Lester featured in Center Light & Champion


Cancee Lester, Panola College Director of Shelby County Operations.

Editor’s Note: Cancee Lester was featured in the Center Light & Champion’s “Focus on Women” special section in February. Steve Fountain, Editor and Publisher, gave permission for Panola College to publish his article. The newspaper’s website is at www.lightandchampion.com

As the Director of Shelby County Operations for Panola College, Cancee Lester is a huge advocate for the school’s ability to help students to learn and grow.

“I see the benefit this school has for the community,” Lester said. “Also, I feel they do the same things with their employees. They see people and their skills and give people room to grow and develop.”

Lester learned that first-hand since assuming her leadership role at the college in July 2017.

“I absolutely see that,” she said from her office in Panola’s Regional Training Center in Center. “Definitely in leadership. My comfort level there has increased. My confidence — and just trusting myself. If there is something I don’t know, I will find and ask the right people to learn about it to study it.”

Lester has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in school psychology. She spent the previous 10 years working for Center ISD. In 2011, she also started working part time at Panola as an adjunct professor.

Lester said she had long been interested in working at the college.

“I always watched what was available,” she said. “Center (ISD) had an excellent team. That is where I wanted to work, if not Panola. Finally the right position became available.”

Natalie Oswalt, the former director, moved to Panola’s Carthage campus as the Dean of Arts, Science and Technology. Oswalt, according to Lester, also left a smooth running operation in place in Shelby County. Lester said that Oswalt continues to be a mentor in her new role.

“Natalie was the director at the time I came on here working as an adjunct professor,” Lester said. “I was very impressed by her. She’s very calm and supportive.”

Lester grew interested in moving into a leadership role while at Center ISD. While she did not directly supervise employees, she worked independently across the district with administrators, staff, teachers, parents and students.

“I felt the leadership skills were starting to develop,” she said. “I felt more comfortable in that role and I felt I was ready to go to that next step.”

Lester moved to Shelby County to move onto property owned by her husband, Dean’s, family. Dean was working with General Dynamics in Kilgore at the time. He has since found a position closer to home.

She cared for the couple’s three boys (one age 14 and twins that are 12) until they were old enough to attend school. That is when she took a position with Center ISD as a school psychologist.

While psychology and a school district have a language all their own, Lester soon learned that overseeing two college sites has its own language, too.

“I’ve learned a lot of new terminology — it was fun,” she said. “When I was at Center, there were a lot of neat acronyms that we used. When I came here, I had a whole new vocabulary to catch up on.

“I’ve really picked up on it quickly. It’s not that far off from what I’ve been doing. Almost everything I do here, I can tell that there were things I did at Center that have developed my ability to pick it up quickly here.”

Her duties run the gamut from ensuring the facilities at both the Regional Training Center on Roughrider Drive and the Shelby County College Center on Loop 500 are operating properly, to advising students, coordinating with counselors at local schools amid a boom in dual-credit courses being taken by high school students through Panola College, working with college staff, networking in the community and even serving as a Shelby County Ambassador through the Chamber of Commerce.

Lester relishes the opportunity help students with their choices.

She credits her thesis chair at Sam Houston State University, Richard Eglsaer, in helping her with a major decision when it came to her master’s degree.

“He was a wonderful mentor,” Lester said. “…He was very instrumental in what direction I went in psychology. I knew in high school that I wanted to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degrees. I had to decide whether to go into clinical or school psychology. He talked me through a decision that was one of the best I’ve made.”

And, yes, she still teaches a psychology class.

Panola College has a diverse mission. It helps people earn a General Education Diploma (GED) — often the first step for someone who did not complete a traditional high school education.

The school also offers students the ability to complete the first two years of college locally — and more economically — in advance of transferring to a four-year school.

Panola also offers a range of associate’s degrees and certifications in careers including gas and petroleum, HVAC, welding or nursing, among other.

Through continuing education, people can learn various skills and hobbies to further their employment or entertainment options.

Lester said she is squarely focused on her new position.

She said she loves Shelby County.

“It begins with my commute to work,” she said. “Everyday I get to look at pine trees and pastures. I appreciate the scenery where I live. Everything I need is here. The people are very kind and supportive. I’ve made great friends, my kids have made great friends.”