Financial Aid for Beginners

Graphic by Kate Korepova

Written by Duncan McIntyre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Graduating Virtually

Graphic by Kate Korepova

Story and Video By Pete Ramirez

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

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

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

Student Organization Profiles

By: Patrick Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weather Affecting ACC’s Agriculture Department

By Nick Brown

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACCENT On Air E00

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

By: Zeus Enole

First Episode of our new Spotify Podcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self Defense 101

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

By: Kimberly Dalbert