ACC students, faculty, and staff have persevered through another year of teaching, learning, and working under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout 2021, the college continued to balance the needs of its students and the health and safety of the Riverbat community. We look back at the highlights and significant events that happened collegewide in 2021.

2021 College Initiatives

ACC’s inaugural Equity Council, co-chaired by ACC’s Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer, Larry Davis, and Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Campus Center Director, Dr. Khayree Williams, held its first meeting in January. The council, made up of 24 districtwide representatives, is charged with helping the college reach its equity goals and serves as an advisory group to the chancellor and the chancellor’s cabinet.

To further ACC’s 3 Cs (Collaboration, Connection, and Caring) work, the college introduced the Cross-College Communications Team at the beginning of the year. The team meets regularly to guide collegewide communications improvements and align communications strategies. Its first task was to redesign the Faculty and Staff landing page on the college’s website to serve as the primary information hub for employees. The Faculty and Staff Info Hub website was launched in April and replaced the old Faculty and Staff landing page on December 20. The college also announced the formation of a 3 Cs Learning Community tasked with creating materials to help spread the 3 Cs throughout ACC.

The college also held the first phase of its decennial Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) process — the topic selection phase. The QEP Topic Selection Committee asked ACC employees, students, and the community to share ideas to improve student success and held a campus conversation in April to answer questions about the process. The winning topic, Digital Fluency for Today’s Job, was announced on October 1. The second phase of the QEP process — the development phase — started in October and runs through August 2022.

ACC’s new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, Workday, went live on October 16. Workday replaced ACC’s outdated human resources, payroll, and financial management systems, a decision in alignment with the Chancellor’s Priority to modernize ACC’s Technology Resources to enhance the student experience and ensure employees have adequate resources to do their jobs effectively.

In June, ACC announced that it will be creating an innovative and interactive career exploration center called the Make It Center to inspire middle and high school students and adult learners to consider college on the path to a future career. The new 10,000-square-foot center will be located inside ACC’s Highland Campus and provide visitors hands-on opportunities to explore ACC’s programs and connect their interests to community workforce needs. Dr. Janelle Green was named the Center’s inaugural director.

ACC Awards and Recognitions

In January, the college was recognized for its work to create the new Advanced Manufacturing High School Academy and IMPACT Lab by the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association (ARMA). The organization announced that ACC and Chancellor Dr. Rhodes had been awarded with the 2020 ARMA Friend of Manufacturing award

ACC was also recognized as a Top Hispanic-Serving Online College in Texas by Texas Online Colleges that same month. 

In February, ACC learned it was 1 of 10 colleges selected for the Racial Equity Leadership Academy developed by Achieving the Dream and the University of Southern California Race and Equity Center. The innovative academy will further ACC’s equity-minded work to promote success for all students.

The college also learned in February that it is 1 of 36 schools nationwide selected to join the Equity Transfer Initiative, a national campaign developed by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), American Association of State Colleges & Universities (AASCU), and Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU). The program will help develop pathways to increase transfer rates for African-American, Hispanic, adult & first-generation learners. 

ACC’s Adult Education (AE) division received several statewide awards in February that recognize the division’s performance, executive director, and students. The Texas Workforce Commission honored the division with the Best in Class award. The Texas Association for Literacy and Adult Education (TALAE) recognized ACC AE Executive Director Katherine Dowdy with its Administrator of the Year award and three ACC AE students with Student Achievement Awards.

ACC’s Nursing Program continues to be recognized as one of the best in Texas. Nursing Schools Almanac’s 2021 report ranked ACC’s associate degree in nursing (ADN) program 5th overall statewide, outranking every other Central Texas institution. 

ACC received several more recognitions in November, including being named among America’s Best Online Schools by Newsweek. ACC was ranked the No. 1 community college in Texas and among the top three community colleges nationwide.

The college was also recognized in five state and national rankings by Nationally, the college was ranked the Best Associate Engineering Degree Program for the second year in a row and was listed among the Best Online Associate in Communications (ranked 13th) and Best Online Real Estate (ranked 21st) programs. ACC was also awarded the third Best Community College in Texas and the 12th Best Online College in Texas.

ACC Facilities

ACC students walk through the Paseo at the Highland Campus on their way to class on Monday, August 23, the first day of the fall 2021 semester.

January marked the soft opening of ACC Highland Phase 2. The first programs to begin teaching at the state-of-the-art campus include Architectural and Engineering Computer Aided Design, Culinary Arts, Dance, Drama, Geographic Information Systems, Music, Music Business Performance Technology, Radio/Television/Film, and Continuing Education. In-person classes were limited in size and others were available as hybrid. 

Winter Storm Uri brought freezing temperatures, precipitation, widespread water and power outages, and icy roads to Central Texas. The college was closed from February 15 – 24 for the safety and well-being of employees and students. The storm caused more than $2.3 million in damages to ACC facilities. A small number of Health Science classes had to be moved for the remainder of the semester; there were temporary cooling towers operating at Northridge, Eastview, Riverside, and Cypress Creek campuses; and Highland Campus Building 3000 faced substantial repairs. 

Army Futures Command (AFC) Software Factory moved into ACC’s Rio Grande Campus in March and a ribbon-cutting celebration was held in April. The Software Factory will train soldiers in data, data science, and coding so that the Army no longer has to rely on contractors and field service reps and will partner with both ACC and leading technology companies to help do so. The rest of the building remained unoccupied as contractors completed the finishing touches until a small number of classes started being held on campus in the fall 2021 semester. 

ACC opened Highland Campus Phase 2 to the community for the first time July 8 and 10 for its Manufacturing Careers Expo. The college also held a Creative Careers Expo in November to show off ACC’s newest multimedia facilities, studios, and design labs at Highland. The event partially coincided with ACC’s participation in the West Austin Studio Tour.

In December, ACC Trustees approved an $85 million maintenance bond that includes repair and improvement projects districtwide and enhancements to Northridge and Eastview campuses. 

The college held a Campus Conversation on December 10 to provide employees with updates on all ACC facilities.

Also in December, ACC’s Rio Grande Campus renovation project was recognized with a Preservation Austin award, which recognizes ambitious and innovative approaches to preserving the city’s historic places.

Academics at ACC

ACC will soon offer new degrees. ACC Trustees approved a third bachelor’s degree, a Bachelor of Applied Technology in Manufacturing Engineering Technology, and a new Associate of Applied Science degree in Conservation Science and Wildlife Management in November. 

To help meet Central Texas’ manufacturing needs, ACC and Tesla announced the Tesla START Manufacturing at ACC program in July. Students selected for the 14-week intensive training program will be hired by Tesla, enrolled in the program, and paid during their training. ACC and Tesla held a ribbon-cutting ceremony in November for current students and invited guests at ACC Riverside Campus. Attendees toured the new Tesla START Manufacturing Program facilities and saw demonstrations of the newly installed robots. 

In September, ACC announced a partnership with Toyota Motor North America (TMNA). The college will be the only Technician Training & Education Network (T-TEN) program in Central Texas and will provide a pipeline for students to train and apply for careers with Toyota and Lexus upon completion.

ACC’s Veterinary Technician program received full accreditation in spring by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Full AVMA accreditation, effective February 11, 2021, means that ACC’s Veterinary Tech program meets or exceeds the standards of accreditation. 

Due to the continued success of ACC’s Fast Track program, the 50% tuition discount program was extended in the summer for another year, through spring 2022.

In April, the college launched a new onboarding process that provides all new students a single point of entry to request information and apply — a step toward the college’s ‘one front door’ philosophy. The college continues to enhance the process

Throughout the year, ACC expanded partnerships with Texas A&M-Central Texas’ College of Business Administration, University of Texas – Austin’s College of Education, and many more.

Leadership Changes

The ACC Board of Trustees welcomed in new trustee Dana Walker at its first regular meeting of 2021. The meeting was also the Board’s first full meeting with newly elected board officers: Dr. Nan McRaven as Board chair, Dr. Nora de Hoyos Comstock as vice chair, and Trustee Nicole Eversmann as secretary.

During the summer, ACC Provost/Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic & Student Affairs Dr. Charles Cook announced he was retiring after seven years at the college. His last day was in August and a retirement celebration was held in December outside at the Highland Campus paseo. ACC faculty and staff also shared their memories of Dr. Cook online.

As part of the search process for his replacement, the college hosted listening sessions to get employee input on what they would like to see in a new provost. Following a nationwide search, Dr. Monique Umphrey was selected as ACC’s next provost and started the role in December. 

Dr. Nina Almasy was named ACC’s new Health Sciences dean in April. She replaces Pat Recek, who retired after 24 years with the college in March. Almasy has been with ACC for 18 years and most recently served as the department chair for Professional Nursing where she oversaw the Associate Degree and RN-to-BSN programs across three campuses.

In May, ACC welcomed Amy Bawcom as its new executive director of the ACC Foundation after a nationwide search. Bawcom is responsible for directing and administering the overall planning and activities of the ACC Foundation, including donor development, direct fundraising, capacity building, Board development, oversight of the ACC Foundation Board, and a $13 million endowment.

Also in May, the college welcomed new Student Life Director Troy Jefferson. Jefferson is an ACC alum and recently served as the director of Student Life at Wharton County Junior College. 

Dr. Samuel Echevarria-Cruz was named ACC’s associate dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives in Instruction in September. As associate dean, he will be responsible for supporting the Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer, Associate Vice Chancellor of Academic Programs, and Associate Vice Chancellor of Workforce Education in providing leadership in instructional-area equity initiatives, planning, and training to continually build ACC’s position as a leading college in increasing success and equity for all students, faculty, and instructional programs.

Dr. Eric Nathan was hired in the fall as the Teaching & Learning Excellence Division’s (TLED) new dean of Faculty Development and Evaluation. In this role, Nathan will oversee faculty development programs and faculty evaluation processes at ACC.

Leadership at the highest level remains steady, with ACC Trustees voting to extend ACC Chancellor Dr. Richard Rhodes’ contract until August 2024.