the classroom, but no longer will a student have to choose between buying the textbook or paying the rent. Research shows that student performance may improve because students no longer try and complete course work without the expensive textbooks. The course-supporting materials are available at no cost. This extends the open access for students that is a critical part of the community college mission and supports the central mission of San Jacinto College: student success” said Williamson.

Bond marketing and PR campaign strikes gold

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SJC PSRASan Jacinto College received a Gold Excalibur Award from the Public Relations Society of America Houston Chapter for the development and execution of the 2015 San Jac Tomorrow bond referendum marketing and public relations campaign. Pictured, left to right, at the Excalibur Awards dinner are: Joshua Banks, director, digital marketing; Janet Cowey, director, marketing; Amanda Fenwick, vice president, marketing and public relations; Jeannie Peng Mansyur, senior communications coordinator; and Jahmal Clemons, social media coordinator. Submitted photo.

San Jacinto College is among the winners of the Public Relations Society of America Houston Chapter’s 2016 Excalibur Awards, which honors outstanding professional accomplishments in the development and execution of comprehensive public relations programs and individual tactics.

The College struck gold when it was awarded a gold Excalibur Award in the government / public affairs category from PRSA Houston for its development and execution of the 2015 San Jac Tomorrow bond referendum marketing and public relations campaign. The campaign aimed to provide information about the bond referendum and San Jacinto College to citizens and voters that live in the College district.

“This award was a total team effort,” said Teri Crawford, vice chancellor, marketing, public relations and government affairs at San Jacinto College. “I am extremely proud of our entire marketing and public relations team, as well as the many individuals throughout the College and our community who helped provide information about the College and the bond referendum leading up to Election Day. It is a great honor to be recognized for our work by our PRSA peers and we thank them for this recognition” said Crawford.

Voters in the San Jacinto College District approved the $425 million bond referendum on Nov. 3, 2015, by nearly 68 percent approval rate. More than five times the number of voters cast a vote in this bond election than they did in the College’s previous bond election in 2008.

SJC Cosmetology students help DP girls prepare for dance

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Thanks to San Jacinto College cosmetology students, a group of young girls received special treatment to help them get ready for their Daddy-Daughter dance.

The group visited the College’s Central Campus cosmetology salon, where each girl received complete “beauty queen” treatment which was sponsored by the city of Deer Park. The pamper packages included makeup, hair styling and manicures.

Cori Grissom said she is looking forward to the dance as she had her nails painted burgundy (to match her dress) by a San Jacinto College cosmetology student. “My dad is really cool and a lot of fun, he is a pretty good dancer, but he can be a little clumsy, but he never has stepped on my feet” said Cori, a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Deer Park Elementary School. This is the fourth year for Cori to participate in the Daddy-Daughter Dance with her father Brad Grissom.

Tiffany Ramos, program aid leader for the city of Deer Park who escorted the girls to the College, said the visit to the salon was a highlight for all of the girls. “We truly appreciate the San Jacinto College cosmetology department for taking the time to put a smile on every single one of the girls, the staff and students did a wonderful job. A big thanks to San Jacinto College for letting the city of Deer Park use their facility for the afternoon. Many of the girls said they want to go again. It was very special for them to get out with their friends and get pampered for the day. The hair styles, makeup and nails looked amazing” said Tiffany Ramos.

Extracurricular projects provide San Jacinto College cosmetology students opportunities to work with people of all ages, said Kay Richardson, San Jacinto College Central Campus consumer services and automotive technology department chair.

“The cosmetology students thoroughly enjoy working within the community, our department has hosted similar community outreach events, such as hosting senior citizen groups and visitors from Cenikor. Such events provide students a wide variety of experience with various clienteles. There is no better feeling than helping people feel and look better.” said Kay Richardson.

Cosmetology student Christina Honeycutt said the pamper session was not only fun, it was also educational. “Working with pre-teens is an awesome experience, you learn a lot about new trends of hairstyles that are out there and what the girls personally like" said Honeycutt.

“Many adults have colored their hair for years, or their hair texture and color has changed due to age, most pre-teens have no color in their hair, so the hair is softer, easy to style, there is no damage to the hair (physically or chemically), and the layer of the hair (the cuticle) stays in tact.” said Honeycutt.

“I absolutely enjoyed the girls’ visit they bring so much joy and happiness to an environment that sometimes can be chaotic and hectic. They really made me laugh with funny stories about their previous daddy-daughter dances" said Honeycutt.

Honeycutt said she likes cosmetology because it’s a challenging, yet rewarding career field. “Just to know that you can make someone’s day by making them feel special and beautiful is an amazing and a wonderful feeling, I also enjoy learning new cosmetology tricks and trends and just the atmosphere of a team that works together to make people feel great about themselves and to make clients happy and refreshed. The satisfaction of that is rewarding – knowing that I can make clients feel better about themselves" said Honeycutt.

San Jacinto College offers cosmetology courses and degree plans at all three campuses. To find out more, please visit