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BEYOND THE STORM — Continuing forward: Lamar State receives support, supports others in wake of Harvey

Tropical Storm Harvey negatively impacted enrollment at Lamar State College Port Arthur, but the school has received plenty of financial support in the months since the weather event.

Documents provided by Lamar State indicate that 1,981 students were enrolled for the spring 2018 semester, a drop from 2,293 in fall 2017. The fall enrollment was an increase of 221 students from spring 2017.

“The impact for many of our students was devastating,” Lamar State public information officer Gerry Dickert said in an email. “That enrollment decrease could have been far worse, though. One of the most impressive things that happened after the storm was the support of our community for our students. Our industrial partners became the backbone of that support. We received money and supplies to aid our students in their efforts to return to school. That really helped minimize the impact on our enrollment.”

High-dollar donations

The college received a $500,000 donation from former Texaco plant manager Ed Hogenson, whose daughter, Debbie Spittler, is a Lamar State graduate and financial adviser for Edward Jones. That donation, Dickert said, will primarily fund new equipment for the college’s business office administration programs.

One document listed 22 donations totaling $128,585 in addition to supplies to Lamar State. The biggest monetary donation came from the Port Arthur Education Foundation, $74,235, while Motiva Enterprises LLC provided 243 refurbished laptops.

Many of the donors were industries from Port Arthur and across the U.S., including Columbus, Ohio-based McGraw-Hill Education and Lincoln, Nebraska’s Inceptia. A women’s group from Hillcrest Baptist Church even provided purses, while South Texas Community College in McAllen and State Fair Community College in Sedalia, Missouri, donated unnamed supplies. (State Fair’s foundation in Warsaw, Missouri, gave 25 $20 Subway Gift Cards.)

The Port Arthur Higher Education Foundation provided 851 scholarships in the amount of $693,349 for fall 2017 and spring 2018, and the Port Arthur Education Foundation provided a $174,000 grant designated primarily for supplies lost in the hurricane, according to additional figures Dickert provided.

“The support of the community has been huge and the backing of our industrial partners has really assisted in the growth of the college, not to mention the growing number of career opportunities for our students,” Dickert said.

Emergency shelter

Lamar State served as an emergency shelter for the first three days after the storm with about 300 people housed in the Carl Parker Center, Dickert said. Those evacuees were taken to a more permanent shelter at Thomas Jefferson Middle School on Jefferson Drive.

“Several students, faculty and staff members moved into the Seahawk Landing apartments, located on campus, after the storm,” Dickert said. “Some still are living in the apartments as they work to find new housing or as they wait for the repair of their homes.”

Vuylsteke Home and White Haven, two historic homes on campus, also housed evacuees.

“The college has established a food pantry, not just in response to the need after Harvey but also for those in general need of food or basic toiletries,” Dickert said.

The Port Arthur ISD and Port Arthur Library moved their administrative offices to Lamar State in the wake of Harvey. The permanent headquarters for both are on Ninth Avenue near State Highway 73 and received extensive damage in the storm.

New study options

The college is touting some of its successful areas of study in hopes of drawing more students, including the allied health department.

“We offer students the chance to start out pursuing a nurse aide certificate, but we don’t stop there,” Dickert said. “Students can continue forward with their training, elevating to a licensed vocational nurse and, ultimately, a registered nurse through our upward mobility program.”

Lamar State is seeing growth, Dickert said, in drafting technology and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, two new programs that joined process technology and instrumentation technology in the new Sheila McCarthy Umphrey Industrial Technology Center.

“With the ongoing improvement to existing programs and facilities, and the addition of drafting and HVAC, we expect a continued increase in enrollment,” Dickert said. “We dealt with the aftermath of Harvey at the start of the fall 2017 semester, then the ice storm in early 2018 caused a delay to the start of the spring 2018 semester. If we can keep Mother Nature at bay, I think we’ll see a continued increase in numbers as we approach the fall 2018 semester.”

Information on Lamar University’s enrollment and donations in Harvey’s wake was requested as well, but The News did not receive a response.

This story appeared in Volume 2 of The Port Arthur News Profile, April 15, 2018

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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