President Evans praises LU community after last year’s weather setbacks
Lamar University President Kenneth Evans praised the Lamar University community for making it through the 2017-18 school year despite dealing with Hurricane Harvey, a January snow storm and a March tornado. Evans spoke at the annual convocation, Aug. 21, in the Montagne Center.
Three days after Evans’ 2017 convocation speech, Harvey hit Beaumont and changed the course of much of what the university had planned.
“We can’t go through this event today without talking about last fall,” he said. “Indeed, we did have a significant rain event — some of the estimates of the actual rain accumulation are difficult to accurately secure because the rain gauges actually broke.
“When we gathered here for this event last year, we were on the road to record enrollment — we were cooking. At first, we didn’t think it would hit us, but then it bounced out to the Gulf and sat on us for 36 freaking hours. So, we decided to move students into the residential halls, so they didn’t have to move in during the rain, and we had about 1,900 students who stayed with us and weathered out the storm.”
Evans talked about Beaumont’s loss of water and praised those who donated bottled water for students, and the volunteers on campus, as well as Port Neches-Groves High School which bused on-campus students to their facility to take showers.
“We fed 600 students a day, and not just them but also the volunteers who stayed on campus who were working with us,” Evans said. “Chartwells were absolutely stunning with what they did in providing food preparation for three meals a day.”
The administrative staff expected a drop of about 1,500 students in enrollment numbers due to Harvey, Evans said, because of the stress of the damage to houses, cars and families.
“If there is one good thing that came out of this, it’s that we (only) lost a little over 500 students,” he said. “Compared to the estimate of 1,500, that was pretty good. They told us that last year was going to be a bad year and we knew it, but luckily we had recently updated our disaster protocols which helped exponentially in the campus surviving the storm.”
The university received about $500,000 in donations from the community after the storm which was put into a “Cardinal Fund.” The university also provided credit hours to students who did community service, with more than 5,000 hours given out.
“We provided a car shuttle service out of Houston, which helped stranded students get back home,” Evans said, adding that the volunteers were incredible.
“There were 500 evacuees in the Montagne Center during the storm before The Red Cross could get here,” he said. “I was stunned how quickly people adapted and adjusted to the situation. It was an amazing collective display of humanity in terms of how one helped another. We simply did everything we could to reach out to our student community and let them know that we cared about them and would do whatever in order to help them.”
Evans joked about the snowfall after the hurricane, and how a tornado hit the campus on the same day as Cardinal View, the spring recruitment event.
“I got that call at 4 a.m. that you don’t want to answer from Craig Ness (vice president for finance and operations), and he’s telling me we’ve got issues,” Evans said. “We were set up to have Cardinal View in the Rec Center, but it didn’t have power. However, we’d just opened the Setzer (Student) Center and it had reserved power, so we moved the entire event to there and cleaned up the campus as best we could — we had two flipped vehicles, the roof of the police station was ripped off and we there were windows broken from buildings being concussed — and by the beginning of Cardinal View, the campus looked pretty much as it always does.”
Evans lauded the research and studies conducted over the summer by the 2018 David J. Beck Fellows, Sakurah Fisher and David Quispe, as well as the 2018 Presidential Fellows, Emily McCall and Amanda Warner.
“We have a very special group of students that we recognize each year because of their exceptional scholarship, and we provide them with a very unique experience where they get an opportunity to do research with international renowned faculty,” he said. “We had so many truly exceptional candidates for that program that we added another tier called the Presidential Summer Fellows and we provided the opportunity for those students to travel and do research as well.”
Evans emphasized the importance of the Beck Fellow and Presidential Fellow programs.
“These are undergraduate students,” he said. “In my day, those kinds of opportunities were only provided for graduate students, but more likely to faculty on fellowship. I can’t wait to hear the reports of what you all did.”
Kyle Mutz, director of the Disability Resource Center, presented a video which showed how the resource center has helped students with disabilities, featuring returning and graduated students.
“The resources we offer may surprise you,” Mutz said. “Our department provides a variety of special education services, accommodations and advocacy efforts to ensure students with disabilities are given equivalent experiences as their peers.
“These resources are fundamental to our success as a university. What’s even better is that these resources are inclusive, not exclusive.”
Evans talked about the renovations of the Setzer Student Center and the Gray Library lobby.
“I must admit that it’s nice to have Starbucks coffee on campus, but more to the point, I don’t think I’ve ever seen students queued up at the library at 7:30 in the morning,” he said. “Now, the library is actually crowded, which is pretty cool. When we had the grand opening of the Setzer Center, there was a huge crowd of students there and what was amazing was how they immediately took ownership of the center — part of that was probably because of the food, but the entire feeling on campus is different because of these new renovations.”
The new science and technology building is projected to open in November and will be the first completely new academic building added to the campus in 50 years.
“It’s going to be about an 80,000 or 90,000 square feet facility,” Evans said. “It will house labs, classrooms, study space and office space. It speaks to the tremendous need that we have to improve educational space.”
Evans touched on the financial successes of the faculty this past year.
“One of things you may have noticed along with the many financial awards, is that we almost doubled the amount of our external grants and contracts this past year,” he said. “We’re on a positive trajectory with what we’re doing in the research space and it’s because of the compunction of the collective efforts of everybody.”
Evans concluded his speech with an emotional thanks for everyone’s condolences for his wife, First Lady Nancy Evans, who died in June of cancer.
“It was a long journey for her — she fought a valiant battle,” he said. “You need to know that I’m looking forward to this year with you and carrying on what we did together, and I thank you for everything you’ve done on behalf of the university and me and my family.”
Evans received a standing ovation as he wiped the tears from his eyes and ended his speech by wishing everyone luck in the new year.
“Throughout the past year, I witnessed the very best Lamar has to offer,” he said. “Academically, yes, but also in the ability of one student to care for another — and that’s the best part of what we do.”
Olivia Malick, UP managing editor