Financial Aid for Beginners

Graphic by Kate Korepova

Written by Duncan McIntyre

In the age of COVID-19, students in higher-education institutions around the world have had to cope with a rapidly changing collegiate landscape. Classes are largely being held virtually, and students have had to deal with the financial strain caused by a global economic downturn. Some students may now, more than ever, need additional resources to help pay for school.        

For students at Austin Community College, this help can come in many forms. In addition to federal grants and loans, emergency relief funding from the American Rescue Plan now offers assistance to students who have been financially impacted by COVID-19.

The process to apply for financial aid can be difficult to navigate, and some students may not know what assistance is available. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is one of the most commonly utilized tools for students seeking aid, but there are also lesser-known avenues that students can take.                                                                          

Belinda Peña, an outreach coordinator for the ACC work-study program, discussed some of the benefits of applying for FAFSA.                                                                                        

“The main benefit is you’re applying for several types of financial aid all in one application,” Peña said “With just the FAFSA application, students are applying for grants, loans and work-study, which is a type of part-time work that students can do on-campus or off-campus.”                              

Another application, the Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TASFA) is also available. “The TASFA is very similar – it’s just for a specific population of students.” Peña said “So if they’re undocumented, for example, they may qualify. With the TASFA they’re applying for grant money and work study.”                                                                                                      

The financial aid department also offers resources for students who need help applying for FAFSA and other types of assistance. On their website there are videos with step-by-step instructions, and a chatbot that students can use 24/7 to locate relevant information.                     

The department also offers virtual workshops at certain times of year. In October, when the FAFSA application for the 2022-2023 school year opens; there will be a month of workshops that students can attend to get help completing their applications.                                                   

Peña also encourages students to seek alternative forms of aid. “Here at ACC we have over 600 scholarship opportunities that only require one application,” Peña said “On our website we also have a list of external scholarships. You can apply for external scholarships that are offered through different nonprofits and organizations throughout Texas.”                                                    

Isabel Torres is a single mother, an ACC student, and a participant in the work-study program. In regards to the financial aid process, Torres said “It was super easy. Financial aid was really good about giving me the steps for doing the financial aid application and explaining the differences between the grants.”                                                                                                        

Torres also connected with student assistance services, where she was able to find help caring for her child while continuing to pursue her education. “I have a daughter who’s 4, and she goes to the ACC child lab. She’s got great instructors,” Torres said.                                        

Isabel Torres smiles at the camera wearing a red sweater while her daughter sits on her lap smiling as well.
Austin Community College student, Isabel Torres, and her daughter. Torres has utilized ACC’s student assistance services to complete her FAFSA and access childcare which is helping her complete her schooling. Photo provided by Isabel Torres

Before coming to school, Torres was concerned about the affordability of education. “It was not in the budget at all,” Torres said. “Financial aid was a really crucial part of continuing my education.”                                                                                                                          

Students may be offered participation in work-study in their financial aid package. In work-study, they can earn $15.60 an hour, but unlike traditional aid such as grants and loans, students don’t have access to all the money offered at one time.                                                           

Torres recommends the program to all students. “The best thing about it is that you can make your schedule, you’re not going to be forced to work 40 hours a week,” Torres said. “The program is really flexible.”                                                           

As a participant in the program, Torres is employed by Student Affairs and works closely with advising and academic coaching counselors. In doing so, she has gained essential skills that will help her in careers to come.              

“I learn a lot of tools that are essential, especially interacting with people. Communication is going to be essential no matter what career I intend to go towards,” Torres said.                  

For students who are curious about the work-study program, or are trying to find help paying for school, Isabel has these words of advice: “I feel that at some point each student should try to meet with an advising counselor or check out student assistance resources. There are so many good tools that we offer. They really do want to help. You can ease the burden of responsibilities and focus on your future.”                                                                                                                          

The FAFSA application for the 2022-2023 school year opens in October, but applications are still available for students who have already started classes and who need aid.  Students looking for help paying for school can contact the student services help desk by calling 512-223-4243.

Graduating Virtually

Graphic by Kate Korepova

Story and Video By Pete Ramirez

In order to protect ourselves from COVID-19, much of our lives and work have been pushed into virtual settings. Austin Community College’s spring 2021 commencement was no different and was also forced to be held virtually. 

ACCENT wanted to check-in with students graduating during this unusual time, so we reached out to a pair of recent ACC graduates, Emily Pesina and Ashley Silva. ACCENT editor-in-chief, Pete Ramirez, spoke to both graduates to understand what their graduation experience was like and what they had planned for the near future.

A picture of a smiling young woman named Ashley Silva. And a small screen with a picture of a smiling young man named Pete Ramirez.
Ashley Silva, a recent Austin Community College graduate and recipient of the spring 2021 Chancellor’s Student Achievement Award, speaks to ACCENT editor-in-chief, Pete Ramirez, about the her graduation experience.

Student Organization Profiles

By: Patrick Davis

Joining a student organization at Austin Community College may be the last thing on your list considering the demands from classes, work, family responsibilities, internships, and more. However, there are students involved in student organizations who will tell you that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. ACCENT met with three students involved with student organizations to hear about their experiences.

ACC’s Student Life website has a list of 115 student organizations, although not all of them are active. If a student cannot find the organization they are looking for, an advisor will work with the student to create a new organization. That is exactly what happened to Devin Driskell of the Future Business Leaders of Austin (FBLA) and Ashley Pesina of the Latinx Student Union (LXSU).

Pesina was a member of the Hispanic Students Association (HSA) in 2009. When she came back to ACC ten years later, she found that HSA was no longer active. With Advisor Jessica Oest’s help, Pesina started working on a new student organization for Latinx students. LXSU officially became an organization in Oct. of 2020.

The group’s primary purpose is “helping individuals escape a sense of otherness that the Latinx community is often confronted with,” Pesina said.

Although LXSU is concentrated on the Latinx community, the group welcomes all students.

Ayeesha Green giving a presentation on finance during a virtual Future Business Leaders of Austin (FBLA) meeting
Ayeesha Green giving a presentation on finance during a virtual Future Business Leaders of Austin (FBLA) meeting.

FBLA was also founded by a student who couldn’t find the club they were looking for. Since starting FBLA only two years ago, the student organization membership has grown to have 50 members to this day. The group aims to “help people be ready for their journey into the business world,” Driskell said.

While the group is focused on business majors, Driskell believes that the skills fostered by FBLA such as public speaking, networking, and interview skills, can be of use to students who are pursuing any degree plan.

Alpha Gamma Pi is the ACC chapter of Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), an international honor society for community colleges. The group was founded on four hallmarks: scholarship, leadership, service, and fellowship. PTK works in the community through service projects and volunteer opportunities.

Alicia Stadler is currently the vice president of PTK of the Highland campus and has served as president and historian in past semesters. Stadler said that she initially joined PTK to improve her transfer application but gained a tight-knit support system.

“The officer team has become my family. I love them all. They’re great people,” Stadler said.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, student organizations have moved their club meetings and events to online platforms such as Google Meet and Zoom. Pesina has noticed that meeting virtually makes it challenging to bond with other LXSU members. However, Driskell has actually seen a rise in FBLA membership since the start of the pandemic, presumably because virtual meetings are more convenient for students to attend than in-person events. The biggest challenge these students have faced when joining or starting the groups has been finding the time to participate and organize activities.

Driskell sees a silver lining in that challenge, as it has helped him improve his time management skills. He has also become more comfortable with public speaking.

In addition to time-management, Pesina also cites greater patience and accountability as qualities she has gained during her time with LXSU.

Driskell, Pesina, and Stadler all speak highly of their time spent in student organizations. The time invested can create new friendships, networking opportunities, and real-life skills. Student organizations give their members the chance to work with a diverse group of people, including other students, advisors, and industry professionals.

Stadler encourages anyone who has the opportunity to join a student organization to do so.

“You never know if you’re going to meet your best friend, or meet somebody who could help you get into these dream schools, or just meet some really, really great people.” Stadler said.

Weather Affecting ACC’s Agriculture Department

By Nick Brown

Austin Community College’s 17-acre Sustainable Student Farm, located at ACC’s Elgin campus, is home to a herd of sheep, an orchard, a greenhouse, and a small plot dedicated to vegetable production.

It is also where you can often find Savannah Rugg, Department Chair of the Agricultural Sciences Department, who leads a small team that runs the farm.

Although trending in a positive direction, the farm has certainly faced challenges from this year’s weather.
First was the winter storm. While the orchard remained intact, heavy snow and freezing temperatures brought by the storm resulted in a significant loss of plants in the farm’s greenhouse that were used for propagation.

“It did push the season back,” Rugg said, referring to the plot of vegetables on the farm.  The late start after shifting planting from February to April means now-maturing plants are faced with current, intense temperatures, and thus less flower production.

“If we had more hands it probably would have been a relatively productive season because we have gotten a lot of rain,” Rugg said. “We haven’t had to irrigate too much like a couple summers ago when we were hardly getting any.”

The recent rain, however, has also had an affect on the farm. “With all the rain we are getting and the high heat days, the weeds are probably the biggest challenge for us right now.”

ACC Alumni Making a Mark in West Texas

Sarah Vasquez (right) interviews an ACC student for ACCENT while on campus when she attended the school in 2009. Photo taken by Karissa Rodriguez

By: Pete Ramirez

It’s not uncommon for a portion of students to find their way back to school at Austin Community College. Sarah Vaszquez enrolled at Texas State University immediately after graduating high school. Eight years later, she enrolled at ACC.  Now, Vasquez is a freelance journalist and photographer whose work can be found in the New York Times, Texas Tribune, Texas Highways Magazine and others. 

It is common for students, of any age, to start here in order to get there. After graduating high school, Vasquez became a student at Texas State University. About two years into her higher education journey, she decided the best thing for herself was to take a break from school. During her time away from school Vasquez began writing her own blog called So Many Bands, which covered the independent music scene in Austin. 

“I was interviewing anybody and everybody who would let me,” Vasquez said. “I was so shy, my brother would sometimes ask band members if I could interview them.” 

After a few years, Vasquez decided to step back into the world of academia as an ACC student. In her first semester, she was recruited to work for ACCENT’s newspaper, which had its last publication in 2014.  

“[ACCENT] gave me the space to learn everything I wanted to learn,” Vasquez said. “I learned photography, how to edit audio and work on video.”

While working for ACCENT, Vaszquez picked up as many assignments as she could to become the Campus Editor and, eventually, Assistant Editor. Vasquez credits ACCENT for giving her low-stakes opportunities to grow as a journalist.

Sarah Vasquez Photo 2 - Vasquez (right), in 2011, works in the ACCENT newsroom to pull together the latest edition.
Vasquez (right), in 2011, works in the ACCENT newsroom to pull together the latest edition.

“I feel like ACC legitimized my career,” Vasquez said.  “It opened so many doors for me and gave me confidence to come out of my shell.”

After graduating from ACC with her associate’s degree in journalism, Vasquez was selected to take part in the Poynter Institute’s fellowship for a semester which is one of the most recognized schools of journalism.

After completing her fellowship, Vasquez returned to Texas State University. She quickly fell into the fold at the student-run radio station, KTSW 89.9, where she continued to develop her journalism skills in an audio format.

“I don’t think I would’ve been as prepared for the work at the university level if it wasn’t for ACC,” Vasquez said.

Vasquez received her bachelor’s degree in journalism from Texas State in 2012 and decided to take a four-month internship with Marfa Public Radio. After growing up in the fast-paced Austin area, she found joy and calm in the slower-paced west Texas town. Half-way through the internship she began working at the Big Bend Sentinel part-time. After the internship ended, Vasquez was hired as a full-time staff member for the newspaper.

“I was the general assignments reporter [at the Sentinel], so I covered everything,” Vasquez said.

In 2016, after working for the Big Bend Sentinel for three years, Vasquez decided to go her own way and become a freelance journalist and photographer covering the west Texas area.

Vasquez’s photography and writing for the Texas Tribune during February’s winter storm was essential coverage for rural west Texas communities that are often overlooked.

Although her path to ACC was not straightforward, Vasquez’s story is a testament to the valuable opportunities and connections that can be made at ACC.

“[ACC] exceeded my expectations,” Vasquez said. “I had no idea I would go on this journey.”

Vasquez plans to continue her work as a freelance journalist and photographer in the west Texas region.

Pride Month: Legislative Edition

By: Kyrios LoNigro

This year is seemingly the worst on record for LGBT+ equality. More than 250 anti-LGBT+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the U.S. Texas is the leading state with 12 bills being proposed this legislative session, targeting transgender youth. One banning a type of school sports participation and, another, health care access to transgender children. and another. Debates over transgender people living freely in the U.S. have been shown to have negative consequences on their mental health.

Mateo Marquez, theater student, says his K-12 experience was exhausting. In high school he encountered more than name-calling, just for being a transgender student.

“Freshman year I was threatened,” Marquez said. “I was harassed [by one specific classmate.]”

Marquez’s classmate told others at school that transgender people needed to die. Despite this harassment, Marquez says the school did not seek disciplinary action against the boy. This type of discrimination causes many transgender students to drop out of school.

The Trevor Project is the country’s biggest LGBT+ youth crisis phone line, focused on supporting suicide prevention efforts for those under the age of 25. Phone calls drastically increase when when trans-phobic rhetoric circulates and bills are proposed.

Missi Patterson an ALLY at ACC said, “I hear so many people in the lawmaking community say, ‘You’re either a man or a woman. It’s just science.’ I want them to understand that that’s not even true.”

Texas and Florida are the two top states with the most instances of Fatal Anti-Trans violence, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

“It’s scary because your life is at risk here – they’re making fun of you solely because you’re trans.” Marquez said. “You don’t want to be hate-crimed for it, but you also want to stick up for yourself.”

Ari Thomas, a health science student who is also gay and non binary. Although they believe their sexuality hasn’t received negative responses at ACC, they have not come out as non-binary.

“I’ve never had anybody say anything to me just because I’m gay,” said Thomas. “People don’t know I’m non binary at ACC but that’s mostly because I’m doing online classes and haven’t gone to in-person classes yet.”

Thomas expressed that if they did encounter discrimination they wouldn’t know how to handle it due to lack of face-to-face interactions with instructors in remote classes and online information.

“I’ve never seen anything LGBT related on the website,” said Thomas.

Neither Marquez nor Thomas knew about ACC’s LGBT+ Equity Committee, whose aim is to provide education to faculty, staff, and students at ACC about LGBT+ issues.

A primary component of the committee is their advocacy for long-term systemic change that can be achieved by policy revisions and support networks through their ALLY program and events.

Despite one of the committee’s goals of providing support, the committee is not often easily accessible. A Google search brings you to their Facebook where little information is provided on the committee – only their email.

“You have to know how to search for us,” Matthew Campbell, co-chair of ACC’s LGBT+ Equity Committee, said. Campbell said the secrecy is due to bigoted language they have received in response to trying to reach students through ACC’s email contact lists.

“It’s usually on the lines of homophobic or religiously motivated,” Campbell said. “We don’t do that anymore.”

Campbell also shared the committee is working with ACC to require students to participate in sensitivity training to mitigate the issue after they expand their ALLY program. So, for the moment, the committee is building their own email lists and operating by word of mouth.

 “All organizations have to go through a chain to be able to access those email addresses,” Campbell said.

Interested students must opt into receiving their newsletters and emails. Campbell shared that the committee has been receiving more engagement recently, but the pandemic has made connecting to students difficult, being that information isn’t as easily found on posters on campus or other ways.

In her psychology class, Patters creates space for her LGBT+ students by asking them to put their pronouns in their zoom names. Additionally, she asks them to provide their preferred name at the beginning of class.

The Ally Program trains ACC employees to create space and support for LGBT+ students. Employees of ACC can become an ally by filling out an interest form. Interested parties will be notified when a training is available.

“[The training] wasn’t difficult at all,” Patterson said. “We had an incredible guest speaker from UT and it was really enjoyable.”

In addition to the ALLY training, Patterson recommends training on how to be an advocate through organizations like the Texas Freedom Network, Texas Rising, and Equality Texas.

Many LGBT+ youth and adults are not accepting of these bills filled with trans-phobic rhetoric being proposed into the Texas legislature.

“We don’t need people checking our genitals. End of story. We are who we are. We are just like everyone else,” Marquez said.


Mateo Marquez, Ari Thomas, Missi Patterson, Matthew Campbell
(left to right) Mateo Marquez, Art Thomas, Missi Patterson, Matthew Campbell

ACCENT On Air E00

ACCENT is launching a new podcast, called ACCENT on Air. This weekly podcast is created to be a one-stop-shop for the essential information that students at Austin Community College need.

By: Zeus Enole

First Episode of our new Spotify Podcast

ACCENT is launching a new podcast, called ACCENT on Air. This weekly podcast is created to be a one-stop-shop for the essential information that students at Austin Community College need. Each episode includes announcements or reminders about upcoming events. Additionally, every episode will have a guest speaker help us take a closer look at a service or resource that the college  provides.

The first episode, E00, is a pilot introducing this new project. It includes an interview with Multimedia and Social Media Coordinator for Student Affairs Communication, Halie Ramirez, as well as information about ACC’s Community Resources page. You’ll also hear about the following announcements and events:

  • The college was closed Sunday, April 4.
  • The priority deadline for ACC’s General Scholarship has been extended to May 1. Visit https://www.austincc.edu/students/scholarships for more information on how to get started. 
  • Summer Registration opened  April 5 for current students. For new students, registration will open on April 19. 
  • The last day to withdraw from classes this semester is April 26.
  • ACCENT Student Media hosted a Kahoot trivia event with Student Life on April 5. Attendees were able to test their knowledge on 2000’s to 2010’s pop culture.  
  • Student Life hosted  a Leadership Development Workshop called Building Your Personal Brand on April 7 at 4 p.m.
  • Riverbat Success Programming  is hosting the virtual event: Poetry for Take Back the Night on April 9 at 5 p.m.
  • Join Student Life for their virtual watch party of “A Mile in His Shoes” on April 12 at 3 p.m.

In the interview with Halie Ramirez, we discussed her role at ACC as well as her position as faculty advisor to ACCENT. When asked about her involvement in ACCENT, she talked about her experience in student media while she was in college. 

“That’s where I got to build my network for my career,” she told us, “which, I like to say [that] every job I’ve ever had–I would not have gotten there without having someone from my network to help me get there. Every student should be involved in a student organization in some way; you never know who you’re going to meet. That’s a part of higher education, is building that professional network.”

 Listen to the full interview on IGTV or Spotify. Subscribe and never miss an episode.

You can find more updates on our Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Have an announcement you’d like us to include in future episodes? Email us at editor@austincc.edu

Career Searching: Landing Your Dream Job

ACCENT multimedia reporter, Pete Ramirez, interviews Trish Welch, Career Services Director at ACC, Pam Fant-Saez, Digital Skills for Today’s Jobs Director at ACC, and Gloria Walls, an ACC student who just started an I.T. apprenticeship with the help of Career Services.

By: Pete Ramirez

As the 2021 spring semester comes to a close, Austin Community College is doing all it can to give its graduates the skills to snag the jobs they want. This often overlooked work is driven by the Career Services Department, who offer free tools and career coaching to any current or former student in  need of help navigating the current job market. 

“Job postings have increased,” said Trish Welch, Career Resources Director at ACC. “The number of employers who are interested in hiring ACC students has dramatically increased.”

Welch believes the challenges students are currently facing revolve around preparing for employment.Through career coaching and innovative technology, Career Services may be able to help relieve some of the stress that comes along with looking for a job, while improving the chances of an applicant landing an interview.

In the current hiring market, artificial intelligence is heavily relied upon by companies to filter through the thousands of applications they receive. These technologies are programmed to search for keywords within resumes to find solid candidates for the position. Career services’ solution to this problem is Jobscan. 

Jobscan is a way for students to optimize their resumes by comparing their resume against a specific job posting. The platform then awards a score to the resume which indicates if the applicant is a good match for the position.

“We don’t consider that resume complete until it has a score of 85%,” said Skills for Today’s Jobs Director, Pam Fant-Saez. “[With that score], we know that the chances of it getting through to see human eyes escalates way up.” 

Fant-Saez said that the platform can do the same with a student’s LinkedIn account to optimize their profile so that it doesn’t slip through the cracks either.

Career Services also offers assistance in preparing for interviews by utilizing another piece of technology: Big Interview. Big Interview allows a student to practice being interviewed by an avatar to alleviate some of the potential pressure of being put in the hot seat by another person.

With each recorded session, the student can continue practicing until they’re comfortable with what is being asked. The questions the avatar asks can also be changed depending on which industry the student is attempting to enter.

“Students don’t realize how amazingly powerful this is,” Fant-Saez said. “And then they get hired in 10 days as opposed to eight months.”

Students interested in improving their job seeking skills can access these tools by  applying to the free, monthly classes Career Services offers, Strategies for Today’s Jobs.

One student who completed these classes and credits them for her success is Gloria Walls. Walls recently started an Information Technologies (IT) apprenticeship at Saber Data, a local tech company in Austin.

These classes taught Walls the t-chart strategy, one used for writing a cover letter. To use the strategy, place the job description in a column on the left and on the right column describe how your qualifications match what the employer is looking for. 

Walls said, “I think it also helps to prepare you for your interview because it helps you think about what skills you have.”

Fant-Saez is also a fan of cover letters and encourages students who have something compelling to say to take the time to write a cover letter. She feels it can allow an application to shine brighter among the rest.

“When you don’t have a lot of experience, it might be good to express immense enthusiasm,” Fant-Saez said.

Walls said that any ACC student who is looking for a job should take advantage of this free career training course.

“I think it helps you organize your materials, think about what your skills are and helps you to really get that thing that is going to make you stand out from other candidates,” Walls said.

Volunteering During a Time of Isolation; What Students Can Do?

ACC staff and community members provide different perspectives on volunteering in isolated times.

By: Renata Salazar

As a college student, volunteering is essential when seeking to become involved in your community and craft better relationships. With hundreds of volunteering options and resources, it can be overwhelming to take initiative and find the best option for you. ACCENT spoke to Austin Community College’s Service-Learning Program Coordinator Sabryna Groves, to get a better understanding of the steps students should take to find volunteer opportunities and what it means to become an active community member. ACC student, Olivia Cruz,also gives us insight on what she gained from her experience volunteering through ACC.

As COVID continues, Groves gives us her thoughts on how the pandemic has affected community involvement. 

“I have seen a lot of volunteer organizations are pivoting to work virtual opportunities and safe socially distant options into their agenda. Virtual volunteering is great but I think we will still see a demand for in-person volunteering.” 

Groves believes that our social climate has played a part in the increased demand of students in search of volunteer opportunities. Movements such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate have encouraged students to get involved within the community.

“There is a lot of motivation for people to become involved in their community I think now more than ever, and there is a serious demand for us as ACC faculty to make opportunities as visible and accessible to students,” Groves said.

Before the pandemic, Cruz volunteered through Student Life by participating the monthly food distributions that are partners with Central Texas Food Bank. 

“I very much enjoyed volunteering for student life at ACC. I wish I had the opportunity to do it again. I felt like I really had a place and all the people around me had the same intentions to help out,” Cruz said.

Since COVID, Cruz feels that there has been a tremendous decline of volunteer work. Due to safety protocols, gathering in groups and social interaction is not as common as it was before. Cruz shared that she feels that ACC should bring more awareness to virtual volunteering opportunities for students. . 

Groves gives us her top three resources for volunteering through ACC. First would be for students to start at Student Life and look for volunteer work there. Next would be Riverbat Reach, a website that includes 30 different community partnersj that the college has. Through Riverbat Reach, students can join the volunteer program and find work suitable to their needs.. As the final resource, Groves recommends givepulse, a website that provides multiple opportunities. Here students can create a free account with their ACC email and find up-to-date information on volunteering options. 

Groves is currently working with ACC students in the visual communications area of study  to learn how to make volunteering opportunities more accessible to students like Cruz in the future. Students can fill out this survey and participate in helping ACC encourage and present more opportunities to students to give back.

“When you’re working with people within your community and you’re having conversations about social issues, and working together to make a change it’s a very fulfilling feeling,” says Groves. “It gives you a reason to care about Austin and like being able to give back to the community.”

Self Defense 101

Learning self-defense extends far beyond just discovering how to protect yourself. It also boost your confidence and self esteem. ACCENT spoke with former Austin Community College students Kevin Walter, and Carla Crisostomo, who have gone through the self-defense program at Austin Community College, and Kaci Kai, the co-owner of Krav Maga Atx to get their input on tips to help you feel safer.

By: Kimberly Dalbert