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Professionals host 'Dinner and Conversation'

Eight successful alumni returned to campus recently for Lamar University’s annual ‘A Dinner and Conversation,’ a night of networking and career exploration for students with successful alumni in their field of study. Professionals from business, healthcare, engineering, entrepreneurship, legal and theatre each hosted a table at the event held in the University Event Center on the eighth floor of the Mary and John Gray Library. The professionals were joined by members of LU’s faculty, and spoke to students about their careers and ways to prepare for and succeed in their chosen professions.2017 Dinner and Conversation Hosts

“As we went through the evening, I was struck by the maturity, focus and drive of the group,” said business host David Pipkins, CEO/administrator of Christus Kate Dishman Rehabilitation Hospital. “It truly is inspiring, especially in a world where we see mostly negative things. “It was great reconnecting with Dr. Brad Mayer. He was instrumental in my college experience and is a great role model.”

LU student ambassador Kayla Clifton participated at the business table with Pipkins and “thoroughly enjoyed the experience and opportunity to meet Pipkins, other fellow business majors, and a chance to interact with the faculty.”

“Sometimes as a student when I get engrossed in my classes, I lose focus that we are working toward a real end goal. Hearing [his] experiences reignited a spark in me to help me finish these last few semesters strong,” Clifton said.

“We are grateful to the hosts and faculty liaisons for taking time to help mentor the students and giving them a great experience,” said Shannon Copeland, director of the Office of Alumni Affairs and Advancement Services. “And we appreciate the support of the Lamar University Foundation Board of Trustees for sponsoring A Dinner and Conversation, making the evening possible.”

Gene Arnold ’61, ’80

Gene Arnold earned a BBA in Accounting in 1961 and an MBA in 1980 from Lamar University. As a CPA, he spent more than 30 years serving business interests in nearly every senior managerial capacity, from controller to vice president.

Gene’s service to Lamar began after his retirement. He volunteered with the Small Business Development Center and ended up serving as its director for 11 years. Upon his second retirement in 2005, he started his own company- Gene Arnold Enterprises. He focused on financial affairs and in 2008 moved into the realm of international business. Arnold started two more businesses in the Beaumont area: Armour General Contractors LLC which builds homes and commercial buildings, roads and other facilities, and Cole Creek Materials takes residue from demolished buildings, roads and bridges and reprocesses it into fill for road beds and other uses.

Gene has more than 50 years of experience in accounting, business management, and finance. He has manufacturing experience at the comptroller level and international experience at the assistant division controller level with a Fortune 500 company. He was also licensed by the Securities Exchange Commission. In his retirement, Gene manages his portfolio, does business consulting, and invests in small businesses.

Judge Jeff Branick -81

Jeff Branick is the County Judge of Jefferson County. He studied public affairs at Lamar University and attended the University of Texas School of Law and the Baylor University School of Law, earning his Juris Doctorate in 1984. At Lamar University, he was an active member of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity. He began working with the Provost Umphrey Law Firm in 1979 and returned after graduation, eventually becoming partner in 1986. He is board certified in personal injury trial law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. In 1998, he opened a neighborhood practice, mainly doing pro bono work. In 2007, he accepted the position of attorney to the County Judge and has been involved in all aspects of county government. He was elected County Judge of Jefferson County in 2010.

Judge Branick has been an officer in civic, social and faith-based organizations. These include Texas Air Quality Research Council Advisory Board, East Texas Regional Water Planning Group, Gulf Coast Community Protection and Recovery District, Commissioner of The Texas State Commission on National and Community Service, Port Cities Rescue Mission Ministries Board President, YMCA board, legal counsel to SETX Regional Planning Commission, Leadership SETX, Red Cross board, Boy Scout fundraiser chairman, leader/board member of Young Life Ministries, CommunityBank of Texas Board of Directors, and other church and charitable boards. He has published legal articles and treatises.

Judge Branick’s awards include the Chris Quinn Community Service Award and the Port Arthur YMCA volunteer of the year award. He is a member of the board of SETX Government Employees Benefits Pool and has been the president of the Jefferson County Housing Finance Corporation for years. He is a member of United Methodist Temple in Port Arthur, where he has served as lay leader, family life coordinator, chairman of Staff-Parish Relations, and guest pastor on several occasions during pastors’ vacations. He is a member of the President’s Circle and Mirabeau Circle at Lamar University.

Mark Roberts ’93

Mark Roberts graduated from Lamar University in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in theatre. He served as scenic crew chief and headed the electrics crew, and he performed in Black Angel, The Voice of the Prairie, Lend Me a Tenor, Seascape, The Normal Heart, Shakespeare’s Lovers, and Into the Woods. Mark reinstated Alpha Psi Omega at Lamar University and served as the chapter’s first president.

After graduation, Mark returned home to Houston. Fellow alumni helped him land his first role in Theatre LaB Houston’s production of Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love. That performance introduced him to actress Celeste Cheramie. They married in 1997 and have two children, Rachel and Joshua. Mark joined Main Street Theater when he was cast in multiple roles for Robin Hood. He then signed with Pastorini Bosby Talent Agency in 1994, and they still represent him. He has worked in commercials, industrial films and independent film projects. Mark accepted a position as Main Street Theater’s technical director in 2002 and has remained there for 15 years.

Mark has overseen technical aspects of plays for more than 200 productions. He also helped reshape the newly renovated Main Street Theater through meetings with architects, designers and contractors. He continues to work onstage around Houston and in front of the camera when he can. His talents have taken him from Houston stages to Scotland, Norway, and Prague in the Czech Republic.

Mark Vise ’78

Mark Vise is CFO and executive vice president of Administration for Burrow Global, LLC and is on the executive committee and Board of Directors. Burrow Global is an engineering, procurement and construction company with expertise in process automation and architecture/industrial buildings. The company serves many industries, but the majority of its projects are in refining, specialty chemicals, petrochemicals, midstream, and onshore upstream.

Before Burrow Global, Mark was vice president and CFO of Americas for Intertek, a provider of quality and safety solutions serving industries in more than 1,000 locations in over 100 countries. At Intertek, Mark led the transformation of the North America Finance organization to a shared services and business process outsourcing model. He has been in various financial leadership positions in the services industries and the high-tech sector, where he established Aspen Technology Inc.’s Shared Services organization.

Mark has experience in process improvement and turnaround management, with companies initiating major change programs as well as M&A, acquisition integration, and corporate strategy. He began his career in public accounting with Ernst & Young and is a CPA. He holds a BBA in accounting from Lamar University and an MBA from the University of Houston. He is a member of Financial Executive International, the governing body of the Houston CFO Executive Summit, and the College of Business Board of Advisors at Lamar University. He regularly lectures on leadership and finance transformation, and his finance transformation program at Intertek was the basis for a case study article in Profile Magazine in 2015.

Andy Miller ’00

Andy Miller graduated from Lamar University in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He is currently an operations manager at the BASF Ethylene Cracker at the Port Arthur Texas site. He has been with BASF for more than 10 years, working in several different areas of the site: cold section distillation, compression, reactors, pyrolysis gas unit, hot section feed, pyrolysis furnaces, and quench area. Prior to joining BASF, he worked as a process engineer at Bayer Corporation. Andy is also a member of the Lamar University Chemical Engineering Advisory Council. He resides in Beaumont with his wife Michelle (Broussard) ’96 and three boys.

C. L. Ross ’83

C. L. Ross is an aerospace engineer and the NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) Safety and Mission Assurance Quality and Flight Equipment Division Chief. His departments ensure that safety, reliability and quality meet all requirements at JSC, in JSC government furnished equipment, extravehicular activity, JSC payloads, International Space Station, Orion, commercial crew, and advance exploration systems. His mission is to identify, characterize, mitigate and communicate risk by implementing an efficient and effective assurance model that is of value to customers.                                                            

Ross graduated from Lamar University in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Since his start in 1984, he has earned the Center Director Commendation Award, Innovation awards for Electronic Data System process implementation, Manned Flight Awareness, Outstanding Service Team Award, Group Achievement Award, Sustain Superior Performance awards, and NASA HQ Commendation for support to USA (Boeing) FEPC contract management. He has developed and implemented international bilateral agreements with Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency and GFE contractors, developed the failure modes effects analysis for ISS Interim Control Module project at NRL in Washington D.C., developed the technical and managerial branch and divisional training requirements document, developed the USOS Elements Branch Flight Lead work instructions, and managed assignments. He was appointed to the ISS Safety Review Panel, where he represented the NA directorate as a voting member. 

Ross’s extensive leadership training and his skills in safety and quality assurance have allowed him to maintain the quality of JSC. He has been chief of his department since 2013, and he continues to work to improve NASA JSC and the field of aerospace engineering.

David Pipkins ’00, ’11

David Pipkins serves as CEO/administrator of Christus Kate Dishman Rehabilitation Hospital in Beaumont. He is responsible for the operations of a 27-bed inpatient rehabilitation hospital, including P&L, patient outcomes, client relations, community involvement, retention and compliance with contracts, and regulatory and Joint Commission standards. He directs policy development and implementation, evaluating performance in Nursing, Therapy, Business Office, Human Resources, and Administration, and is involved with medical staff relations. He has been with Dishman since August of 2016, and the hospital has already seen a 50% improvement in patient functionality and a 34 percent increase in total hospital performance under his leadership.

In his previous role as controller for HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Beaumont, Pipkins managed operations of the 61-bed hospital, which became the top hospital out of more than 120 in the HealthSouth family, ranked No. 2 in 2014 and No. 1 in 2015 during his tenure.

His financial background includes more than 15 years of manufacturing, healthcare, and newsprint. He retired from the US Army in 2010 as a Master Sergeant. He holds a BBA in finance and an MBA with a focus on healthcare administration from Lamar University. Pipkins celebrates more than 20 years of leadership, mentoring and coaching. His leadership skills are centered on building high-trust relationships and making quick decisions. He is a member of the American College of Healthcare Executives and a board member for the Texas Association of Healthcare Financial Administration and the Harbor Foundation. He has been married to his wife Cindy ’04, ’07, instructor in LU’s School of Nursing, for more than 31 years, and they have raised three children that, in May, will all be Lamar University graduates. David has six grandchildren, all of whom live locally.

Dr. Peter Hu ’95

Dr. Peter Hu is an associate professor in the School of Health Professions (SHP) and director of the Molecular Genetic Technology and the Graduate Diagnostic Genetics Programs at University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in chemistry from Purdue University in 1991. He received a Master’s degree from Lamar University in microbiology and a Doctor of Philosophy from Trident University International Healthcare Administration and molecular genetics. He also holds specialty clinical certifications in molecular biology, cytogenetics, and clinical laboratory science. He joined MD Anderson Cancer Center in 1995 and has worked in both clinical and academic environments.

Hu has taught 35 courses within the SHP and has served as chair or member of 45 institutional committees. He has published 165 abstracts, 37 papers, and 4 book chapters, and has edited a textbook. He is on the editorial board for 4 journals and is a column editor for another. He has received 42 recognitions and awards during his tenure.

Dr. Hu has served as president for Texas Association for Clinical Laboratory Science, education director and chair of the Genetics Educators Committee for the Association for Genetic Technologist, chair of the Molecular Scientific Assembly, Continuing Education Approval Committee, and Awards Subcommittee chair for the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science, Board of Directors and Executive Board of Directors for National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences, and president for the Association for Clinical Scientists. He has served as a clinical laboratory science programs inspector for the last 16 years. He regularly presents at state, national, and international levels on genetics research, clinical laboratory sciences and education.