College ends 2019 in national spotlight

Kids Milling about at school

By Titus Gilner/Staff Reporter

Amarillo College is wrapping up a year filled with national awards and recognition. 

“We are becoming the example from Maine to Malibu,” Joe Wyatt, the assistant director of communications and marketing at AC, said. 

During 2019, AC garnered national attention with articles in well-known publications such as “The Atlantic” and “The Chronicle of Higher Education.” 

The college also won several prizes recognizing excellence in serving students. Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, AC president, said the reason the college is garnering so much attention is its commitment to creating a culture of caring. 

“It’s about going above and beyond. It’s about doing whatever it takes to help students live their dream,” he said.

The first major accomplishment of the year came Feb. 5, 2019, when AC won the prestigious Bellwether Legacy Award. 

The Legacy Award recognizes community college that have previously won Bellwether Awards – AC won in 2017 – and have shown five or more years of successful implementation. 

Next, AC was named co-recipient of the 2019 Leah Meyer Austin Award presented by community college reform group Achieving the Dream Feb. 20, 2019. This award recognizes measurable, data-driven improvements in student welfare

On Nov. 7, 2019, AC was named one of the 150 community colleges in the nation that will be eligible for the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. This heavily-sought-after award recognizes high achievement and performance among community colleges and comes with a $1 million prize.  Only 15 percent of community colleges across the nation are even invited to apply, and out of the 150 programs that have made it this far only 10 will be named finalists in May 2020. Those finalists will then be evaluated by the Aspen Institute and a jury will decide the winner in spring 2021. Both Wyatt and Lowery-Hart said this nomination truly sums up all of the things that AC has worked to achieve over the past five years. 

AC has also been making advancements in democracy, as shown by achieving the Bronze Level Seal of recognition from the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge. 

From the 2014 midterms to the 2018 midterms, the AC student body increased voter turnout by nearly 17 percent, up to 26.5 percent in 2018, according to data gathered by the National Study of Learning, Voting and Engagement. 

Next, AC received reaccreditation from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) for the Child Development Lab School, located at the West Campus, which is only one of two programs for young children in the Texas Panhandle that holds this accreditation. 

Finally, Lowery-Hart said the crowning achievement from 2019 came in May when the college celebrated having the largest graduating class in its history. 

“Which is why all of these awards matter,” he said. “We’re fundamentally changing the economic outlook of our community by giving students a clear pathway to success,” he said. “And the awards are an amazing acknowledgment of all the great work that our students, faculty and staff have done. But ultimately that’s the biggest reward – watching students get their diploma and shaking their hand when they do it.” 

As the year comes to an end and the curtain falls on this decade, AC continues to look to the future and embrace the culture of caring philosophy. 

“To make love the foundation of who we are – that we are going to love our students and love each other – is really profound to me,” Lowery-Hart said.

“I just have so much hope for this college and this community,” Lowery-Hart said. 

“I think in the perfect world, the story we would have written gives every institution in the country hope that they can save their community the way we have saved ours. I know we have to improve to make that happen, but I truly believe in the next five years we can make that happen at AC.”

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