ACC Celebrates Community College Month: Meet Kristen

April is Community College Month! In honor of the month and our students, Austin Community College District (ACC) shines the spotlight on Riverbats—the students who make our community college great.

Community College Month is a time dedicated to celebrating the significant contributions of community colleges to the educational landscape led by the Association of Community College Trustees.

Portrait of ACC Student Kristen

Meet Kristen Hummel, an engineering student at ACC. She expects to graduate in the spring of 2025 and wants to pursue a career in chemical engineering focusing on consulting.

Learn more about her ACC journey.

What are your future career goals, and what made you interested in pursuing them?

I have two parallel goals: what I can do as my career and what I can do to give back and work for a cause regardless of the income it generates. My personal health journey inspires both paths. I have thyroid disease. Before my diagnosis in the fall of 2020, I became frighteningly ill, with no idea what was wrong with me. I was so weak I couldn’t hold my arms up to wash my own hair, which was falling out in clumps. My skin was cracked and bleeding, with dramatic dark brown discolored splotches, and I was breaking out in full-body hives every three days. When doctors finally identified the problem, my health started to return, thanks to pharmaceuticals, but I was left with low self-esteem due to my damaged appearance. Knowing nothing about skincare, I ordered every beauty box subscription to try as many things as possible. Soon, I was overwhelmed with twenty to thirty products arriving monthly, and because of the type of person I am, I began organizing them into a spreadsheet to keep track. After about six months, my appearance was dramatically different, and I became obsessed with the ingredients in these products that literally changed my life. I started researching the companies, countries where the ingredients were sourced, and more. My little spreadsheet grew into a small database. Around this time, I also attended one of the C.R.E.a.Te. Chemical research seminars ACC hosted and learned about the cancer drug research happening at UT. The ACC Honors Organic Chemistry II Lab actually does real research contributing to this work. I learned in order for a drug to go to clinical trials at all, it must first present to the FDA proof of a “Good Manufacturing Process” that will meet supply demands if the drug is approved. Researchers need third-party companies to consult on this aspect of drug development. I realized I could have a fulfilling career helping to bring life-saving drugs to clinical trials and help people like me who depend on daily medication for quality of life. This year, when I founded the Student Life organization The Scholarship Society at ACC, I realized all other students need the same opportunities I do: volunteer hours with nonprofits, awards and honors, scholarships, letters of recommendation, and early undergraduate research that will all help us stand out on applications. Thanks to this inspiration of thinking about how I can help myself and other students at ACC, Student Researchers in the Chemical Industries is now a registered nonprofit corporation in Texas. We are growing my initial passion project database to examine the cosmetics and skincare industries, from individual ingredients to robust corporate profiles, with research opportunities for students in a number of majors outside of STEM! This is all to say that due to my health and skincare journey, I realized I can work hard toward a future paid career in pharmaceuticals while I immediately begin to give back to my community through a nonprofit dedicated to examining ways to make personal hygiene, cosmetic, and skincare products safer in the US. I can have a high-powered career and bring students together for opportunities they need in exchange for contributing to a cause I’m passionate about.

What has your experience at ACC been like? 

My experience at ACC was rocky at first. I’m a returning student in my mid-thirties, and I didn’t find a place for myself for the first couple of years, I took classes part-time. It wasn’t until last semester, when I really understood all the resources and opportunities ACC provides for students that I finally felt at home here and began to thrive. Even though I had a clear career goal, I floundered academically with a school direction once I took advantage of all the support here. I saw a clinical counselor and an academic coach, found a wealth of accommodations for multiple disabilities, used the learning lab, spent time in the libraries on my campuses, and got involved with Student Life for the first time. Once this world opened up, I realized I was in the right place at this time in my life, and even someone my age with my spotty school history can succeed and be a force for good within our school and the greater community.

Who are some people who inspire you?

I am perpetually grateful to have a personal mentor, a former UT engineering professor who founded her lab to develop dyes for more accurate cancer diagnosis. When I struggle to believe in myself, Lisa Brannon Peppas is right there with a lifetime of real experience in my field, telling me I can do it. At school, Raghad Alhussein, a co-founder of the Muslim Student Association, deeply inspires me with her story of escaping the war in Syria to reach an empowered life in the United States. She reminds me not to be blinded by my privilege and that there is still work to do for the girls and young women who will come after us, and it is our responsibility to step up and provide new resources so the work of the women who came before us will grow and be even more accessible in the future.

How do you empower yourself to pursue your goals with confidence?

I allow myself to feel the full spectrum of human emotion and refuse to give in to the hypermasculine socialization that success requires stoicism. When I am excited about what I am doing, I am as excited as a little kid! When I am angry, I sit with that anger and don’t deny it. When I am sad and insecure, I unapologetically cry. When I embrace all complex aspects of myself as valid and true, that mindset then extends to goals and ambitions. I can be insecure and still accomplish things because both are valid experiences. I can be frighteningly ill and still find a nonprofit. Women don’t have to wait to be “better” or “fixed” in the future to be worthy of current achievement. We can be celebrated in our imperfections and what we have to offer in the here and now.

What is an accomplishment you are proud of?

I am proud of what I have been able to achieve at ACC. I never thought I would find a community in school, let alone grow into a position where I am privileged enough to lead one. I am proud to know and understand the fantastic Scholarship Society officers who trust my guidance and challenge me to develop as a stronger leader, woman, and student. I am proud to be the tender person people confide in and the aggressive trailblazer creating paths for connection and student achievement in Student Life and the nonprofit I founded. 

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