January 2016
Welcome to our e-newsletter
Minds in Motion   
As we welcome 2016, we take stock of the past year's accomplishments, celebrating an alum's graduation and appreciating the conversations that help us think deeply. All that, plus our first 2nd Saturday of the year and a college fair up ahead! 
Diane Ramirez, '12, Dons Cap and Gown

Diane Ramirez (center) celebrates graduation with her kids, Ariana and Tomas.
When Diane Ramirez finished Free Minds in 2012 she had big plans. However, she quickly put them on hold when she was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer the following month. Instead of enrolling in classes, she underwent two surgeries and radiation. "For a whole year I was sicker than I had ever been in my life," she said. "But I never stopped wanting to go back to school."

A few years later she did, squeezing in classes around her full-time job at the State Comptroller's Office and her children's busy schedules. In December she graduated from ACC, completing the associate's degree she had begun in 1991.

Her son and daughter have followed her example. Ariana is a junior at Baylor and Tomas starts his music degree at Texas State next fall. Diane says she raised her kids to dream big, and their support was critical, though she admits they did a lot of eating out while she was in school. It was worth it when she put on her cap and gown and processed into the Erwin Center.

"Looking over at my kids as I walked across the stage was a priceless moment for me," she said. "I had to keep myself from doing the ugly cry."

Now that her kids are older, Diane is focused on finding a career she truly loves. She's applying to UT and plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in computer sciences. Her buoyant attitude will guide her and future Free Minds students. "There are many obstacles in life," she said. "Try not to let them get you or your kids down. Life is pretty wonderful if you look around and focus on the blessings."
See You in February!  

We've got fantastic opportunities to connect with Free Minds on the horizon. Events will be held in our M Station community space above the leasing office at 2906 East MLK Jr. Blvd. All are welcome!

Valentine's and the Anti-Love Poem
Saturday, February 13, 10 am - noon 

Our opening 2nd Saturday event of 2016 is Valentine themed! In this workshop led by poet and ACC creative writing teacher Joe Hoppe, we will focus on what counts as a love poem, especially in light of the expansive view the ancient Greeks held about types of love. We'll have bagels and coffee to share, and child care will be available through Learning Center staff.   

Annual College Fair
Thursday, February 25, 6:45-8:45 pm

Looking to get back into school? Come hear from local college representatives, complete your FAFSA, learn about financial aid, and visit with adult students who are making progress toward their degrees. Refreshments will be provided.

Want more details? Click here to view our full spring 2016 calendar.  
Semester Opens with Focus on Reader's Role

The Free Minds Class of 2016 recently gathered back around the table for spring orientation after nearly a month away. This time they were not starting from scratch. Having already spent four months reading, writing, and discussing together, the second semester allows students to build on a foundation of skills practiced in fall.

If any of those skills got rusty over break, the rust quickly washed away as the group plunged into our introductory reading, a 2005 essay by Rick Moody called  "The Joy and Enthusiasm of Reading," from the NPR series This I Believe . In that essay, Moody writes "there is not now and never will be an authority who can tell me how to interpret, how to read." Student Kevin Leib expanded on how the reader shapes a text saying, "interpretation depends on where you are in your life at the time." Philosophy professor Matthew Daude Laurents pointed out a complication in Moody's view: some interpretations may be better than others, and yet there is no definitive bottom line to what one can discover in an open text like the Republic or A Room of One's Own .

Moody's essay primed students for thinking about their own statements of belief, which they will craft during this spring's creative writing unit. Also on the syllabus are works by Sandra Cisneros, W.E.B. DuBois, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Plato, and more. All best to our 2016 students as they embark on a full semester ahead!
Free Minds Director Sits Down with Austin Monthly

After 16 years in Austin and eight years at the helm of Free Minds, Director Vivé Griffith has a lot to share about living in this evolving city and building community. In her recent interview with
Austin Monthly, she talks about the origins of her unique name, starting over, and fostering an environment that invites students to bring their stories to the table.

Check out the full interview here.  
Issue 59        
In This Issue
Diane Ramirez Dons Cap and Gown
February Events
Semester Opens with Focus on Reader's Role
Vivé Sits Down with Austin Monthly
The Final Word

Special Thanks
As another year begins, we express our gratitude to the academic partners who support Free Minds; the rigorous instruction and institutional access that they make possible has a profound impact on students' lives.

Austin Community College
Division of Arts and Humanities

The University of Texas at Austin
Center for Mexican American Studies
Center for Women's and Gender Studies
Department of English
Humanities Institute

If you are interested in volunteering with or supporting Free Minds, you can find more information on our website.

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Minds in Motion

November 2015
KLRU features Free Minds and one student is having an epic year.

September 2015
Clemente Course receives National Humanities Medal.

July 2015
Hear how next year's class is shaping up. 

Looking for earlier newsletters?

Visit our complete 

online archive.

The Final Word
Longtime Free Minds Champion Jen Furl On the Relationships that Push Our Thinking    

My dear friend Mickey is living his last days. Amid the tearful conversations and laughter, I have been thinking about the things that make him Mickey. He is a wonderful writer, and he asks really good questions and never lets you gloss over a thing. It's like he can sense how clear (or not) you are on your position, and he nudges you to clarify and explain your view. He never makes you feel dumb because you don't have a ready response--he's patiently dog-paddling alongside you in the thinking process to help you reach that thing you haven't been able to articulate.

Sometimes a conversation with him feels like finishing a swim. As you sit at the edge of the pool, you feel tired and stronger at the same time. And you know what you think and yourself even better.

As part of the Free Minds community, I think you know what I mean.

I have volunteered with Free Minds for several years now, and I have been fortunate to witness some of these conversations. As facilitator of the first writing workshop, I challenged participants to write from each other's perspective; it was early in the workshop when we knew only the most basic, superficial details about one another. Their words moved us beyond our comfort zones to discuss our assumptions about others.

People like Mickey and the thinkers in Free Minds are rare blessings. They urge us to stop the noisy activity of every day and make space to push toward our own understanding of the world. I am excited to work even more closely with Free Minds in the coming months as I help out during Amelia's maternity leave. And I'm looking forward to celebrating with all of you this spring as we mark 10 years of Free Minds.

In addition to launching the Free Minds writing workshops, Jen Furl has served on the Free Minds Advisory Committee since 2012. She will be filling in on the Free Minds staff this spring as a Communications Assistant.

A program of Foundation Communities, in partnership with The University of Texas at Austin and Austin Community College, Free Minds offers a two-semester college course in the humanities for Central Texas adults who want to fulfill their intellectual potential and begin a new chapter in their lives.

Free Minds Project
Foundation Communities
3036 South 1st Street
Austin TX, 78704

Project Director: Vivé Griffith

Program Coordinator: Amelia Pace-Borah


Ph: 512-610-7961   F: 512-447-0288