Board approves new program, other changes that highlight innovation

By Lauren Ebben, Editor-in-chief

At their monthly meeting May 26, the Amarillo College board of regents approved new associate of applied science degree and certificate programs in visual effects. These programs will use the Technology Innovation Hub currently in development at the Downtown Campus.

The college collaborated with Semkhor Productions, a company that specializes in creating educational visual effects programs, to create a curriculum suitable for both programs, according to Frank Sobey, the associate vice president of academic affairs. 

“We worked on a curriculum to create a program of study that would enable our students to receive a broad based understanding of the entire VFX workflow and pipeline, as well as a more refined skill set to work on the technical aspects of VFX projects, including feature length films and some commercials as well,” Sobey said.

Sobey said each program will end in a “capstone project” students can use in their portfolio for future employment.

Bryan Arvello, an AC graduate, said he was interested in returning to AC for VFX because the skills the programs offer will make himself more accessible to the film community.

“The goal for me is to learn more about VFX so I believe it’ll help me achieve the experience I need,” he said. 

“Amarillo College truly understands how to integrate education with industry and is ideally suited to create a nationally recognized visual effects program and local industry,” David Shapiro, the CEO of Semkhor, said in the news release.

Both programs will be submitted to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) for approval, according to a news release from the college.

Although the Technology Innovation Hub is not in construction yet, the college hopes to begin offering some aspects of each program to students in the fall semester pending THECB approval, according to the release.

Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, the AC president, said he was most excited about the technology linked to this program.

“There will be a lot of technology applications that will come out of this program that will lead to jobs in various fields, not just a mediated field,” Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, AC president, said. 

Separate from the VFX program, the board also voted to support the development of the Amarillo College School of Film. A proposed collaboration between the college and Sharpened Iron Studios, a local company, this school would offer associate degrees in the “multiple entertainment disciplines,” according to Mark White, the AC executive vice president and general counsel.

White said with this partnership, Sharpened Iron Studios will build a fully functional studio in the Innovation Hub at the downtown campus, which will then be leased by the college to the company. 

Michele Fortunato, a board member, said this is an interesting opportunity for the college.

“I’m really excited about Amarillo College looking at these possibilities,” she said. “I think there are some great benefits that would accrue to Amarillo College and our community.”

Also heard at the board meeting:

  • The board was given an update regarding funds received from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economy Security (CARES) Act. Half of these funds are required to go towards emergency aid for students. During the upcoming fall semester, each student will receive $100. The remaining money will go into an emergency aid fund.
  • The board was also given an update on a partnership between the college and Heal the City, a healthcare service in Amarillo that aims to provide free quality medical care and referral services to uninsured citizens in the community. According to Denese Skinner, the vice president of student affairs, the college is in the final stages of negotiations for a program that will give students “a mental health assessment, a physical health assessment and a referral to what they need.”
  • A construction contract with Parkhill, Smith and Cooper for the Technology Innovation Hub downtown was approved by the board. The Innovation Hub is a collaborative work space for students, community members, businesses and entrepreneurs to use to develop innovative ideas for any field. Construction for this space is a project included in the college’s master plan, which is a collection of projects and initiatives for all seven AC campuses.  
  • Nominations were proposed and approved for new officers on the board. Taking over for Dr. Paul Proffer as the new board chair is the former vice chair, Johnny Mize. Annette Carlise was elected as vice chair and Patrick Miller was elected as secretary.
  • The board received an overview of the 2021 preliminary budget. According to Chris Sharp, the vice president of business affairs, college officials are hoping to create a budget equal to or lower than the 2020 budget.
  • The board voted to approve financial reports for the month of April.
  • Fifteen employees were approved for promotion, and one appointment was approved by the board.

Board meetings are held every month and are open to the public. The next meeting will be held June 23.

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