By PERLA ARELLANO
One of the biggest surprises Judy Carter, honors program coordinator, had while working at Amarillo College was during her first year when she realized a difference between high school and college: student attendance was not mandatory.
Carter had worked at Amarillo High School for 21 years as a teacher in speech, theater and English. In 1992, she was hired as a speech instructor by AC President Dr. Paul Matney, the then-chairman of the Language, Communication and Fine Arts Division.
She said she feared her time at AC would come to an abrupt end when two students stopped showing up midterm.
“I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, they’re going to fire me’,” she said. “I was just scared to death because I lost two, and my whole 20-year career before, I had not lost any. I was just in a panic because I didn’t understand the nature of college and students having their own agency of deciding if they will or will not complete courses.”
Instead of being fired, her career continued, allowing her to participate in the Creative Mind Lecture Series and the National Endowment for the Humanities, a faculty learning experience put together by Carol Nicklaus, Matney said. Faculty wanted to listen to Carter’s ideas and thoughts, he said.
“I remember thinking to myself and sharing with a colleague, ‘If we have a chance to hire Judy Carter, we’d better take advantage of it, because Judy’s reputation preceded her’,” Matney said. “She’s not only a great teacher, she is a very inquisitive student of the world, of everything around her.”
Carter said Matney is among her mentors at AC and would leave her encouraging notes throughout her first year at the college. Writing and giving notes is something he enjoys doing on occasion, Matney said.
“It’s a note of encouragement and thanks, and it’s very honoring,” he said. “I wanted her to know how much I appreciated her passion and her good teaching. I think a note can sometimes do that.”
Throughout her time at AC, Carter has been involved in various aspects of the college. She was a co-sponsor of Phi Theta Kappa with Dwight Huber during the time the honor society was linked to the honors program. PTK was recognized as a five-star society and went on to win an international award, she said. As an adviser for PTK, she was awarded the Adviser of the Year in Texas award in 2001.
After Huber left and Nicklaus took over PTK, the club was split into two groups because of growing student participation, Carter said. Nicklaus took over PTK, and Carter became coordinator of the honors program.
Nicklaus also had an impact to Carter’s life, she said, as the one who introduced her to international travel. Her first trip abroad was in 2002 to Great Britain with West Texas A&M University and AC faculty.
“That travel bug bit,” Carter said.
In 2006, Carter and Nicklaus took about 15 honor students on the first AC student trip abroad. The destination was a famliar one: Great Britain.
It evolved into the present-day Presidential Scholars trips now linked to the annual AC Common Reader.
Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, vice president for academic affairs, met Carter through a state organization in 1998 when he was a communication faculty member at WT.
Lowery-Hart said he came to AC in July 2010 and began working with Carter on how they could build on the Honors Programs to create the Presidential Scholars program.
“Because Judy had already taken students abroad (and) understood its power and purpose, we became a really strong team immediately,” Lowery-Hart said.
So far, scholars have traveled to New York City, Great Britain, Washington, D.C., and China. This year, Carter brought global travel to the rest of the student body and accompanied three instructors and a group of students to Germany and the Czech Republic during spring break. She’ll travel to Italy next year with another group.
Emily Reitz, an education major, decided to attend AC after she was unable to go to her first-choice college. Judy Jackman, a general adviser, invited her to the 2013 Honors Banquet, where Reitz met Carter. She said Carter gave her an opportunity to submit her Presidential Scholars application, but only if she submitted it the next day since the deadline had passed.
Reitz, now a Presidential Scholar, will travel to Cambodia this summer. While Carter is known to put students to work before traveling internationally, Reitz said there is a “bigger scope” to the tasks Carter gives them, whether it’s travel, research or fundraisers. Reitz was assigned research on the Khmer Rouge, the group that orchestrated the Cambodian genocide in the late 1970s.
“I have certainly valued the trip more,” Reitz said. “It just gives you more of the understanding of the culture and where they are, where theycome from.”
Reitz said Carter is an advocate for students, always offering new experiences. For example, Carter was able to convince the AC Foundation to allow travel to Thailand, near Cambodia.
“I think she’s also going to get us to ride some elephants while we’re in Thailand,” she said.
Carter gets to know her students, Reitz said, and always is advocating the arts, getting them to go to museums, the opera and the symphony.
“She really likes to enrich our lives with the arts,” she said. “She really is an asset to the AC community.”
In April, Matney invited Carter to a board of regents meeting where, she said, something unexpected occurred.
“You never say ‘no’ to the president,” she said.
She was surprised when she was honored with the President’s Special Achievement Award. Among the list of Carter’s achievements in the award is student advocate, which she is proud of, she said.
The plaque is displayed in her office. The award is dear to her, Carter said, because it not only was given to her by Matney, but it has been personalized with an inscription: “Travel Planner, Companion, & Guide.”