Help Wanted: Meet the Three Finalists for Chancellor of ACC

In its 50th year, ACC is already nearing the final stages of its first middle-aged major change. Announced in an email to students, staff and faculty on June 16th was an invitation to meet the three top candidates to succeed Dr. Richard Rhodes in the role of ACC’s supreme position, the Chancellor.

By Nathan Adam Spear

In its 50th year, ACC is already nearing the final stages of its first middle-aged major change. Announced in an email to students, staff and faculty on June 16th was an invitation to meet the three top candidates to succeed Dr. Richard Rhodes in the role of ACC’s supreme position, the Chancellor.

The candidates – Dr. Robert Garza, Dr. Joyce Ester and Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart – have been highlighted as top choices for the position by the selection committee formed after Rhodes announced his departure in January, expressing love for the school but a desire for more time with his family. 

The school’s chancellor – or to put it a little less ‘Star Wars’, the president/CEO – works under ACC’s board of trustees, leading the college district in essentially all major decisions. Understandably, this makes the transition to a new chancellor a pretty big priority for the school and board, with Rhodes’ impressive and record-breaking 12 year tenure coming to an end.

The task of selecting someone to fill these shoes has been put in control of the aptly named Chancellor Search Advisory Committee. A 35 person team composed primarily of community members and ACC’s board of trustees, as well as various associations made up of administration, faculty and two ACC students.

“What I’m looking for is a relational leader who thinks and acts systemically to address the challenges of ACC and builds off our successes,” said Dr. Barbara Mink, sharing her notes for the board of trustees after hosting all three days of the candidates’ Q&A forums at Round Rock and Highland. 

As Chair of the Board of Trustees, Mink is a member of the search advisory committee and has been an active part throughout this nearly six-month long search process. Far from her first chancellor-picking rodeo however, Mink joined the board in 2000, and was originally hired as a dean for the school in 1973 – ACC’s first year of existence.

The Board Chair says that right now, the school could use a chancellor focused on, “internal housekeeping.”

Mink and the rest of the board organized a whole day’s worth of open-invite Q&As at three different ACC campuses for each of the candidates. 

“It’s Austin, people want to be involved,” said Mink, describing the importance of community forums in the search process. Starting up north with a session in Round Rock, each candidate on their respective day had to then travel south for two more stops at Highland and then finally, the South Austin campus. 

Although it’s a busy schedule – and not to mention over 50 miles worth of travel – Mink says that’s probably a good thing for the future president of (currently) 11 campuses to be getting used to.

As each session began to accumulate a size-able and outspoken crowd, some perspective on the chancellor’s importance to the ACC community was given along with the memory of a time before the pandemic. 

Several members of the board and selection committee made appearances; the Sociology Department Chair, Rennison Lalgee, had even referred to the event as a, “who’s-who,” of ACC faculty and staff as he arrived with his colleagues at the recital hall in the Highland campus. 

Robert Garza

The first day of forums introduced Robert Garza to the three campus audiences. Since 2018, Garza has been serving as Palo Alto College’s seventh president. Having around 30 years of experience in higher education, he first began working for the Alamo College District, which PAC is a part of, in 1999 before moving to Dallas College as the president of their Mountain View campus in 2015. 

In his hour of speaking, guided by approved questions from the search committee before taking questions from the audience, Garza made an initial point to learn who it was he was speaking to. Asking for a show of hands, he found in attendance at the Highland Q&A was a large amount of staff, a bit less faculty and only one enrolled student (me, but several more hands went up once alumni were included).

The largely framed but seemingly kind-hearted candidate had a familiar Texas accent and adopted a salesman-like approach to his answers – including light relatable humor, personal history and even a few rhetorical questions too, like: “Who thinks it’s easy to go to college nowadays?” or, “Is anybody a parent?” 

Similar to his previous employment, Garza’s academic history is Texas-centered as well. With a master’s in public administration from UTSA and both a doctorate in educational administration and the V. Ray Cardozier Alumni Excellence Award from UT; it was the bachelor’s degree from A&M in College Station that got a small “woo!” from someone in the crowd.

By describing some of his previous leadership initiatives, he stressed his strengths of collaboration and effective communication with both students and employees as the proper tools for leading the school.

“A chancellor is only one person, I can not say this enough,” worded Garza, “it will take everybody in this room and everybody who is not in this room to work together to help our students be successful in every possible way.”

Garza places priority in reaching out for feedback to target issues directly, and says to do that he currently hosts routine meetings with associations like his school’s staff and faculty senate. He also described his frequent “Whataburger with the president” days where he shares a meal at the famous Texas fast food chain with students or an organization while sporting his Whataburger guayabera.

Garza also has experience in collaboration outside of the school as well; as an example he referred to Alamo College’s involvement with 23 school districts for dual-enrollment programs and AlamoPromise which gives free tuition to students from participating local high schools.

Also during his tenure, negotiations with a nearby Toyota manufacturing site led to securing a work-study program between the under-staffed plant and Alamo Colleges. 

“They donate equipment, they donate money and they hire our students.”  Says Garza, acknowledging the importance of outside partnerships.

Though his authority is limited to Palo Alto College’s one campus, Garza assures that the increase in size at ACC won’t be a totally new experience. The Alamo Colleges are the state’s only current multi-college system, he says, meaning the need to travel and balance multiple locations makes it a similar experience to the multi-campus system here at ACC.

Perhaps due to his awareness of the audience’s demographic, Garza’s desire to increase employee morale was largely emphasized throughout the session. He advocated for hybrid (online and in-person) work days, and mentioned the one hour a week that his current employees get for on the clock “self-care”.

“You know as well as I do that folks are doing it anyway,” he says,  “I don’t want them feeling bad about it.”

Wanting to expand appreciation for the staff as well, the candidate mentioned his current school’s history of honoring good work by planting trees and devoting plaques to outstanding individuals.

“She has worked here for 50 years!” He said, referring to a woman he spoke with earlier who was now in the audience, “What are we going to do to remember her?” 

The room filled with laughter after she quickly responded with her own idea of, “More than a plaque!”

Garza has heavy pride in his Hispanic heritage and is even Board Chair for the Mexican-American Civil Rights Institute, a national organization which he says has a museum opening in San Antonio. 

Even with this cultural pride, Garza emphasizes that, “People are who we need to be supporting, it doesn’t matter what language you speak or what you look like, we’re all human beings.” 

Before adding, “I mean, I haven’t met a robot yet.” 

Joyce Ester 

Garza’s three forums seemed like a tough act to follow; the person to do it was top candidate and fifth president of Normandale Community College (NCC), Joyce Ester. 

In front of a very similar audience to yesterday’s, but at a much quicker pace than Garza’s slightly long-winded points, Joyce Ester introduced herself as having over 30 years experience in higher education – but only after first sharing her story. 

“Serving as president – or in this case, chancellor – is what I do, not who I am,” she says, “and who I am is a child of a single mom.” Understanding the many obstacles that can come in the way of academic success, she says this part of her identity is important for students to know and connect with more easily. 

There are several differences between Ester and her fellow candidates, the obvious two being that she is both African-American and a woman; but a less clear distinction, yet a more important one for some, is that she is the only choice from outside of Texas.

Her academic history, a Ph.D. in Education from the University of California in Santa Barbara and a B.A. in Sociology from Northern Illinois University, led to several faculty and staff positions in California before holding the position of president at both Kennedy-King College in Chicago and later at NCC in Bloomington, Minnesota.

The audience seemed to like her despite the lack of Texas experience – especially after her comparison of a Minnesota native saying, “that’s interesting,” to the Texas equivalent she learned about recently, “bless your heart.”

Not Texan, but she does have experience with large school systems. NCC is the biggest college in Minnesota, and only one of the 30 state colleges and seven universities that comprise the Minnesota State system – all of which are handled by one board and a chancellor.

“It’s really important to look at what our policies and procedures are.” Says Ester, adding that avidly reviewing and renewing policies is another goal she would take on as chancellor, “For many student’s the problem is that we made policies that maybe made sense five to ten years ago that we need to take another look at.”

Similar to Garza; First, knowing the specifics of a problem to advocate for creative solutions is Ester’s strategy for addressing the needs of a community. Due to ACC’s size and diverse needs, she assures that lots of time and the beginning of her tenure would focus on learning and understanding each campus.

She adds that it is important for her to know every campus’ “Jerry,” – a hypothetical person she explains is involved with the school and knowledgeable about its niche details. “[Jerry] knows where all the bodies are buried, and who put them there.”

One example of her history with using data to target change, she highlights, is NCC’s establishment of the “campus cupboard”. 

It was started with only small sustaining snacks, but after acknowledging that around half of the college’s students reported feeling “food insecure”, the “cupboard” – which is actually around the size of a classroom – grew to include basic groceries and even hygiene items at no cost to students. 

She also mentions an initiative taken at NCC to continue providing resources for students while also keeping the Maintenance and Operations department employed during the pandemic. While they weren’t needed at the schools, the worker’s in the department switched to food delivery for food insecure students.

“That was something that came from them,” Ester admits, “but I think my responsibility as a leader then was to empower them, to help them think outside the box and be a part of that process.”

She had a tendency to speak quickly; seeming almost out-of-breath at the beginning of her speech, the audience laughed when she worded a playful apology to the ASL interpreter for her pace – feeling guilty from her history working as an interpreter herself and teaching the subject as an adjunct professor. 

With significantly more time to ask their own, the larger audience than the day before likely wasn’t too upset about the speed she got through the initial questions. 

Some of the concerns regarded handling conflict and the importance of employee wellness. The audience seemed satisfied with her answers of, “[handle] conflict before it becomes a major conflict,” and, “We can’t take care of students, if we don’t take care of ourselves.”

Ester was also asked about her experience with a performance-based funding model, she denied having any but says she understands its existence, relating it to a car dealership saying, “if you’re not selling enough cars, then you’re not working here.”

She says that establishing better “metrics” for a student’s post-performance is important when not using an enrollment-based model, with credits at a community college often leading to multiple avenues beyond just graduating.

After a long history in the field of education, Ester’s retention of energy and passion for the job was evident and encouraging. 

She says, “I love the work that I do, it’s all about access and opportunity for all of our students.”

Russel Lowery-Hart

“I’m standing before you today because I think that higher education, and the bureaucracy that defines it, is broken.” says Russel Lowery-Hart, early on in his forum at the Highland campus.

Even while wearing a multi-colored bow-tie, Lowery-Hart approached his audience with a more serious tone, in contrast to the lighter approach made by his preceding candidates. 

Acknowledging HB 8, which passed legislation in Texas and transitions ACC to receive funding based on student outcomes, Lowery-Hart puts repeated emphasis on the need for a focus on ways to “double graduation rates” so ACC can have the “financial flexibility” necessary to address its employment needs.

He presents his 25 years of experience and nine-year tenure at Amarillo College, as evidence that he’s the one for the job. During his presidency there, which began in 2014, his college’s work at raising the student success rate resulted in it co-receiving the 2023 Aspen Prize for top community colleges, along with Imperial Valley Community College in California.

He says, “[Amarillo College] won that award because we closed equity gaps intentionally and thoughtfully, increased completion from 19 to 60 percent, doubled our graduation rates and deepened learning.”

After seeing an unimpressive success rate early in his presidency, Lowery-Hart focused on finding out the story behind the numbers through the use of focus groups and what he calls, “secret shoppers” – first-time students that were hired to enroll in college and report their experience.

He discovered that, “the top things that were keeping [students] from being successful in the classroom had nothing to do with the classroom.”

Using this observation and other data collection strategies he determined the average student at Amarillo College, located in the Texas city of the same name, is a Hispanic woman with 1-2 children. In an effort to humanize this statistic, he commonly refers to this typical student as “Maria.” 

Focusing on a way to help this large but struggling demographic, Lowery-Hart says he worked to develop Amarillo College’s “theory of change,” which states, “if you can remove a life barrier in an accelerated learning environment and a culture of caring, then Maria, our typical student, will complete.” 

To reflect this theory of change; social workers, poverty training and more emergency aid was implemented to help remove life barriers. He says the school started embracing eight-week classes as well as requiring integrated tutoring to improve both accelerated learning and its availability.

“Maria,” is likely similar to ACC’s demographic in the predominantly-hispanic population of Austin, but Lowery-Hart says that developing values and communicating a “theory of change” that is specific to the needs of ACC is crucial.

“I’m not going to be asking you to be a social service agency, I’ll just ask that you understand your students’ lived experience,” he says.

Lowery-Hart had done some research on ACC as well; looking at the school’s employee climate survey, he determined the need for an inward-focusing leader. 

The 2022 climate survey was conducted to report employee morale and reported negative feelings from faculty and staff regarding the college culture and listed stress as their second largest issue (the pandemic was number one.)

Marilyn, who teaches government at the Highland campus, said that she is “over the moon” to hear about a candidate wanting an internal focus; adding that ACC has a tendency to always be “chasing the next big thing.”

Like ACC, Amarillo College is a multi-campus system but with only six campuses in a 400 mile radius. Even with his experience in handling different locations, Lowery-Hart maintains honesty in his ability to efficiently communicate and become quickly acquainted with each of ACC’s campuses. 

“I think the answer that people want to hear… is that I’m just going to go to every office and sit down to have coffee with you,” he says, responding to a question about handling the school’s size, “but the scale is not going to allow that to happen in the first two years.”

Saying a 3-4 year process is more likely, Lowery-Hart’s strategy for upscaling the school’s impact involves building systems that train middle management to act on their own while using the data they have access to. 

He says it’s important to, “address the unique nature of each campus, but also unify the student experience.”

The audience was receptive to his personal history, providing a heartfelt “aww” when he explained that the “Lowery” and hyphen in his last name comes from his 27 year marriage.

This reaction was then followed by audible surprise from the audience, after learning his adopted son has been Mufasa in the touring production of the Lion King for the past six years. Chris, his adopted son, is a “six foot three, black, gay man,” that Lowery-Hart says changed his life.

“This isn’t the white savior moment, he saved us.”

In his forum at Highland, Lowery-Hart did neglect to mention his academic history: a Ph.D. from Ohio University, an M.A. from Texas Tech University and a B.S. from West Texas State University.

What Next – 

The entirety of the search process is divided into 11 steps, beginning with a request for applications and a long list of candidates from the executive search firm, Gold Hill Associates. 

Step eight – where the candidates participate in several community forums – is complete, and ACC now approaches step nine, which involves members of ACC’s board of trustees reaching out to the current schools of the three finalists. 

The board will use the feedback from these campus visits and the response papers collected from the forum’s audiences to make their final decision.

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 [email protected]

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.” 

Prizes, Pizza, and Kombucha Pop: A Look at the Eastview Campus Fall Fest

Story and photos by Shaina Kambo, Reporter

Eastview Campus hosted the Fall Fest, a student appreciation event providing free food, admission, and activities open to all ACC students.

The seventeen-member Enrollment Management Team at Eastview Campus organized the October 15 event.  Recruiting Advising Specialist Kendra Singletary said the aim of putting on such an event was to allow students to have a moment to relax between classes.

“It’s a way for students to get to know their enrollment management team and get together [with] some of their fellow classmates in a fun environment,” Singletary said.

The arrival of midday brought along several curious and hungry students who ate pizza and candy coated popcorn while trying out the different activities including shooting basketballs into inflatable hoops , competing in a game of indoor soccer, and trying to score against their opponents in the  Fake- It-‘til- You-Make-It Challenge: a game involving opposite facing players  moving against the pull of an elastic cord which joins them together in an attempt to dunk a basketball their corresponding hoop.

The management team joined in on the amusement. Event coordinator and Recruiting Advising Specialist Vincent Bustillos said he had no qualms with defeating his coworkers at the Fake-It Challenge on more than one occasion.

He also said that various organizations such as H-E-B, ACC Student Life, and the ACC Bookstore, donated food and giveaway items for the Fall Fest. LIVE Soda Kombucha “generously donated over eighty bottles” of the organic beverage for the event, Bustillos said. “[I] definitely want to give them recognition.” He hopes to help organize future campus events for students to enjoy.

As the raffle numbers were announced, several students glanced at their blue tickets in anticipation to win something. The first prize of the afternoon, a twenty dollar gift card to H-E-B, was awarded to freshman Mikhayla Johnson, the first of several raffle winners.

Megan Reyes, who’s in her fourth semester at ACC, walked away with a LIVE Soda case containing coupons for free drinks, a hat, t-shirt, and a bandana. Fifteen minutes later, Amy Deng, a dental hygiene major, won an ACC backpack including a school-themed banner, t-shirt, sunglasses, and water bottle.

Student Derrick Ellis said that he enjoyed the event and would like to see “more events like this”. Ellis spent much of his time at the event competing against first-year Meagan Harper in a game of life-size Connect Four.

 

 

 

EV1
FACE-OFF – Students competing against each other in the Fake- It-‘Til-You-Make-It Challenge.

 

EV2
PIZZA-APPRECIATION – Students enjoying some pizza.

 

EV3
IN-BETWEEN – Students taking a break between classes during the Fall Fest.

 

EV4
ALL SMILES – Recruiting advising specialist Kendra Singletary enjoying the festivities.

Photo Story: Collings Guitars

Photo story by, Kelly West News Photography One Class, Fall 15′

Collings Guitars, which started as a one-man shop in the mid-1970s, has grown to include more than 70 full-time employees and an expanding facility on the western edge of Travis County. Bill Collings dropped out of college as a pre-med major and started repairing and building guitars, and eventually hired his first employee in 1989, who still works for the company.

The Collings shop turns out high-quality acoustic and electric guitars, as well as mandolins and ukuleles, and most steps of the production process are performed painstakingly by hand. The cost of the guitars can range anywhere from $3,500 to $6,000 or more, depending on how custom the design is.

Collings instruments are played by a variety of musicians, including Lyle Lovett, Lloyd Maines, and Patti Smith.

[Students from the News Photography 1316 class spent a morning documenting the work and craftsmanship at Collings Guitars, and complied a photo story from the assignment.]

Jerome Little, an employee of Collings Guitars, a local guitar manufacturer since the 1970’s, sands a piece of an electric guitar inside the Collings facility in Austin, Texas. October 9, 2015. photo by Anneke Paterson
Hard at work – An employee Sands a piece of an electric guitar inside the Collings facility. Photo by Anneke Paterson.

Collings Guitars is a stringed instrument manufacturer established in 1973 in Austin, Texas. Reid Albach smooths out the sides of an acoustic guitar on Friday, October 9th. photo by Mario Cantu
Smoothing out the edges – Reid Albach smooths out the sides of an acoustic guitar. Photo by Mario Cantu.

Collings guitars, a handmade guitar and mandolin company located on highway 290 W in Austin, TX has been locally owned and operated for over 20 years. A satin finish A-Model MT mandolin made by Collings Guitars receives its final adjustments before completion Friday October 9th, 2015. photo by Nicholas Skelton-Tangredi
Collings guitars – A satin finish A-Model MT mandolin made receives its final adjustments before completion. Photo by Nicholas Skelton-Tangredi.

Jerome Little, an employee of Collings Guitars, uses a chisel tool to finish a piece of an electric guitar inside the Collings facility in Austin, Texas on October 9, 2015. photo by Anneke Paterson
It’s all in the details – Jerome Little, an employee of Collings Guitars, uses a chisel tool to finish a piece of an electric guitar inside the facility. Photo by Anneke Paterson.

Scott Butts assembles a bridge to a Mandolin at Collings Guitars in Austin, Texas on Friday Oct. 09, 2015. photo by Mario Cantu
Putting it all together – Scott Butts assembles a bridge to a Mandolin at Collings. Photo by Mario Cantu.

Andrew Murray makes small cuts into a guitar, a process called kerfing which requires intricate and skilled work. photo by Mario Cantu
It takes skills – Andrew Murray makes small cuts into a guitar, a process called kerfing which requires intricate and skilled work. photo by Mario Cantu

Ed Rodriguez repairs an old guitar at Collings Guitars, located in Austin, Texas on Friday, October 9th, 2015 . The C10 series acoustic was sent back to Collings for a scratch made at the headstock. photo by Chloe Bennett
Making repairs – Ed Rodriguez repairs an old guitar. The C10 series acoustic was sent back to Collings for a scratch made at the headstock. Photo by Chloe Bennett

 

For a look at how Collings employees take a break to have fun during the day, enjoy this short video at http://bcove.me/z93mtt9m.

On the Record: Gigi Edwards Bryant

Story by Shaina Kambo, reporter

Photo Courtesy of Deborah Cannon, Austin American-Statesman

ACC District Trustee and businesswoman Gigi Edwards Bryant, who grew up in the Texas foster care system, began her post-secondary education at ACC in 1977. Bryant recently discussed her journey to success with Accent.

ACCENT: What was your childhood like?

BRYANT: My childhood before I was six was very good, but when I was six, I entered the foster care system. There was abuse and mistreatment. It was an old system, and the checks and balances that they have today were not there for children. I aged out at age eighteen with my daughter. My experiences taught me to be more caring about people, that it’s the little things that make a difference, and that one individual can change the world.

ACCENT: Who encouraged you on your journey to achievement?

BRYANT: My Big Mama (great-grandmother) told me that I could do anything and that God would protect me.

ACCENT: Has your definition of success changed throughout your life?

BRYANT: Success has to be defined by the individual, and everyone has to realize their own potential. Some days in my life, success was just getting out of bed. Some days, success was helping somebody to do the things that they wanted to do. Some days, success was knowing that I had done a good job and that I could take a nap.

ACCENT: What was it like being a student at ACC in 1977?

BRYANT: It was fabulous: small classrooms, professors and individuals who looked for you when you weren’t there. When I was going to ACC there were so many [moments when] I thought I was going to drop out. I just didn’t think that I could do it all: take care of my kids, pay my bills, go to work. It started out tough, but I stuck to it until it improved; I didn’t want to opt out.

ACCENT: How did your ACC education help you to achieve your goals?

BRYANT: It gave me an opportunity to realize that I could achieve an education at a pace that was successful to me.

ACCENT: What improvements at ACC would help students reach their full potential?

BRYANT: I want to see our graduation rate go up. I want to see our involvement in high schools be more concerted. I want us to put ACC in the minds of those students and [help them to realize] that we are a very good option. On the other side, I want to hear our students talk about the experiences they’ve had at ACC — the positives and the negatives — and then come back and help us do a better job.

ACCENT: What are some of the goals that you have for the future?

BRYANT: I want to leave a legacy behind about education and I want it to be empowering for the next generation. I want to make sure that I do something every day that leads the next generation to know that they can do it.

ACCENT: Is there any advice that you can give regarding perseverance?

BRYANT: Perseverance is a step-by-step journey. [Within] anybody that you encounter, there is a story. I want to encourage people to tell their own story. Tell [it] the way it happened to you. If it’s validation that you need, you may not get it, but keep telling your story because that’s where your strength is going to come from.

 

Campus Viewpoint: How do you feel about finding water on Mars?

Story by Noor Alahmadi, reporter

Widyan Younes
Widyan Younes • It’s important because they might discover there’s life there, or something lives there. I would want to live there.

Victor Morrow
Victor Morrow • I’m not surprised. I thought, there’s something we didn’t know that we just found out, so there must be more that we don’t know that we will find out. If you find water, there’s a good chance that we’ll find life.

Eri Watanabe
Eri Watanabe • That’s totally astonishing! There’s a possibility we can find life there. It’s new. We haven’t found water there before. We might find other things other than water. I wouldn’t want to live there, but I would go sightseeing. In Texas, the water supply is a problem. We could use that water.

Campus Viewpoint: Is Voting Important to You?

Story by Anthony DeVera, reporter

Daniel Woo
Daniel Woo • I didn’t vote. I’m just not informed enough about the candidates. I’m too inexperienced, too naive right now to really vote. I might vote someday. Maybe when I have actually read up on the candidates and what I affiliate myself with.

Jasmine Scott
Jasmine Scott • I didn’t vote. I wanted to, but I have a lot on my plate and I didn’t have the time to get around to it. Voting just in general is important. I mean, if you want to be heard, if you want things to change, you have to vote. If you don’t, you don’t have a say so, you can’t complain about what’s going on in the world.

Maleha Baset
Maleha Baset • I voted. My brother reminded me since he’s more informed and can inform me of what I need to know. I also have a pretty good government teacher who gets my class really well informed on how local voting affects us more. It’s important to vote because it affects you and your lifestyle.

At the Movies: A Review of Recent Box Office Films

Reviews by Avery Callaway and Gaius Straka,

Bridge of Spies

Steven Spielberg’s latest film, “Bridge of Spies,” is pleasant, but not very memorable. There are no standout moments that can really push it over the edge from being good to great. Even with the Coen brothers writing and Tom Hanks’ star power elevating the film, it never tries to go any farther than it has to with it’s story and characters. The story focuses on James Donovan (Hanks), an insurance lawyer who has been given the difficult task of representing a captured Soviet spy in 1950s America. His ethics as an attorney are tested when his own country seems to turn against him. There are no glaring issues to be seen within “Bridge of Spies.” It achieves everything it wants to accomplish with gusto. Tom Hanks is Tom Hanks, he never gives a performance that isn’t superb. The plot can switch seamlessly from tense to lighthearted on a dime and not be jarring in the slightest. Unfortunately, it never tries to go farther than it has to, and that holds “Bridge of Spies” back.

Accent Rating B+ Avery Callaway

Goosebumps

“Goosebumps” gains some points immediately for being one of the more inspired young adult novel adaptations to come out recently. Instead of just adapting one of the novels, “Goosebumps” tells an original story by throwing many of the series’ monsters into the same setting. That, and some sharp performances early on earn the film some merit. However, “Goosebumps” quickly loses it due to a lack of consequences and a bad script.

The plot is a mess. There are so many unnecessary characters and subplots that nothing is ever accomplished scene-by-scene. Every time the audience might feel some progress has been made, the film finds a way to waste time, usually with some awful computer generated effect. Even at a run time of just over 100 minutes, it still seems like it’s an half hour too long.

It’s a shame, because sometimes a glimmer of creativity can be seen in this mess of a film. However, these moments are not frequent. The greatest sin “Goosebumps” commits is that it decided to be a feature-length film.

Accent Rating D Avery Callaway

Sicario

“Sicario” is a great example of mechanical film-making at it’s finest. Every scene and music beat work toward creating a feeling of dread and tension that immediately engrosses the audience in the events that play out.

The cinematographer, Roger Deakens, deserves recognition for his work because every frame is purposeful and precise.

The story is focused on Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an idealistic FBI officer who is recruited onto a task force, headed by Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) and the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), designed to bring a major cartel located in Juarez to justice. However, the longer Kate works with her new team, the more her ideals conflict with the shady actions of her higher ups.

If there were a complaint about “Sicario,” it would be that some of the dialogue in the film was stilted at times. Some of the dialogue was too light-hearted for events taking place. However, this should not keep you from seeing the film.

Accent Rating: A- Avery Callaway

The Martian

“The Martian,” is an exciting action/adventure film about a man surviving in a vast unforgiving world millions of miles from home.

Mark Watney, brilliantly acted by Matt Damon, is an astronaut stationed on Mars and presumed dead after an intense storm strikes his base during a rushed departure off the planet.

Watney shows how much of an elite specialist he is by surviving for years on the desolate Red Planet with few resources. He even manages to make his own garden.

The movie brings out the good of humanity in many ways including the portrayal of how far the astronauts are willing to go to bring one of their own back home.

Despite the dire situation, Matt Damon’s character doesn’t fall into a gloomy depressed frame of mind. Rather, he turns to making fun of himself through his failures while remaining confident and driven to survive, and eventually, leave Mars.

Director Ridley Scott has even more to offer in “The Martian” than he did in “Exodus.” The cinematography and special effects are stunning, creating gripping scenes and a feeling of realism.

Accent Rating: A- Gaius Straka

A Surreal Steve-O

Story by Christian Santiago, reporter

In lieu of recording his Showtime comedy special at the Paramount Theater on November 21, Steve-O of Jackass fame took some time to speak with Accent to answer a few questions.

Accent: What inspires you? What’s the inspiration for the things that you do?

Steve-O: “My main inspiration is the fact that I am an attention whore. I’m also a sensitive guy, it’s important to me to be impressive.”

A: As a stand up comic, are there any other comedians that you look up to?

S: “Dane Cook was a big deal for me. He put the wind in my sails early on. Beyond that I generally don’t model myself after anybody. My experience in life as a drug addict, alcoholic, sex addict, and as a maniac is where I draw my material from.”

A: Your fans have grown to love you by watching you go through some sort of pain or get sick by your own stunts. What is it like to have so many fans that love to watch you go through that?

S: “I don’t feel like my fans are sadistic, I just feel like there is an inherent compulsion for people to stare at accidents and be comforted by the misfortune of others. I think Jackass was about manufacturing accidents for this reason.

A: What motivated you to work with and promote the efforts of the David Lynch Foundation including starting a fundraiser?

S: “David Lynch teaches transcendental meditation. The program that I am raising money for is to bring this [program] to inner city youth. I have been practicing transcendental meditation for two and a half years and it’s really helped.”

A: How did you come up with the seaworld protest?

S: “The whole thing was really random. My buddies and I were looking for cool stunts to do with drones, but I thought it would be a really cool shot to bring a killer whale, and it would be a great publicity stunt for bringing attention to Sea world”

A: You’ve gone from home movies, to TV series, to feature films. You’ve published a book, and you’ve garnered a following on your Youtube channel. What’s your favorite medium to work in? And If you had a choice, how would you like to continue entertaining your fans in the future?

S: “I love it all, and again, thats because I’m an attention whore through and through. Right now I am looking to make my own movie and I have a great idea for it. That and my stand up is another thing I am working on. I can’t tell you enough how excited I am to come to Austin and perform. I feel like this is my opportunity to really break through. I love Austin, and this is going to be the best show [The Paramount] has ever had.”

Steve-O is extending a special invitation to ACC students. Purchase your tickets online at tickets.austintheatre.org, use promo code “jailed” to get a discount on your purchase. 

Riverbat Cafe: You Get Served

Story by Ryan Fontenette-Mitchell, reporter

A quick bite to eat and then off to classes is how many ACC students operate on a daily basis. The Eastview Campus has an option for hungry students —The Riverbat Cafe, located in the campus courtyard.

The cafe offers two different menus, the regular menu which changes each week and the chef ’s special that changes every day. Both menus offer tasty food combinations that appeal to a variety of palates. If you are uncertain what to order, a friendly server will give you their opinion. Student’s can try the chef ’s special menu featuring items such as Albondigas En Salsa Chipotle, an appetizer of meatballs drenched in chipotle sauce. Entrées like the Chile-Seared Salmon with a sweet pear based sauce. To finish everything off — a delicious, spicy, chocolate chile cake with raspberry sauce. The food can come out within 10 minutes with the appeal of a fine dining restaurant. The flavors are so rich and unique that patrons will go back again and again.

During the day the cafe is open from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for dine-in customers and until 1:00 p.m. for to-go orders. The wait for both seating and service is about 10 minutes, while the wait time for togo orders is about 15 to 20 minutes. Many customers get their orders to go due to a busy lunch rush.

The Riverbat Cafe is a working classroom, that incorporates International Cuisine and a Dining Room Service class that meets Thursdays and Wednesdays. The cooks and wait staff are students of ACC’s Culinary Arts Department. While the department is located on the Eastview Campus, a state of the art culinary classroom is scheduled to be built at the Highland campus.

Go to the Riverbat Cafe for lunch as the cafe offers some of the best service and food that Austin has to offer.