ACC Students and COVID-19

Story by Duncan McIntyre

We are all still living through one of the most significant periods in human history. Each person you encounter has likely experienced an unexpected change in their own story because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The virus has affected each of us in a unique and perhaps fundamental way.

COVID-19 precautions have forced students and educators to adapt to a novel form of learning dominated by virtual meetings, webcams and Wi-Fi. Students who were already facing the challenges of higher education have had their decisions strained even more by COVID-19 and it’s ripple effects. 

Whether it be financially, mentally, emotionally or even spiritually, the past couple of years have significantly affected us all and as a society we will be recovering from this for years to come.

A decade ago, Michelle McKown was a student at Austin Community College. Ten years later during the fall semester of 2019, McKown returned to complete her undergraduate psychology degree. 

A few months later in March of 2020, ACC shut its doors to in-person learning for the first time and began the transition to online education.

“I started the semester before the world turned upside down,” McKown said.

We can all remember the beginning of quarantine where life became simpler and vastly more complicated all at once. 

For some students, this time away from the hustle and bustle of the world allowed a moment to pause and reflect.

Andres Rodriguez, a high school student taking dual-credit courses at ACC, says he’s not the same person he was when the pandemic began. For some people, Rodriguez said, “it gave them an opportunity to reassess themselves, and figure out where they needed to go and what they needed to do.”

McKown also saw this as an opportunity to do some reassessing of her own. 

“The pandemic forced a restart on me, so I wanted to take advantage of that and not waste this opportunity,” McKown said.

McKown’s restart included decisions on what and who to keep in her life, and what to change. These decisions affected her spirituality and sense of self. 

“What all those choices boil down to is the fact that we, as human beings, are not good at letting go of things that are no longer what they once were,” McKown said.

The new COVID-19 world is a place of contrasts. In some ways it seems some good came out of this period of self-reflection. However, it is undeniable that many experienced great difficulties and losses as well.

Leslie Tejeda, a general studies student at ACC, said she experienced difficulties grasping the material in some classes due to the nature of online learning. Tejeda also said that she experienced, “a lot of isolation, I didn’t even go outside.”

Rodriguez says he is fortunate that he did not personally lose any family members because of the virus. 

“I know a lot of people that lost family – aunts, uncles, grandparents,” Rodriguez said.

From elementary school to graduate university, students have also been learning to adapt to a changing educational environment. This has been easier for some compared to others.

Rodriguez is someone who found classes harder because of the switch to online learning. 

“I took a couple classes online, it was alright, but some of them were more difficult because of their workload,” Rodriguez said. “The cameras in my opinion, aren’t as effective as in-person learning.”

Tejeda was in the same boat and said that not being able to go to class in-person made grasping the concepts taught in class difficult.

On the other hand, there are students, myself included, that think online learning was easier. McKown said that during the pandemic she discovered that she actually preferred taking classes online.

“I love the freedom that online asynchronous learning affords me,” McKown said. “Now I get to work on things in a way that works with my schedule, and I have to say that I really love it, which was a huge surprise for me.”

The past few years have been tough and the end of the pandemic has yet to be seen. We can’t forget that we are in this together. 

McKown offered words of encouragement for those who may still be struggling.

“You are not struggling right now because you aren’t enough, things aren’t hard right now because you’re somehow not strong enough to handle it,” McKown said. “If things feel hard right now, it’s because they’re hard… We have to be kinder to ourselves.”
ACC offers mental health resources to any students who need them. Students can find them at https://www.austincc.edu/students/mental-health-counseling. If you need more immediate help, you can call 512-472-HELP (4357)

Your Finals Survival Guide

Graphic by Kate Korepova

Story by Gloria Nguyen

Finals season is here. It’s time for us to push through the last few weeks of the semester and finish off in a positive way. 

With final projects, essays and tests to worry about, this time of year can be extremely hectic and stressful for students. It can be daunting to find motivation during finals week when all you want to do is cuddle under a thick blanket and drink hot chocolate, but don’t let yourself off the hook just yet! 

To help you survive finals week, we’ve gathered tips and preparation advice from Austin Community College students and academic coaches. 

ACC student, Victoria Regalado, keeps the studying habit of slowly exposing herself to the content of her class over time. 

Regalado likes to run through the materials posted on Blackboard before class to become familiar with what her professor is going to talk about. This practice keeps her engaged with the materials that may appear on future tests and lessens the burden of cramming in all the concepts at the last minute. 

Like most students, Regalado has had some difficulties preparing for her finals in the past. Last semester was Regalado’s first semester at ACC and she admits she did not know how to prepare for exams or what to expect during finals. 

“I was in a class where we weren’t given that many details about what would be on the final, so I had no idea what to focus on,” Regalado said. “I was freaking out.”

To push through that difficult time, Regalado reached out to her classmates to exchange the information they had about the finals. She also looked over past exams to try to identify the professor’s testing style. 

“It’s kind of comforting to know that many people are on the same boat with you,” Regalado said. “We helped each other and the final results turned out well.”

Being an engineering major at ACC demands Alya Mansoor to be a strict planner. Mansoor says she works on school work from the afternoon until evening time. 

An image of a young woman wearing glasses and headphones studying for an exam using her textbook and her laptop computer.
Alya Mansoor, engineering student at ACC, studies for an upcoming exam.

“A big thing that I do to keep the balance between my work life and study life is to create a structured schedule,” Mansoor said. “At the beginning of the school year, I’ll get a big calendar and write down all of my deadlines for homework and exams. As time goes on, I’ll fill in things that pop up too” 

This calendar helps her keep track of due dates and allows her to plan out her work ahead of time. 

To study for finals, Mansoor formulates a study plan catered to each class based on previous exams and the professor’s formatting. If she has an upcoming textbook-heavy exam, she will focus on her textbooks and support her studying by reviewing notes and homework. 

“If I have an exam that relies on homework and practice, like Calculus, I’ll work through problem after problem and review my notes again.” 

For a cumulative exam, Mansoor takes a different approach. “That’s a longer process and I have to start ahead of time and pay close attention to the course materials from the beginning of the class,” Mansoor said. 

Because Mansoor says she fidgets frequently and is not good at concentrating for long periods of time, she uses the Pomodoro technique to study productively. 

Using this method, you break down your working time into 25-minute chunks (pomodoros) separated by five-minute breaks. After about four pomodoros, you take a longer break of about 15 to 20 minutes. This technique can help anyone who feels distracted or overwhelmed to focus their attention on the task at hand. 

“I’m using the Pomodoro method and I’ll keep using that,” Mansoor said. “It helps me keep my concentration better, especially for something big like finals.”

Sherry Yang, an academic coach at ACC, notices that a common mistake students make when studying for finals is procrastination. 

An image of a beautiful smiling woman with long hair looking towards the camera.
One of ACC’s many academic coaches, Sherry Yang.

“Some students didn’t plan ahead and didn’t know how much time they needed to prepare for finals,” Yang said. “In worse cases, some students barely studied until the final days.” 

This habit of barely studying leads students to cram all the information at the last minute and results in poor retention of the material and lower test scores. 

“If you try to stay up late to memorize as much as you can, usually you’re going to feel tired the next day and not going to remember a lot of information,” Yang said.

When students come to Yang for advice, she recommends at least two weeks to prepare for a big test. 

“Let’s say if they have a test on Friday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., we recommend students to study in the afternoon from 2 or 3 o’clock for the two weeks before the final,” Yang said. “That way, you can get used to doing those kinds of subjects in that time frame. On the actual test day, you’re not going to get super anxious and stressed out.”

This semester, ACC has been hosting a mix of in-person and virtual classes. For either type of class, Yang recommends familiarizing yourself with the environment you are going to be in during your exam. 

“If you’re going to take your test in front of your desk, you’ll want to study in front of your desk a while before the exam day,” Yang said. “If you’re going to take a test in a class, it might be better to study in a library or a public place. If you get too comfortable studying at home, taking a test in a different environment with people around may make you feel anxious and overwhelmed.”


Preparing for your final exams can be overwhelming, especially during the ongoing challenges of the pandemic. If you have had difficulty studying for finals, book an appointment with ACC academic coaches at their website. Academic coaches are available on several campuses district-wide.

Good luck to everyone with your finals!

Astroworld’s Utopia Turns into Catastrophe

Rager mentality of Travis Scott’s fans fueled the deadly crowd surge incident at Astroworld Festival, placing Houston on headlines across the globe

Angelica Ruzanova runs towards the Astroworld Festival entrance marked by a giant inflatable object depicted as Travis Scott’s head, a landmark which has made an appearance throughout all his previous festivals. Photo by Camille Nul

By Angelica Ruzanova

There is nothing quite like the anticipation and thrill you experience before attending a concert. Months worth of built-up energy, relentless preparation, and memorizing music culminates in a grand euphoric experience shared with other fans. 

But when the audience’s temporary bliss of a live performance becomes an out of control mob, you have no choice but to give into the uncontrollable forces of the crowd. 

Multiple investigations are trying to figure out how harmless enjoyment turned the third-annual Astroworld Festival into a catastrophic event, leaving 10 attendees dead and hundreds more injured. The festival, founded and headlined by superstar rapper and Houston native, Travis Scott, has sparked living hell for the survivors and the families of the lost concert-goers. 

After my friends and I attended the 2019 Astroworld Festival, we expected a similar experience extended into two days rather than one. The festival felt like it’s own Travis Scott mini-world, with everything from a Cactus Jack pop-up store to amusement park rides. 

Many people in a crowd in front of a massive outdoor stage at the Astroworld Festival. Screens display the schedule for day-one with Travis Scott headlining.
The “Thrills” stage scene with the festival schedule for day-one flashing on all screens.
Photo by Angelica Ruzanova

It soon became painfully obvious to us that the number of concert-goers had more than doubled, and the Astroworld “utopia” seemed beyond the maximum capacity offered at the venue. As we noticed the lines of fans growing larger and the crowd becoming extremely packed, things did not feel quite right. 

I witnessed people who were missing shoes and wrist-bands required for entry after running through unprotected security fences. I also observed inattentive staff skipping the mandated COVID-19 tests once the lines of attendees grew longer and more impatient. 

With only one single water dispenser area in the arena, people grew dehydrated and ill. Those who fainted as a result of these circumstances were crowd-surfed out of mosh pits. A vast landscape of haze covered the area near the stage as groups of people smoked in the midst of the crowd.

The countdown before Travis Scott’s grand-finale performance felt like the calm before a storm. As minutes turned into seconds, the spaces in between each person morphed us all into a collective clump of bodies. 

My friends and I were standing near the front of the crowd on the stage-right side and we were quickly swept up in the shifting waves of people around us, who unintentionally stomped on our feet and continuously hit us with their shoulders. At one point in the madness, I was able to lift up my feet and be held up in the air due to the intense pressure of those surrounding me.

As the crowd’s mixture of excitement and impatience grew more ravenous, people began forcing their way toward a better view of the famous rapper. This came at a cost to those who were in a more vulnerable, unprotected area where they struggled for relief and gasped for fresh air. 

I was fortunate enough to grasp onto someone’s backpack which allowed me to make my way through the crowd, but many others were stuck towards the center with no chance to get out. 

A lot of people in a crowd in front of a stage where Yves Tumor is performing. One concert-goers holds up a poster that states "Stampede of Lost Souls".
Musician Yves Tumor and band performs at the “Thrills” stage, with a poster titled “Stampede of Lost Souls” raised in the air from the crowd up front.
Photo by Angelica Ruzanova

To be honest, most attendees did not realize what was happening at the time, but when the tragic news came out, it was a mind boggling thought. 

“I remember at first it took a while for the news to settle for me, to comprehend how big of a deal it all actually was,” said Isabella Conti, a fellow Austin Community College student who attended the festival with her friends.

“I thought to myself, this could’ve been my friends. It could’ve been anyone”, Conti said. “And the ages of those young kids reminded me of my younger brother. They were kids who went to the concert expecting to have fun and enjoy music.”

The night at NRG Park on 5th of November ended with 10 confirmed deaths, hundreds of injured attendees and a  crowd of over 50,000 people. The Houston Police Department is currently investigating exactly how this tragedy unfolded. 

Rumors have run rampant after the event. Stories have spread throughout social media of involuntarily injected security guards, drugs laced with fentanyl sold to some of the attendees and even a conspiracy theory of a satanic ritual. 

One of the deadliest concerts in United States history has resulted in more than 100 lawsuits being filed against festival organizers and performers, including Live Nation and Travis Scott himself.

“After trying to stay optimistic about the situation, I got angrier with what I heard. The more I learned about the circumstances, the more aware I grew,” Conti said. “I hope this horrible tragedy will change safety measures which go ignored by many festival organizers, and the ‘rager’ mentality gets the awareness it deserves. The tragedy trickles down to poor organization and people’s lack of decency when it comes to helping those around them.”

Our generation chases ceaseless sprees of carpe diem within the pressures of our social media presence. Carpe diem, a Latin phrase for making the most of the present time with little thought for the future, holds a dangerous explanation to why some concert-goers danced on ambulances that carried unconscious fans rather than at least standing back. 

The cost of this failure by numerous parties is personal and painful. We must remember and honor these 10 young people who died:

  • Brianna Rodriguez – 16 years old
  • Axel Acosta Avila – 21 years old
  • Madison Dubiski – 23 years old
  • Danish Baig – 27 years old
  • Rudy Peña – 23 years old
  • Jacob Jurinek – 20 years old
  • Franco Patino – 21 years old
  • John Hilgert – 14 years old
  • Bharti Shahani – 22 years old
  • Ezra Blount – 9 years old

Looking for a Job? Let Career Services Help

By Duncan McIntyre

One of the most stressful aspects of college is figuring out what to do after you’re finished. From communications to STEM, students often wonder where their feet will lead them in today’s constantly shifting career landscape. Then they’ve got to think about  resumés, interviews, cover letters – where to begin? Searching for a job can be overwhelming but fear not, Austin Community College’s Career Services has you covered.

“We’re here for [the students],” said ACC’s Career Resources Director, Trish Welch. During the week of October 24 through 29, Career Services is hosting Career Ready Week which is a full week of events to assist students with anything they might be having trouble with. From deciding on a major to dealing with anxiety in the job search, Career Ready Week has resources and events built specifically to help students succeed.

“We have a job fair; we have hundreds of employers who are excited to hire students, we have so many employers who have remote work and sign-on bonuses,” said Welch. Employers will be giving presentations and, for students actively looking for work, the job fair has full-time jobs, part-time jobs and internships.

There is also a session that examines the recent trend of working from home called Remote Control. “It’s how to find remote work. A lot of students are interested in remote work, but there are also hidden dangers,” said Welch. “We want to help you navigate that process.”

In order to make students more presentable to potential employers, there are sessions that help them look at their social media presence and credit reports. “Some jobs do pull your credit report,” said Welch. “It’s important to know what’s on your credit report, what your credit score is and how that may impact future employment.”

Career Services has a variety of tools available year-round as well. Edgar Medina is the supervisor of the first-of it’s kind Career and Transfer Center at ACC’s Highland campus. Medina said they offer, “career exploration, career guidance, job search, job readiness, resume reviews, interview preparation and mock interviews.”

The program also has counselors who can administer career assessments and help students decide on majors. For even more fine-tuning, there are specialists who work with students to research labor market information.

If you’re looking for even more help on your post-academic path, Career Services also offers the Strategies for Today’s jobs class. It is a 4-week intensive course that walks Riverbats through the job search process from start to finish. Katie McClendon is the Supervisory Coach for the class. She said the class is there to, “Identify a target job, prepare materials, build a network, negotiate a salary, be ready to interview and also to think a little about their career progression and development,” said Katie McClendon, supervisory coach of the class.

The instructors for Strategies for Today’s jobs are well-versed in the Austin job market and specific industries that students seek employment in. They also provide one-on-one coaching to make career obstacles more manageable.

Paige Swanton and Cristian Ortiz are two students who utilized Career Services to further their educational and career aspirations. Ortiz first enrolled at ACC in 2016. He took one class at a time until he decided to challenge himself academically.

Ortiz became a career scholar, which is a scholarship for students who are pursuing a career straight out of school. After receiving the scholarship, he decided to focus on his career and future.

Ortiz was given an opportunity to work with other career scholars on a job agency and has since pioneered a student-led peer-to-peer employment agency.

Swanton  connected with Ortiz as a fellow career scholar. She learned about a job opportunity through a career scholar discord chat and now works for ACC as a tele-recruiter.

Swanton  has high praise for Career Services and recommends them to other students. “Everybody helps, if you need something they have someone for you,” Swanton said.

For Riverbats looking towards the future, Cristian added, “None of us are perfect, and most of us have a lot of time to perfect ourselves. If you are worried like I was, we have time – it’s just a matter of building those skills.”

For more information on Career Ready Week, the Strategies for Today’s jobs class or anything related to finding a job, visit the Career Services website here.

ACC Students Take Control of Their Finances with Help from Student Money Management Office

Graphic by Kate Korepova

Story by Gloria Nguyen

College can feel like the void between childhood and adulthood, but once a young person graduates high school and advances to the higher tier of their education, they are considered adults and must become more responsible for the decisions they make regarding money. 

However,​​ an ING Direct study found that 87 percent of teens surveyed knew little about personal finance. 

Understanding how complicated and frustrating money management skills are, Austin Community College’s Student Money Management Office (SMMO) is here to help students take control of their money. Money management skills are even more crucial for students who plan to transfer to a four-year university, as the financial burden is much heavier in most cases. 

Shannon Pinales, an ACC student who just got accepted to the University of Texas at San Antonio, shared that she was never taught about money in her teenage years. At ACC, she sought help from the Peer Money Mentor Program (PMMP) offered by SMMO. 

Shannon Pinales and her acceptance letter from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Photo provided by Shannon Pinales

“Before I was in that program, even talking about the word ‘budget’ was enough to get me anxious. It wasn’t a territory I could speak about,” Pinales said. 

However, having been in that program for one year, Pinales is now confident that she is at a good place with her budgeting. She has also helped the office with some scholarship workshops behind the scenes. Pinales has learned valuable information about the money sources, where to find them, and how to apply for them. 

“The whole application process is overwhelming,” Pinales said. “But the office has helped me have a better idea of what I need to do on a weekly basis, monthly basis, and so on.”

Pinales, who will be transferring to a four-year university, said that she did not wish to take out any loans and would spend her weekends working on scholarship applications. 

“At ACC, I was able to not take out any student loans and always had a refund every semester,” Pinales said. “My budget would look completely different as I’m transferring to a new school. I don’t want to put any loan pressure on me.” She said she is grateful for learning how to take control of her finances before transferring to a four-year university.

Amber Rodriguez, like most young adults, would spend all the money she had in her bank account because she did not know any better. 

Amber Rodriguez representing her new school, Texas State University. 
Photo provided by Amber Rodriguez

But now, that’s all in the past. Rodriguez now has savings she is building on and extra money in case of emergency thanks to the Peer Money Mentor program.

Rodriguez took part in the Rainy Days Saving Program of SMMO, which has an incentive of $25 in cash to maintain a balance of $475 or more for 30 or more days.

Participating in this program changed Rodriguez’s relationship with money. 

“I had almost $500 in my bank account, which I had never had before,” Rodriguez said. “Having that much money really helped change my mindset and started making it fun for me to save money.” 

What bothers Rodriguez the most regarding transferring are transportation and food costs. When she was at ACC, she had a free transportation card on the bus and train. 

Now studying at Texas State University, Rodriguez takes the bus from North Austin to San Marcos every day. 

“Since I’m at school all day, I’m spending way too much eating out,” Rodriguez said. “I realize I have to start packing more than one meal to save some money.” 

Arjana Almaneih is studying at the University of Texas at Austin and living in North Austin. She does not worry about transportation costs since her husband picks her up after school. 

Arjana S. Almaneih throws up her horns in front of the University of Texas at Austin. 
Photo provided by Arjana Almaneih

However, Almaneih has spent much more on textbooks and food compared to when she was at ACC. She said that professors at ACC were more likely to minimize course materials, so she did not have to spend too much buying textbooks. She has also spent quite a lot of money on eating out since it is inconvenient to pack her own meals.

“Participating in the Student Money Management Office during my two years at ACC completely changed my financial situation, and not to be dramatic, but my life as well,” Almaneih said. “I went from constantly going negative in my accounts and zero savings to living very financially stable. I have three different savings accounts and feel very confident and comfortable with my financial situation.” 

Almaneih is grateful for being a part of and learning from the PMMP. 

“Because of the knowledge I gained, I am attending the number one public university in Texas and the tenth best public university in the United States on a full-ride scholarship as a first-generation student,” Almaneih said. “Because of my time with the PMMP, I will receive my bachelor’s degree with zero debt.”

Almaneih shared practical advice for students at ACC who are trying to build a solid foundation for their finances. 

“I would highly suggest any and all ACC students to get involved with Student Money Management,” Almaneih said. “Whether that’s through a workshop, a financial coaching session, the Rainy Day Savings Program, the peer money mentor program, or just paying attention when they come to your class!”

The PMMP will return in Fall 2022. ACC students can easily find more information and waitlist their names at the SMMO’s website. Information about scholarships workshops and Rainy Days Saving Program can also be found on their website. Students can reach out directly to them by calling 512-223-9331.

Navigating Scholarships

ACCENT reporters Nicholas Brown and Nathan Lu met with three ACC students to hear their experiences applying for scholarships.

Written by Nicholas Brown

Video by Nathan Lu

Graphic by Kate Korepova

Whether it’s paying for tuition, fees, books or other educational expenses, it is no secret that college is expensive. So, when means fall short, how can college students fill in the gaps? Scholarships are part of the answer.

Three students, each a member of Austin Community College’s Alpha Gamma Pi Chapter of Phi Theta Kappa, shared how scholarships have contributed to their success as students.

Jennifer Ebert is an education major and attends ACC completely online.

Ebert is the recipient of five scholarships this year alone. These include one scholarship that she was awarded from ACC’s general scholarship application, and four others that she was able to access through PTK. Of the four scholarships from PTK includes the Oberndorf Lifeline to Completion Scholarship, in which Ebert was one of only eight students internationally to be recognized.

“Having these scholarships…having the additional funds for anything that I need…has been able to alleviate that financial burden that I normally feel in a typical semester,” Ebert says. 

Paralegal major, Brandy Lewis, is a non-traditional student who has also received four scholarships from the ACC general application and two from PTK.

“Essentially I have paid for no school and it has actually allowed me to stop working my part-time job. I was working full-time and part-time,” Lewis says. “It relieved a lot of things for me…to be able to get these scholarships and just know that I could fully focus on my studies.”

However, ACC and PTK scholarships are not the only form of additional aid that students can receive. Communications major, Saliyah Parker, has earned non-ACC affiliated scholarships which helped cover multiple semesters worth of tuition.

Parker was awarded her first scholarship from her apartment complex, which offered residents to apply for a scholarship made for adult learners, Parker decided to apply “on a whim.” To her surprise, she was selected.

Parker has also been awarded a scholarship through ACC’s general application. 

“I remember just feeling wowed. You know…overwhelmed in a really good way,” Parker says. 

For some students, applying for scholarships may feel like quite a daunting task. Searching through available scholarship options and crafting the perfect essay can be a timely process. ACC’s general scholarship application can make this procedure feel a little less intimidating. All it takes is a single application and short essay to be considered for hundreds of scholarships. 

“Anyone who is intimidated by filling out an application…break it down into pieces. I didn’t fill any of this stuff out in one day,” Lewis says.

Scholarships can be beneficial in addition to being a form of financial aid. Parker shares how applying for scholarships can form a sense of ambition. 

 “It definitely calls to the forefront a drive to want to apply yourself once you’re selected for that first one,” Parker says.

Not only that, but scholarships also look great on resumes if you plan on applying to transfer or for future employers. 

With the many opportunities that scholarships offer, Ebert insists that students have nothing to lose by putting themselves out there.

“Never be afraid to apply. Don’t be afraid of getting told ‘no’,” Ebert says. “You won’t know unless you apply.”

For information on applying for scholarships for the Spring semester, visit https://www.austincc.edu/students/scholarships.

For students who are interested in joining Phi Theta Kappa, visit https://sites.austincc.edu/ptk/.

Getting Festive with Texas Tribune CEO, Evan Smith

By Pete Ramirez

The Texas Tribune, a digital, nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization, is hosting it’s eleventh annual Texas Tribune Festival beginning on Monday, September 20, 2021 and ending Friday evening, September 25, 2021. 

This festival brings together leading politicians and policy makers within local, state and national government to participate in a mix of one-on-one interviews, panels and networking sessions hosted by some of the premier journalists in the nation.

Students are eligible to purchase discounted student tickets to the virtual festival for $49 by following this link: https://festival.texastribune.org/. General admission tickets are $199.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the festival will be held entirely online in a virtual setting. “It’s the second and hopefully the last festival that will be virtual,” said Evan Smith, CEO of the Texas Tribune. 

Smith said that although his organization originally wanted to host a portion of the event in-person, completely pivoting to virtual allows the event to be more accessible to not only the politicians and policy makers, but to casual fans of the Tribune who can now participate from the comfort of their homes.

“We provide all kinds of opportunities for people to spend time with some of the biggest thought leaders and influencers around Texas and around the county,” Smith said. 

A few of the biggest names that will be attending the event are: U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Senator, John Cornyn, staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and creator of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones and former U.S. Representative, Beto O’Rourke.

For a list of all the speakers who will be attending the festival, follow this link.

“If you care about politics, if you care about policy, if you care about Texas, if you care about the world, there are going to be incredible opportunities that you would not otherwise have, to be part of conversations about those things,” Smith said.

Students who attend can benefit from the festival’s networking opportunities and grow their knowledge on nearly any subject they may be interested in.

“As a student, especially, this is a great moment to expand your thinking,” Smith said. The Tribune’s event provides a safe place for attendees to listen to views that challenge their preconceived notions on certain issues. 

“The goal is that there is something for everybody. And if you allow yourself to stray from the things that you are coming to see, there are going to be other things over here that you are not aware of but are going to be interesting also,” said Smith.

The Texas Tribune and their festival want attendees to walk away from their event better informed and more engaged citizens.

Smith also shared that there will be a session which is exclusively for students attending the festival.

Before our interview came to a close, Smith provided some words of wisdom for journalism students looking to enter the industry.

“The best advice I can give anybody wanting to break into the journalism business is you want to be a swiss army knife and not a meat cleaver,” Smith said. “We need people like that. We need multi-tool players more than we’ve ever needed them.”

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.