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 StrategicProgramsSpecialists@austincc.edu or schedule an appointment with them here

For more information, please visit this website.

ACC’s Student Government Association and How You Can Get Involved

Story by Gloria Nguyen

Graphics by Kate Korepova

Edited by Pete Ramirez

The Student Government Association (SGA) is a student organization comprised of members who have been duly elected from the student body of Austin Community College District.

According to SGA’s constitution, their goals are to facilitate understanding of democracy in our college, promote involvement among all members of the college community, and most importantly, to make the interests of the student body heard in our college in academic, institutional and campus affairs.

“A strong, enthusiastic and well-trained SGA, is for the betterment of all ACC students”

Mohammed Elghoul, advisor for ACC’s Student Government Association

In order to fulfill their goals and ensure they are listening to students, SGA recruits students from all 11 campuses and from all aspects of life. 

Mohammed Elghoul, SGA’s advisor, says this approach improves the lives of the student body. “When ACC students have quicker access to an SGA member at their grade reviews or a more immediate place to express their concerns, student lives are better,” Elghoul said.  

A group of students stand out side and smile for a picture in front of a tall clock tower.
Members of Austin Community College’s Student Government Association stand for a picture with their advisor, Muhammed Elghoul, during the recent Conference on Student Government Associations. Photo provided by Muhammed Elghoul

In line with their approach to being an advocate for the student body, SGA is currently focused on a district-wide information-gathering campaign collecting feedback to better understand the needs and state of housing for ACC students. Their short survey has been shared by the school via email and can also be found here.

SGA tries its best to represent ACC students but COVID-19 has made it challenging to find opportunities to connect directly with the student body. 

“One of which, which is a bit challenging now because of the COVID, is to have fellow students come to a selected location and talk to them,” Elghoul said. “That way we can figure out what is important for fellow students.”

One off-campus activity that took a pause due to the challenges of the pandemic was the annual toy drive that is coordinated by SGA with the help of the honors society, Phi Theta Kappa. This event, which serves underprivileged youth in Travis County, is one of the student organization’s largest events of the year.

“We collect toys from boxes on most campuses,” Elghoul said. “Students bring the toys to the sheriff’s office. They have a list of families in need and want toys for the holiday and do an annual donation drive.”

The current president of ACC’s SGA, Isaiah Smith, is working with his team to develop more ideas for events and activities where students can connect with SGA members.

An young African-American man dressed in a suit and bowtie smiles for a photo with an American flag in the background of one side of the frame.
Austin Community College’s Student Government Association President Isaiah Smith. Smith and the SGA strive to advocate for all ACC students. Photo provided by Isaiah Smith

“We’re trying to get other departments at ACC involved in SGA activities,” Smith, said. “SGA is supposed to be representing our school as a whole, not just SGA members.”

Smith is leveraging his position within SGA and his expanding network of connections to improve the lives of all ACC students.

“I’m in the process of building a massive communication channel,” Smith said. “If any of our students have any issues, maybe with safety, we can easily get in touch with the ACC Police Department.”

Apply now to be a member during SGA’s 2022-2023 academic year.

As a member of SGA, students have opportunities to travel and meet other student leaders at other colleges, be invited to local exclusive events and represent their fellow students. 

The application period has started and will end on April 13. 

Find the application here.

Elections run from April 15 to April 25. 

There are many positions that can be filled by students and they are all up for election. A full list of positions can be found here.

Only prior SGA members can run for executive board positions. Senate positions are open to all.

All applicants are required to be enrolled in a minimum of 6 credit hours and maintain at least a 2.5 GPA.

“We used to [hold the election] over the course of 7 days, so by 10 days, people will have more time to prepare and encourage people to vote for them,” Elghoul said. 

As the student leader of SGA, Smith points out some characteristics that members of SGA should cultivate. 

Smith said members should be assertive, flexible and caring. 

For future members of the organization, Smith’s advice is simple: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” 

A group of students stand inside and smile for a picture next to large letters lit up in lights that spell "COSGA."
Members of Austin Community College’s Student Government Association stand for a picture during a recent Conference on Student Government Associations. Photo provided by Muhammed Elghoul

Elghoul is committed to continuing to guide the SGA to better understand and serve the ACC student body. 

“If you want to represent the students, you have to know the students,” Elghoul said.

For more information about SGA, check out their website and follow them on Twitter and Instagram. If you have any questions about SGA, you can reach out to Elghoul at mohammed.elghoul@austincc.edu.

Revealing Different Layers of Pedro “Pete” Ramirez, Editor-in-Chief of ACCENT Student Media

The writer’s ever-changing journey to his current position has been a chart of restlessness and recklessness. 

Story by Angelica Ruzanova

Edited by Pete Ramirez

Growing up in the border town of Edinburg, Texas in the Lower Rio Grande Valley known for its multicultural populace and immigration controversies, Pedro “Pete” Ramirez’s curiosity about his community and people prospered at an early age. 

From orchestrating theatrical productions on stage at Texas State University to weaving his developed interest for photojournalism and writing on his personal email newsletter, Frontera Free Press, Ramirez embarked on an intuitive path to finding his “beat.”

“I would like to develop a beat which I can really focus on and potentially turn into an expertise,” he said. “I have a lot of different interests, and that’s really what fascinated me about journalism from the start. I love learning, and journalism allows me to learn a little about all the things I want.”

The mindset of the lifelong learner was cultivated after he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theater from Texas State University, and began yearning for something greater than the resemblance between what he sees of himself and what his sharpened awareness told him others expected him to be. From being a brand ambassador for an energy drink beverage company to going into third-party logistics in the freight industry and later working as an assistant manager at one of the properties owned by Austin’s Housing Authority, it was new and different each time. 

“I didn’t know what I wanted out of life,” Ramirez said. “And especially by this time, I have come to accept it. Everybody’s path is different and I am just going to enjoy the ride, learn as much as I can, and take care of people that are around me.”

Frontera Free Press, although overshadowed in the midst of his current positions, played a crucial role in developing his career in journalism after his involvement in an opportunity with the Google News Initiative which he stumbled upon while listening to a tech podcast. 

“[Frontera Free Press] was geared towards community-oriented news about people, events, and different kinds of situations people went through which were diluted by these big scandals on immigration on the news in that area of the state,” Ramirez said.

The door of the unwelcomed pandemic opened a glimpse of new turbulence. Ramirez, having once again redirected his career towards property tax law working as a paralegal, found himself at a standstill. 

In early 2020, as Ramirez made an impulsive decision to quit his law firm job to pursue a newfound job in culinary arts, Ramirez was thrown into the abyss of unemployment and became distraught as he watched the COVID-19 pandemic embed into daily life. “Here we are, in 2020. I was about to start a new career, and it all got whacked away,” Ramirez said.

At this point in life, Ramirez started taking journalism classes at Austin Community College, where he was referred to ACCENT, a student-led media organization. He began as a volunteer writer – taking any assignment that was thrown his way. The following semester, it seemed his superiors noticed the rushing enthusiasm to take on greater responsibilities. Ramirez was appointed as the editor-in-chief in the summer of 2021. 

“Pete became ACCENT’s editor-in-chief at the most confusing and rough times,” said Kate Korepova, the Art Director of ACCENT Student Media. “He never thought of leaving the organization, but rather did everything possible to keep the staff happy and positive, only hoping for the best. He sympathizes with every member and is always willing to help.”

Ramirez’s future goals are pragmatic, as he strives to build a steady portfolio and carries hopes to one day move onto his dream job working as a reporter for the Texas Tribune. “I would like to be a better journalist, applying the AP style and distinguishing between ethical and unethical scenarios as there are a lot of gray areas.”

Ramirez’s journey, though rugged and unpredictable, echoed a portentous road of new beginnings. 

“I approach it as never being able to stop growing and developing. Really, nobody ever does,” Ramirez said. “We are always changing. That’s the only constant in life – change, within everybody and everywhere in the world around us.”


This story was produced in Professor Paul Brown’s spring 2022 News Reporting class and a nearly exact version can be found on their class website, ACC Star. In collaboration with Professor Brown and with his express permission, we published the story here on ACCENT’s website.

Learn How to Go Green with ACC’s Green Team

Story by Georgina Barahona

Edited by Pete Ramirez

Have you ever wondered what you could do to protect the natural environment around you? Have you ever tried to calculate and lower your carbon footprint? 

Austin Community College’s Office of Energy & Sustainability can help you address these questions and discover how you can get involved in creating a more sustainable world through green initiatives led by their Green Team.

The large and ever-growing department’s Green Team consists of ACC faculty, staff and students who volunteer to improve environmental sustainability on campus and throughout the surrounding city.

The office and its Green Team work to continuously elevate the knowledge of sustainability to those they have the opportunity to work with, students and community members alike.

The Green Team welcomes all volunteers with open arms, no matter what community they come from. 

Inspired by the work of the Office of Energy & Sustainability, Angelica Ruzanova, a first-year journalism major at ACC, decided to join the Green Team last fall.

“Our ACC Green Team works by offering particular activities, advocacy and action,” Ruzanova said. 

The organization has a calendar of events accessible to anyone who wants to join their movement in ecological restoration, including events offered by The Trail Foundation.

“The Trail Foundation is a beautiful place to start with hands-on projects,” Ruzanova said. “We do planting, weeding, invasive species removal, trash clean-up, mulching, and other ecological restoration activities on the Ann & Roy Butler Hike & Bike Trail.” 

Angelica Ruzanova works with other Green Team members to spread mulch at the Ann & Roy Butler Hike & Bike Trail. Follow the foundation’s Instagram account @thetrailfoundation.

You can find the organization’s events calendar by clicking this link. The Green Team provides a wide variety of events curated to teach individuals how to take that first step towards environmental awareness.

One of the upcoming events that is open to ACC students is the Texas Regional Alliance for Campus Sustainability on Monday, April 4, 2022 from 1 pm to 5 pm. 

The event is a free student virtual summit with the theme being student empowerment and climate action. If you would like to attend the conference, send an email to the Green Team at Green@austincc.edu

If you get involved with ACC’s Green Team, they’ll introduce you to the seemingly endless possibilities to learn new and realistic ways to combat climate change.

From helping to implement sustainable living ideas into a conference like Adulting 101, to acquiring access to off-campus events where other like-minded individuals share ideas about approaching ecological restoration, there are countless opportunities to get involved.

Jasmin Rostamnezhad, Sustainability Manager at ACC’s Office of Energy & Sustainability, works with her teammates and volunteers to find new and creative ways to make fighting climate change accessible and achievable to the everyday person.

“My passion is working with each person & getting them to understand that the little things you do have a big impact,” Rostamnezhad said. “I do that by tabling with students at ACC and creating resources for people to use after their time at ACC.” 

Jasmin Rostamnezhad, Sustainability Manager at ACC’s Office of Energy & Sustainability, speaks to ACCENT reporter, Georgina Barahona, about her office and the Green Team’s recent work.

Ruzanova says the Green Team is a place where you can share your ideas about sustainability and work with the team to turn those ideas into reality.

“Starting small, on an individual level is what makes it special,” Ruzanova said.

“You can go from so many angles with sustainability because it’s a universal movement acknowledged throughout the world, with people from different demographics and different socio economic levels bringing something to the table by sharing their stories,” Ruzanova said. 

“Having organizations such as ACC Green Team, who work so hard to organize these events, is a step towards widespread sustainability in our community in Austin and a realistic example of what action is capable of,” Ruzanova said.

But ACC did not always have sustainability in mind. As the consensus around climate change reached a tipping point during the 2000s, the college moved to change with the times.

The blueprint to enact college-wide sustainability policies was created and adopted by ACC in 2009 with the C-9 Sustainable Practices Policy and the Sustainable Construction and College Operations Guidelines/Procedures. In the same year, ACC joined the Carbon Commitment, which is a public pledge for the school to take steps to make the entire college carbon neutral. 

As these initiatives were put to the forefront of the college’s taskbook, the steps to creating climate neutrality among the college were put into full effect.

But wait, what is climate neutrality? 

In simple terms, it means reducing greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide, which is created by burning fossil fuels, as soon as possible by balancing those emissions so they are equal to or less than the emissions that get removed through the Earth’s natural absorption. Fundamentally, it means we reduce our emissions through climate action.

Rostamnezhad realizes that her work is cut out for her but she is driven by the hope of building a better world for all of Earth’s inhabitants. 

“Ultimately what inspired me to get into this field is the impact that our climate issues and environmental problems have on certain communities as well as low income communities and disadvantaged communities that are unfairly targeted by our behaviors everyday,” Jasmin Rostamnezhad said. “I think that should inspire everyone to want to change the way that they live.” 

Explore Inside Austin Community College’s Dental Hygiene Program

Video and story by Gloria Nguyen
Edited by Pete Ramirez

Dental hygiene is a growing field and in high demand in Austin.

With the goal of producing competent entry-level dental hygiene professionals to meet the market requirements, Austin Community College’s Dental Hygiene program strives to provide future dental hygienists with the best education and training program in town.

ACC’s Dental Hygiene program is proud to be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation – the national programmatic accrediting agency for dental and dental-related education programs at the post-secondary level.

Students accepted into this program work with faculty who hold an average of 26 years of experience working in the field.

One of the main reasons for the recent growth of dental hygiene is the high pay grade. According to Indeed, the average base salary for dental hygienists in Austin is $39.22 per hour. 

“A lot of our students can be independent financially just by working part-time,” Professor Sima Sohrabi, the clinic coordinator of the program, said. 

“The pay is very compatible with engineers, but it takes only two years for our students to be able to work,” Sohrabi said.

Sima Sohrabi, the clinic coordinator of the program, poses in front of the administration desk.

Sohrabi also mentioned that usually her students start looking for jobs before they graduate. By the time they graduate, they already have job offers lined up. One of the biggest hurdles for the students in the process is obtaining their license. 

The license pass rate for students in the program so far is 100%.

ACC’s Dental Hygiene program is highly selective. “There are about 80-100 applicants per year, but we only take 18,” Sohrabi said. “Lots of students couldn’t get in on their first try.”

To be qualified for admission, applicants are required to get a minimum Test of Essential Academic Skills score of 58.7 on both the Reading and English sections of the exam. 

“On a scale of ten, I’ll give the hard level of that exam a six,” Christina Marie Kumar, a first-year student in ACC’s Dental Hygiene program, said. 

First-year student Christina Marie Kumar prepares to see her patients.

Kumar was accepted into this program on her first attempt. Sharing about her experience, she underlines the importance of studying actively. 

“It’s important to fully understand the subject matter of the exam and your testing style,” Kumar said. “Then, I’ll do a self-assessment. How confident do I feel with the Reading and English sections?”

Because the program is compressed into two years instead of four, the course schedule is tight. 

“This semester in particular, my schedule is Monday through Thursday,” Kumar said. “Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday are clinic days. Those are days I’ll be seeing patients in the clinic. And the rest are lecture days.”

“When you hear about dental hygienists, you automatically think of teeth, but we’re so much more than that,” Kumar said. “There are so many people who come to the dentist when they’re in pain. I get to see these people and assess things like blood pressure and cancer screening.”

ACC’s Dental Hygiene program also offers good-quality dental services to patients. “When patients come here, they get a head and neck cancer screening, extraoral and intraoral screening, dental X-ray and a very thorough teeth cleaning,” Sohrabi said.

Sohrabi explained that after coming through the screening process, patients will be assigned to students based on their scale level.

Patients can get complete cleaning with everything included for as low as $20. More deep and complex cleaning, if needed, is $40. 

Patients are required to have a flexible schedule. They should have time in their schedule for three to five appointments that are three hours in length.

“We need time to do faculty checks, paper work, and they’re still students,” Sohrabi said. “But consider the fee, it’s worth spending time.”

ACC’s Dental Hygiene program is currently accepting patients. The department is located at Eastview Campus, 3101 Webberville Road, building 8000. Call (512) 223 – 5710 to find out more and schedule your first appointment. 

Keep You and Yours Cyber Secure

Video by Nathan Lu

Story by Pete Ramirez


The prominent role the internet plays in our world has highlighted an issue we’ve been dealing with since the creation of the internet: cybersecurity.

Every few months there is a new headline in the news about a prominent company or government organization that has been hacked such as the large-scale Solarwinds breach or the massive Twitch data dump.

Understanding that our ever-connected lives won’t be unplugging from the internet anytime soon, a few Austin Community College students and faculty are doing what they can to educate those around them about the many threats that are lurking online.

“More of our learning has moved onto the internet,” Austin Community College student and Phi Theta Kappa honors society officer, Arden Silva said. “Children are being exposed to the internet at a much younger age.”

Alya Mansoor, another ACC student and PTK officer, said that she works with young kids and has often witnessed them unknowingly download malware and ruin whatever technology they are using.

“A lot of what I see is kids being impacted and easily influenced by the technology, entertainment, and media out there,” Mansoor said. 

In order to educate people about the dangers of the web and promote healthy cybersecurity habits, PTK’s Honors in Action committee created a convenient, accessible website that contains eye-catching PDFs filled with tips and guides to keep you safe online.

“I hope that we can at least bring some awareness to these kids and help them in navigating their own lives through the technology that is available to them.”

Alya Mansoor, Austin Community College student and Phi Theta Kappa officer

“We researched in the spring and we found out that kids are being taught cyber security in school but that is not really being enforced at home,” ACC student and PTK officer Isabella Santos said.

The PTK members believe their new website will be a reinforcement tool that parents can utilize to help their families stay protected in the ever-expanding digital world.

“I hope that we can at least bring some awareness to these kids and help them in navigating their own lives through the technology that is available to them,” Mansoor said.

All of the recommendations that are found on PTK’s cybersecurity website are not only for children. Adolescents and adults can benefit from adopting the practices as well.

An ACC faculty member that is doing his part to spread the gospel of safe online practices to all ages is Dr. Michael MacLeod.

MacLeod is a professor working in the computer science department who has a background in cybersecurity.

“I was in information technology for 35 years,” MacLeod said. “I built the fourth-largest state-owned network in the state of Texas.”

Having seen how digital threats have evolved and increased frequency over the years, MacLeod said that most people don’t understand that we’ve been in serious cyber warfare since the early 2000s.

“Every day [hackers] get better,” MacLeod said. “So every day, our people have to get better.”

For those that are interested in entering the world of cybersecurity, MacLeod encourages learning as much as you can and exposing yourself to groups that work in this field.

When it comes to the average internet user who may not know the ins and outs of cyber security, MacLeod recommends purchasing a full suite internet security tool like Kaspersky, Norton, or Bitdefender to protect your devices.

“You’ve got to have something in place to protect yourself,” MacLeod said. 

The ACC professor also said that everyone should use caution with the apps that are downloaded onto their devices.

“Every one of those free software apps tracks every single thing you do,” MacLeod said.

Improving cybersecurity habits may seem overwhelming but there are many trusted tools and resources available to the average consumer to use to defend themselves from threats on the web.

“It’s so easy to get caught up in the quickness of the internet but investing in cybersecurity knowledge and skills is beneficial not only to you but others around you,” Mansoor said.


ACC’s Rio Grande Campus Reopens After $49 Million Renovation

Story by Jonathan Gonzales

Edited by Pete Ramirez

Austin Community College’s Rio Grande campus reopened for the fall 2021 semester in a limited capacity after undergoing renovations that began four years ago during the fall of 2017.

The building that makes up ACC’s Rio Grande Campus has been around for more than 100 years and with an injection of $49 million worth of renovations, has been reconfigured into a high-tech home for higher learning. 

The upgraded building sits on a rectangular block in downtown Austin off of Rio Grande Street and 12th Street now boasts 60 classrooms and an ACCelerator similar to the one at ACC’s Highland campus.

A large three story building that was built in the early 1900s fills the frame. This is ACC's Rio Grande Campus' rear entrance.
The rear entrance to ACC’s Rio Grande campus faces West Street in downtown Austin. Photo by Pete Ramirez

An interesting challenge that the architects and contractors tasked with renovating the building had to overcome was what to do with the two open-air courtyards that sit in the middle of the structure. They decided to use a hybrid Teflon material to create tent domes over the courtyards and add air conditioning which created two beautiful, large spaces inside of the building.

The Rio Grande building first opened in 1916 and served as Allan Junior High. In 1925, the building became the home of Austin High School, and later in 1975, it became another of Austin Community College’s campuses.

After hearing about the upgrades planned for the campus, Dr. Roy Casagranda, an ACC professor in the government/history department, was ecstatic. Dr. Casagranda has been teaching for 20 years and has seen many changes come to the school.

A view from inside an empty classroom at the Rio Grande campus. Through the window you can see a sunny afternoon and the Texas Capitol dome.
The view from one of the newly renovated classrooms has a sightline directly to the Texas Capitol. Photo by Dr. Casagranda

When Casagranda took his first steps into the campus to check on the status of the redesign, he said he was “speechless.” The interior was exquisite and completely new.

 Casagranda loved the new library, the well-equipped labs and the spacious pristine classrooms. Casagranda’s favorite thing about the entire renovation was the exterior which now includes multiple areas where students and faculty can use to study and lounge. According to Casagranda, the campus faculty has plans to create a garden outside and display art from students within the halls of the school.

An image of an empty classroom. The room is clean, has large windows and new furniture.
ACC’s Rio Grande campus features 60 classrooms each filled with brand new furniture and equipment. Photo by Pete Ramirez

The Rio Grande campus is open from 7 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday and closed on Saturday and Sunday. Students can park in the parking garage located one block to the west of the Rio Grande campus by the No-Comply skate shop. The ACC Bookstore is not available at this campus yet and the ACCelerator is not yet ready for students to use either.

As construction nears completion in 2023, the campus will continue to provide many opportunities for students to gain their education. It has brought joy to Austin-area students and faculty for more than 100 years and it’s now well prepared to continue to serve the community for another 100 years.

An outdoor image of the side of ACC's Rio Grande campus. There are large steps of limestone that lead into an outdoor lounge area for students.
A new outdoor space at Austin Community College’s Rio Grande campus where students and teachers can lounge and study. Photo by Pete Ramirez