Inside ACC’s Professional Nursing Program

The Health Sciences department at ACC has a profound reputation in Austin.

by Foster Milburn

Graphic by Claudia Hinojos

Health science students at Austin Community College are prepared for the fast-growing healthcare industry as the college offers a flexible education pathway, realistic hospital settings, and a high state pass rate. 

A career as a registered nurse might be ideal for students who are driven to help others and are passionate about science. 

Post COVID, the supply and demand for nurses has resulted in a shortage of nurses globally. With the high demand, the pay remains an appealing incentive for entering the work field.

According to Indeed, the average yearly salary for a registered nurse (RN) in Texas is $89,905; a well-paying salary in the field results from the long hours and the emotional pressure of being a nurse. 

At ACC, students have a wide range of options in picking their major or starting a trade-specific program. 

Professional nursing is different from other areas of study as it requires the student to apply and be accepted into the program, whereas other studies are open to students at any time. To be registered in this program, students are also expected to complete a series of prerequisites. 

If a student is interested in nursing, they should go to the ACC website. Professor Abraham, an Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) level two professor, advises: “Definitely, the Health Sciences page is the best place to start.”

One thing to think about prior to considering nursing school is the complexity and dedication required. “What helps is having a realistic goal when starting nursing school,” Professor Abraham said.“Nursing school is a full-time job.” 

That might raise the question of whether you can work outside the classroom to provide income for your living expenses beyond what you receive from loans. “Yes, you can. It will not be easy, but it is possible.” Christina Berger, a level II ADN Student at ACC and a mother of two, points out.

For many students, having a job while in school is necessary. An outside income is a requirement as some live independently or have children. Christina Knighton discussed working while being in the program. “I understand that it is reality, and we can’t not all work. Students have scaled back their hours to ensure they have more time for the program,” she said. 

So, you might be wondering what other options are available. Knighton brings up the option of saving between semesters to have extra income during semesters. “This program is a full-time job,” she said.

With the disclaimers addressed, it would be best to meet with an advisor if a student is still interested in starting the program. It can be something other than Health Sciences, too. 

Christina Knighton spoke about her personal experience with her advisor, “I started by speaking to my advisor, who gave me information about the prerequisites for the ADN program. She helped me stay on track and made sure I met the deadlines for application.” 

The application process can be confusing for students navigating through the steps for the first time. It is much more information than other programs of study because it is specialized and more selective. 

However, that does not mean there aren’t people to help you along the way. Because of having high standards going into the program, the resources continue beyond the application process. 

“Once in the program, there are retention services available that can help with financial aid, study tips, and time management,” Knighton said. 

Regarding the prerequisites, one might ask if they are beneficial to the courses they are required to take. For the professional nursing program, ADN, the associate degree plan requires four prerequisites. If taken subsequently, the classes can be completed in approximately three semesters. 

“Pharmacology and Anatomy & Physiology give you the foundation for going into nursing school,” Knighton said. “When you have a deeper understanding of how the body works, it is easier to understand the disease processes you learn about once in the program.”

Secondly, the other requirement for applying for admission into the program is the HESI exam. The exam is a test that covers the material learned in the prerequisites where students are “tested on knowledge and how you would apply that knowledge in a clinical setting,” Knighton said. 

The HESI Admission Assessment fee is currently at $62.00. The minimum passing score is 75 percent, and the test covers anatomy, physiology, math, reading, grammar, and critical thinking. 

The HEXI exam varies in complexity. “Exposure to NCLEX style questions helps a lot when preparing for the HESI or nursing school exams in general,” Knighton said. 

The NCLEX is the exam taken after completion of the program. “You can find them online, and there are many apps you can download for free,” Christina Berger said. 

To conclude, it is best to speak directly with an advisor if one is considering the Nursing program or any other Health Sciences program. They can give you more personable advice while understanding your circumstances. 

The nursing program here at ACC has an outstanding reputation within Texas and across the country. Austin American-Statesman presented the program with the 2020 Best of the Best Award on Jan. 11 of last year – an endowment worthy of what it offers. 

Magnifying a Unique Type of Student Housing

This article is part of the Student Welfare Series. 

Students report on what it’s really like living in college town co-ops, their seldom spoken-of benefits, and the role they play in community college districts. 

by Ava Vano

“Co-op.” What do you think of when you hear the word? Commune, party house, close-quarters, a billion roommates? 

Aside from  these misconceptions with some underlying truth to them, its residents find that co-ops provide students the opportunity for more affordable housing, a sense of community, and many other benefits. Living in a co-op myself, I interviewed ACC students living in co-ops about their experiences in an attempt to dissect its relatively unknown culture ever-present in Austin. 

Student co-ops are housing cooperatives that students personally work to maintain. Most co-ops follow the system of doing labor to cut down on costs, thus making rent cheaper. Labor includes tasks ranging from cooking dinners to cleaning bathrooms. 

Members receive kitchen access and meals, and utilities are included in the rent. Student co-ops typically range from about 15 housemates to upwards of 130 housemates. 

From left, Ava Vano, Libby Connolly and Aiden Sharaba (Ally Stauber on top) at New Guild Co-op bake sale. The model of the bakesale was to pay what you can and all the proceeds went back into the co-op. Photo contributed by Ava Vano.

There is a co-op for everyone as there are academically focused, substance-free, plant-based, pet friendly options among many others. They are democratically run as members vote at house meetings on important house decisions such as budgeting, and the only requirement is to be a student, so tenants get the opportunity to meet many different kinds of people. 

Libby Connolly (she/they) is a first-year ACC student. This is her first semester at New Guild and her first time living in a co-op. Moving out can feel isolating for many community college students who do not have the chance of living in a dorm or on some sort of campus. Co-ops seem to provide a solution to that problem, hosting a sense of community within their walls. 

“I do feel a sense of community because it’s interesting to be in a space where I know everyone really well,” Connolly said. “Everyone collaborates together and mutually cares about each other and the house.”

Libby Connolly on move on the day at New Guild Co-op. Photo by Ava Vano.

Unlike the assumption that the aspect of affordability would incentivize many other community college students to live in co-ops – the opposite is true. Connolly shared her experiences living at New Guild this past semester, saying “It does feel a little weird when the majority go to UT, because my main goal is to transfer and they’re already there.” Co-ops seem to be an underlooked resource for community college students. 

Foster Milburn (he/they) is another first-year ACC student who lives at a 21 St. Co-op. Foster speaks about the initial hesitance they had towards the co-op, saying “I feel at home now. At first it was a little scary, but there is something for everyone; it teaches you how to work together.” 

“I’m way less isolated… I get support [from housemates] about assignments and get help with anything I might need,” Milburn said. 

There appears to be a general consensus that co-op living teaches you how to find and work within a community. Isolation is a big problem for college students, especially in the post-pandemic world. Foster spoke about preferring living in a co-op rather than living in an apartment as they did in Dallas.

Reluctants Band at New Guild Co-op. Photo by Ava Vano.

“I’m way less isolated… I get support [from housemates] about assignments and get help with anything I might need,” Milburn said. 

Communal living offers the skills and assets of everyone living under the same roof and provides mutual support. It is also beneficial to always have a group of people to talk to, vent to, or even just simply be around. “There’s always people around, but no one’s gonna question if you need to recharge. When you’re ready to come out, there’s always someone,” Milburn said. 

Now for my personal experience living in a student co-op (New Guild, specifically). Moving from Fort Worth to Austin as a first-year at ACC was a jarring experience and I was initially unsure about living at New Guild. But, I could not feel more secure in my decision. 

New Guild Co-op. Photo by Ava Vano.

It’s saved me a lot of money not living in an apartment and I have built-in friendships with my housemates. There’s always something to do and never a dull moment. It’s also really motivating to be surrounded by other students with similar interests and morals as me. I truly enjoy helping out the house and have learned to consider the impacts of what I do or don’t do within the co-op. 

I could not recommend it more, especially to ACC students, as it can be very difficult to make friends at community college and the affordability is virtually unmatched.

Student co-ops are an extremely important resource that has proved to be a beneficial facet to community college students. Democratically run and community-based, co-ops give students the opportunity to function within a group of students all working together to maintain a home. 

Opinion: Democrats Had The Best Midterm in Decades…Thanks to Generation Z

Nov. 8 midterm elections were predicted to be a “red wave” of Republicans taking the House and Senate. Instead, we saw more of a trickle due to a record turnout in several key states from youths under 30.

Opinion by Ky Duffey

The U.S. midterm elections occur every two years and are often seen as a referendum of the current President’s performance. And for the past 80 years, Americans have sent a clear message that the President’s performance has sucked at the point of midterms. 

Since 1934, every President except two have lost members of their own party in the House and/or Senate. Only two Presidents have defeated the odds by retaining or gaining seats in both chambers: Presidents George W. Bush and now Joe Biden. 

During the 2002 midterm elections, President Bush received a bi-partisan rally behind him in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. His response to the attacks conjoined with one of the few times in history when we became a united nation bringing both political parties together to not only help him gain seats in the House and Senate, but also overwhelmingly get re-elected two years later.

Here we are now, 20 years later, at the country’s most critical midterm election in recent years. But this time, there is no national event rallying the country behind the President. As a matter of fact, in the week prior to Election Day, Biden’s approval rating was 42%. Even Trump had a 45% approval rating during his midterm at which he lost 40 House seats.

Instead of a terrorist attack, all eyes were on inflation and rising prices this year. That was, until June 24 of this year, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that abortion was not a constitutional right during the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization proceedings. The overturn of abortion rights allowed several states to initiate near or total bans on abortion, resulting in outcries from a majority of Americans – over 60%, in fact, who didn’t support the bans.

While abortion was able to propel Democrats ahead in the polls, most Americans had inflation and new talks of crime by Republicans on their mind. It showed in the polls and by election experts that Democrats had a 13% chance of retaining the Senate and an 8% chance of retaining the House. Things started to look grim for Democrats as election night drew near with some Republicans already setting up speeches and stage decorations to announce the new Republican majority in Congress.

Then election night sent a shockwave throughout the country.

A sudden record breaking turnout of a certain demographic of early voters rapidly swung the pendulum in the Democrats favor: young voters.

Yes, people under 25 or Generation Z (GenZ) were the loudest voices in the midterms, placing over a million more votes than other groups and surpassing their turnout record in any previous midterm as well as the 2020 presidential elections. According to dozens of political pundits, GenZ, who normally votes in favor of Democrats, placed more interest in the 2022 midterm election than any prior election. 

Due to those turnouts in key states, Democrats were able to defy the odds and not only retain a majority in the Senate, but retain and pick up more seats in the House, narrowing the gap of their minority in the House by just seven votes as of today – a far cry from the 45 or more seat net loss that was predicted just a day before. 

In the end, Democrats did manage to lose their majority in the House, but overall, they won the midterms. And they have young voters to thank for this unique achievement.

But why this midterm? Some experts believe abortion rights was a bigger issue among young voters than inflation and high gas prices. Teenage women are more likely to have late abortions than adults, and abortion limits have much more of an impact on a young person than an adult. 

Other experts point to the looming shadow of Donald Trump and his influence on the current Republican Party. Trump left quite a stain on voters, especially young voters, as they turned out in record numbers to oust the former president in 2020. 

With that being said, has the power dynamics shifted in terms of voter demographics? Will more polls pursue GenZ answers? Will this surge of growing young voters be a continuing trend, or simply a one time rebuttal of certain policies and candidates?

As Republicans scramble with how to approach voters and rebrand themselves before 2024, I recommend Democrat leadership listen to the youth and their needs – they may be the lifeline of the Democrat Party for the foreseeable future.

Why You Should Join the Honors Program

Spring semester is around the corner, meaning students are taking the important step of making their schedule before registration ends on Jan. 3. 

What many students are not aware of is that their classes can improve significantly by enrolling in an honors course, which, no, is not part of an elite society. Instead, it is an academic program ready to encourage and celebrate curiosity. 

Story by Marisela Perez-Maita

The ACC Honors Program provides a number of benefits from classes to internships and scholarships opportunities. Dr. Anne-Marie Thomas, chair of the Honors Program and also an honors class professor, has seen over the years how students connect with one another and live experiences that traditional classes do not normally offer. 

“Small classes allow a lot more close interaction between the students themselves and the faculty,” she explains. “To me, that’s a big selling point. All honors classes have a substantial discussion component which encourages and strengthens the spirit of inquiry in the students.” 

Students realize the difference between traditional and honors classes right away. 

Aatmodhee Goswami, an ACC Computer Science student, started his academic journey in 2020 during the pandemic. “Since it was online, it was a little bit harder to get that sort of interaction with professors, especially with 30 or 40 people in a Zoom call,” Goswami said. “I learned, but it wasn’t as interactive as I would’ve liked it to be.” 

ACC Computer Science student Aatmodhee Goswami shares insight on honors microeconomics and English composition classes he took during an interview with reporter Marisela Perez-Maita.

Upon finding out about the smaller class sizes that honors classes offer, Goswami decided to sign up. Since then, he shares that taking these classes provided a fun and interactive academic experience. 

“I personally really like the fact there is a personal connection with each of the professors. I can remember specific experiences with them,” Goswami said.

Goswami shared that each one of these courses has influenced his academic journey and general interests. The microeconomics course with Professor Croxdale prompted him to self-study AP Macro, and after his first composition class with Professor Thomas he is now into science fiction. 

In honors classes, students get the opportunity to get a deeper dive into a particular subject, Dr. Thomas explains. She teaches composition with a focus on science fiction as well as a literature course on apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction.

During an ACCENT interview on the Honors Program, Dr. Anne-Marie Thomas explains everything that the program has to offer.

“For example, the theme for Professor Endl’s Astronomy class is about whether there is life in the universe, and apart from studying the possibilities for life on other planets, with an instructor who has actually discovered an exoplanet, students get the opportunity to use the telescope at the Round Rock campus,” Dr. Thomas said.

In the Honors Program courses, students still cover the same transfer requirements as a traditional class, but with deeper discussions and experiences, including field trips, visits from guest lecturers, or service learning. 

There is no due date for enrolling in an honors class as they follow the regular registration timeline. However, not all courses are offered every semester and there is a maximum of 15 students per class. 

It is important that students check early to make sure their plans are aligned with which courses are available.

To be part of the Honors Program, it is necessary to apply and meet only one of the listed requirements among which include having a 3.25 college GPA from at least 9 college hours or being in the top 15 percent of one’s graduating high school class.

Once accepted, students can become even more involved in the program. The paid internship opportunity to be an Honor Ambassador includes students engaging in leadership activities at ACC events, doing recruitment and classroom presentations, and creating social media content. 

Nora O’Halloran signed up to be an ambassador after her first honors classes. “As an ambassador, everyone does what their strengths are or what they are interested in learning. For example, we have people who love editing videos and that’s what they are learning in school, so they get to edit the fun videos that we work on,” O’Halloran said. 

The position has online and in-person flexibility so students can choose what works best for them. 

“We have ways to make things accommodating, which is one of the many wonderful things about being an Honors Ambassador,” she said. “The key is to get involved as much as you can; reach out to Dr. Thomas and explain your interests. You can volunteer in the Honors Student Organization as well. All of these will help you in the long run.” 

Apart from Honors Ambassadors, the Honors Program has a partnership with the University of Texas at Austin called UT’s Youth and Community Studies (YCS) Fellows Program. It consists of a series of spring workshops about civic leadership, community building, social justice, and restorative practices. Students who participate and complete the YCS Fellows program are eligible to become interns in another program at UT along with receiving transfer advising from the university’s advisors. 

The YCS program provides a certificate upon completion, which, along with all the experience from the internship, can help students get into UT if that’s what they are  aiming for. 

Even more, if students need help regarding honors courses and transfer goals, they can set up an appointment with Jana McCarthy in the Honors Program‘s website who specializes in advising for honors students. 

To find out more, the Honors Program social media provides information about what they are up to as well as future ambassadors openings. For example, two weeks ago was Honors week across the ACC district. Numerous events happened everyday both on campuses and online, such as the Columbia University School of General Studies Information Session and “A Legacy Beyond Bloodline” talk with the UT professor Dr. Octavious Butler. 

Students may get the misconception that these courses are difficult, but, according to Goswami, even a class like Calculus II is interactive. “I do suppose Honors classes take more work, but I for sure take more out of it and they are more fun,” Goswami said.

If students want additional recognition on their transcripts, they can go to the website and read how to become an Honors Scholar along with the steps to apply for the Honors Scholarship. 

Be the student that takes advantage of all of these benefits and celebrate curiosity with the Honors Program by enrolling in honors Spring semester classes!

A Cuban Refugee Spreads the Joy of Music

Lillian Simmons was evacuated from Cuba as a child and went on to continue her artistic passion in the U.S. After the pandemic, her piano studio struggles with recovering but that doesn’t stop the music.

Story by Daniel Sadjadi

The sun has set on Frontier Trail. The root beer starts flowing, and pencils begin marking away. It’s Friday evening at Lillian Simmons’ piano studio, which means it’s Theory & Pizza night.

The International Studio of Music is set in Simmons’ home, a quaint yet cozy space with four upright pianos positioned against the living room walls. 

A few years ago, students would meet there every Friday to complete pages of music theory for prizes and to chow down homemade pizza and salad. After the height of the pandemic, attendance is still limited, and these once weekly events have become rare but more memorable.

On the studio’s wall hangs a painting of the iconic lighthouse at Havana Harbor’s Morro Castle. Simmon’s mother had the artwork commissioned in New Orleans by a retired medical doctor. Based on a black and white picture of the Spanish fort that her mother had, it offers a nostalgic glimpse into the land Simmons departed from over sixty years ago. 

“Her special request to him was from memory, he should draw the blue color of the sea and the blue color of the sky, because there in New Orleans we had gray skies and gray sea,” Simmons said. 

Simmons recalls fond memories from her youth in Cuba. She came from a middle-class family, and her father was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Havana. 

Photo of Simmons from her youth in Cuba with her on the left, her neighbor Danny in the middle, and her sister Giselle on the right.

“On Sundays we went to a watersports club, which was very nice… They taught swimming, rowing, water ballet, and just plain swimming… We used to have a lot of individual freedoms, then communism took over,” Simmons said.

Her introduction to music started young when Simmons was eight years old. Simmons took piano classes while attending a private school in Havana. Simmons’ musical passion would develop later on, but it was her parents who decided to get her a private piano teacher. 

“All of my childhood I was learning music.” 

By 1961, after the Cuban Revolution, Simmons’ family decided that she needed to leave the country for the United States. Simmons was one of more than 14,000 children who left Cuba via Operation Peter Pan, a clandestine exodus of Cuban minors to the US coordinated by the CIA and sponsored by the Cuban Catholic Church and western oil companies. 

“My parents took my little sister and I to the airport. My dad said ‘well kids, goodbye and good luck. We may never see you again, but that’s alright, that does not matter. You all have had an excellent education, and there’s a lot of opportunity in the United States, and you’ll be doing alright over there, and don’t worry about us. We’ll be right over here,’” Simmons said.

A photograph of Simmons during her childhood in Cuba. Simmons was one of more than 14,000 children who left Cuba via Operation Peter Pan to the United States.

As the unaccompanied Simmons boarded the plane, she quickly noticed the fearful atmosphere in the cabin.

“Everyone in the plane was mostly scared the plane would not be able to make a full trip, and everyone was real quiet,” Simmons said.

The steward made an announcement informing passengers that the plane could be forced to land while it was in Cuban airspace. After a tense interlude, the steward announced that the aircraft had left Cuban airspace. 

“Everyone cheered very loudly, raised their arms, and were overjoyed,” Simmons said.

Simmon’s parents reunited with her in the US a year after she arrived. 

“We were lucky. Most Peter Pan children were not able to see their parents again during their childhood, it was pretty rough stuff,” Simmons said. 

But leaving her old life in Cuba behind was still not easy.

“It’s like you’re leaving a part of your heart. It’s where you grew up, it’s where your friends are. Your favorite landscapes, buildings, activities. I missed leaving my home,” Simmons said. 

In America, Simmons first lived with three generations of other refugees in her aunt’s house. Simmons’ aunt would not allow her to have a piano because of the noise. 

“That was the only time when I cried… I did not cry about anything else,” Simmons said. 

Simmon’s parents learned about this over the phone.  

“That’s when my dad knew that I was going to be a piano teacher. I don’t know how my dad always knew everything about me. He knew things I didn’t even know about myself,” she said.

Simmons went on to become a housewife and mother and then became a legal secretary for 10 years.

“I was interested in the law because I saw my country turn from free enterprise to communism,” she said. “The way my dad used to explain this was, he said, in Cuba during communism, we had to walk with our head down in submission and our tail between our legs.” 

Simmons opened the latest chapter in her life 15 years ago when she began to teach piano from her home. 

“I just avoided teaching piano because I thought it was too difficult. You just remember what you went through as a student. And I was wrong about that. It’s actually very easy to teach,” Simmons said, “[the] pressure is you want your students to do well.” 

Now, Simmons is president of the local Bluebonnet Music Teachers Association and takes pride and satisfaction in helping students advance and develop a love for music. 

“It’s fun to see the kids develop, from nothing to good pianists. It’s just fun. And you’re actually taking a part in their lives,” Simmons said. 

One father brought a student named Maro, who had no interest in practicing and learning piano, to Simmons. 

“Four teachers couldn’t do anything for him, I was thinking what could I do with the kid, what makes the father think I can do anything with him,” Simmons said. 

Simmons recalls playing one of her favorite pieces at a Christmas party, Chopin’s Tristesse Étude, a sentimental and sad yet sweet piece about the composer’s love life. 

“The next week Maro said he wanted to learn it. He played the first line perfectly, and from then on…” Simmons said. 

Maro developed a passion for piano and went on to become Simmons’ best student. Her reaction?  

“Oh gee, I didn’t know I could do this!” Simmons said, “I think motivation is very important. I usually don’t try to push the kids too much. I try to get them interested any way I can.” 

Before the pandemic, the biggest challenge for Simmons’ studio was getting students to practice. Simmons suggested that electric keyboards have made finding the motivation to practice for young students even harder than usual. 

“The parents resist buying an acoustic piano. The acoustic sound blends with the molecules in your body in a way that the electronic sound does not do,” she said. 

Today, Simmon’s biggest challenge is dealing with the impact of the pandemic. Simmons lost over half of her students during the pandemic as piano lessons went to being done virtually. 

“We need to go back to in-person because the online and in-home classes do not work well,” Simmons said, “When you see your kid face to face, it’s more pressure to practice. Since online they don’t advance, they get discouraged, and then they quit. I discuss these things with teacher groups on Facebook and even colleagues in person and everybody is having these problems.”

Before the pandemic, Simmons encouraged students to take music theory tests at Texas State University. 

“It is a magnificent building, and it is an institution of higher learning. The kids get the impression, ‘gee, this theory must be important,’” Simmons said, “When we have been doing it in homes [during the pandemic], the kids are not getting this impression that theory is important.” 

As coronavirus restrictions have been lifted, Simmons hopes for a return to normal as the studio gradually transitions more lessons and events to being back in person. 

A modern photograph of Simmons with her relatives as she poses in the bottom middle. 

“I’m just trying to keep abreast of the present,” she said.

One piece of wisdom Simmons wishes to share? 

“You just have to navigate this life, see what the situation is, and adjust as best you can.” 

Q & A with State Representative Gina Hinojosa

By Pete Ramirez

Edited by Angelica Ruzanova and Ky Duffey

The Texas State Legislature is not currently in session but that doesn’t mean State Representatives are not working. ACCENT’s Editor-in-Chief, Pete Ramirez, recently had the opportunity to chat with Texas State Representative Gina Hinojosa of District 49 which covers a large portion of central Austin.

In their conversation, they discussed a wide range of topics affecting Texans such as how families of transgender people are dealing with the increased scrutiny from the governor, climate change, abortion restriction and why young people shouldn’t lose hope in democracy. 

Read the entire conversation below.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Pete Ramirez (PR): Can you tell us about yourself?

Rep. Gina Hinojosa (RGH): I’m in my third term at the Texas House so I’m in my sixth year. I’m running for reelection. I have a Republican opponent in the November election. 

I was on the school board for one term before I ran for the House. I was president of the Austin ISD school board.

I ran for the school board because my son’s school was going to be closed along with a bunch of other inner-city schools and I got angry and decided to run. 

I’m a lawyer and I represented employees in discrimination cases.

I’m originally from South Texas. From the valley- Brownsville. I went to public school down there and then I came to UT in Austin and I’ve been here ever since except when I went to D.C. to attend law school at George Washington National Law Center.

I’m also married with two boys.

PR: Can you give us a quick rundown on the Texas Legislature and your duties as a State Representative?

RGH: We meet every two years here in the Capitol.

We get paid $600 per month so it is not a salary that many people can live off of and most legislatures have other jobs to support themselves and their families. As a result, it limits who can run because most people can’t take six months off every two years to come to Austin and work. I’m able to because I live here.

We are required to pass a budget for the state every session. Other than that, it’s just whatever is the agenda that the Speaker and Governor set. 

We file our own bills. I’ve focused a lot on public education, environmental issues, renewable energy issues and efforts to combat climate change as well as reproductive health and corporate reform issues.

The thing about being in the House, is you’ve got to know about everything. Every issue you can think of comes before us. I only have a staff of three and we often feel like we are just inundated with policy issues to work on. Also, a lot of the policy issues we have to work on are unfortunately made up by politicians. 

Right now we’ve spent a lot of time trying to protect the kids and families of kids who are transgender because the Governor has decided that Child Protective Services is going to investigate them and threaten to take them away from their families. I have constituents who are scared so they reach out to me.

But there are always these emergencies that are created by our statewide politicians for political reasons and the result is that we don’t get to focus on the things that really matter to Texans.

PR: What is the job like in between sessions and how do you help constituents during this time?

RGH: A lot of it is informal so really every legislature’s job is going to look different. 

For me, with the example of the transgender kids, we’ve reached out to lawyers and advocates to get resources to families, educate families about what to do if CPS shows up at their door and expose the problems that are not being dealt with.

One of the hardest things about this issue is people are terrified to speak up and be public because they don’t want to lose their kids. They are afraid.

We have a responsibility to tell their story. To fight on their behalf against this.

PG: It’s a midterm year. You are up for reelection along with all other State Representatives.  How important is voting to you?

RGH: It really is the foundation of all of our rights, to vote, right? I mean that’s how we hold the government accountable. Government has enormous influence and say over every individual’s life and if we’re not a government by the people then we are living in something that is not a democracy but something that is closer to having a king or a dictator.

Voting is everything and because when more people don’t vote, the government doesn’t work as well as it should. Because more people don’t vote we have politicians who get elected by what is just a small fraction of the population and it’s typically more far-right and far-left because a lot of these races are determined in primaries that happen in March.  While we need more people voting in November, the turnout in these March primary elections is so abysmally low that it’s just a small sliver of the population that is deciding who will represent us.

We’re so gerrymandered where Democrats are packed into these districts, Republicans are packed into these districts that even though most people pay attention to the November races, most of it is baked in March.

Now, in the race for governor, that’s not the case. That’s a state-wide race. Attorney General, U.S. Senators and all other statewide races are open to the entire state to vote on those.

[Voting] is everything and we saw in the last election that lots of people who voted by mail had their ballots rejected.

 And I mean, an unprecedented amount of ballots were rejected because of the new voter suppression law/anti-voter law that was passed during the special session. The one we broke quorum to try to fight against and get Congress to pass some comprehensive voting rights protections. They didn’t do it and we ended up with a bad anti-voter bill and we saw that lots of people were disenfranchised this last election as a result.

PR: Why is it important for young voters to participate in elections?

RGH: Well, let’s talk about climate change. 

Young voters are going to deal with the impacts of a warming planet far more than older people are, right? Young people are likely to be around a lot longer.

The policies that we enact today are a result of who you vote for and what you tell politicians you expect from them in order to earn your vote. That’s going to be affecting you for the rest of your life.

Also, data shows young people are not voting their numbers and so the concerns of young people are not front and center for many politicians.

I’ll give you an example: I had a bill that would’ve required a polling place to be on the campus of every large university.

I couldn’t even get a hearing on that bill because the committee chair didn’t care. She wasn’t afraid of the young people in her district.

Votes move politicians. You’re supposed to be responsive to your people. If people don’t vote, politicians aren’t going to care what they think.

You can have all the data in the world and it doesn’t hurt but if you don’t have the votes to back that up, you’re not going to move policy because politicians don’t do something just because it’s the right thing to do. I know that’s shocking but that’s not what moves politicians.

PR: What is your view on the abysmal voter turnout during midterm elections and primaries and what are you and the Democratic party doing to turn that around?

RGH: Right now we have to find a way to tap back into people’s hope for a better tomorrow. We’ve all been so beat down by the pandemic by the ugliness of politics, with the insurrection and Donald Trump as president. Just the nastiness of politics. 

I do worry that people won’t feel the hope that we need to inspire us to go out and vote and think that we can change things. We need to figure out how to talk about policy in a way that gets people excited about what we do so that people want to engage.

If you think about climate change, for instance. There’s a depressing issue for most people. It feels overwhelming and hopeless, right?

What gives me hope about that is that we spent a year doing research on climate change. What we found is that Texas really is the problem and solution when we are looking at things at a national level. We create more methane emissions and more CO2 emissions than any other state by far but we have the largest wind energy sector and we have the fastest-growing solar energy sector.

So there is all this innovation happening in Texas but we are also a big contributor to the problem. We here as Texans hold a lot of the cards to fix this problem and it is fixable. It’s fixable in ways that are not so extreme.

There are things we can do that wouldn’t impact our daily lives at all that would have a significant impact on global warming. 

We try to educate people. I think if we can get the information that we have out to the public they may feel like maybe it’s not as hopeless as they feel it is.

PR: What are your thoughts on SB-1 (Texas’ new restrictive voting rights law) and do you think it has made it more challenging for Texans to vote?

RGH: Yes, it has. It’s also scared a lot of Texans. We talked about the vote-by-mail problem where ballots were rejected.

We also have a problem that we have lost constituents to work our polling places to be what’s called election judges because we now have criminal penalties that penalize honest mistakes and people are afraid. As a result, you might’ve seen on social media places that said “only Democrats can vote here” or “only Republicans can vote here” because we didn’t have enough precinct judges. They’re the people who sit at the table, check your voter card and send you to the next volunteer. 

Citizens make our elections work and when they are afraid to participate our elections don’t work.

We saw very troubling problems and barriers during the primary elections and when you have, in November, more than twice as many people voting, it’s going to be that much more impacted. We need to get everyone educated and comfortable with our new system. We’re working in my office to try to explain what are the changes and what people need to know in order to feel confident about participating.

Another example is people are afraid to register voters because they’re afraid they are going to do something wrong and will be charged with doing something illegal.

We need people to understand you can still register voters. Those penalties aren’t on the people, they are on the government.

It’s going to take community partners to get out the word and educate people about what the law is so they can feel comfortable about participating.

There is so much opportunity to get students at ACC engaged in policy and voting and politics. I think it’s an exciting prospect.

PR: There’s been an obvious recent surge of right-wing policies being implemented in Texas such as the near-total abortion ban. How do you feel about this and what gives you hope about the future of Texas and the Democratic party? 

RGH: Well, you all.

The young people give me hope. We need you all.

Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 by the U.S. Supreme Court.

My whole life abortion has been legal. Y’alls whole life abortion has been legal. What’s it going to be like when it’s not? Are y’all going to allow for this to happen? 

Where you can’t make these basic decisions about your body or about your family. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. There’s not an exception for when a woman is pregnant with a fetus that is not viable.

Are we really now going to tell women, ‘no, we’re going to force you to go through nine months of pregnancy for a baby that will not live’? That’s what our law says now.

Are we really just going to take that? I think it’s an extreme attack on our human rights and I can’t believe that in this country, given our experience with freedom, we’re going to tolerate it.

My hope is that y’all rise up and organize and say absolutely not. Change who is in power to change the laws.

All it takes is for young people to vote. 

PR: If ACC students want to get more involved with local government or activism, what advice would you give them?

RGH: Whatever is your passion, there is a group for you to get engaged with on policy issues. Google it or call my office and we’ll connect you to some group.

It’s about showing up. 

If you care about something, show up to those meetings. You get to know people who are making things happen and you become one of those people making things happen. At first, you may feel uncomfortable and you may not know what’s going on but eventually, you’ll catch on and you can be part of the change.

PR: Anything you would like to say before we wrap this up?

RGH: I think it would be super cool if ACC did a town hall on voting or engaging students. Even to have members of the Texas House Delegation hear what are the issues y’all care about.

It’s so important that we hear from you and know what are your hopes, dreams and struggles and how can we help with them.

ACC’s Radio-Television-Film Department Has Brand New Digs

The radio-television-film (RTF) department’s new home at Austin Community College is located at the school’s Highland campus in north Austin.

A screen shows the words "A production of Austin Community College's Radio-Television-Film" in a TV control room.
An image of the control room within ACC’s new facilities the radio-television-film department gets to utilize. Photo by Pete Ramirez.

Story by Georgina Barahona

Edited by Pete Ramirez

As part of the college’s second phase of renovations to what was once the Highland Mall, the department now boasts a state-of-art facility where students can gain real-world experience.

The department, which has been a feature at ACC for more than 40 years, was previously housed at the college’s Northridge campus and made its move to Highland in the midst of the pandemic during the spring of 2021. 

Through RTF’s new facility and the expert professors leading the program, ACC provides students with a wealth of opportunities to expose young creatives to various challenging and in-demand fields such as videography, podcasting and directing. 

“The professors are really good at helping beginners and making sure you are being led properly and that you are trying your best,” current RTF student Brailand Rangel said. “We usually come out with some great products in the end.”

“Digital storytelling is everywhere,” RTF Department Chair Christian Raymond said. “Never in the history of civilization – I don’t exaggerate when I say this – have there been more kinds of digital stories being created: from games to podcasts, mixed realities, and virtual reality.”

A young woman sits in a directors chair smiling while holding a slate.
A potential ACC student sits in a chair while holding a film slate during a tour of the Radio-Television-Film department at the recent ACC Highland Open House event held on April 23, 2022. Photo by Pete Ramirez.

ACC’s RTF department has a wide variety of courses to take and high-level equipment students can gain experience with. This experience is necessary for students looking to take the next step in their careers. 

“At Highland, there is what we call the creative digital media center which is all these different departments coming together,” Raymond said.

The department offers more than technology-related courses such as some focused on streaming TV and production management. If you’d like to see the entire catalog of in-depth courses RTF has to offer, click here.

Details On The Creative Digital Media Center

One of the many features of the RTF’s new space at Highland is a multi-cam broadcast studio which includes three cameras and a control room.

Another feature is the film production soundstage which includes a 10,159 square foot green screen studio.

The news desk within the RTF department’s multi-cam studio. Photo by Georgina Barahona.

The new facility also includes collaborative learning environments such as flex media labs that are equipped with new technology to support any project. There are also digital media labs with access to the entire Adobe Creative Cloud Suite that students can use for post-production editing.

Once projects are ready to view on the big screen, students can now utilize a brand new 49-seat screening room that comes complete with surround sound.

For those interested in the audio side of things, there are podcasting and foley studios in the new space at the Highland campus as well.

And for those who like to stay behind the scenes, the new facility hosts a large equipment room where students can check out gear such as state-of-the-art cinema cameras and boom kits.

A man stands in front of a green screen while he talks about the weather.
ACCENT contributor Morris Haywood stands in front of a green screen within the RTF’s new facility. Photo by Pete Ramirez.

Partnerships and Collaboration

ACC’s RTF department is growing now more than ever not only through improvements but through partnerships as well.

The college and the RTF department have established a partnership with local non-profit organization Austin PBS which now shares space with ACC at the Highland campus.

“It made sense to welcome PBS as part of ACC,” Raymond said. “We have programs with Austin PBS that include paid internships and co-creation opportunities so literally classes collaborating with PBS on projects.”

No matter what your current major is at ACC, there’s a way to participate in a project being developed in the RTF department. From game designers to drama actors or music composers, there are multiple opportunities to get involved.

This board controls the sound system for the new studio at ACC’s Highland facility. Photo by Georgina Barahona.

“There are plenty of different media forms being shaped now,” Raymond said. “Media is constantly evolving which is part of what makes it such an exciting space to be in.”

The department also offers open spaces that are referred to as “Creative Collaborator Labs”. In these labs, RTF students can post current projects under development onto the department website so students from other majors can search and match themselves with a project that they’re interested in.

This process is very interactive and allows students the chance to meet other creatives that have similar interests and goals within the industry.

If you would like to check out the currently available projects and connect with like-minded students head over to this link.

Setting Up Students For Success

With Rangel’s experience in the RTF department, jobs are now recruiting her for opportunities to work outside of the school where she can expand on the skills learned at ACC.

Even in the first few courses that are needed to start out in the RTF department, there are plenty of hands-on activities students can look forward to.

“Even with the first two classes at ACC I learned a lot,” Rangel said.

A woman sits in a news set while a camer moves in front of her.
Another potential ACC student sits at the news desk within RTF’s multi-cam studio. The department was giving tours to anyone who was interested during the recent Highland Open House event. Photo by Pete Ramirez.

Choosing to become a part of the RTF department can potentially lead you to opportunities equal to what Rangel has found. The department prides itself on creating an enveloping environment that prepares students for anything their prospective field of study might throw their way.

Professors, mentors and staff at ACC’s RTF department are ready to help students align themselves in the right direction in order to set them up for success in their future careers. 

From courses such as streaming television and broadcast production, to film and emerging media production, game design, and animation and motion graphics, there is an endless list of courses students can explore until they are on the right path. 

Come join the RTF Department at ACC!

If you have any questions about the RTF department, please direct them to Department Chair Christian Raymond or Instructional Associate Laura DiMeo.

Get Ahead On Your Degree Plan By Taking ACC’s Summer Classes

Registration for the 2022 summer semester began on April 4 for all current or returning Austin Community College students. As of April 18, new students can register as well.

Written by Morris Haywood

Edited by Pete Ramirez

ACC will be providing over 2,400 open sections across eleven campuses this summer so students can continue their education and pursue their academic goals. 

Summer semester classes will begin on May 31 and end on August 8.  Depending on the student’s major and schedule, ACC offers 10- week, 9-week, or 5-week courses with varying start times. 

In-person classes will be offered on campuses across the Central Texas area and virtually as well. While class times are still available, students should consider what days fit into their schedule. The time length of each class is necessary to review also. 

“Timing can be a bit longer,” ACC’s Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Engagement and Academic Success, Guillermo Martinez said. Martinez, who has been working in education for eleven years and with his current department for 6 years, said class times vary but there is a need for students to continue their education. 

“Depending on the days chosen, classes can be only an hour but be every single day, which is different from the normal 16-week session. So there are different options for students,” said Martinez. “Evening and weekend classes are popular, but you have people that come in from work and the day may be a little bit longer for them”.

Due to the pandemic, there are many more virtual options this summer compared to years past. 

Online classes for students range from regular online instruction, synchronous virtual class meetings, hybrid distance, hybrid classroom, and hyflex – a face-to-face (F2F) synchronous course section that allows students to attend virtually on any given class day. 

With all these options students can continue to learn without much interruption to their summer plans.

“More and more we are trying to do the regional approach,” Martinez said. He explained that ACC is trying to institute ‘destination campuses’ based on the size of the class and specific courses. For example, the destination campus for the North is Round Rock, the central destination is Highland, and the South Campus destination is Riverside.  

“But we try our hardest to spread out and that is also the positive with the growing distance learning courses and that is more opportunity to take classes from anywhere,” Martinez said.

As always, support for students is available during the summer as well. 

From financial aid, student support service, and free tutoring the usual opportunities will still be present for students looking to continue their academic goals during the summertime. 

This also includes students attending or enrolled at a university.  

“How can we provide the support that is needed?” Martinez said. “Let’s figure it out and talk that through.”

Martinez emphasized the many ways students can find support without added stress, by noting that counselors and staff are still present during the summer months. 

Martinez believes that students’ time and mental health need to be prioritized and education should not be another stressor in their lives. 

Students enrolling for summer classes can get ahead on their degree plan and even graduate earlier than expected. 

“With summer registration it’s a great opportunity to keep going. It takes time to grow a habit,” Martinez said. “Students tend to get in the flow in the fall and spring and then if you take two months off, you can forget things.” 

Martinez mentioned that many students disappear after the spring sessions, but by just taking at least one class the academic momentum can build.  

“If you enroll in one course in the summer, it can go a long way to keeping the habit going,” Martinez said. “I think it’s helpful going to school so the student can finish.” 

“[Summer courses are] slightly different, but don’t forget to ask for help,” Martinez said. 

Students can still register for classes until May 16.

Schedules for the summer semester as well as financial aid, admission help, and contact information can be found at https://start.austincc.edu.

How To Write A Successful Scholarship Essay

Scholarships are the easiest way to receive financial help when it comes to college. Austin Community College’s fall 2022 semester deadline for their general scholarship application is May 1.

Written by Jonathan D. Gonzales

Edited by Pete Ramirez

With ACC’s general scholarship, students can be considered for more than one hundred different scholarships by submitting one application. 

All of these scholarships are funded by the ACC Foundation which raises money throughout the year to ensure that all members of the community get an opportunity to pursue their dreams. In the past year, the foundation has handed out over $2.1 million in scholarships to ACC students.

Being awarded a scholarship can usually cover the majority of expenses a student would need for classes and can also be used to improve a resume. 

ACC’s general scholarship and most others require applicants to write an essay about themselves and why they deserve to be selected for the award. 

According to one of Austin Community College’s Strategic Programs Specialists Ann Schuber, there are a few things to keep in mind when writing your scholarship essay. 

  1. Answer every question thoroughly. This helps the reader understand what you’re saying in detail. 
  1. Make it a point to mention your major, classes and personal experience to make it unique and personal.  
  1. Don’t be afraid to tell your story and boast about your accomplishments. Other awards you may have received can increase your chances of receiving a scholarship. 

“The main thing that students struggle with in creating these essays is starting it,” Schuber said.

Starting an essay can be quite difficult for many students. One way to approach it is to break down the essay into parts and try to complete one part every day. Before you know it, you’ll have a solid piece of writing that you can work with and improve upon. 

Students who need assistance with any part of their scholarship essay should contact an ACC strategic specialist to guide them through the process. Email them at [email protected] or schedule an appointment with them here

For more information, please visit this website.

UT Students Seek Help From ACC With Community Outreach Initiative

The student-led Texas Civic Impact Council needs help from Austin Community College and other Austin area colleges to shine a light on socio-economic opportunities for the community ahead of a major transit infrastructure project.

Written by Ky Duffey

Edited by Pete Ramirez

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist and author.

Mead’s exemplary words are not lost on Vaishnav Kuruvanka and Ruth Mewhinney, two University of Texas-Austin students and co-founders of the Texas Civic Impact Council (TCIC). TCIC is a student-led organization that strives to bring the community together by engaging college students to work as a team to solve social issues.

Sponsored by Promoting Education Across the Country (PEAC), a platform that supports youth entrepreneurs at the community level, TCIC aims to be a bridge for student progress on city-wide issues. 

While TCIC has made strides so far in launching social campaigns, its newest campaign is focused on Project Connect, an upcoming transit infrastructure project for the city of Austin. Find out more about TCIC and how to apply here.

The following is my recent conversation with Kuruvanka and Mewhinney about TCIC and Project Connect.

Ruth Mewhinney and Vaishnav Kuruvanka are co-founders of the Texas Civic Impact Council and students at the University of Texas at Austin. Their organization is looking to get ACC students involved in their work helping to shape Austin’s massive transit project known as Project Connect.

Ky Duffey (KD): Tell me about Project Connect. 

Vaishnav Kuruvanka (VR): Project Connect is a $7.1 billion investment in public transportation in Austin. There are three components to it: a light rail connecting North and South Austin, an expanded all-electric bus fleet and an underground transit tunnel that will go through downtown. The purpose is to make it easier to get around Austin through public transport. 

We at TCIC are interested in it because we see it as more than just an infrastructure investment. We see it as a way to connect Austin geographically and socially. We see it as a way to develop jobs and affordable housing. To initiate this equitable and innovative future for our city. It’s a generational opportunity. When will we see this kind of investment again?

Ruth Mewhinney (RM): If Project Connect is done well, we’ll be creating communities of opportunity in the four corridors of the city the project will engage. To make projects like this work, we need community engagement to make sure community priorities relate to public policy. We recognize this as an amazing opportunity, and our job is to amplify community voices. We want to serve as an accountability check for Project Connect and what it can do for the citizens of Austin. 

So basically, how can the infrastructure in Austin, the fastest growing city in America, bring opportunity for us to connect statewide and nationally.

KD: How did TCIC come about?

VR: TCIC is a chapter of a non-profit called PEAC. PEAC has one main goal: getting young people involved in solving social issues. 

When I moved to Austin, I noticed there were so many great students here yet they weren’t all working together on issues they commonly deal with. So I decided to get a bunch of diverse students together to see how we can tackle common issues. 

I met Ruth in 2019 and we worked to build TCIC from the ground up. TCIC’s goal is to connect students to the city of Austin and take an interdisciplinary approach to solving social issues. We represent 9 colleges on campus and two representatives on the council from each college.

KD: Your goal is to get college students across Austin involved as well through fellowships. Tell me about those.

RM: To be a council member in TCIC, you have to be a student at UT, but we wanted to make sure TCIC is not just representative of UT students, but any young person in Austin. 

So TCIC is leading a student-led, grassroots community engagement along key Project Connect corridors. There are three ways for students across Austin to get involved. 

We have community engagement fellows who are leading that boots on the ground engagement. 

We have data fellows who are cataloging and analyzing that data. 

And we have design fellows who are taking all these data and stories and turning them into the written content we’ll present to the City of Austin and Project Connect leadership.

VK: The main goals of our fellowships are to strengthen the connection between Austin residents and city leaders, getting people across Austin to work together from City Council, company leaders, and community members. 

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is called Project Connect, I think there is an opportunity to connect Austin here in a deep and meaningful way, and students are a very important part of that opportunity. 

This isn’t a UT Austin issue, this is an Austin issue, so we welcome students from across the city to join us.

Texas Civic Impact Council members pose for a picture in downtown Austin. Photo provided by TCIC’s Instagram account @peac.tcic.

KD: How can students in Austin apply?

VK: We have a simple application at www.bit.ly/tcicfellowship

You don’t have to have a lot of skills to get involved in this project, you just need an interest and passion for serving your community. No matter whether you’re an undergrad or grad student, all are welcome.

RM: TCIC is student-led and student-built so come on board! We need numbers to do community engagement.

VK: The community engagement fellows are the lifeblood of our project. If we don’t have a lot of students out there connecting with the community, we can’t get the data to present to community leaders. 

So we need a lot of people who can be boots on the ground.

RM: We’re the only program that is entirely student-run. You may see other programs similar to us, but they aren’t doing it like us. Student-led!


Find more information about Project Connect here.

Engaging with your community, especially at the college level, not only provides an opportunity for you to be a voice for those who are usually ignored within our neighborhoods. It’s also an opportunity to show desired transfer universities and future employers your efforts to make the world a little better. 

Young people across the country normally feel that their voices are not taken seriously. This initiative is a chance to highlight voices that have been drowned out in the past. 

Do your city and yourself proud. Join TCIC to connect with others around Austin fighting to make this city’s future equitable and enjoyable for all.