Athletic strides and academic excellence spell success for San Jacinto College during 1980s
PASADENA, Texas — The decade that everyone remembers as the Big 80s brought with it big transition for San Jacinto College (SJC) in its rise toward becoming a leader in higher education in East Harris County. Athletics made national headlines, enrollment soared, facilities cropped up, and new groups of students began their journey on becoming future educators.
Just around the corner, NASA worked to catapult its Space Shuttle Program and increase the nation’s presence in space. Meanwhile, right up Space Center Boulevard, Pasadena students were looking to advance their education and career at what was known as "Harvard on the Highway."
"San Jacinto College changed my life. Without it, I would not, could not, be where I am today," said Mark V. Glorioso, director of center operations at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. "It provided me with the means necessary to go on to the University of Houston and learn in a way that you normally expect from a university. I was able to deal with that method of instruction because the professors at San Jacinto College cared about me and my success."
Glorioso studied at the SJC Central Campus from 1980 to 1982, a time when the campus was expanding its weekend college program by offering Saturday and Sunday classes in nine new areas of study. The entire College experienced enrollment that surpassed 16,000 for the first time in its 20-year history and began receiving national recognition for its academic excellence, with the Central Campus’ speech and debate team winning a national debate championship. Chancellor Dr. Thomas Spencer earned the Marie Martin Administrators Award, designating him as the top two-year college administrator in the nation.
Memories from a different era
"John Lennon was murdered during my second year at San Jac, and that was a significant impact on the student body," said Glorioso. "My return to school was in a summer English class. We got into a discussion about math versus fine arts and classes like English and history. I threw out, as my argument, that the building we were in was the product of mathematics, to which my professor replied, 'this building is the product of the imagination.' It was that moment that I realized that the musician in me was forever tied to the engineer in me, and that keeping them both alive would be the secret of my success."
The SJC baseball team hit a homerun national achievement in 1985 when it brought home the College’s first-ever Junior College World Series title. Former major-league baseball player and SJC baseball head coach from 1980 to 1991, Wayne Graham, was named the Coach of the Year by the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA).
"The great thing SJC does is create opportunities that otherwise would not be there for a person," said Graham, who is now the head coach at Rice University. "It basically gives second and third chances to people who want to become successful. We would have players come from universities who came here and went on to become super stars. Before attending SJC, Roger Clemens had not been recruited by any Division I school. He came here, and then you know what happened after that."
Graham noted that the genuine interest in student welfare across the College was key to successfully guiding students through their first two years of higher education. Placing students on the right academic and career track, regardless of their background, was the College’s ultimate goal.
"They knew that the mission of the school was to put students on a success track, whether it was in auto mechanics or toward a doctorate degree," said Graham. "They listened and tried to expedite that process, and I'm proud to have made a small contribution to that effort."
The men’s basketball team also dominated the national stage with its 1983 win under the helm of Head Coach Ronnie Arrow. The team went on to repeat its success, winning the national title twice more in the decade. In 1987, both the women’s track team and volleyball team brought home national titles for the College. Volleyball Head Coach Becky Lidolph made her mark in SJC athletics from 1981 to 2000 when she took home the 1987 NJCAA Coach of the Year award.
"The best reward I ever had was sitting at the head table with Sonia Trevino, the first recipient of the NJCAA National Volleyball Player of the Year for the JUCO division, in 1987," said Lidolph. "There were only five athletes and their coaches at that table, the best in the nation, and we were seated there with them.”
During her years at SJC, the Central Campus launched the associate degree nursing (ADN) program, an innovative televised nursing course, and a computer lab equipped with more than a hundred new IBM personal computers. All three campuses began offering “telecourses,” college coursework on the Channel 8 public television station. The Texian, the College’s student newspaper, earned the All-American rating from the Associated College Press, the highest award in the nation.
"I have always felt I worked for the finest junior college in the nation," said Lidolph, who also served as department chair of physical education from 2000-2009. "We have been ranked among the best, not only in athletics, but in many other areas. The P.E. department has expanded its classes to include the latest in fitness and activity classes. My hope is that physical education will remain a core curriculum class, giving students a chance to gain valuable health benefits and establishing life-long habits of health and wellness."
San Jac alumni revisit their alma mater
By the mid-80s, the College celebrated a milestone with South Campus enrollment reaching 4,049 students. During that time, student Ruben Ramirez was finishing his associate degree in chemistry at the Central Campus. Little did he realize that he would return years later after attending the University of Houston and working in a variety of lab-related jobs.
“While working at other places, I have survived four explosions, several spills and fires, sometimes with serious injuries," said Ramirez. "I took the position as lab supervisor at San Jacinto College to make sure that nobody would ever become injured. I love my profession. San Jacinto College gave me a beginning and now career. It just keeps growing. I now watch my former lab assistants becoming San Jacinto College instructors."
Ramirez's colleague and former classmate, Patricia Steinke, also studied chemistry and biology during the early 80s and returned to her alma mater to pass on science education to others.
"I grew up in Pasadena and graduated from Sam Rayburn High School, so I went to 'Harvard on the Highway'; most everyone did," said Steinke. "The price and location were right. Also, I met some amazing professors that influenced my career choices. "
Steinke, who now teaches biology at the SJC Central Campus, remembers the advice she received from her SJC professor, Dr. Dan Penney.
"Later, I return to San Jacinto College to seek his counsel when I was trying to decide what I wanted to do as a career," said Steinke. "Dan had been a high school teacher, and gave me the best advice ever, 'become a teacher'."
Like Steinke, many college professors throughout the decades have received their first two years of education at San Jacinto College before transferring to nearby universities. With campuses conveniently located near the University of Houston, the College’s first articulation agreement was formed with the university in 1988, making it easier for students to transfer between college and university. Many more agreements with other universities soon followed.
As the 1980s came to an end, each SJC campus had completely transformed with enrollment increases and new facilities and services. The North Campus opened the Ruede Wheeler Occupational and Technical Building, and the South Campus opened the J.D. Bruce Student Center.
During a recent visit back to San Jacinto College for the math department’s Engineering Day at the Central Campus, Glorioso said he was most pleased to notice how the College now integrates its past history with future growth.
“I was very pleased to see the new mixed with the old during my recent visit,” said Glorioso. “The College is growing to become even more capable while still holding on to the values that made my life what it is … caring for the individual, teaching rather than presenting, and in general, providing an atmosphere that fosters learning at the pace of the student.”
To find out more about the College’s 50th anniversary celebration, visit www.sanjac.edu/anniversary.
About San Jacinto College
Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. The Achieving the Dream Leader College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $630 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.
For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150, visit www.sanjac.edu, or follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SanJacintoCollege.