By Katelyn Starks
Amarillo College was named one of two top community colleges in the nation by The Aspen Institute, a non-profit organization committed to realizing a free, just and equitable society. AC tied for the 2023 Aspen Award with Imperial Valley College in California.
This institute honors colleges that show outstanding performance in five critical areas: teaching and learning, certificate and degree completion, transfer and bachelor’s attainment, workforce success and equitable outcome for students of color and students from low-income backgrounds.
“The solutions do not lie in the political, they can only be found in the personal, the relational, the love that can hold us together, the love that we hold for and with each other,” Russell Lowery-Hart, President of AC, said during his acceptance speech.
Regent, Michele Fortunato said, winning the Aspen prize has been a goal since she’s been on the board and to win this year is remarkable. “It’s a testament to the strong leadership we have from Russell Lowery-Hart and the board of regents. The hard work of all of our employees, faculty and staff and administrative staff. But the real credit goes to the students because it’s their achievements that created the data which caused us to win this prize,” Fortunato said.
This is not the first time AC has been recognized by the Aspen Institute. In 2021, AC was named as a top five finalist for the prize and was dubbed a “Rising Star,” and in June 2022, the college was named as one of the top 10 Aspen Prize finalists.
When Lowery-Hart first became the President of AC he did a survey of the students to determine what was keeping them from succeeding. He learned that the barriers to their success were not occurring in the classroom, but what was going on in their lives outside of AC was the issue, according to Lowery-Hart. Which in turn created Maria, the archetype of the average student at AC.
She was created to draw attention to the type of student the college should be designing its services to cater to. She’s 27 years old, a first generation and part-time student, female, Latina, has substantial financial barriers and raises 1.2 kids while working on average two part time jobs, according to Lowery-Hart in a presentation given to the association of community college trustees.
“We’re always going to love Maria and everybody in our student body is a “Maria” and some students are more at risk than others, but all students need our help to succeed,” Fortunato said.
A state of the college celebration is planned for the Washington Street Campus on May 5.
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