60 Years of Stories! Kisha Lee
“The opportunities that St. Louis Community College gave me have propelled me for the rest of my life. STLCC gave me two things: The support and the confidence to succeed academically. The professors are incredible and provide an excellent education. Without STLCC I’m not sure where I would be today.”
~Kisha Lee, executive director of Propel Kitchens; president, Ladue Schools Board of Education, 2005 graduate, St. Louis Community College
Kisha Lee found her calling in education. She strives to embody one of her favorite quotes from Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” This personal call to action influences how she raises her children, her career path and her impact as a community leader.
In April 2022, Lee was elected president of the Ladue Schools Board of Education, becoming the first African American to hold the position. She joined the school board in 2017; since then, Lee applied her education as a powerful tool to change the world, beginning with her children’s school district. In her opening remarks as president, she said, “Some may ask why this role is significant to me. It is because I sit here in the same community where my grandmother served as a domestic worker, and I have just been installed as the president of the school board for the No. 1 school district in Missouri. One generation gives to the next.”
Professionally, Lee is the executive director of Propel Kitchens, a nonprofit training, education and social enterprise developer focused on creating health and wealth with food. Located at Carter Commons in Pagedale, Mo., its mission is to use nutrition, food industry training and education initiatives to equip and empower St. Louis residents and communities to combat economic and health inequities.
Those who meet Lee would find it hard to believe she dropped out of college at one point. Growing up in a military family, she moved a lot until settling in St. Louis and graduating from McCluer High School in the Ferguson-Florissant School District. In a family that instilled the value of education, enrolling at the University of Missouri-St. Louis was the logical next step. However, once there, her priorities shifted. She took full advantage of the parties and social life, with academics taking a backseat. “My parents realized I was having a little too much fun and told me they weren't paying for college anymore,” she said. “I had a job at the time, so I dropped out before I finished my degree.”
By 2001, she was a working parent, raising two young children of her own and three stepchildren. Realizing her education was limiting her career opportunities, she went back to school. “I took one or two classes at a time to fit my schedule,” she said. “I knew how important earning a degree was, but at the time I lacked the confidence to go back to school.”
It took about six years to graduate with an associate degree. Now, she has a master’s and bachelor’s degree in public policy and administration from UMSL. Yet, it’s STLCC that she credits with changing her attitude toward education and launching her career.
“St. Louis Community College offered me an opportunity that I would not have had otherwise,” she said. “For one, it was affordable. Through grants, I was able to pay for all of my credit hours plus additional expenses such as books and supplies. Just as importantly, STLCC exists to support all people in our community, even those who need different support to be successful. For me, I needed a place to send my child. While I was in class, my son attended STLCC- Florissant Valley’s Child Development Laboratory Center. To be able to send him to a place I trusted, that would also give him a quality early childhood education, was critical to me being able to go back and get my degree.”
Lee transferred more than credit hours to her four-year degree. “The most important thing STLCC gave me was the confidence to be able to enroll at a four-year university to complete my degree,” she said. “I don’t think I would be where I am today - with a master’s degree, president of a school board, and executive director of a nonprofit - had it not been for STLCC.
“STLCC gave me that second chance.”
As St. Louis Community College celebrates its 60th year, it remains committed to providing educational opportunities and access for all people. With over 1.3 million alumni since 1963, stories like hers demonstrate the mission of expanding minds and changing lives.
“I am a testament to how valuable STLCC is for our community,” she said. “The opportunities STLCC has offered have never wavered. What STLCC provides is so needed, it's affordable and easy to access because of their different locations. I hope to see St. Louis Community College continue to be innovative and create new opportunities for everyone in the community.”