LU Moment: Congratulations Class of 2021| S3 Ep. 18

Daniel McLemore:

Welcome to the LU Moment. I’m Daniel McLemore, the associate director of marketing communications at Lamar University. Each week, we showcase all the events, activities, programs and people that make Lamar University such an amazing place to be. This show has been hosted by the always amazing Shelly Vitanza in the past, but we just had to say our farewells as she pursues her next exciting adventure. She’s been a wonderful voice for Lamar University over the past three years and we wish her all the best.

As usual, May is one of the busiest and most exciting months here at Lamar University. We’ve got finals, award ceremonies, commencement celebrations and much more. Last week, we spoke with the associate provost for academic and faculty affairs, Dr. Dan Brown about how commencement is being handled this week.

To recap a little, the college of business, fine arts and communication and engineering will have their ceremony on Thursday the 13th at 7pm. The college of arts and sciences will be Friday the 14th at 7pm and the college of education and human development will be the 15th at 7pm. All ceremonies will be hosted at Provost Umphrey Stadium to allow as many guests to attend as possible and still maintain social distancing guidelines. Each graduate is allowed six guests and children five and under don’t count towards that number. Everyone attending as asked to wear a mask when distancing is not possible. Once seated in the stands with your group and distancing from others, masks may be removed.

We are excited to celebrate with all those who have worked so hard through the years to earn their degrees. In 2020, during the height of the pandemic, LU saw more than 5,000 students earn degrees in the spring, summer, and fall ceremonies. That’s a record number for this institution. This weekend, we are expected to see more than 2,000 students receive degrees. It’s definitely an amazing time to be a cardinal.

Daniel McLemore:

Speaking of commencement, we have with us today, Shannon Figueroa to talk to us a little bit about the exciting things that come along with becoming an alum of the University. Shannon serves as the director of alumni affairs and advancement services and has been with the University since 2004. She’s received three degrees from LU including a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, Bachelor of Business Administration in general business, and a Master of Business Administration in experiential business. Shannon, welcome to the show.

Shannon Figueroa:

Hi, Daniel! Thank you so much for having me today. I’m really excited to be here and we are so proud of our graduates. All of our graduates who have graduated of course in the past but especially the ones who are graduating this semester. They’ve worked really hard and have been through so much more than other people have. We know that they are resilient, and their future is bright.

Daniel McLemore:

So, talk to me a little bit about how students, they are walking across the stage this weekend and they are joining the ranks of the alumni. How do they get involved and stay connected with the university?

Shannon Figueroa:

Well, yeah Daniel, after this weekend we are going to have nearly 100,000 alumni living and working in every field imaginable in 67 different countries, in every state in the U.S. and in every county in Texas and we hope that they remain connected with their alma matter. Lamar University will always be their home. They can get connected obviously through our office.

We have a variety of activities that our office coordinates for alumni such as professional development events, we have class reunions, and we help with other organization type reunions. We have networking events, community service projects. We have our annual distinguished alumni awards and just have a variety of activities that they can get involved in here at the University. We have some virtual things as well and also we have a lot of things that we do on social media such as contests that they can win prizes, we share university news, opportunities for alumni to get involved with and help mentor students as well.

Daniel McLemore:

Yeah the social media is a huge place. I know you guys are incredibly active on there. It’s fantastic to see because a lot of times you put out there, “hey, if you’re an alum, tag one here, tag this!” You start to look through the comments and you start to realize how many people around here are actually Lamar University grads.

Shannon Figueroa:

Definitely. That’s one of the ways we help grow our network is to have other people tag each other in some of our posts so they can win and get other alumni engaged. Definitely a large majority of our graduates stay here in Texas, but then also all over the world.

Daniel McLemore:

I know every time I get tagged on one of the social platforms, it usually from a mom. She’s tagging my name in the alumni because she’s wanting to get some kind of giveaway or something.

Shannon Figueroa:

Yeah, it’s a great opportunity to win some LU swag and show your Cardinal pride.

Daniel McLemore:

So, one thing that people may or may not know is what are dues for the alumni office? Do you have to pay anything?

Shannon Figueroa:

No, actually we are not an association, we are not a dues-paying organization. We serve all alumni regardless of whether or not they contribute, but we do have where alumni can become annual donors and that helps support alumni programming, but it’s definitely not required. We serve all alumni that want to use our services.

Daniel McLemore:

I think that’s one of the great things about Lamar is that you don’t have to pay. Your part of the alumni network from the second you grab your degree.

Shannon Figueroa:

Exactly.

Daniel McLemore:

So, the thing that we are doing is that we just had the distinguished alumni awards last week and let’s talk a little bit about what that actually is. Lamar awards four awards each year?

Shannon Figueroa:

 Yes, the Lamar University distinguished alumni awards are the highest award given to a Lamar University graduate. Our alumni advisory board is a group of volunteers of alumni that a committee of them get together and select from a pool of nominations. We try to select three or four every year. It just depends on the number of nominations and if the third and fourth person tie in the number of votes, then we’ll bump it up to honoring four. We have so many wonderful alumni that get nominated, it’s kind of like spilling hairs who to honor.

Daniel McLemore:

So, talk to me about the honorees this year. We just had the awards ceremony on Friday, and it was a great success, it was a lot of fun. Talk to us about the ones that received the award this year. So, this year we have the privilege of honoring Shannon Allen.

She is the superintendent of Beaumont ISD. We also honored constable Chris Bates. He’s the constable for Jefferson county Precinct 2. He received the distinguished young alumnus award. Also, federal magistrate judge Keith Giblin. We honored Larry Norwood who retired as VP of Lubrizol.

Daniel McLemore:

Great. Let’s go back and talk about each one a little bit. Dr. Allen, she’s the superintendent of the ISD. She was actually one of our commencement speakers last year. I got to be involved with that and listen to her speaking it was fantastic.

Shannon Figueroa:

Yes definitely. Dr. Allen has stood out from the crowd her whole career. She’s been outstanding. She’s gotten the teacher of the year award. She has gotten an outstanding principal award and then in 2015 she was promoted to assistant superintendent for secondary administration and then she made history in April of 2019 when she was named the first female superintendent for Beaumont ISD.

She has this motto that every moment matters, and she really has worked with the students in Beaumont ISD to increase reading performance, attendance and really attract families and get them back involved with BISD, so she’s done a phenomenal job with the students there at Beaumont ISD trying to help improve their quality of life and what opportunities that they have for their future.

Daniel McLemore:

Dr. Allen received some advanced degrees from the university, correct?

Shannon Figueroa:

Yes, she received her master of education degree in ’01 and she received her doctoral degree in 2013.

Daniel McLemore:

That’s amazing. Let’s talk about Christopher Bates. What is his story?

Shannon Figueroa:

Most people at age 27 are still figuring out their life, but not Christopher, he had a plan. He always wanted to serve his community, so he ran for the constable position in precinct 2 in Jefferson county and he won at age 27. He’s been serving the community more than in his role as constable. He’s gotten so involved in the community helping to better establish relationships with the community and especially the youth to have a positive relationship with law enforcement.

Daniel McLemore:

That’s fantastic and then, Judge Giblin?

Shannon Figueroa:

Judge Giblin is the U.S. magistrate judge for the eastern district of Texas. He has had a stellar career in helping in the law. He was an assistant U.S. district attorney. He helped in a wild range of matters including firearm violation, mail fraud, money laundering, narcotics violation. All kinds of stuff where he really did some great trial work. And then, as a judge on the bench. He recognized the need to gain expertise on intellectual property laws, so he even went back to school to receive higher education to help with that area of the law.

Daniel McLemore:

It’s fun seeing how many judges and lawyers, and such come from Lamar University and it’s fantastic to really see that level of expertise coming out of the university too. Let’s talk a little bit about Larry Norwood. He’s a ’73 grad.

Shannon Figueroa:

Yes. Larry grew up here locally here in Liberty and he was a graduate of Liberty high school. He went to work with Lubrizol as a Co-op student. We worked his way throughout the ranks and eventually retired as vice president. He was over the Texas operation; the company’s largest manufacturing facility and he did wonderful work there with Lubrizol.

Daniel McLemore:

Fantastic, so let’s move on just a little bit, let’s kind of change topics here. Last year during the pandemic and really the beginning of this year as well, the alumni office kind of had to adjust a little bit and still connect with students but not so much in a physical manner but rather a virtual manner what were somethings that the office did to kind of stay connected with students?

Shannon Figueroa:

Well, definitely we embraced the virtual world as other areas did and we held virtual digital gatherings with some of our distinguished alumni. We really wanted to highlight some of our alumni and their stories to help other people see what we already know to share the story of Lamar University through these wonderful graduates and the foundation that they all received with a Lamar University education. So, we were able to connect all of Lamar’s community with our alumni and we were able to engage alumni not just here locally, but from all over the country and students joined in and some faculty, staff and community members to hear the wonderful stories that these people had to say.

We also did a lot more things on social media to engage people that way since we weren’t able to do as many in person events as we typically did. We also worked with a number of students here on campus that needed mentoring, so we reached out to alumni who had previously volunteered and were willing to mentor and help to connect them with several students and some of them were able to do some job shadowing, they were able to do some career exploration with alumni just by asking them for advice, so those are some of the things that we did.

Daniel McLemore:

That’s amazing. It’s always fantastic just to see how people were able to really embrace the situation and find ways to work around everything. Shannon, thanks for being with us today. And thanks to all of our alumni and friends listening to the LU Moment. Daniel McLemore, associate director of marketing communications at Lamar University, the pride of southeast Texas.