UNO Alumna Ellen Lee Establishes New Opportunity Scholarship

NEW ORLEANS — From the University of New Orleans:

Fresh out of high school and living away from home for the first time, University of New Orleans alumna Ellen Lee acknowledges that her studies took a backseat to partying while enrolled as a pre-med student at the University of Notre Dame.

“Things didn’t work out,” Lee said. “I wasn’t as disciplined as I needed to be in studying.”

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Disappointed in herself, Lee returned home to New Orleans and contemplated her next step. After staying out of college for nearly two years, Lee enrolled at UNO where she would earn two degrees—a bachelor’s in finance and an MBA.

At UNO she not only found academic rigor, but the academic support she needed to succeed, Lee said.

“It really doesn’t matter that you fall down, it’s that you get back up,” Lee said. “And sometimes you need some help to get back up and UNO was my help.”

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Lee said UNO ‘saved’ her. Now, she wants to extend a similar lifeline to other students who have returned to school to pursue a bachelor’s degree at her alma mater.

Lee, a consultant who recently semi-retired following more than 20 years of working in New Orleans city government, has established the Ellen M. Lee New Opportunity Scholarship at UNO. The scholarship will help pay tuition and fees for students who have earned some college credits and have returned to UNO to complete a degree.

“I wanted the scholarship to be for people who needed a second chance,” Lee said. “For students who had started school and, for whatever reason, wasn’t successful in college their first time around.”

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The first scholarship is expected to be awarded next year. The scholarship requires that students maintain at least a 2.5 GPA, with priority given to students pursuing a degree in the College of Business Administration. Applicants will be selected by a committee consisting of representatives from the Office of Financial Aid and the College of Business Administration and awarded prior to the beginning of each fall semester.

Pamela Kennett-Hensel, dean of UNO’s College of Business Administration, will be the contact for the scholarship.

“I’ve been fortunate,” Lee said. “I’m fortunate to have resources right now and I do attribute that to my journey and what UNO set me up for. The fact that I was able to get through UNO and get my degrees there; I think that gave me the foundation to set myself up for success.”

Lee’s time at UNO has been a full-circle journey that has given her a deep appreciation for the University and its place as an academic gem in the New Orleans region and beyond, said Lee.

“I love the University. If you cut me … silver and blue come out,” Lee said with a laugh. “I’ve been a student, staff, been on the faculty. There was a Black alumni chapter at one point. I was president of that chapter.”

Lee has also served as a board member of the UNO Foundation and the UNO Alumni Association.

“I’m just proud to support them and look forward to their continued success,” Lee said regarding scholarship recipients. “I’m hoping that someone will be able to benefit from it. That it gives them that other chance to realize the goals that they’ve set for themselves.”

Lee recalled the time shortly after graduating from UNO that she received a telephone call at home from John Altazan, the founding dean of the College of Business Administration. Lee had been a dean’s list scholar and thought Altazan’s call was regarding her outstanding performance.

It was a fundraising call that led to a job, Lee said.

“He asked how I was doing, and I told him, ‘OK, but that I was actually thinking about moving because it’s been tough finding work,” Lee said. “‘He said, ‘Let me get back to you.’”

The next day, Lee was contacted by Altazan’s assistant who asked if she would be interested in interviewing for the computer center director’s job on campus. The current director was leaving and there would be an opening. Lee was familiar with the center, having worked there as a student, she said.

“I ended up working in the College of Business in the computer center for many years,” Lee said.

In 1994, Lee went to work at New Orleans City Hall in Mayor Marc Morial’s administration, concentrating on community and economic development. She retired in 2020, having worked under four mayors, Lee said.

“The majority of my career was in public service,” Lee said. “I did a stint in philanthropy at the Greater New Orleans Foundation.”

Lee recently returned to City Hall part-time.

“I’ve just trusted that God has a plan for us,” Lee said. “There are moments we really don’t see it, but in the end, we are meant to be where we are meant to be. And God puts us on a path.”

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