Story by Jessica Youssefi, Reporter
Joseph Lee, Photo Editor
Austin Community College is the first two-year institution to receive funding from the Texas Emerging Technology Fund. The $485 million fund was created by the Texas Legislature in 2005.
The Highland Campus will receive $4.9 million to build an 8,400-square- foot, advanced biotechnology research lab.
Funding for the project will give ACC the means to offer students a state-of-the-art facility equipped with the necessary tools for testing products and furthering their studies in science, biology and medicine.
The Lab will also provide opportunities for jobs, and the space for future companies to conduct research.
ACC President and CEO Dr. Richard Rhodes said “ACC has a long history of providing Central Texas industries the workforce and tools they need to prosper. This lab will take that commitment to a new level.”
To better address the issues, successes and future progress of community college education, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation hosted a panel discussion during the 2015 SXSW conference.
The “Unravelling the Advising Maze” panel on March 11 focused on how to better counsel and advise students during their time at community colleges.
Students and educators attended the panel which offered information on ways to fix glitches in the advising system during tense times for students, particularly during registration and finals when the need for advising is high.
The panel began with attendees participating and sharing their input in hypothetical situations. They were asked to fill out student forms about credit hours, transferable credits and how to find that information using only the tools provided. This activity showed the frustrations of students on a daily basis.
In order to address some of the key issues, the degree map was introduced. This tool has been implemented at Austin Community College and serves as a visual tracker allowing students to monitor their progress and see which courses are left until their degree is completed.
ACC student and panelist, Lisa Pham said the degree map is an essential tool of the advising department.
“ It’s a great way for students to see how far along they are and have a visual to see what they are accomplishing,” Pham said. “Having the advisor refer to the degree plan and checking up on you to see how you’re doing in your classes, shows that they care and they want to motivate you toward completing your education.”
The importance of the student/advisor relationship was further addressed by the panel. It described the advisor as often being a student’s best reference point when dealing with frustrations on a personal rather than academic level.
Lluvia Hernandez, a panelist and ACC student, credited a good relationship with her advisor as one of the reasons for her success.
“Once I found counselor Tim Self, who really cared about my success, I felt a lot better about school and taking certain classes,” Hernandez said. “On my end I was struggling a lot through personal and health issues and my advisor gave me the encouragement and guidance I needed — that extra push that was needed.”
Panelists focused on the increasing importance of community colleges at the South by Southwest Education summit held March 10 at the JW Marriott Austin.
The seminar on Re-Designing Higher Education for Student Success aimed to boost awareness on how schools can increase graduation rates and gave students a unique opportunity to share their own ideas and experiences about strengthening college opportunities.
“I went to the University of Massachusetts in Boston with a scholarship that I had believed would cover tuition,” Valerie Inniss, a student panelist said. “But it only covered two-thousand dollars with thirteen-thousand in hidden fees.”
Innis said had she known about all of the scholarship, advising and counseling options available to her at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, she would be in better financial shape and on a more clear-cut path to graduation. Ultimately she left the school to transfer to the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
In addition to student panelists like Innis, education experts on the panel discussed alternatives such as online learning, reducing required credit hours and the importance of utilizing community college education.
Dr. Jill Biden, second lady of the United States, gave the keynote speech on the heels of the panel discussion. Biden is a community college teacher of 20 years and an educator of 30 years. In addition to stressing the importance of a college education, she expressed her love of teaching at community college and stressed its importance as a stepping stone for higher education.
“I think making community college free would make us better as a nation,” Biden said. “In the next ten years, two out of three job openings will require a college degree.”
Gavin Payne, director of the United States Program Advocacy and Communications for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, spoke about his organization’s role in promoting community colleges.
“We have a challenge as a foundation. When someone says college, they think of a four-year institution.” Payne said. “There are a lot of ways to get there and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wants to make these paths more accessible to students.”
Students attend college for different reasons, but the desire for success is a common trait.
Whether they are using community college as a way to familiarize themselves with the nuances of college life, or as a way to re-acclimate to an academic lifestyle, community colleges around the country offer opportunities and hope for individuals looking to achieve their goals.
For some, like UT graduate and former student at Northlake Community College in Dallas, Texas, Reihaneh Haijibeigi, community college served as a segue from high school academia to college-critical curriculum.
“I took my first community college courses while I was still a high school student,” said Haijibeigi.
“The handful of courses I took allowed me to juggle many different passions without falling behind in rigorous coursework.”
Community college is known for its diversity; it is very common to find people of different ages, ethnicities and financial backgrounds.
Community college provides an avenue for students who may be facing financial difficulties, hectic schedules and apprehensions about embarking on their education.
ACC currently enrolls more than 43,000 credit students and serves an additional 15,000 students each year through non-credit programs.
Community college has been the beginning of many success stories for students who are eager to get their foot in the door of knowledge. It continues to help students, young and old, connect the bridge between just starting out in college, and preparing them for the leap to a university.
It is vital that there are adequate resources extended to people who have the desire and drive to gain an education, and the tools needed to gain success in higher education can be found within community college.
ACCENT: How long have you been composing and performing?
SKILES: My mother was a concert pianist and my dad was a jazz trumpet player, so truthfully I was around music from infancy on. I started plunking notes at the piano at age two or three.
ACCENT: As founder of Beto and the Fairlanes, how has the band’s success had an impact on your music career?
SKILES: We started playing at a place called Liberty Lunch. The city council would stop their meetings and come down to Liberty Lunch and dance to Beto and the Fairlanes. We are still going strong. I have been very blessed with the gift of these wonderful players that play my music and add something that no other band can achieve.
ACCENT: Who are some of your jazz and Latin music influences?
Photo by Jessica Youssefi
SKILES: I went to college and was influenced by pianists like Art Tatum and Bill Evans and of course the more modern ones — Chickeria, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, and a pantheon of jazz icons. The Latin influence largely comes from Tito Puente, Pérez Prado and Ray Barretto.
ACCENT: What kind of recognition have you received as a musician?
SKILES: I have six, maybe seven CD’s of my band Beto and the Fairlanes and they’ve gained national recognition and critical acclaim. One got four stars in a magazine called Downbeat. I’ve performed and written for the Austin Symphony, the Louisville Symphony and the Laredo Symphony. But as far as making a hit record like Lady Gaga, I’m not there yet.
ACCENT: What is your fondest musical memory?
SKILES: I was the music director of singer Tish Hinojosa. She wanted to perform in front of orchestras, so I wrote arrangements, many of which were my compositions, for her orchestra. She collaborated on the lyrics. Standing in front of the [92-piece] orchestra — when I first heard them, I melted. I just had to look at them and say “do that again.” It was like driving a Ferrari.
ACCENT: How did your time in arranging and performing with the Unity Church of the Hills Austin shape you?
SKILES: Well, it influenced me a great deal because I had to be at the top of my game there. Each week we had different songs to learn and rehearse. I wrote the
charts for the band and worked with a vocalist really closely. That was a great education. The music genre was contemporary gospel, which is everything from rock-and-roll to traditional gospel. I was there for twelve years.
ACCENT: How has your wide-ranging musical background helped direct you in teaching music at ACC?
SKILES: I bring to bear all the experience that I’ve had over the past 66 years of being active on this planet. I focus it on points that the students need to learn. For example, how I got cheated by my record company, or my experience in California writing music for a feature film and encounters with the music business in Austin — from playing at the Armadillo to receiving an award at ACC.
ACCENT: What is your advice for ACC students or local musicians trying to make a name for themselves in the Austin music scene?
SKILES: It’s extremely difficult. Hang on to your inspiration and make sure that your passion is guiding your decisions and not some other reason.
ACCENT: During the 2010-2011 academic year, you received the ACC Teaching Excellence Award. What did that recognition mean to you?
SKILES: That recognition was a celebration of the relationship I have with the students. The really important thing is recognizing that I’ve had an impact on a wider scope than just ACC. I had an impact through my students.