We spent this month honoring some amazing women in Baytown as part of Women’s History Month. Our series ends with a woman who helps open the doors to success to anyone who attends Lee College, even if it means fighting a pandemic in the process.
Dr. Lynda Villanueva moved to Baytown in January 2020 to become the first minority president in Lee College’s history. “I know I won’t be the last. It means so much to me to know that the college values my background,” she said.
Lynda, originally from Colorado, lovingly calls herself an “army brat,” having moved quite a bit while growing up. She added, “From the time I was born to high school, I lived in more than a dozen homes.” She moved to Baytown after spending 13 years at Brazosport College in Lake Jackson and says she loves the community. Lynda said, “There is always something to do every day. I especially enjoy visiting one of the many parks with my family.”
However, some surprises came along with the move to Baytown. Lynda, her husband Bill, and their two children, Sarah and Jaden, moved here just before the beginning of the pandemic in the United States. Villanueva started her job as president just days before a public health emergency was declared. You can imagine the stress level of adding a pandemic to moving to a new city and starting a new job. Lynda said, “It was challenging and rewarding at the same time. There were best practices in place. However, in this situation, there was no guidebook on how to overcome a pandemic in higher education. We developed the rules with the guidance of health care experts.”
With Dr. Villanueva’s leadership, the college was able to demonstrate “that students don’t have to delay their education goals, even if there’s a worldwide pandemic.” Now that life has returned to a new normal, Lynda has been able to succeed at getting more students in the classroom. She helped implement a free tuition program for graduates of local independent school districts, which increased student enrollment. She said, “Education is the key to opening the doors to success and having a better quality of life. For me, my education was a lifesaver. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.”
Lynda does a lot of work in the community. She’s on the boards of Houston Methodist Baytown, the Economic Alliance Houston Port Region, the Baytown Chamber of Commerce, and the Economic Development Foundation. She said, “I’m proud to be a citizen of Baytown and look forward to helping to continue to build upon its growth and success through the efforts of Lee College and as someone who has made Baytown home.”
When it comes to Women’s History Month, Villanueva says it’s a perfect time to “reflect on the courage of women of past generations and celebrate their efforts and bravery providing women the opportunities and freedoms we have today.” She also wants to make sure the young women out there continue the trend. She said, “There have been so many women before them who have fought, struggled, and given up their lives for the freedom we have today. Never forget that. But also, they can do anything they want with hard work and determination. They deserve it.”
Upon reflection of her life, Dr. Villanueva found sage advice for all of us. When asked what she would tell her younger self, she said, “Relax a little bit. Lean back sometimes and enjoy being in the present. You are going to make mistakes and that’s okay because it’s all part of the journey.”