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.

COVID Safety

COVID-19 has changed the way we work, eat, play, and overall live. Reporter, Marissa Greene captures some images that you may have found to be familiar during these times.

Marissa Greene

mask on the ground

As more people utilize face masks to protect themselves from COVID-19, the more we might see them in places other than the trash. Social media has started to urge that people dispose of their used face masks properly by cutting the ear rings before disposal.

caution tape on a pole in front of a playground

A park in Pflugerville, TX has wrapped caution tape around swings, jungle gym, and more to prevent children spreading the virus from these commonly touched items.

gloved hands with a pumpkin on the floor

Although we may feel that wearing gloves while grocery shopping, using the ATM, and touching other public-accessible items may be another preventative, the CDC on the other hand suggests that gloves are primarily necessary when cleaning or caring for someone who is sick.

hands sanitizing

When washing hands is not an accessible option, using hand sanitizer can be a temporary alternative when needing to disinfect hands in the moment.

white, red, grey, and green masks lined up

Face masks and covering have evolved since March with improved ear loop functionality, patterns of fabric, and has even become an addition to ways people represent themselves.

hands washing with soap

Hand washing is necessary to keep yourself and others safe. The World Health Organization and the Center of Disease Control recommend washing your hands in warm water for at least 20 seconds. 

person at computer on desk

Since March, Austin Community College students, professors and other staff have transformed the classroom and social community to an entirely virtual platform. Many students graduating Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 will be earning their degrees and certificates via their computer screens.

Local Coffee Shop Bennu Opens Third Location

By Alexa Smith

An Austin Staple, Bennu Coffee, has recently opened their third location on Jacob Fontaine Lane right next to Austin Community College’s Highland campus.

Bennu’s first location opened on East Martin Luther King Blvd. in 2009. The coffee houses’ second location was opened in 2017 after Bennu owners Stephanie and Steve Williams bought the location formerly home to Domincan Joe’s.

Bennu has long been a staple for college students around Austin, as they used to offer 24 hour service. This was a hit for students to stay up late studying for exams and getting homework done. While their hours have been reduced due to COVID-19, students still flock to all three locations to get a dose of caffeine and productivity. 

The new location on Jacob Fontaine Lane is part of the overall development of the area around Highland. If you haven’t made it to campus in a few months, you’d be surprised to see there are apartments and a small shopping center quickly growing. This will offer ACC students more food and drink options within walking distance of The Highland Campus, something that was missing before these developments.

 While Kick Butt coffee and 89 Degrees are nearby, they can take a while to walk to and aren’t the best option for grabbing a bite in between classes without driving. 

The new Bennu location and other restaurants nearby, such as The Pho and iBubbleTea offer easily walkable options right next to the Highland campus. 

The hours of operation for this new location are from 6 am to 7 pm. Bennu coffee also offers take out as well as socially distanced seating inside and outside. Although there is limited seating outside the indoor area is spacious and makes for a great study spot while keeping your distance.

If you’re not sure what to order, I recommend the cold brew and an almond croissant. Steve has been perfecting the cold brew for years and it’s brewed for over 16 hours with organic South American beans.  

Bennu’s other locations are also open from 6 am to 7pm. To connect with the business virtually, visit their instagram page @bennucoffee. 

Five Remote Events for Taking a Break

Written by Marissa Greene

If you’re looking for a way to take your mind off the current events, Student Life has a variety of activities for ACC students. The catch, be signed into the Student Life Portal to see all events at austincc.edu/mysl.

  • Netflix Party Movie NightsNetflix Parties

Every Friday night Student Life will host Netflix Party Movie Nights where students can watch movies such as Nacho Libre, Tall Girl, and Cloverfield with fellow Riverbats through Netflix Party. Netflix Party is a free chrome extension that allows people to bond over some of their film favorites remotely. If you enjoy Netflix Originals with high school nostalgia and embracing one’s differences you can’t miss Tall Girl on April 17. If you love Superheros or are a Marvel Fanatic mark your calendars for May 1 for Antman & The Wasp. Lastly, who wouldn’t want to wrap up the semester with a movie that will leave you on the very edge of your seat? If that’s you, be sure to catch Cloverfield on May 8. To attend these events, simply RSVP to the event on the ACC Student Life Portal.

  • Kahoot Trivia Wednesday
    If you would rather enjoy putting your trivia skills to the ultimate test, make sure to partake in Student Life’s Kahoot Trivia Wednesdays. Every Wednesday at 3 p.m. Student Life will host a virtual Kahoot where students can compete with others on a variety of topics. For all of the sports fans, make sure to go big or go home on April 22 during Sports Trivia with Riverside. If you can paint with all the colors of the wind or own 101 Dalmations be sure to check out Disney Classics trivia with Northridge on April 29. If you always dreamed of having superpowers like Spiderman or Black Panther don’t forget about the Marvel Cinematic Universe trivia with Eastview on May 6. If you are always keeping up with the Kardashians and the latest trends you can’t miss Pop Culture trivia with Cypress Creek on May 13. There is only one entry per student per trivia. Not to mention, if you fill out the survey at the end of the trivia your name will be in the running to win a gift card. To be known as the ultimate trivia master, RSVP to the event on the ACC Student Life Portal.
  1. Life Skills 101life skills 101

Want to get a head start on building your future? If so, you’ll not want to miss the Life Skills 101 presentations hosted by Student Life through WebEx. These presentations will include life lessons that aren’t learned in the classroom such as a retirement planning workshop on April 28. Both events will begin at 1 p.m. and will last for about an hour. Find the details on how to participate in the Student Life Portal.  

  • Craft-ernoon
    Create fun projects using common household items by joining Student Life on Instagram @accstudentlife. If you are unable to see a loved one, or are currently able to enjoy their presence make a visual essay about them April 17. See the Instagram stories and create your own collage on May 1. Details on the Instagram Stories and Student Life Portal.
  • Meditation Mondaysmeditation mondays

Feeling stressed? Learn how to build mindfulness and incorporate yoga into your weekly routine with Meditation Mondays hosted by Student Life. These 30-minute yoga workshops will take place through Google Hangouts at 11 a.m. on April 13, April 27, and May 11. Discover your inner yogi while also entering yourself in the drawing for a gift card by completing a survey after the event. One entry per ACC student. Don’t forget to RSVP to the event on the ACC Student Life Portal. 

A Wash of Green Paint

How Greenwashing Muddies Product Waters

Story by: Jace Puckett

2019 has been a relevant year for the green movement. In August, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg traveled to New York to attend the UN Climate Action Summit. As talk about climate change continues, we have seen a trend of companies within the last decade that market their products to be environmentally conscious. From Hydro flasks and Kånken bags to reusable metal straws, numerous products have been advertised as being “green” when in fact that is not always the case. A certain marketing tactic called “greenwashing” makes it difficult to tell what is or isn’t environmentally friendly. A spin on the word “whitewashing,” the act of concealing unpleasant facts about a person or organization, greenwashing is the act of disguising products and services as “green” or “eco-friendly” when in fact they aren’t.

“[Greenwashing is] inevitable because there’s a market advantage to having a product that’s differentiated by its green properties,” says Caleb Crow, the Energy Conservation Manager of the Office of Energy and Sustainability at Austin Community College. “If a green label is…raising the cost of whatever you’re talking about, that is a competitive disadvantage for that product, compared to a similar product that maybe didn’t go through a vetted process, but puts a similar-looking but rather meaningless label on the product to confuse a buyer, and then that product is, therefore cheaper, even if it’s in other ways similar. So greenwashing has a negative effect on the marketplace because people will be motivated by cost in many instances.”

Research on the effects of greenwashing on buyer decisions is limited, but there is certainly a demand for green products, to which companies are responding for better or worse. A 2010 study done by Richard Dahl suggests that buyer skepticism can make these misleading advertisements “risky ventures” for companies, many of which are simply trying to profit as much as possible.

“There’s been a lot of analysis of greenwashing, and the public has caught on to it,” Claudette Juska, a research specialist at Greenpeace, commented. “I think in general people have become skeptical of any environmental claims. They don’t know what’s valid and what isn’t, so they disregard most of them.”

The burden of proof often falls on the party making the claim, but several companies commit what has been termed the “sin of no proof,” one of seven “sins of greenwashing” named by TerraChoice. Because companies fail to provide proof of their environmentally-friendly claims or lie altogether (“sin of fibbing”), it may be up to buyers to determine which products are green and which are brown, the opposite of green.

However, buyers don’t have to assume full responsibility: “In terms of [the] Energy and Sustainability office for ACC, we’re doing research on individual product lines that we can then refer to individual buyers,” Crow said. “We have the benefit of being able to think ahead and research.”

Film: “Unfriended” Illuminates the Lonely Side of Social Media

Story by Kyle August, Reporter

“Unfriended” turns ordinary social media interactions into terrifying en- counters. In the horror/thriller, teenager Blaire Lily receives a Skype message from her classmate Laura Barns. Blaire dismisses the message as a cruel prank because Laura commit- ted suicide a year ago after someone anonymously posted a mortifying video of her.

However, it soon becomes clear that the message is no prank and that whoever is responsible wants revenge. The rules are simple: cooperate or die.

The entire film is seen from Blaire’s perspective, or rather her laptop screen. The audience watches as she instant messages her boyfriend, checks Facebook, and Skype chats with her classmates, all while frantically reacting to the mysterious force.

The film, directed by Levan Gabriadze, has the same grainy, real-time approach as the 1999 horror thriller “The Blair Witch Project.”

The chatroom frame approach may seem weak, or even anticlimactic, but Gabriadze’s use of this technique takes these relatable, routine actions and effectively turns them into panic and terror.

As Blaire and her friends are haunted by the vengeful stalker, their own dark secrets begin to surface, pitting them against each other.

The funny, stereotypical characters take the edge off Unfriended, but the kill scenes are not for the faint of heart. This jolting film will make you think twice about cyberbullying, and you may never use a blender again.

In our increasingly connected world, it’s downright effortless for bullies to harass their targets via email, instant messaging, texting and social media. Posting hurtful messages online, or circulating embarrassing photos or videos have led many teens to suicide.

Courtesy picture of Bazeleus company and Blumhouse productions

Music: Poetic Lyrics Elevate “To Pimp a Butterfly”

Story by Ryan Fontenette-Mitchell, Reporter

West Coast rapper and Compton native Kendrick Lamar unveiled his new album “To Pimp A Butterfly” on March 15. Lamar’s poetic lyrics bring America’s issues to life with upbeat tracks, a heavy jazz influence and strong vocals.

Lamar shows growth from his previous album “good kid m.A.A.d city” by pushing listeners to think deeply about how they can bring about social change in America.

West Coast rapper and Compton native Kendrick Lamar unveiled his new album “To Pimp A Butterfly” on March 15. Lamar’s poetic lyrics bring America’s issues to life with upbeat tracks, a heavy jazz influence and strong vocals.

Lamar shows growth from his previous album “good kid m.A.A.d city” by pushing listeners to think deeply about how they can bring about social change in America.

The order in which Lamar lays out his tracks allows listeners to journey through his mind, experience thoughts and emotions. The album challenges popular views on politics and racism. It also addresses the depression and suicidal thoughts Lamar has faced.

In the song “Mortal Man,” Lamar includes audio from a 1994 interview with the last great king of Hip-Hop, Tupac Shakur.

In the interview, taken from Swedish radio show P3 Soul, Lamar realized the best way to reach out to teens and help them change the world is through music.

“In my opinion, only hope that we kinda have left is music and vibrations. A lot of people don’t understand how important that is,” Lamar said.

“To Pimp A Butterfly” should be listened to closely in order to discover its full meaning. Online music magazine Pitchfork has ranked the album No. 2 on its highest rated album of 2015 list. Parental advisory is on the album for use of profane language.

Courtesy picture by Hypebeast.com, Interscope Records,Top Dawg Entertainment

Tech: Will Consumers Get Wound Up Over New Apple Watch?

Story by Shannon Mullery, Reporter

Apple’s newest product, Apple Watch, has many loyal Apple fans eagerly awaiting its release.

The watch features a touch screen face on which users can access the Internet, make calls and send texts. Although the watch is available for preorder, it remains to be seen if it will be as popular as other Apple innovations.

“I know it’s a really good product. I have the iPad, the Mac and the iPhone,” Carol Hernandez, a 46-year- old kinesiology major, said. “But I feel the watch is too small. I probably won’t get one. I really just use my phone [to tell time].”

Like Hernandez, many wonder why they should purchase another product that does more of the same.

According to Apple, the watch lets users do familiar things more quickly and conveniently. The device also offers special, exclusive features.

A new app allows watch users to send small pictures they sketch to other watches. Users can also connect with each other by sending their recorded heart rate to other watches just by placing two fingers on the screen.

Alysia Cordinez, a 27-year-old,pre-med major, said that although the product is clever and may offer more versatility, she will probably just upgrade to the iPhone 6.

Watch prices range from $350 to $17,000. It comes in a variety of finishes, including aluminum, stainless steel and 18-karat gold.

With more than 20 models, Apple seems to be seeking mass appeal. But with a release date scheduled for Apr. 24, the jury is still out on whether the Apple Watch will become the new standard in personal communication.

Courtesy picture of Apple

Beast of Bass and Boom

Marshall C. Simpson— First Place

“The piece was inspired by my music taste. I enjoy electronic and industrial and I felt I could convey that liking through a visual representation.”

Accent holds contests each semester to showcase student art, photography and writing. Art major Marshall C. Simpson’s “Beast of Bass and Boom” was created with ink on paper. Sumbissions of original artwork may be sent to editor@austincc.edu