Story by Carizma Barrera, Campus Editor
Michael Sismilich, Audio Editor contributed to the reporting of this article,
Photos by Keri Gabriele, Photo Editor
What’s the perfect birthday gift for the college that has everything — a birthday party in its very own shopping mall.
On Sept. 17, the ACC District community celebrated the college’s 40th birthday at the Highland Mall, which is soon to become the ACC Highland Learning Center. Over 200 business and community representatives joined students, faculty and staff to remember the past, celebrate the present and look toward the future.
“Back when I started at ACC we didn’t have computers,” Linda Morrison, director of center operations said. “We had no facilities, and basically no equipment.”
Morrison, an ACC employee for 40 years, remembers when ACC depended on the Austin Independent School District for classrooms and supplies.
“We even shared the same board of trustees back then,” she said.
Morrison started her career with ACC as an administrative assistant to the registrar and registered the college’s first student in 1973. Over the years she has taken several continuing education classes to keep up with frequent and rapid advances in technology. She has seen ACC grow from a single campus to nine campuses serving an area of more than 7,000 square miles.
“I could write a book about it,” Paul Duffy, a recently retired ACC professor and counselor, said jokingly.
Duffy was a part of ACC’s first graduating class on May 15, 1974. Fifteen students received associate degrees that day — a far cry from the more than 2,000 degrees ACC awarded for the 2011-2012 academic year. Although few in number, those first degrees were meaningful.
“My relationship with ACC has been such an important time of my life,” Duffy said. “What I got from the early days at ACC was a unique and immeasurable experience.”
When Duffy attended ACC in the 70s, the college only offered 30 academic programs. It now offers over 200 fields of study from nursing to culinary arts.
Culinary arts students Charles White and Michelle Norris, along with several of their classmates, prepared and served the food and desserts provided at the 40th birthday celebration.
With over 35 years in the catering business, White is in his final year at ACC. He said he chose to return to school to stay up-to-date with the newest techniques.
“ACC has given me the opportunity to apply myself,” White said. “I believe ACC was put here to give every man a chance at the same quality education as the University of Texas.”
Norris said ACC has given her confidence and reassurance that she is in the right field.
In addition to the food, music and professional workshops, the ACC community got a glimpse of the college’s future during the birthday bash.
Holding the celebration at the Highland Mall showcased many aspects of ACC’s master plan. The first phase of the Highland Mall project will include the nation’s largest Math Emporium, science and learning labs and swing space for classrooms as other campuses undergo renovation.
The Highland Mall was Austin’s first indoor mall, however business declined over the years and the area lost much of the vibrancy it enjoyed during its heyday. ACC’s plans includes measures meant to revitalize the area.
RedLeaf Properties, a real estate investment and development company, is working to redevelop more than 40 acres of existing mall parking lots into a mixeduse space. Residential, hospitality, retail and office spaces are being designed along with green space for a park.
Bryan Kaminski, a representative for RedLeaf, said once ACC attracts a projected 6,000 students to the area, businesses will want to build there. Although the full extent of these plans may be decades from completion, Linda Morrison predicts ACC will be nationally known for the Highland Learning Center.
“There’s just not a lot of colleges that have bought a mall — we have a whole mall,” Morrison said. “People will want to come here to see what we have and go back to their schools to see what they can implement. It’s going to be state-ofthe- art.”
Audio Editor Michael Sismilich contributed to the reporting of this article.