Joe Wyatt
Published March 24, 2017

Amarillo College will open the doors of its West Campus to welcome 200 Palo Duro High School students on Monday, April 3 for AC’s second Health Science and Nursing Showcase.

Those students, along with some Palo Duro administrators and counselors, will tour the West Campus from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., getting a first-hand look at more than a dozen accredited programs offered there – from dental hygiene and physical therapy to nuclear medicine, pharmacy technology and nursing.

AC’s Health Sciences and Nursing Divisions teamed up to launch the inaugural Showcase last spring. The day-long exploration of College healthcare programs in 2016 was an unequivocal success, making the decision to conduct the event again this year an easy one.

“Last year when the busses came back from AC, all the students were just so excited,” said Kayla Howard, associate principal at Palo Duro High School. “You could tell right away that our kids had a great experience.”

One of those students was Larissa Silva, who was planning to be a nurse well before she set foot on the AC campus. She emerged from the experience not only with her career aspirations affirmed, but having acquired her own personal professional mentor, which is one aspect of the Showcase that makes it unique.

The Showcase is for Palo Duro students in grades 9-12, but those soon to become seniors are eligible to be paired with a mentor with similar healthcare interests. Mentors might be AC faculty or students, or possibly members of the professional healthcare community.

Silva was paired with Shirley Collins, medical surgical director of the fourth floor at Baptist Saint Anthony’s Hospital.

“Ever since I was little I’ve wanted to be a neonatal nurse,” said Silva, who expects to graduate from Palo Duro in May and enroll in summer classes at AC. “That day last year we spent at Amarillo College convinced me I was right in wanting to be a nurse."

“Then we found out we could sign up to have a mentor,” she said. “I’m glad I got Shirley Collins from BSA. She understands what I’m trying to do.”

Collins, in fact, understands quite perfectly; she is herself a graduate of Palo Duro High School who went on to study nursing at AC.

“I actually cried when they made the presentation to potential mentors,” Collins said. “I immediately understood the impact we could have on these young people. Larissa is precious, and she’s just like I was at her age.

“I look forward to seeing her go through school, to us staying in touch with her along the way, and maybe one day having her as one of my sisters working at the hospital.”

Phyllis Pastwa, an instructor in AC’s Associate Degree Nursing Program, is the chief architect of the Health Science and Nursing Showcase. She said mentors like Collins – whether from BSA, Northwest Texas Hospital or elsewhere – have demonstrated great enthusiasm in support of the College’s community-partnership initiative with Palo Duro High School.

“Whether they ultimately go to AC or to another institution doesn’t matter;” Pastwa said. “If we mentor them and they indeed pursue higher education, we’ll count that as a great success. This is something we would not be able to do nearly so well without the enthusiastic support we’ve received from so many members of our healthcare community.”

In addition to focusing on all the academic programs that are offered at AC’s West Campus, Pastwa says participants at this year’s Showcase will be introduced to the many programs AC has in place that support student success. Resources such as a grant-funded tutoring center, opportunities for childcare, travel vouchers and even the AC Food Pantry will be on display at the event.

“We care about the future of our community and the young people in it,” Pastwa said. “AC has a number of excellent resources that have been put in place specifically to ensure that our students can be and are successful. We want future students to be aware that they will have our full support, whether through mentorships or specific services, from start to finish.”

Pastwa credits Becky Matthews, instructor in the Associate Degree Nursing Program, for her valuable assistance in helping organize the Showcase, and she notes the generosity of retired Dean of Nursing Richard Pullen, who personally helped fund it.

For more information about the Health Science and Nursing Showcase at Amarillo College on Monday, April 3, please contact Pastwa at (806) 467-3002 or