STEPHEN HEMELT — Plenty of activity, purpose ongoing at Lamar State College Orange

Published 12:22 am Saturday, April 30, 2022

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Dr. Thomas Johnson was professional, welcoming and polite when I met him for the first time last week.

I’m grateful the Lamar State College president afforded me the time to talk higher education and the many opportunities offered at the campus he helps lead.

The most obvious initial impression Johnson gave off was purpose.

We didn’t waste time with extended small talk.

We got down to the business of the college, its opportunities for growth and recent developments that are producing results.

I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years, so I’ve heard countless administrators and leaders talk about success and planning. That doesn’t always lead to real results. This is shared to say, that I bring a healthy sense of skepticism to most situations.

In the week plus since our visit, my skepticism is gone. I am a full-fledged fan of Lamar State College Orange. Go Gators.

The campus is beautiful and welcoming. There is a connectivity between buildings that naturally sets the stage for a team concept.

Those I interacted with were cheerful and intelligent. It’s a place where I want to spend more time.

Most important, I had no problem spotting the action.

Two days after Johnson spoke with me, he joined with area educators, business leaders and elected officials in Port Arthur to discuss LSCO’s role in helping secure $70 million in federal funds to supercharge the nursing industry in Southeast Texas.

The local coalition is one of 60 finalists from across the nation, and the next update should come this summer.

Johnson said LSCO would use its share of the revenue to create a stand-alone registered nursing program for students who desire to become registered nurses without first completing a vocational nursing program.

However, Johnson and Lamar State College Orange don’t exactly wait around for things to happen for the campus. That’s too passive.

So it was less than a week after the Port Arthur gathering that Orange officials announced big news.

An affiliation between Lamar State College Orange and McNeese State offer graduates from Orange admitted to McNeese’s RN to BSN program a preferred tuition rate. Those graduates also receive credit and an acceptance of LSCO’s nursing courses toward the education requirements needed to complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at McNeese.

McNeese offers a preferred tuition rate to LSCO nursing graduates admitted to the online RN to BSN program.

Local nursing candidates now have a less expensive and more streamlined path to enter a career needed in our region.

In between my first meeting with Johnson and the nursing agreement, LSCO also celebrated the second annual Career and Technical Education Signing Day and hosted the second annual Denim Day.

Signing Day featured technical program scholarship awards from Chevron Phillips Chemical Company, the Donald T. Boumans Foundation, Invista Orange, Cloeren Incorporated, the Nelda C. and H. J. Lutcher Stark Foundation and the LSCO Foundation.

Incoming and current students who earned those scholarships were called to the stage and signed their award certificate with their families, scholarships sponsors and Johnson by their side.

The Denim Day speaker series brought Brittany Piper to campus, a rape survivor and healing coach. Piper has dedicated her life to sexual violence prevention and recovery.

She pulled no punches in her remarks, going into detail about the assault she endured and the fallout that followed with the criminal justice system, media reports and her own recovery.

I felt awkward a few times listening to her speech, but that is what she wanted. Piper is challenging the way we approach sex, how we teach children about it and how we, too often, victim blame when these crimes occur.

It was an enlightening presentation and one which I shared with my wife and daughter.

You could say my first week-plus as a professional observer of Lamar State College Orange turned me into a fan. That’s true.

It’s because I’m a fan of action and people who are clear in their goals and working to do something about them.

I really hope to enjoy more of that as I learn more about this campus and its team who serve Orange County and beyond.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher of the Orange Leader and He can be reached at