San Jac 3-peats as Top 10 community college in the nation

This summer, San Jacinto College was named as one of 10 finalists for the $1 million 2021 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, the nation’s signature recognition of high achievement and performance among community colleges.

Awarded every two years since 2011, the Aspen Prize recognizes institutions that achieve strong student outcomes across four key areas: teaching and learning, degree completion and successful transfer to four-year institutions, success in the workforce, and equitable outcomes for diverse student groups. 

In 2017, San Jacinto College earned the Aspen Rising Star Award, naming the College one of the top five community colleges in the nation and in 2019, the Aspen Institute named San Jacinto College as one of the nation’s top 10.

“It is again an honor to be recognized by the Aspen Institute for the incredible work being done at San Jacinto College to help our students reach their educational goals,” said San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer. “This recognition is due to the dedication of our Board of Trustees, administration, faculty, and staff to ensure that all of our students have the resources they need and well-planned educational pathways to complete their certificates or degrees. On behalf of everyone at San Jacinto College, I thank the Aspen Institute for this amazing honor.”

“San Jacinto College is always improving,” said Josh Wyner, executive director of the College Excellence Program. “The college has comprehensively restructured its systems to align everything to students’ success, from before they enroll until they complete a degree. The college is also especially effective in building relationships with employers to deliver what the community needs to thrive and ensuring that graduates succeed in the workforce.”

The 10 Aspen Prize finalists were selected from the nation’s 1,000 community colleges in a process that included qualitative and quantitative data analysis and engaged more than 30 experts in the field. 

After a rigorous review process in fall 2020, a distinguished jury will convene in early 2021 to select the prize winner, finalists with distinction, and a rising star and allocate a $1 million award among them. The winner will be announced at a May 2021 event in Washington, D.C.

San Jacinto College Foundation raises $360,500 for students in need

The San Jacinto College Foundation raised more than $360,500 with its 2020 Gala with a Twist fundraising campaign, announcing the campaign’s success at the College’s board of trustees meeting in June. 

“Fundraising campaigns like this are critically important to our success,” said Dr. Brenda Hellyer, San Jacinto College Chancellor. “These generous donations enhance our ability to help students in the ways they need it most. Some face an unexpected emergency and need immediate help, and others are working day in and day out to overcome ongoing obstacles. It’s our mission to help every student achieve their educational goals, and we are so grateful to the community, our partners, and our employees for helping us do that.”

One hundred percent of the funds raised will benefit San Jac students with immediate needs. The funds will offset costs such as tuition, books, food, clothing, transportation, and child care for student recipients and will also help the College continue to provide students with vital campus resources.

“Fortunately, this year’s fundraising gala was originally launched in January as an online campaign, so we were able to continue our efforts during COVID-19, which has directly impacted so many of our students in complex ways,” said Ruth Keenan, the foundation’s executive director. “Our fundraising efforts became even more critical in light of the pandemic.”

In addition to the $360,500 raised by the fundraiser, the Foundation approved $200,000 in emergency funding in March to assist students with $250 scholarships during the COVID-19 crisis, and nearly 1,200 students have received the emergency aid to date. The College has also distributed more than $3.7 million to students via San Jac emergency aid grants through the Federal CARES Act. 

To donate and support the San Jacinto College Foundation, visit or call 281-998-6104.

North, South Campuses welcome new provosts

San Jacinto College has announced the hiring of two new College provosts following the retirement of two longtime College leaders. Dr. Alexander Okwonna and Dr. Aaron Knight have been named provosts of the San Jacinto College North and South Campuses, respectively. Their tenure in these positions began in July.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Okwonna and Dr. Knight to San Jacinto College as provosts,” said Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer. “Both leaders were selected after a national search that included months of interviews and several forums with San Jacinto College employees. Dr. Okwonna and Dr. Knight exemplify the core values at San Jacinto College and will be excellent leaders as we transition on the North and South Campuses. I look forward to working with them as we continue to support our students along their higher education pathway.”

Dr. Okwonna took over for Dr. William Raffetto, who retired after more than 35 years of service to San Jacinto College. Okwonna has been in higher education for more than 15 years and most recently served as the dean of health and natural science at the South Campus. Okwonna is also a registered pharmacist and has served in the United States Army. He holds an Associate of Science degree from Houston Community College as well as a Doctorate in Pharmacy from Texas Southern University.

Dr. Aaron Knight replaced Dr. Brenda Jones who also retired from the College after nearly 20 years. Knight has been in higher education for more than 25 years and has spent the last 20 years at Houston Community College, most recently as dean of social and behavioral sciences. Knight holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees from Sam Houston State University as well as a doctorate in political science from Texas A&M University at College Station.