Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan got to do one of the things he likes best about his job Tuesday — travel the state.

One of his stops was Odessa College. The Beaumont Republican heard presentations from OC administrators and met other OC officials, plus Ector County ISD Superintendent Scott Muri and Odessa Collegiate Academy Principal James Ramage in the Zant Room of the Saulsbury Campus Center.

They were going to take a tour of the campus, but ran out of time because Phelan’s flight was delayed. Phelan was also going to an Odessa Chamber of Commerce function Tuesday and stopping in Midland, as well.

Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, invited the speaker.

“Honestly, it’s one of the best parts of the job is to be able to travel the state … We have a lot in common, but there’s a lot of differences; different challenges; different goals. It’s important to get out there in Brooks’s community and understand what Odessa is facing. What are their wants, what are their desires … and it’s better done face to face,” Phelan said.

He’ll be traveling around the state the rest of the week and makes stops in Amarillo and other spots in between next week.

State Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa), left, smiles as the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Dade Phelan speaks with Odessa College President Gregory Williams during a visit to Odessa College Tuesday in the Joe Zant Community Room. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

“It’s important to get with my colleagues, understand what legislation they need, what financing they need. Every community college is different. Their challenges are different, so it’s important to travel the state. That’s part of the job. It’s great. Brooks and I came in 2015 and he does a tremendous job for the community and he tended the invitation. (I) couldn’t stay no,” Phelan added.

Muri said it was beneficial to attend Tuesday’s presentation and learn more of what Odessa College is doing.

“We should be proud as a community that education is that important … that we’re all working — k-12, higher ed — to make good things happen for people in our community,” Muri said.

He said Phelan’s visit is similar to Muri visiting a school.

“When an issue comes up, I’ve been there, done that. I’ve met the people. I know the situation and so context matters and when our elected officials are part of the environment, they get to know the people and see the environment. When things make it to the state level, from a decision-making perspective, that gives them context to make really wise choices so visits like these are very important; absolutely,” Muri said.

During presentations by Odessa College officials, they pointed out their accomplishments, goals, awards, partnerships, programs and degrees.

“We were one of the very few colleges that remained open and fully staffed to support students and their families in pursuit of their educational goals,” said Vice President for Student Services Kim McKay. “As a result in 2021, this fall, the Coordinating Board awarded Odessa College one of the Star Awards because of our response to the pandemic.”

Odessa College President Gregory Williams speaks about the college to the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives Dade Phelan during his visit to Odessa College Tuesday in the Joe Zant Community Room. (Jacob Ford|Odessa American)

Referring to a slide, McKay said the response to the pandemic resulted in record enrollments serving well over 7,000 students and a continued success rate that students in Odessa have experienced since 2011.

“It was because we created a safe space to live, learn, work and play that our students did so well. Another thing that we were able to do during the pandemic, which we think is really remarkable that will continue to help us increase the educational attainment level in the region and continue to meet the workforce needs, is raise over $40 million to support a new four-story health sciences building that will have a simulation hospital on the first floor in partnership with our local Medical Center Health System, ensuring that we are preparing healthcare workers for the future …,” McKay said.

Chief of Staff Robert Rivas said they have 8,000 students this semester and they are aiming for 10,000. Rivas said this is meant to serve more students in the community.

“And it’s what has become the foundation for what we now call Vision 2030+. So we’re looking over the next eight years to get to 10,000,” he said.

Vision 2030+ is built on five key areas, Rivas said.

“We’ve got health; we’ve got workforce; we’ve got teacher education and transfer programs; we’ve got community wellness; and we’ve got the campus infrastructure. What does it take for us to actually support that here on our campus, to grow to that level,” he added.

Rivas gave an overview of each of the areas and the need for them.

Officials also talked about the Aspen Institute’s recognition of OC making it one of the top community colleges in the country; its eight-week courses; drop rate improvement program; scholarships; financial aid; and food pantry, among other things.