ACCENT Media’s Digital Editor, Foster Milburn, interviews Maxine LaQueene in efforts to advocate against anti-trans laws. Watch Foster and Maxine discuss topics on human rights, the reality of being trans in Texas, the disenfranchisement and abuse that has befallen the trans community, and what we can do at Austin Community College to remain level-headed in today’s highly polarized society.
Local elections for the state of Texas take place on Saturday, May 6. Here’s what you need to know before heading to the polls.
by Foster Milburn
What is a Proposition?
A proposition is a form of direct democracy when citizens vote directly on new laws or changes to existing ones. Voters typically place these propositions on the ballot through petitions or legislative action.
It is not uncommon for supporters and opponents to spend money on advertising in order to influence public opinion on controversial issues.
What will be on my ballot?
Unlike the November 2022 election, the ballot will be quite short. Educational bonds, the election of city council members, and city issued bonds will make up the majority of the ballot.
The two most controversial topics are Proposition A and Proposition B dealing with the Austin Police Oversight Act. The propositions are nearly identical in language and are distinguished by the groups they are backed by.
What is Proposition A?
Proposition A is backed by Equity Action, a criminal justice reform group that focuses on racial equity in the judicial system in Austin. It intends to “deter police misconduct and brutality by strengthening the City’s system of independent and transparent civilian police oversight,” according to the election page on the official City of Austin website.
What is Proposition B?
Proposition B is backed by the Voters for Police Oversight and Accountability, a group that is funded by the Austin Police Association. In terms of language, it sounds remarkably similar, almost verbatim, to Proposition A. It aims to “strengthen the City’s system of independent and transparent civilian police oversight,” according to its original ordinance.
In a KVUE interview, Chris Harrons with Equity Action clarified that the primary difference between the two measures, besides the words “strengthening” and “strengthen,” is that Prop A attempts to make it possible for people to file anonymous complaints on a police officer. Voters for Oversight and Police Accountability said in the same interview that their aim is to increase police accountability with a focus on guaranteed due process.
Rewind to Fall 2022, when a group of unknown individuals were seen in West Campus gathering signatures for petitions relating to police oversight that many deemed deceiving due its language.“The City Clerk will not accept any requests to remove your name from the petition, regardless how you were deceived, after the organization behind it has turned in their signatures,” Equity Action said on their website.
When casting your vote, notice the group that each proposition is backed by whose mission aligns with your beliefs about police oversight.
ACC International Programs and Office of Experiential Learning hosted Global Storytelling about Women: Empowerment and Disruption panel on March 28 with presentations from staff and students alike. The presenters discussed a variety of topics such as feminine ideals, fairy tales, monsters in literature, and stories of indigenous women in politics.
Story by Ava Vano
Studying Disruptors and Trailblazers
The panel began with Dr. Brenda Roy and her four students speaking about what they have learned in the Women and Gender Studies English Composition II classroom. Roy spoke about the class’s attitudes towards gender and through what perspective she sought to approach that, and explained that the course is designed on“[Using] gender as the primary, but not the only lens to explore course texts.”
In the class, students read a variety of short stories, poetry, essays and watched TED talks exploring women’s stories. Why does this matter? Roy’s goal is to “Center students’ own lived experiences” and to create “embodied citizens outside the classroom,” according to her presentation.
Each of the four students got the opportunity to present their own topics pertaining to the course that they were passionate about. Attendees saw presentations about gender socialization, personal impacts of one’s own gender, thoughts about “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and an analysis of “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid. These students explored what it means to be a woman personally, but also what literature has taught us about womanhood.
Monstrous Women Around the World
The next presentation was “Monstrous Women Around the World” given by Professor Alex Watkins. Watkins spoke about themes of monsters as cultural ideals and how monsters are a way to villainize and disempower certain groups, referencing Jeffrey Cohen’s “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)”.
A keynote from this presentation was the fourth thesis, “The Monster Dwells at the Gates of Difference,” in which she reflects upon “the other” and our fear of that idea. This is applicable to many different groups of people and is something that is ever present within our media. Overall, through this presentation, the attendees were given the opportunity to reflect upon what people have the tendency to fear and why exactly they do that.
Indigenous Women in Politics
The third presentation was “Indigenous Women in Politics” by Professor Vanessa Faz. She began the presentation by pointing out the issue of indigenous women going missing every day, and the lack of funding and police presence on reservations that has made this issue go under the radar in many instances.
On a brighter note, the main point of her presentation was to celebrate the indigenous women that were able to break through the political sphere and were elected into government positions. For example, Deb Haaland was the first Native American woman elected into Congress and to hold a cabinet position, and Sharice Davids followed Haaland to be the second Native woman in Congress.
Faz points out that there were no Native Americans elected into Congress from 1902 to 2018, making the barriers these women broke down even more impressive.
Global Cinderella Stories: How Fairy Tales Reflect the Feminine Ideal
The final presentation was “Cinderella Stories and the Feminine Ideal – How Stories Shape Our Perception” given by Professor Lauren Elander who is a dual credit high school teacher from Round Rock ISD.
Elander has the unique challenge of teaching high school students and finding texts that all students can see themselves in, expressing that challenge by asking “How am I going to find a text for everybody?” Elander gives students the option to write about texts and material not in the curriculum if they feel drawn to it, giving students the opportunity to find texts they are passionate about.
Elander presented Cinderella stories across all different cultures and what expectations from women are shown through their depiction. Intersectionality is a key concept for the interpretation of texts within Elander’s classroom, and as her students navigate their course material, they are given the opportunity to reflect upon themselves and others.
Although Women’s History Month has come to an end, we can still find the time to reflect upon women’s stories and the challenges they face through literature. This panel gave several women the opportunity to share their stories and empower other women through the recognition, acknowledgement, and exploration of topics that may otherwise be overlooked.
An essay on being a student with a neurodivergent brain by ACCENT writer Aaron Moeller. This article is part of the Student Welfare Series, exploring the Great Questions program in the ACC humanities department.
By Aaron Moeller
Photo by Matthew Mateo
My brain is an F5 tornado. It spins, twirls me around endlessly, and is highly unstable. After joining college again after three years off, I did not remember how to read or write. I had to teach myself.
I have autism, and seven other diagnoses, including complex PTSD, ADHD, and OCD. I am neurodivergent. My entire life, I had not been civically engaged and did not know how to be. I had yet to start reading my first book. My hands would tremble when I tried to write an essay. My head would spin off my shoulders for any given test. I had lost hope. Why is my brain like this?
Then it happened, during my first semester at ACC. I received my first bad grade: an F on a paper I had spent 15 straight hours writing. I emailed my teacher, Shellee O’Brien, some things I should not repeat.
My ego was destroyed. I tried to read the entire book. I did the work. But I still got an F. Why? I met with Professor O’Brien during our first office hours where I was poised and ready to attack. How dare she not give me a perfect score? I poured my entire life and soul into this; why did I get an F? I demanded a rebuttal from her.
To my surprise, she looked me in the eye and began speaking calmly. She explained where I had skewed off track during my essay, and I realized I was wrong. I knew from her tone that she didn’t try to “win” or have a “gotcha” moment with me. I spoke with her for two hours, not knowing my life would be changed forever because of that call.
This was the first time I felt I had a teacher who cared about me.
We ended the call with her telling me that I could do anything I set my mind to, and I knew I could count on her. I had finally found a mentor.
After that day, I began my next writing assignment. She had told me not to worry about this old one, and I didn’t. I focused. I sat for another fifteen hours and wrote my following essay. Was this something that I could do now? Could I be a writer? Do I have a voice? Is someone going to care what I have to say?
I turned in my essay and got an A. This was the first A I had ever received since I dropped out of high school at 15. I was ecstatic; this was one of the best days of my life. I went outside and shouted to the sky, “I made it.” Because I did. They were my words on the paper, and for the first time, I was heard.
I quickly went back to Blackboard and checked my history class grade. Fail. I began to sob and mentally retreated into myself. Why was my brain doing this? How can I get my first A and an F simultaneously? Why do I remember everything from the other class but nothing from the one I failed? I made it my mission to find out.
I met with Professor O’Brien again and explained what was happening, asking her what the secret was. She told me it was something called “Great Questions.”
Great Questions pedagogy is centered around teaching discussion-based texts and creating lesson plans that allow your students to find their voice. This is immensely powerful, especially for a neurodivergent student like me, who knows that the education system was not created for everybody. Great Questions focuses on collaboration, not rote-memorization. It also focuses on the concepts of the material rather than memorizing answers to regurgitate on an exam.
I was still confused. I thought the answer was simple: suck it up. That is what I have been told my entire life. I perfected the art of masking after my childhood trauma. Everyone tells me, “You don’t look autistic,” or “You look so happy.” If only they knew how I felt. If only they knew every single thought that entered my brain.
But I’m not special. Millions of other people feel this daily. They are stuck inside a system that just isn’t made for them. They try to claw their way “out” at their own expense, only to realize there isn’t one.
Professors don’t have it easy, either. They are thrown out of graduate school after getting a degree, with all the weight of the world thrust upon them, alone, like me. They are expected to care for hundreds of students, each with preconceived notions of how a typical class should be. It is not easy or wise to go against the status quo.
Students expect the teachers to make things easy to learn and perfect in every way, which usually means some rote-memorization style teaching method. A rinse and repeat method: memorize this and that, pass the exam, then forget it all. But O’Brien showed me how things could be different. She went against the norm and had the vulnerability to try something new, which changed my life. The secret is that she was active and engaged in my education, a special method implemented in the Great Questions program.
I know it is not easy. Academic freedom isn’t as good as it is made to seem. Throw in overloaded and stressed students, hundreds of them, with hundreds if not thousands of essays to read, all while keeping a close and tight-knit relationship with the student. It’s practically impossible. Students learn early not to expect much, and teachers are just trying to get by with what they have.
I have a new challenge.
I am challenging professors to challenge themselves. We can all become active readers and writers. Create lesson plans that are discussion based, and allow your students to have a voice, as O’Brien did for me. Give me a chance to realize I am a part of the big picture, and what I say matters. Give me a chance to mess up, and help me back up. Have fun with me.
I know it is hard to try something new, but it is an act of solidarity. In my case, I learned I had a voice, something I never knew I had since I was eleven years old after my offender assaulted me.
But I survived.
Being comorbid with so many diagnoses has challenged me, but I survived. I have faith that teachers will also survive.
After finding my voice, I now eat and sleep better, have become a leader within multiple communities, and am pursuing journalism as a passion for spreading awareness of the disenfranchisement of neurodivergent people.
Before this, I was stuck inside for three years, extremely cloistered with trauma-induced symptoms. I know Great Questions pedagogy has the potential to change a student’s life forever. It changed mine.
My therapist described my reality as “walking in a snowstorm while everyone around me is on a beach,” and I had never felt more validated.
Growing up and never meeting my father traumatized me and left me seeking guidance, but finding a mentor within my professor allowed me to blossom into the real-life human I am today.
After two years, I will be the first in my family to graduate and the first one to publish anything, and that is possible due to people like my Professor Shellee O’Brien and the Great Questions pedagogy who are willing to try something new.
Mental safety, as is dealing with trauma, is vital to creating a healthy workplace. Katharine Manning guides these topics for employees in the workforce.
by Foster Milburn
As students, we often question what to expect once we enter the workforce, particularly internships. The classes we take in undergrad help us contextualize topics in which we major, but extracurriculars can only prepare us so much for the workforce once we enter it. How can we know what we value in a workplace when we don’t know what it means to be part of a corporate environment?
You have probably seen some of her books regarding empathy in the workplace. She is an advocate for unheard voices, including those affected by the Pulse nightclub and SouthCarolina AME church shootings, and an attorney who guides the Justice Department through responding to trauma victims. She is Katharine Manning, and she is an author, professor, and attorney.
Through what she refers to as “The LASER Technique,” Manning offers a five-step process for a compassionate response to employees with trauma for managers and anyone overseeing a group of people in the workplace.
The first step is Listening, Manning advises, “don’t interrupt and don’t problem solve; just let [the employee] speak. Make room for that.”
The second step is Acknowledge – “it is straightforward: ‘I’m sorry,’ or, ‘that sounds difficult.’ It lets [the employee] know you heard them, and they are likely to listen to what you share next,” Manning said.
The third is Sharing information, “John F. Kennedy said in times of turbulence it is more accurate than ever that knowledge is power,” Manning said. “When we share, we get a little of that power back.”
Step four is Empower. This step is about recognizing that the person in trauma has their own journey to walk. She advises, “you must set boundaries for yourself, but within that, you can give [the employee] tools to take with them on that journey.”
For example, if the company offers mental health resources, share those with the cohort. Affirming boundaries while offering resources – such as 988– the U.S. new national hotline for suicide and mental health crises –creates a comfortable space for the individual while you guide them in the proper direction.
Step five – Return. By setting boundaries, you’re caring for your mental health while helping the individual facing trauma. It would help if you watched for yourself, and Manning’s advice for that is investing in self-care. “I do a little bit of yoga and meditation every morning. Just do something every day that gives back to yourself,” she said.
Affirming boundaries while offering resources – such as 988– the U.S. new national hotline for suicide and mental health crises –creates a comfortable space for the individual while you guide them in the proper direction.
This is how we respond, but next is making sure that the people that come to us in the first place are encouraged to do so. “People underestimate how valuable it is to check in on the people in our lives,” Manning said.
From highlighting common incidents such as workplace violence and employee safety, to recognizing needs and developing resources such as miscarriage leave, gender-affirming medical care, or domestic violence, sharing resources is vital. “Do you have these policies within your organization? If not, think about that,” Manning said.
This is the second pillar of trauma-informed workplaces. Manning advises, “make sure you’re getting input from those affected – don’t create a phenomenal gender-affirming care policy without first talking to transgender individuals.” The dormant items will not do anyone any good if they’re sitting on a shelf with no one discussing them.Her book, “The Empathetic Workplace,” describes other pillars in responding to trauma and distress amongst our coworkers and supervisors. Next month, she is launching a course diving deeper into making workplaces more empathetic, thus creating a healthier work environment for all employees. You can check out the website for more details.
“They want us to be like our mascot and sleep under bridges.” The administration’s lack of support enables housing insecurity to persist, student government members say.
by Daniel Sadjadi
Last August, ACC’s Student Government Association (SGA) members presented a recommendation proposal to the Board of Trustees to address the shortage of affordable housing for students.
The solutions included immediate steps such as creating a housing message board for students to connect with roommates, medium-term solutions such as creating a housing committee and increasing resources for affordable housing initiatives and programs, and long-term solutions such as working with the SGA and community partners to create more affordable housing options.
The SGA also surveyed ACC students on their financial and living conditions. They received 533 responses and found the following:
71% of students worry about paying rent
61% have faced housing insecurity
12% of students reported facing homelessness
30% of students spend more than 60% of their income on rent
31% report struggling to pay their bills after rent
20% have received rental assistance
80% say COVID-19 has drastically impacted their ability to work and pay rent
40% of students have been behind on rent
11.3% of students have faced eviction
7 current students surveyed were homeless
According to SGA Senator, Julia Cloudt, upon being presented with this information, ACC’s Board of Trustees asked SGA to return with more data on students’ housing situations. SGA members, who have already volunteered dozens of hours of unpaid time to gather data through surveys distributed in tabling events, classes, and through word of mouth, felt frustrated according to Cloudt.
The main issue for ACC students finding affordable housing is the lack of support from the administration, Cloudt said.
“We provided them with short, medium, and long-term solutions and there has been a lot of red tape with them not making it easy for us to even get solutions out to students,” she said. “I think one of the main issues is that we brought a lot of evidence to the administration and I think they see it as ‘it’s housing, it’s too big of an issue.’”
Some of the main solutions proposed by the student government included providing information on affordable housing within a ten-mile radius of each campus and creating an app to connect students looking for housing. However, the administration has not taken any significant actions to address this issue, leaving SGA to deal with it themselves, Cloudt said.
“We provided them with short, medium, and long-term solutions and there has been a lot of red tape with them not making it easy for us to even get solutions out to students”
Cloudt says that there is a misconception that students are looking for a huge solution to the housing issue, but they are only asking for help to help themselves. Cloudt also expressed that the lack of guidance and support provided by ACC to the Student Government is discouraging. Cloudt believes that the excuses given by ACC might be both legitimate and illegitimate, as there is data that ACC already knows that students are struggling with housing and even homelessness.
Rent in Austin has increased 93% since 2010 and the majority of students reported struggling to afford housing. Cloudt experienced housing insecurity herself during her senior year in high school and was forced to stay with friends after facing homelessness. She struggled to find work and save up to get her own apartment. Struggling to find housing and a job while homeless made a significant impact on her education as she was unable to attend school regularly during that time.
“I didn’t know where to go. I had no savings. I had no job. No support… I just had to stay with friends while I was looking into getting a job so I could save up and get my own apartment. That was like three or four weeks after me having to just go struggle by myself. I didn’t go to school that entire time. I had teachers reach out to me and call me because they were like, you haven’t been to class. I was using an old iPod Touch, so I didn’t even get the messages until after I was back home. I was real-life struggling. I almost slept at a bus stop one night, but I was so scared for my safety that I walked four miles to my friend’s house, it’s either that or maybe getting raped or assaulted.”
The lack of affordable housing affects students’ ability to focus on school and their overall well-being, as their basic needs are not being met. The transportation system is also a significant problem for people who do not have stable housing, as many are forced to rely on public transport, which takes away time and energy from their studies.
During a meeting with a trustee, they confirmed that the city fined ACC $1 million for not keeping apartments at Highland campus affordable, said Kay Trent, SGA’s president. At Highland, the Ella Parkside apartment building features 300 units but only 30 of which are reserved for affordable housing. A one-bedroom apartment would set you back $1,400 a month. “You need three or four times the rent to be able to sign off on it… my own teachers don’t make four times that amount. It was beyond affordable housing,” Cloudt said.
Frustrated by the lack of action, a group of SGA members organized a peaceful protest on campus by putting sticky notes onto advertisement posters for the Highland campus, containing quotes about the high cost of housing and living expenses. The sticky notes were taken down the next day but the group plans to continue protesting and keeping the pressure on the board to address the housing issue.
Trent said that ACC has the money to buy or build student housing, but is choosing not to. She suggested the closed ACC Pinnacle building could be used for student housing instead of converting it into a vineyard for the culinary department. Trent stated that ACC has displayed a lack of care for their students that is reflected in the budget, which is close to a billion dollars but not being used to build affordable housing.
At one of the Board’s meetings, the topic of the administration’s frivolous spending while ignoring basic issues came up. In 2019, ACC Chancellor Richard Rhodes received a 5% raise which brought his salary to $360,000. SGA members say this money should have been used for student housing instead. Trent also noted that the administration rejected a $20 living wage proposal for ACC employees.
Trent said that the investments made by the college are not always in the best interest of the students, like offering food services but making them prohibitively expensive to students, such as in the case of $9 ‘grab-and-go’ snack options at Highland.
Trent says that the college should invest more in resources that would benefit students, such as affordable housing for those without families and single mothers. Trent believes that providing a safe and stable housing environment for students would allow them to focus on their academics without being in “survival mode.”
Trent said that the city’s efforts to combat homelessness have not been effective and that the issue has only gotten worse without any permanent solutions. She stated that the city council needs to be more active and work together to find a solution, ‘as everyone is talking in circles about housing but nothing is actually being done to address the issue.’
“I just think that it’s selfish that a city can continue to go on this way. Or they try to push you out of the city, because the surrounding areas – Round Rock, Leander, Georgetown, all of that they still consider that to be Austin. But to live in Austin, you have to give up two legs and a half a year to afford it… Everybody’s sacrificing, like I sold my car because I was like, ‘Well, I can walk to school, I really don’t need a car per se,’ but also I couldn’t afford the gas, and insurance and gas are a big killer, especially if you’re already barely making rent.”
Providing a safe and stable housing environment for students would allow them to focus on their academics without being in “survival mode.”
For ACC students struggling with housing insecurity or looking for a place to live, the college has a student emergency aid program that gives out a maximum of $500 to help with temporary housing, but there is no one on staff to talk to for more permanent solutions.
Trent has been working since April to address the issue of students not having their housing and other basic needs met. She has been reaching out to different departments for help and working to build bridges between them. She believes the ball is in the Board of Trustees’ court to find a real solution.
“Nobody’s asking them to build an arcade, a gym, or anything. All those things would be lovely to have, but we just want housing right now… and so it’s just a lot of holding them accountable, a lot of physically going up to the Board of Trustees meetings, being in there, having interviews with people across the city. It’s a very challenging task, but it’s not impossible.”
She plans to continue the fight, even after she graduates from ACC, to hold the Board of Trustees accountable for not addressing the issue of housing. She is also looking to partner with other organizations to help find a solution.
SGA (Student Government Association) at Austin Community College is a group that helps students with various issues, including housing. They represent 72,000 students on campus. The best form of contact is to reach out to the ACC SGA email address listed below.
SGA tries to help students who are being redirected endlessly by other organizations on campus. SGA is a group of people who are tirelessly fighting for students and trying to help them. Change can only happen when people become involved, so the SGA encourages students to become involved and reach out to them. You can find more information and volunteer to get involved with SGA here.
The Health Sciences department at ACC has a profound reputation in Austin.
by Foster Milburn
Graphic by Claudia Hinojos
Health science students at Austin Community College are prepared for the fast-growing healthcare industry as the college offers a flexible education pathway, realistic hospital settings, and a high state pass rate.
A career as a registered nurse might be ideal for students who are driven to help others and are passionate about science.
Post COVID, the supply and demand for nurses has resulted in a shortage of nurses globally. With the high demand, the pay remains an appealing incentive for entering the work field.
According to Indeed, the average yearly salary for a registered nurse (RN) in Texas is $89,905; a well-paying salary in the field results from the long hours and the emotional pressure of being a nurse.
At ACC, students have a wide range of options in picking their major or starting a trade-specific program.
Professional nursing is different from other areas of study as it requires the student to apply and be accepted into the program, whereas other studies are open to students at any time. To be registered in this program, students are also expected to complete a series of prerequisites.
If a student is interested in nursing, they should go to the ACC website. Professor Abraham, an Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) level two professor, advises: “Definitely, the Health Sciences page is the best place to start.”
One thing to think about prior to considering nursing school is the complexity and dedication required. “What helps is having a realistic goal when starting nursing school,” Professor Abraham said.“Nursing school is a full-time job.”
That might raise the question of whether you can work outside the classroom to provide income for your living expenses beyond what you receive from loans. “Yes, you can. It will not be easy, but it is possible.” Christina Berger, a level II ADN Student at ACC and a mother of two, points out.
For many students, having a job while in school is necessary. An outside income is a requirement as some live independently or have children. Christina Knighton discussed working while being in the program. “I understand that it is reality, and we can’t not all work. Students have scaled back their hours to ensure they have more time for the program,” she said.
So, you might be wondering what other options are available. Knighton brings up the option of saving between semesters to have extra income during semesters. “This program is a full-time job,” she said.
With the disclaimers addressed, it would be best to meet with an advisor if a student is still interested in starting the program. It can be something other than Health Sciences, too.
Christina Knighton spoke about her personal experience with her advisor, “I started by speaking to my advisor, who gave me information about the prerequisites for the ADN program. She helped me stay on track and made sure I met the deadlines for application.”
The application process can be confusing for students navigating through the steps for the first time. It is much more information than other programs of study because it is specialized and more selective.
However, that does not mean there aren’t people to help you along the way. Because of having high standards going into the program, the resources continue beyond the application process.
“Once in the program, there are retention services available that can help with financial aid, study tips, and time management,” Knighton said.
Regarding the prerequisites, one might ask if they are beneficial to the courses they are required to take. For the professional nursing program, ADN, the associate degree plan requires four prerequisites. If taken subsequently, the classes can be completed in approximately three semesters.
“Pharmacology and Anatomy & Physiology give you the foundation for going into nursing school,” Knighton said. “When you have a deeper understanding of how the body works, it is easier to understand the disease processes you learn about once in the program.”
Secondly, the other requirement for applying for admission into the program is the HESI exam. The exam is a test that covers the material learned in the prerequisites where students are “tested on knowledge and how you would apply that knowledge in a clinical setting,” Knighton said.
The HESI Admission Assessment fee is currently at $62.00. The minimum passing score is 75 percent, and the test covers anatomy, physiology, math, reading, grammar, and critical thinking.
The HEXI exam varies in complexity. “Exposure to NCLEX style questions helps a lot when preparing for the HESI or nursing school exams in general,” Knighton said.
The NCLEX is the exam taken after completion of the program. “You can find them online, and there are many apps you can download for free,” Christina Berger said.
To conclude, it is best to speak directly with an advisor if one is considering the Nursing program or any other Health Sciences program. They can give you more personable advice while understanding your circumstances.
The nursing program here at ACC has an outstanding reputation within Texas and across the country. Austin American-Statesman presented the program with the 2020 Best of the Best Award on Jan. 11 of last year – an endowment worthy of what it offers.
Spring semester is around the corner, meaning students are taking the important step of making their schedule before registration ends on Jan. 3.
What many students are not aware of is that their classes can improve significantly by enrolling in an honors course, which, no, is not part of an elite society. Instead, it is an academic program ready to encourage and celebrate curiosity.
Story by Marisela Perez-Maita
The ACC Honors Program provides a number of benefits from classes to internships and scholarships opportunities. Dr. Anne-Marie Thomas, chair of the Honors Program and also an honors class professor, has seen over the years how students connect with one another and live experiences that traditional classes do not normally offer.
“Small classes allow a lot more close interaction between the students themselves and the faculty,” she explains. “To me, that’s a big selling point. All honors classes have a substantial discussion component which encourages and strengthens the spirit of inquiry in the students.”
Students realize the difference between traditional and honors classes right away.
Aatmodhee Goswami, an ACC Computer Science student, started his academic journey in 2020 during the pandemic. “Since it was online, it was a little bit harder to get that sort of interaction with professors, especially with 30 or 40 people in a Zoom call,” Goswami said. “I learned, but it wasn’t as interactive as I would’ve liked it to be.”
Upon finding out about the smaller class sizes that honors classes offer, Goswami decided to sign up. Since then, he shares that taking these classes provided a fun and interactive academic experience.
“I personally really like the fact there is a personal connection with each of the professors. I can remember specific experiences with them,” Goswami said.
Goswami shared that each one of these courses has influenced his academic journey and general interests. The microeconomics course with Professor Croxdale prompted him to self-study AP Macro, and after his first composition class with Professor Thomas he is now into science fiction.
In honors classes, students get the opportunity to get a deeper dive into a particular subject, Dr. Thomas explains. She teaches composition with a focus on science fiction as well as a literature course on apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction.
“For example, the theme for Professor Endl’s Astronomy class is about whether there is life in the universe, and apart from studying the possibilities for life on other planets, with an instructor who has actually discovered an exoplanet, students get the opportunity to use the telescope at the Round Rock campus,” Dr. Thomas said.
In the Honors Program courses, students still cover the same transfer requirements as a traditional class, but with deeper discussions and experiences, including field trips, visits from guest lecturers, or service learning.
There is no due date for enrolling in an honors class as they follow the regular registration timeline. However, not all courses are offered every semester and there is a maximum of 15 students per class.
It is important that students check early to make sure their plans are aligned with which courses are available.
To be part of the Honors Program, it is necessary to apply and meet only one of the listed requirements among which include having a 3.25 college GPA from at least 9 college hours or being in the top 15 percent of one’s graduating high school class.
Once accepted, students can become even more involved in the program. The paid internship opportunity to be an Honor Ambassador includes students engaging in leadership activities at ACC events, doing recruitment and classroom presentations, and creating social media content.
Nora O’Halloran signed up to be an ambassador after her first honors classes. “As an ambassador, everyone does what their strengths are or what they are interested in learning. For example, we have people who love editing videos and that’s what they are learning in school, so they get to edit the fun videos that we work on,” O’Halloran said.
The position has online and in-person flexibility so students can choose what works best for them.
“We have ways to make things accommodating, which is one of the many wonderful things about being an Honors Ambassador,” she said. “The key is to get involved as much as you can; reach out to Dr. Thomas and explain your interests. You can volunteer in the Honors Student Organization as well. All of these will help you in the long run.”
Apart from Honors Ambassadors, the Honors Program has a partnership with the University of Texas at Austin called UT’s Youth and Community Studies (YCS) Fellows Program. It consists of a series of spring workshops about civic leadership, community building, social justice, and restorative practices. Students who participate and complete the YCS Fellows program are eligible to become interns in another program at UT along with receiving transfer advising from the university’s advisors.
The YCS program provides a certificate upon completion, which, along with all the experience from the internship, can help students get into UT if that’s what they are aiming for.
Even more, if students need help regarding honors courses and transfer goals, they can set up an appointment with Jana McCarthy in the Honors Program‘s website who specializes in advising for honors students.
To find out more, the Honors Program social media provides information about what they are up to as well as future ambassadors openings. For example, two weeks ago was Honors week across the ACC district. Numerous events happened everyday both on campuses and online, such as the Columbia University School of General Studies Information Session and “A Legacy Beyond Bloodline” talk with the UT professor Dr. Octavious Butler.
Students may get the misconception that these courses are difficult, but, according to Goswami, even a class like Calculus II is interactive. “I do suppose Honors classes take more work, but I for sure take more out of it and they are more fun,” Goswami said.
If students want additional recognition on their transcripts, they can go to the website and read how to become an Honors Scholar along with the steps to apply for the Honors Scholarship.
Be the student that takes advantage of all of these benefits and celebrate curiosity with the Honors Program by enrolling in honors Spring semester classes!
Lillian Simmons was evacuated from Cuba as a child and went on to continue her artistic passion in the U.S. After the pandemic, her piano studio struggles with recovering but that doesn’t stop the music.
Story by Daniel Sadjadi
The sun has set on Frontier Trail. The root beer starts flowing, and pencils begin marking away. It’s Friday evening at Lillian Simmons’ piano studio, which means it’s Theory & Pizza night.
The International Studio of Music is set in Simmons’ home, a quaint yet cozy space with four upright pianos positioned against the living room walls.
A few years ago, students would meet there every Friday to complete pages of music theory for prizes and to chow down homemade pizza and salad. After the height of the pandemic, attendance is still limited, and these once weekly events have become rare but more memorable.
On the studio’s wall hangs a painting of the iconic lighthouse at Havana Harbor’s Morro Castle. Simmon’s mother had the artwork commissioned in New Orleans by a retired medical doctor. Based on a black and white picture of the Spanish fort that her mother had, it offers a nostalgic glimpse into the land Simmons departed from over sixty years ago.
“Her special request to him was from memory, he should draw the blue color of the sea and the blue color of the sky, because there in New Orleans we had gray skies and gray sea,” Simmons said.
Simmons recalls fond memories from her youth in Cuba. She came from a middle-class family, and her father was a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Havana.
“On Sundays we went to a watersports club, which was very nice… They taught swimming, rowing, water ballet, and just plain swimming… We used to have a lot of individual freedoms, then communism took over,” Simmons said.
Her introduction to music started young when Simmons was eight years old. Simmons took piano classes while attending a private school in Havana. Simmons’ musical passion would develop later on, but it was her parents who decided to get her a private piano teacher.
“All of my childhood I was learning music.”
By 1961, after the Cuban Revolution, Simmons’ family decided that she needed to leave the country for the United States. Simmons was one of more than 14,000 children who left Cuba via Operation Peter Pan, a clandestine exodus of Cuban minors to the US coordinated by the CIA and sponsored by the Cuban Catholic Church and western oil companies.
“My parents took my little sister and I to the airport. My dad said ‘well kids, goodbye and good luck. We may never see you again, but that’s alright, that does not matter. You all have had an excellent education, and there’s a lot of opportunity in the United States, and you’ll be doing alright over there, and don’t worry about us. We’ll be right over here,’” Simmons said.
As the unaccompanied Simmons boarded the plane, she quickly noticed the fearful atmosphere in the cabin.
“Everyone in the plane was mostly scared the plane would not be able to make a full trip, and everyone was real quiet,” Simmons said.
The steward made an announcement informing passengers that the plane could be forced to land while it was in Cuban airspace. After a tense interlude, the steward announced that the aircraft had left Cuban airspace.
“Everyone cheered very loudly, raised their arms, and were overjoyed,” Simmons said.
Simmon’s parents reunited with her in the US a year after she arrived.
“We were lucky. Most Peter Pan children were not able to see their parents again during their childhood, it was pretty rough stuff,” Simmons said.
But leaving her old life in Cuba behind was still not easy.
“It’s like you’re leaving a part of your heart. It’s where you grew up, it’s where your friends are. Your favorite landscapes, buildings, activities. I missed leaving my home,” Simmons said.
In America, Simmons first lived with three generations of other refugees in her aunt’s house. Simmons’ aunt would not allow her to have a piano because of the noise.
“That was the only time when I cried… I did not cry about anything else,” Simmons said.
Simmon’s parents learned about this over the phone.
“That’s when my dad knew that I was going to be a piano teacher. I don’t know how my dad always knew everything about me. He knew things I didn’t even know about myself,” she said.
Simmons went on to become a housewife and mother and then became a legal secretary for 10 years.
“I was interested in the law because I saw my country turn from free enterprise to communism,” she said. “The way my dad used to explain this was, he said, in Cuba during communism, we had to walk with our head down in submission and our tail between our legs.”
Simmons opened the latest chapter in her life 15 years ago when she began to teach piano from her home.
“I just avoided teaching piano because I thought it was too difficult. You just remember what you went through as a student. And I was wrong about that. It’s actually very easy to teach,” Simmons said, “[the] pressure is you want your students to do well.”
Now, Simmons is president of the local Bluebonnet Music Teachers Association and takes pride and satisfaction in helping students advance and develop a love for music.
“It’s fun to see the kids develop, from nothing to good pianists. It’s just fun. And you’re actually taking a part in their lives,” Simmons said.
One father brought a student named Maro, who had no interest in practicing and learning piano, to Simmons.
“Four teachers couldn’t do anything for him, I was thinking what could I do with the kid, what makes the father think I can do anything with him,” Simmons said.
Simmons recalls playing one of her favorite pieces at a Christmas party, Chopin’s Tristesse Étude, a sentimental and sad yet sweet piece about the composer’s love life.
“The next week Maro said he wanted to learn it. He played the first line perfectly, and from then on…” Simmons said.
Maro developed a passion for piano and went on to become Simmons’ best student. Her reaction?
“Oh gee, I didn’t know I could do this!” Simmons said, “I think motivation is very important. I usually don’t try to push the kids too much. I try to get them interested any way I can.”
Before the pandemic, the biggest challenge for Simmons’ studio was getting students to practice. Simmons suggested that electric keyboards have made finding the motivation to practice for young students even harder than usual.
“The parents resist buying an acoustic piano. The acoustic sound blends with the molecules in your body in a way that the electronic sound does not do,” she said.
Today, Simmon’s biggest challenge is dealing with the impact of the pandemic. Simmons lost over half of her students during the pandemic as piano lessons went to being done virtually.
“We need to go back to in-person because the online and in-home classes do not work well,” Simmons said, “When you see your kid face to face, it’s more pressure to practice. Since online they don’t advance, they get discouraged, and then they quit. I discuss these things with teacher groups on Facebook and even colleagues in person and everybody is having these problems.”
Before the pandemic, Simmons encouraged students to take music theory tests at Texas State University.
“It is a magnificent building, and it is an institution of higher learning. The kids get the impression, ‘gee, this theory must be important,’” Simmons said, “When we have been doing it in homes [during the pandemic], the kids are not getting this impression that theory is important.”
As coronavirus restrictions have been lifted, Simmons hopes for a return to normal as the studio gradually transitions more lessons and events to being back in person.
“I’m just trying to keep abreast of the present,” she said.
One piece of wisdom Simmons wishes to share?
“You just have to navigate this life, see what the situation is, and adjust as best you can.”
Students discuss the benefits of the ACC Green Pass and public transportation.
Story by Jacob Tacdol
Graphics by Marisela Perez-Maita
For students living in the Austin area, commuting to and from school can be a stressful and time consuming task. This year, the Austin Community College District is once again offering the Capital Metro Green Pass to its students, faculty and staff.
Green Pass holders are allowed an unlimited amount of free rides to anywhere using the CapMetro transit system, including buses and the rail line, for one semester.
“The Green Pass has helped me a lot,” ACC student Elijah Williams said. “It allows me to manage my time more effectively and stay productive throughout my day. I’m able to get to point A, B, C and wherever else I want to go and save money.”
CapMetro services 542 square miles and offers nine modes of transportation to the general public, which includes 83 bus routes and nine train stations along a 32 mile track from downtown Austin to the northwest suburb of Leander.
“Being able to utilize the bus and the train is a great skillset to have,” Williams said. “It changes a lot of people’s foundations. I don’t have to wait in traffic. That’s why I’m able to go to the Domain in less than 15 minutes from [Highland]. For most people, it takes 30 or 45 minutes on a good day.”
Without a Green Pass, CapMetro fare costs range from 60 cents to $96.25 depending on which service and length of time riders choose. ACC funds the Green Pass program using the ACC sustainability fund and revenue from parking permit fees.
“The pass is useful no matter which type of public transportation you choose,” ACC student Dierdre Gormley said. “I don’t have to worry about paying for it, because I’ve already put my money into the school. I might as well take advantage of it.”
Students enrolled in ACC credit classes, Adult Education students and ACC faculty and staff can apply for a Green Pass through ACC’s Green Pass webpage. CapMetro offers both a digital and physical option.
“I ordered the physical pass and I received it in about five to seven days,” ACC student Aster Fohl said. “They made it easy to navigate the website. It really is a doable option and you just have to look up how the system works. It’s a legitimate form of transportation for so many people.”
Of the many reasons why students and other members of the ACC community may opt for public transportation, the costs and anxiety associated with driving a car in Austin is a large contributor.
“I am 30 minutes out from the Highland Campus and I don’t want to spend a lot of money on gas to get to school four days a week,” Fohl said. “It’s made me a lot less anxious coming to school, because driving, especially with the growth of the greater Austin area and the city itself, has made things very difficult.”
One of the main arguments for increasing the usage of public transportation in cities is the lighter impact that mass transit has on the environment compared to personal vehicles.
“I’m someone who is very big on trying to eliminate my personal carbon footprint,” Fohl said. “There’s so many organizations and corporations who need to cut down on their emissions and I personally do it by giving more attention to public services. It’s a personal choice that I’m glad I’ve made.”
In their Sustainability Vision Plan, CapMetro outlines their initiatives to reach a carbon neutral state by 2040. Methods including reducing carbon emissions and using renewable energy will go into their efforts.
“ACC is ahead of the curve,” Williams said. “This is what it’s shifting towards: cleaner, more efficient and faster travel. If you get this going now and start using public transportation, you’re getting ready for the future.”