Bow Tie Breakdown: New year, New AC

Welcome to Bow Tie Breakdown, where The Ranger sits down with Amarillo College President Russell Lowery-Hart every month to chat about what’s new at AC. In this edition, Lowery-Hart talks about what’s in store for the college in the year 2020.

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions for the College?

I don’t know that I have New Year’s resolutions, but I thought a lot about the college during the break and what we need to accomplish this year. If I had to couch those thoughts into New Year’s resolutions, it would be that we’re going to double down on loving each other and our students, that we’re going to define a plan that takes us into the next five years (and my hope is that that plan is foundational to reimagining higher education, not just Amarillo College) and that we prepare ourselves for the next legislative session. 

I don’t see a lot of big structural changes happening this year. It’s more about perfecting and refining the big structural changes that we’ve made over the past five years. That’s a good place to be.

So how would you double down on love?

At the beginning of the semester, we do the greeter program, where we have faculty and staff situated all over our campuses to greet students, walk them where they need to go, make sure they have what they need and get to know them. Doubling down on that would be that we have more people being greeters, not just in those defined times, but that every employee feels empowered to greet students throughout the entire year, not just during those first two weeks.

Other ways is that we have more students take advantage of our Advocacy and Resource Center, that we have more students engage in our student life activities, more students engaging in intramurals, in esports. 

For me, love is engagement and connection. So how do we deepen the connections we already have with our students and get more of them to feel that connection?

You mentioned a five year plan. What will that plan look like?

We’re having conversations about what new tools we need to use for learning. Where might learning best be able to take place? Because it might not always be in a classroom, it could be community-based or work-based learning. How do we use the tools to deepen the connection between faculty and students? And the learning that happens between the two? I want the strategic plan to focus a lot on that aspect of learning. I want it to really focus on innovation. What is it that we can do to be responsive to leading economic development for our community? What innovations can we do to improve our operations and to improve our processes? And then what are we doing that we can be entrepreneurial about, and teach other schools to do and be paid for that innovation?

What is AC doing to prepare for the next legislative session?

The Texas Association of Community Colleges has a legislative committee that I’m on. We’ve looked at all the interim charges, which are questions the Higher Education Committee in the House want to ask. So we’re preparing ways to answer those questions and identifying what our needs are going to be and how we can best position the college to communicate those needs and be effective and getting support for them. All the hard work is done this year. Once the session happens, not a lot can get added or changed. There’s a lot of conversations, data, work and partnerships across the state that we’ll engage in this year to learn and to figure out how to better communicate, so that when the session starts, our needs are front and center and everyone already understands what they are.

What are you most excited for this semester?

I love planning, because the magic happens in the plan. The execution and the outcomes are incredible. You get to celebrate them and that’s what you get attention for, but you don’t get the results we’ve gotten if you haven’t had a really good plan. So this year is all about laying the foundation for that plan. And I’m really excited about how the community of Amarillo is going to embrace the college’s impact on our local economy in ways they’ve never understood before. So they’ll be lots of planning, but we’re going to be able to announce throughout the planning, big gifts that the community has given the college to make those plans a reality. We’ll be able to announce some unique partnerships with community members and business owners to link the classroom and the workforce. All of those things will happen because of the plan that we’re engaging in this year, so I’m really excited about that.  

Anything else?

I have a few huge personal things. My son is graduating high school and he’s going to come to AC in the fall. My mother is taking him to Tokyo for the Summer Olympics as his graduation gift. I’m going to get to go with them. The other big travel thing for me is school related. I’m going with the honors program to Poland over spring break. It’ll be a combined trip between AC and WT. And I’m really thrilled about that. My very first international trip ever was taking a group of 20 freshmen to Poland and so it’s kind of a full circle moment for me to go back with other students.

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