Alumni Profiles

Francisco Sanchez 

Francisco SanchezThis year, in 2022, Francisco Sanchez was chosen by President Biden to be the Associate Administrator for the Small Business Administration’s Office of Disaster Assistance. Making preparations to uproot his life in Texas, where he was born and raised, to serve in Washington, Sanchez is “honored to be called to serve in the administration.” When asked if he was anxious at all to leave his life-long home of Texas, he expressed a worry about finding authentic, quality Mexican food in DC, but remarked he was glad he could get Whataburger ketchup in stores now.

In his new position at the SBA, Sanchez will focus solely on disaster prevention, recovery, and resilience. With the Corona virus still an active factor in the workplace, Sanchez helps connect small business owners with the governmental programs that can help keep their business resilient to disaster, as well as help them recuperate losses caused by disasters. Mr. Sanchez expressed that he was happy his new position allowed him to focus on helping Americans during times of unexpected duress, and displayed genuine passion when discussing plans to not only tackle natural disasters as they arise, but also tackle the climate circumstances that are escalating these disasters. Sanchez was chosen for this position on account of his service to the people of Harris County.

One year ago, when the rest of us were huddled in the dark under blankets, Francisco Sanchez was at work with his action committee crafting public messages and directing aid. While many of us were taken by surprise by the winter storm, it’s been Mr. Sanchez’s job to make sure that Harris county is always prepared. Francisco recalls being hired for his position in the Harris County Department of Homeland Security and Disaster Prevention in 2007, having been asked to come and work for just a year there in the department. Mr. Sanchez calls what followed, “the longest year of my life.” During his tenure as the Harris County Deputy Homeland Security & Emergency Management Coordinator, which would end up lasting 15 years, Sanchez led action committees through floods, hurricanes, winter storms, the world series and two Super Bowls. During the years of 2007 to 2022 when Sanchez was working for the city, Houston faced a presidentially-declared disaster on an average of every nine months, including four of the nation's top ten most costly disasters.

Sanchez remembers crafting messages to safely advise Harris County residents on sheltering in attics and on roofs during Hurricane Harvey, something that few residents had experience with at the time. He and his team had to make the decisions concerning what information was most important and pertinent to the citizens seeking refuge in their attics. After the crisis passed, Sanchez and his action committee helped lead the charge of disaster recovery, time and time again. In 2018, during his “very long year,” Mr. Sanchez also earned his Master’s in Public Administration from Sam Houston State University, adding to his bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Houston. Sanchez has been making tough decisions for the better part of twenty years, and advises students to put themselves into situations where they need to make decisions. “Making decisions is something you have to practice. My advice to those heading into the workforce is to be bold, be humble, and be flexible. Students in new positions can afford to be brave and put themselves out there to get results.” Francisco Sanchez models these values, and Sam Houston is proud to call him one of our own. We join with Harris County in wishing him resounding success in his new position.

Amanda Lee 

Amanda LeeAmanda Lee is a senior at Sam Houston State University majoring in Communication Studies. Aside from being an upstanding student, she is involved in a variety of organizations both on and off-campus. Lee grew up in Jacksonville, a small East Texas town, and originally moved to Huntsville to pursue a degree in business. However, after realizing her true passion for communication, she changed her major and hasn’t looked back since.

Recently, Lee was appointed by Governor Greg Abbott as a Student Regent for the Texas State University System, which is a prestigious position with a rigorous application process. “A Student Regent is a non-voting member of the Board of Regents who governs the institutions in the Texas State University System,” Lee said. “I get to go to all the meetings where they’re talking about business that is being conducted at each university.”

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Board of Regents is operating slightly differently, with less travel and more meetings hosted virtually. Nonetheless, Lee said her experience has been nothing but exciting and informative. “Day to day is a little bit different, because our board meetings got pushed back, so there’s a little bit of more leeway just because they’re going to be over Zoom,” Lee said. “Overall, as a Student Regent, I get to represent about 86 thousand students.”

Since freshman year, Lee has worked as a Student Lead in the Vice President’s Office for Student Affairs under the direction of Frank Parker. Through her role in this position, Lee said her boss has become a mentor and a role model for how she wishes to lead. “Frank Parker is someone who encompasses the true spirit of leadership and what that looks like,” Lee said. “He is personable and actually gets to know people so that it’s fun to do work with them.”

Reflecting on the past four years at Sam Houston, Lee said she has held countless positions in a wide variety of extracurricular activities and organizations. However, two positions specifically have taught her especially well what it means to make connections with students and faculty alike. “My favorite position of course is being the past Student Body President, but also being an Orange Key, which are university ambassadors that work with university officials who love to ask for students’ opinions on certain aspects of the university.” Lee said. “Both of these allow you to represent the students, but also see a lot of how higher administration works.”

Lee has dedicated an extensive amount of time to make a name for herself on campus and leave a legacy that others will remember. Dr. Terry Thibodeaux, former Communication Studies Department Chair, said he quickly recognized Lee’s efforts to further herself in both her academics and extracurriculars. “She represents the best of a student leader,” Thibodeaux said. “She’s done a tremendous job in her studies and she’s a major in our department. People gravitate towards Amanda. She’s very confident and she knows how to get things done.”

While self-motivation can go a long way, Lee said there have been a couple of other key factors that have ensured her success throughout her college career.  “I’ve had a really good support system that’s given me that drive to continue to find out the depths of this university. I’m also a good planner. I plan things down to the hour. I know that seems excessive, but I’ve learned to plan my day around these hours to make sure I get things done, while also taking time for self-reflection.”

Looking towards the future, Lee said she plans to one day become a communications director of a company and hopes to look back on the mark she has left at Sam Houston. While Lee remained fearless in immersing herself in campus life, she understands how daunting it may be for other students looking to get involved. However, Lee said becoming involved will present numerous opportunities and be abundantly beneficial overall.

“I think it’s really cool to establish yourself in an organization because these are the people that are going to trust you and that are going to back you up when you want to run for those other positions,” Lee said. “I think it’s also a really big thing in college that we do come for academics and we do come to earn a degree, but we also come to gain connections. If you can find connections in the university by staying invested in your organization, it will help you in the long run for sure.”

Ilexus Williams 

Ilexus Williams HeadshotIn college, students are required to take a couple of political science classes including American Government and Texas Government, to complete their degree plan. Although these classes provide information about monumental historical events through textbooks and lectures, witnessing where these events took place helps students understand their significance at a deeper level. Sam Houston State University’s Center for Law Engagement and Politics works to provide educational opportunities outside of the classroom and has recently implemented a new trip that focuses on Civil Rights.  

Since 2005, a select group of students from SHSU, along with the director of LEAP, Mike Yawn, take a trip to Washington to attend the presidential inauguration. However, because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that trip was canceled to avoid large crowds and prevent the spread of the virus. Instead, a trip to various notable Civil Rights sites in the South was planned. The group began their trip in Mississippi, where they had the opportunity to visit the home of Medgar Evers, a notable civil rights activist in the 1950’s. After that, they traveled to Louisiana to see where Homer Plessy was arrested, due to violating the state’s separate car laws. From there, the group headed to Alabama to stop by Dexter Avenue King Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. served as their pastor. Next, they traveled to Tennessee to see the Lorraine Motel and then concluded their trip in Arkansas to visit Little Rock Central High School, which was the first school to allow African American students to attend. Professor Yawn said the trip was highly educational and benefitted the students tremendously.  “Everybody should have a foundation of human and civil rights, and the more education the better. I think by actually visiting these sites, particularly in a small group setting, brings the information to light in a particular way that may be more difficult to do in the classroom,” he said.

The trip aimed to broaden students’ horizons and remind them of how far we have come as a nation in terms of equal rights and justice. Ilexus Williams, a senior political science major at Sam Houston State said visiting various civil rights sites was influential to her life because she was able to travel to monumental historical sites that she might have not been able to under normal circumstances. “The most impactful site for me was the Lorraine Motel, which was the assassination site of Martin Luther King Jr. His advocacy speaks to perseverance. King saw an issue in our society and consistently worked to solve it along with other notable civil rights activists. Martin Luther King Jr.’s actions still speak volumes over 50 years later,” Williams said.

Williams herself has been actively involved in the LEAP organization on campus and spoke to how it helped develop her leadership skills over the past four years. “Right before coming to college, I made a promise to myself to ‘expand my horizons and get outside of my comfort zone’ and LEAP helped make the promise I made, as a freshman, a reality. I was able to build my leadership abilities as the Vice President of Operations for the LEAP Ambassadors and Vice President of Finance and Membership for the Pre-Law Society,” she said. According to Professor Yawn, before the Coronavirus pandemic began, the LEAP organization would normally participate in or host about 150 programs a year to give students a chance to meet and interact with political figures and attend community events. Williams expressed her gratitude towards the organization and shared how it has been fundamental in shaping her outlook on the world. “I have had the opportunity to gain valuable insight from notable political figures such as Susan Rice, Hillary Clinton, Nikki Haley, and David Kaye. Also, I have been able to learn about various cultures, cuisines, and art through educational trips to destinations such as Chicago, Illinois, Madison, Wisconsin, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I credit these opportunities for being the foundation and stepping stone for my future career and my development as a young professional,” Williams said.

Going forward, Professor Yawn said the organization hopes to make this trip an annual event, as well as attend the presidential inauguration in 2025, if the COVID-19 pandemic has ended. “By better understanding the struggles people have faced to fully achieve our version of democracy we can better overcome obstacles in the future. We can work together and understand each other to make for a better democracy, one that more closely resembles democratic ideals,” Yawn said.

Tia Hambrick

Tia HambrickServing in the military is one of the most selfless acts one can make. It requires a level of mental and physical toughness that not many of us are used to. Airmen put their life on the line to defend our country and are trained to be alert, as situations can change in an instant. Being stationed away from home in a completely different country is nerve-racking to say the least. Similarly, being a college student is also a challenging role for someone to take on, as classes are rigorous and days are long. Often, a student will have to stay up doing endless amounts of coursework, just to make the grade. Moving away from home and staying in a dorm requires a bit of adjusting as well. Both roles, while challenging in and of themselves, are not usually two that a person would sign up to do simultaneously. However, Tia Hambrick is an exception to this, as she has taken on the roles as both soldier and student and is succeeding.

Growing up, Hambrick witnessed her father’s commitment to his country, as he served in the Navy. Although she was born in New Jersey, Hambrick and her family relocated to Texas when she was 10 and has lived here since. Hambrick said she always knew she would serve her country in some capacity, and when the opportunity presented itself, she jumped at the chance to take on a new role. “Enlisting in the Air Force in 2012, I began what has been an interesting and rewarding career,” Hambrick said. “I wanted to experience the camaraderie of military life, and I wanted to do so alongside the other men and women who defend this country each day.”

While Hambrick pursued a life in the service, she said she simultaneously attended school online and earned a Bachelor of Applied Arts in English from Lamar University. “I love everything about the English language, how words can take on multiple meanings and how we can convey a thought, expression or idea,” Hambrick said. After earning her bachelor’s degree, Hambrick sought to reach new heights and applied to the Master of Arts in Technical Communication program at Sam Houston. “I chose to enroll in the program because I wanted to sharpen my writing skills,” Hambrick said. “I scoured the internet looking for the program that would fit into my lifestyle. The program I selected would have to be completely online, and the university needed to be military friendly. SHSU has exceeded my expectations.”

Finding an equal balance between school and work can be quite stressful. Hambrick said she’s currently deployed in Kuwait, which has made the process even more difficult. “I’m still trying to perfect my time management skills,” Hambrick said. “While I don’t always get it right, I’m committed to the process. What I have learned thus far is that I’ve always got time for things that I put first.” Completing homework and attending Zoom meetings from another country goes far beyond what the average student experiences. Nonetheless, Hambrick’s dedication is seen by family, friends and professors alike.

Dr. Carroll Nardone, Professor of Technical Communication in the English Department at SHSU said Hambrick’s commitment to her education is well above what she expected of a student in her position. “She stands out as somebody who finds a way to get things done, no matter what’s thrown at her,” Nardone said. “She has all kinds of reasons to say I can’t, and yet I never heard that from her.” Nardone said Hambrick met deadlines and never asked for extensions on projects or assignments. “As a working graduate student, she could’ve dipped in and out as she needed to, just to keep her head above water,” Nardone said. “She would’ve had every right to do that, but she was involved in the classes. She didn’t just do the minimum.”  

Although Hambrick has found herself in a unique predicament, she has learned to discipline herself and has proved to herself that she can do anything she sets her mind to. “Being deployed while going to school is not for the faint of heart,” Hambrick said. “Being in the Middle East there is a nine hour time difference… the internet service is intermittent, so I’ve had to come up with a backup plan.” Despite whatever difficulties arise, Hambrick has adjusted well to military life and said she remains devoted to the roles she’s taken on, as a student and airman. “The fact that I am on a military base in a foreign country, where the threat level could increase at a moment’s notice is something that I have just come to accept and live with,” Hambrick said. “Sometimes my military life and my civilian life collide, and I find myself somewhere in the middle, but I’ve enjoyed the journey thus far.”

Kevon Hunter

Kevon HunterLife after graduation is a daunting time for many students. Often, students are worried they will not be able to find a job and are pressured by many people to figure out their next steps quickly. Additionally, in the months leading up to graduation, students are having to juggle completing schoolwork, staying involved in extracurriculars, and finding time to apply to graduate school or a job in their field. While the journey to graduation and a job may be challenging, preparing for a successful future before graduation can make a world of a difference.

Kevon Hunter, a Sam Houston State alum, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History in 2016 and a Master of Arts in History in 2018. During his time at SHSU, Hunter was a student athlete playing football and was an active member in the history club on campus. Despite his limited free-time, he managed to schedule time to volunteer at numerous museums in Huntsville, including the Samuel Walker Houston Memorial Museum, The Wynne Home and Arts Center, and the Texas Prison Museum. He also interned for George Ranch Park in Richmond for six months. He was then offered a full-time position, and he currently serves as a Programs and Volunteer Coordinator. “Although it may seem surprising to most people, this field is very competitive, and it can be difficult to try to get a job by just completing basic schoolwork. So, I would take opportunities to volunteer to get extra training and become familiar with different databases,” Hunter said.

While his volunteerism helped him excel in his career field, Hunter also praises his time in the classroom at Sam Houston. In his current position at George Ranch Park, he is tasked with performing reenactments of famous historical figures, as he once did in a history class during undergrad. “In Dr. Doleshal’s class, he used a teaching tool where we would act as characters in history and kind of live in those people’s shoes. We were able to see their decision-making process and understand it better,” Hunter said. Overall, those skills set him apart from other applicants because he can tell a narrative from a historical figures’ point of view and make it interesting to the audience.

Clinical Assistant Professor at Sam Houston State University, Dr. Zachary Doleshal, worked closely with Hunter and served as a mentor for him during his time at the university. The two worked on an exhibit on segregation in Walker County, where Hunter was able to grasp the ethics and basic practices of public history at a more succinct level. “Through his experience in the project, he became a very good candidate for a job. While he’s highly intelligent, he can relate to the general public and make people feel comfortable and engaged in what he’s interested in. He learned how to put the truth and evidence first and then take that and apply it,” Doleshal said. While the education he received in various classes set him up for success, Hunter succeeded because of his hunger for knowledge and determination to learn.

Looking ahead, Hunter hopes to become a museum director, using his current position as a the first steppingstone. Since beginning work at George Ranch Park in 2019, Hunter said he’s learned a lot and has remained committed to his love of history. Presently, he is a member of the Fort Bend Archaeological Society as well as the George Ranch Rodeo Committee.

Hunter serves as a great example of a person whose drive and passion set them on the right track to gaining a successful career in public history.

Thisia Sayers

Thisia SayersThisia Sayers was born and raised in Aruba and moved to Texas in 2013. After the birth of her second child, she decided to switch career paths. This journey began at Lone Star College. Next, she transferred to Sam Houston State University to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish with a minor in education. During this time, Thisia joined SIGMA DELTA PI National Spanish Honor Society and LatinX Graduate Organization. In May 2020, she graduated with a degree in Spanish. With plans to be a high school Spanish teacher, she continued her education at Sam Houston with a Master’s degree in education through the 4+1 Teach program. She is on schedule to graduate in May 2021.

Today, Thisia is a mother of two, a wife, a teacher at Willis High School, and a graduate student. She teaches Spanish 1 and 2. In her classroom, the focus is on building social skills, communication, and learning Spanish in a hands-on format with a touch of fun. Her degree in Spanish has opened many doors and opportunities for professional growth. Since there is a need for learning/teaching of world languages to prepare our citizens for future jobs. As a result, Thisia has decided to pursue a Master’s in Spanish, starting this fall. She believes that furthering her education in languages will expand her knowledge and benefit our community.