West: Influencing students to success

Jim Rakestraw | The Ranger René West, left, helps a student with a photogram project. West believes in hard work.

When you think of a college instructor, you automatically think about what classes they teach and the difficulty level of the assignments they give. You never really think of what talents they possess outside the classroom. You never think just how awesome in general they may be.

Moving to Amarillo College from the University of Texas at Arlington, René West has established quite a name for herself at AC and in the Amarillo art community.

In 2013, she received a Faculty Excellence award for Community and Workshop Innovations.

A few of the projects that contributed to the award include her work with the AC photography clubs; Camera Clubhouse outreach; which allows children at local elementary schools to learn about photography; coordinating an annual workshop for Worldwide Pinhole Day; and working with various artists and committees to support local art.

Jim Rakestraw | The Ranger René West, left, helps a student with a photogram project. West believes in hard work.
Jim Rakestraw | The Ranger
René West, left, helps a student with a photogram project. West believes in hard work.

A few of her many portfolios include “City Walls,” “Marguerite,” “Public Domain,” “Reinvention” and “1929.”

“You know, I actually think that the thing that is most challenging about being an artist is also the most rewarding,” West said. “Being an artist is just as hard of work as any other occupation. You basically have to get up and go to work every day just like everyone else.”

When she is not participating in or orchestrating lectures, workshops and galleries, she is being creative in many other ways.

“I really enjoy making art and playing music,” she said. “I play guitar, write songs, and I am learning how to play the ukulele. I also like gardening and cooking.”

Not many teachers leave a lasting impression on your life. West definitely is an exception.

“She challenges me to go beyond just turning in an assignment and to really think about it artistically, photographically, digitally and to just go outside of the box,” said photography major Eric Van Marter.

Not only does West constantly push her students to be better, but she inspires them to be passionate in everything they pursue.

“René inspires me to play, question and experiment with art,” said photography major Lauren Dennis. “She is just passionate, and it is contagious when you are around her. She has influenced me as an artist and as a person and has taught me far more than any textbook could.”

Aside from famous artists and musicians, West finds inspiration in ordinary people.

“People that I looked up to such as art teachers were always very creative,” she said. “My grandmothers crocheted and knitted. That always interested me.”

Students would be surprised to find that West can relate to them in many ways.

“I think that a lot of my students would be surprised to find out that I am working class, first-generation,“ she said. “I had to take Intermediate Algebra before I could even go on to college algebra.”

Not always being the best at every subject motivated West to always work hard and learn as much as she could.

Because of that mentality, she said even if she weren’t good at photography, she still would be teaching another subject.

“Getting an M.F.A. and getting a full-time position at a community college were both huge accomplishments for me,” she said. “Teaching at a community college was something that I really wanted since that is where I started.”

While she knows her past is what has gotten her here today, she chooses not to focus on that.

“Nobody cares what play you were in last year, just the play you are in now,” she said.

“What are you going to do next, and how are you going to use that momentum.”

For now, West will continue to use her own to continue to inspire more students.

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