Being an Informed Voter in Huntsville, Texas

Morgan Robertson

Local elections are fast approaching, and what better way is there to know who is running and what they stand for than to meet the candidates? This week at the Texas Prison Museum the Republican Party of Walker County and the Walker County Republican Women sponsored a non-partisan meet and greet with a few of the candidates who are running. Almost a hundred people attended!

Yvette and I volunteered by helping people sign in and ensuring they had a copy of the night’s agenda. After a semester-plus in LEAP, we are beginning to become more informed and recognize various community leaders! It’s important, too, to note that these were non-partisan positions. In Texas, elections for city positions, school board positions, and hospital district positions are all non-partisan. For many, just knowing this is part of the voter education process, and at least by design, allows voters to set aside their party preferences and vote for the person who has the best policy ideas and record of commitment and accomplishment.

Linda McKenzie directed candidates where to sit and how they would give their speeches. Each candidate was allotted 4 minutes to speak .

Blake Irving (councilmember from Ward 3) started the speeches off by explaining his vision and goals he wishes to achieve if he is to be elected mayor. Irving’s incumbent opponent, Mayor Andy Brauninger, spoke on his time as mayor, how the city has grown, and his vision for the community.

Trevor Thorn and Deloris Massey are running for Council in Ward 3, and they discussed their ideas for representing that Ward and for the City.

Candidates Jon Strong and Yvette McMurry are running for the Ward 4 seat; however, McMurry was feeling unwell and was unable to attend. During Strong’s speech he talked about his family business and how he wishes to give back to the city.

On a more lighthearted note, unopposed Russell Humphrey joked that his wife, Tish Humphrey (who previously held the Ward 2 seat), coerced him into running this term. He then went on to explain the importance of serving and giving back to one’s city.

We were also able to hear from Hospital Board candidates Lane Aiena and Joe Sapp (the latter is an incumbent), as well as New Waverly ISD candidate Steven Gregory.

In all, the events provided much information to us and, we hope, to the community at large–in doing so, they allow us to move beyond the name on a yard sign and vote in an informed manner.

Once all the speeches were made, we spent the remaining time socializing and getting to know members of our community. Yvette and I even ran into a former LEAP Ambassador, Brian Aldaco, who now works in Congressman Kevin Brady’s office. Getting to meet all the candidates gave us a closer touch of Huntsville.

Tailgating with CHSS!

CHSS Tailgating

Jessica Cuevas

This past weekend, the LEAP Ambassadors and Erin Juarez showed their Bearkat spirit by volunteering at the tailgate for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS) Tent with Mrs. Deanna Briones, CHSS Community Relations Coordinator. During the tailgate we handed out snacks and free t-shirts from the College, while also enjoying our time with students, alumni, and football fans!

Although we arrived an hour early, there were football fans (and swag fans) there even earlier. We held them off until the official tailgating kick-off time, however, fearing that we would run out of items (especially the ever-popular t-shirts) if we opened too early.

Once it was noon, there were hundreds of students with their families–it was family weekend–wandering around, going from tent to tent to snag up goodies.

When they saw that we were handing out t-shirts, people quickly lined up to get their shirts before we ran out. They came in big waves, and it was chaotic. Meanwhile, at our second tent, there was much less commotion. Apparently, not everyone is as excited about free snacks, especially since almost every tent gave away free snacks.

After an hour, we had run out of all sizes in shirts except for a few size smalls, but we soon handed them out to kids and other students who wanted one. The snacks consisted of chips, candy, and granola bars.

Mrs. Briones, encouraged us to walk around and see the tailgating action when there wasn’t a big wave of people. And, of course, that meant we could also collect some goodies for ourselves. There were so many options that we all had a little bit of everything, pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs, and more. We also got a look at all the spirit festivities of the day.

Yvette was also interviewed by students claiming to be affiliated with a radio station, or perhaps a podcast, it wasn’t entirely clear. Perhaps it was just a curious student, interested in others’ opinions. Yvette predicted a BearKat victory.

As it was nearing game time, the tailgate came to an end with a lively presentation from the marching band, cheerleaders, twirlers, and the orange pride dance team.

By the end of our tailgating day, we were encouraging people to take as much of the snacks as they wanted, and a few people obliged!

We were happy to see the snacks go to a good home, happy that people had fun, and happy to volunteer for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences–which has provided us with a great education and many opportunities.

We would like to thank Mrs. Deanna Briones for giving us the opportunity to help CHSS. And to end such an amazing day, the Bearkats played hard against Lamar’s Cardinals and won 41-7!

“How to get into Law School,” with UT Law

For our first official meeting of the semester, we welcomed all the new and returning members, it was a very informational, yet fun meeting. Heather Barodi, President of the PLS made an introduction by voting on the new officers to be approved as well as the update of the signature card. She introduced the new officers, discussed orglink, upcoming meetings and upcoming activities like the Kat Safety Bash, Old Town Theatre Cleanup/Pizza Party/ showing of “My Cousin Vinny” and the Scare on the Square.

Next, she introduced our guest speaker for the evening, Dave Farnum, the Assistant Director of Recruitment at the University of Texas Law. Farnum is from Rhode Island and moved here for his career at UT. He is immensely proud of his school and even more proud to be a Longhorn. He visited our organization to give us insight on how to get into UT’s prestigious law school, and for the most part, how to get into any law school. It was definitely worth listening to.

After he described the school as the “Top Law School in Texas,” he went on to discuss employment after attending the school. Seventy-five percent of students that graduate from the law program choose to work in Texas after they complete school. Twenty-five percent of students that graduate leave Texas , usually going to New York, Washington D.C or California.

Some unique facts he shared about UT:  

Bar Passage Rates in Texas were at 91%, while the state average is only about 75%.

There is a 10:1 professor to student ratio, with 201 courses offered, suggesting they have plenty of options for students . They have an alumni-mentor program that is hand-selected to match uniquely to the student.

Lastly, UT Law offers many experiential learning opportunities. Examples of this included working with immigrants, indigent suspects, and assistance with the Innocent Project.

Some quick facts are that his year’s class had a median score of 169 on the LSAT, a median GPA of 3.80, and more women than men (for the first time ever!).

Next, he discussed the key factors in the admission process: the LSAT, GPA, personal statement, resume, and letters of recommendation.

Consistent with a philosophy that emphasizes admitting “humans, not robots,” UT tries to delve deep into the applicants’ backgrounds. Indeed, they will accept up to a three-page resume, and Farnum encouraged us to “make use of that space.” Farnum further recommended to freshmen and sophomores to (1) get GPAs as high as possible, (2) make connections with professors, (3) and to stay out of trouble.

For juniors and seniors who may not be ready to apply, Farnum noted that it’s okay to take a gap year, although he did encourage students to ensure that gap year is productive.

During the Q & A, Jade asked whether it was better to get her supervisor at her law firm or a professor to write a letter of recommendation. Farnum suggested that the person who knows the student best would write the best letter, but that the student should submit a letter from at least one professor.

Mr. Farnum concluded with offering the students some swag from UT Law–items that proved very popular!

We are incredibly grateful that he came out to give us this very useful knowledge of all the things to expect when applying to law school.

Invisible China


October 26, 2021, by Morgan Robertson

Yvette Mendoza, Emma Anderson, Ziwen Lu (exchange student from China) and I attended a virtual lecture from the TAMU Bush School featuring Dr. Scott Rozelle and his book Invisible China: How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China’s Rise.

Dr. Rozelle is the Hellen F. Farnsworth Senior Fellow at Stanford University. He began by explaining his interest in international affairs, specifically China. Dr. Rozelle quickly identified the massive divide seen in China amongst the Urban and Rural areas. This divide is fueled by the long-lasting impact of rural farming and developing industry in the urban areas. Literacy rates and education is at an all time low for those found in rural China, while urban areas are growing and thriving.

Dr. Rozelle also entertained the idea that with the way things are moving, China is becoming more susceptible to an economic crisis–which would, of course, affect the rest of the world and, especially, those who rely on China heavily.

Dr. Rozelle noted that, in China, citizens are given an Identification card that states whether they are from a rural or urban part of China. Upon hearing this, Ziwen reached for her wallet to show us her Identification card that highlighted her urban status.

After the lecture, Ziwen was gracious enough to tell us more about the culture in China, which we learned about while eating Chinese food, selected by Ziwen.

As we expanded our knowledge on the culture and customs in China, Ziwen also taught me how to write her name and my name in Chinese characters.

I was nowhere close to perfection in copying my symbols, but it was fun to practice and learn more about the Chinese culture.

PLS Saturdays at Sam

September 25, 2021

Yvette Mendoza

Heather Barodi, Emma Anderson, Erin Juarez, and I were eager to begin our recruitment for the Pre-Law Society at Saturdays at Sam. This event is held in the Lowman Student Center mall area where almost all 250 organizations at Sam attended. Each organization had their own table and were ready to teach students more about what their organization consisted of. Our table had displayed a Pre- Law Society shirt, a pamphlet, and some sweet treats!

Although the turn out was not great, we tried our best to be as engaging and informative in describing what the Pre- Law Society has to offer. We informed students about past and future events and opportunities we have. While we were able to teach others, we also expanded our knowledge on what other organizations are doing on campus.

Towards the end of the event, we had a special guest come. My dog, Pupito, made an appearance that attracted students and other organizations to our table. It was a great way to finish off Saturdays at Sam with smiles on each volunteers face and a furry friend helping recruit.

Jim Olson: A Life Undercover

By Morgan Robertson

This past week, LEAP Ambassadors, Pre-Law Cohort members and LEAP LEADs members ventured to the Woodlands for a World Affairs Council event featuring Jim Olson, former Central Intelligence Agency operative. Attendees included Yvette Mendoza, Jessica Cuevas, Lucy Mccool, Emma Anderson, Erin Juarez, Mario Ocampo, Saara Maknojia, and me.

Upon arriving at the John Cooper School we were shocked by the beauty of the school and admired their layout. Fortunately, we arrived early enough to meet the Program director and many other staff members.

Also, we were able so grateful we had the chance to meet and visit with Mr. James Olson before his presentation, he inquired about our plans after undergrad, and we told him that most of us are planning on applying to law school. Mr. Olson shared with us a little about his time at Iowa University of Law and the difficulties of law school.

After the brief conversation, we found our way to our seats and anxiously waited to hear a few of Mr. Olson’s stories. He was introduced by staff from the John Cooper School and the WAC….

…and we enjoyed our second row seats.

With much of my knowledge about the CIA and other government organizations being from media and tv shows, I was happy to learn from a first-hand source about what it was truly like.

Mr. Olson spoke on many topics ranging from meeting his wife Mrs. Meredith Olson at “work,” to his favorite operations, and officially retiring to accept his current job as a professor at the Bush school.

With every new topic he spoke on, I found myself with even more questions than before.

Toward the end, he took questions from the audience, and two of our questions were selected!

Afterwards, Mr. Olson graciously posed for pictures with SHSU students as well as signed copies of his books with personalized messages.

It is clear Mr. Olson has a passion for meeting and working with students, which in turn, inspires further generations and maybe even operatives.

My favorite aspect of the night was Mr. Olson’s display of pride in his work and in our country. Hearing him speak is enough to leave a listener looking for a signup sheet for the CIA (though that is not the only way to be spotted…).

Genghis Grill

October 5, 2021

Saara Maknojia

As we headed out from the World Affairs Council event with Jim Olson, the LEAP members went to a restaurant specialized in Mongolian cuisine, called Genghis Grill. We were kindly seated by the working staff at the beautifully decorated restaurant. The vivid red and black interior was eye-catching like no other, giving it a very realistic feel of East Asia. The cultural food presented to us was well garnished and customized to each of our likings.

Together as a group, we ordered the Mongolian Dragon Balls which were covered in a delicious chili garlic sauce, as well as the pork and chicken potstickers.

The LEAP members had entrees that all consisted of flavourful bowls of their choice of a base, protein, and amount of eggs. The variety of bases were an assortment of rice and noodles. Students went up to the assembly line where they picked and chose what toppings and meats they would like. The members favorite meats were chicken and steak garnished with the savory teriyaki sauce or the spicy sweet and sour sauce. Genghis Grill allowed us to grasp a better understanding of the cultural foods that are presented from the regions of Mongolia in China.

Harvest Time at the Wynne Home

By Morgan Robertson

This past weekend was rather eventful for the LEAP Ambassadors, and on Saturday evening Jessica and I volunteered at the Wynne Home Arts & Visitor Center Harvest Festival.  We arrived a few hours early before the event to assist with a fall festival at the beautiful historic home and art center. Inside the outdoor classroom, Cultural Services Manager Sarah Faulkner and Admin Assistant Caitlin King had begun to set up the food, which included a candy bar, pita chips with an assortment of hummus, and Frito Lay Scoops for chili from McAlister’s. After we were satisfied with the display of the food, we began setting up the drinks table, craft tables and all other decorations that needed to be placed on the yard.

Needless to say that The Wynne Home’s beautiful backyard was fully utilized during the Harvest Festival, with the two craft tables set up in the yard and dispersed lawn chairs for the crowd that came to listen to musician Scott Morrison.

He presented a variety of songs by different musicians such as Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, and more for the crowd to choose from. The crowd loved him and were appreciative of Scott for allowing them to choose what song he should play next.

 The first craft table included mini-foam pumpkins where guests, mainly the children, could express their artistic abilities by painting and adding stickers to them.

The other craft required a little bit more attention to detail and more fine motor skills since they had to trace a leaf pattern onto festive paper, cut it out and then decorate it with glitter and stickers using mod-podge. Then if desired, the leaves could be hole-punched and strung on a twine string to be displayed as a garland decoration, or an ornament.

All of the LEAP Ambassadors as well as SHSU student Erin Juarez, made their own leaves and connected them on a string. The Wynne Home kept our leaves and said that they would hang them up inside the home! I can imagine Ms. Stephanie or Professor Yawn having a laugh while trying to identify which leaf belonged to whom if they were to see them hung up.

Before the event wrapped up, Ms. Faulkner and Caitlin drew out a name from the raffle bowl to see who would be walking away with a fall-themed coffee basket. To add to the suspense, they had Scott announce the winner, but he did not announce it right away. Instead he told the crowd that in his hand he was holding the name of the winner but would not announce it until after he played another song. At the end of the song, he announced that the lucky winner was SHSU Geology Professor David Moss. Afterwards, he continued to play more songs and closed with one of his favorite songs, during which the children of professor Moss came up and donated money in his guitar case.

It was a fun way to spend our Saturday evening, and we are glad we were able to help the community and Ms. Faulkner.

The Best is Yet to Come: An evening with Sinatra at the Old Town Theatre

September 25, 2021

Yvette Mendoza

Erin Juarez and I spent the evening time traveling to the 50’s at the Old Town Theatre’s Tribute to Frank Sinatra. This authentic concert, performed by Dave Halston, created an atmosphere of romance and nostalgia. The Theatre’s Sinatra Experience attracted almost 300 guests that came from all over Texas (some even from San Antonio) to Huntsville! The crowd was eager to come in before showtime just as much as we were to volunteer at the Old Town Theatre.

We had the opportunity to enjoy a beautiful concert and meet the audience members, from councilmembers to a Vietnam veteran, as we ushered them to their seats. The crowd kept growing as they began swarming the entrance to the Theatre, and Erin and I had the warmest smiles to greet such well-dressed and kind families and friends.

Getting closer to show time, more Sinatra fans were settling down in their seats.

At last, the piano accompanist began to play, and the words “Come fly with me” were being sung.

Everyone’s eyes were star struck at the beautiful music being played. While Erin and I were admiring the music, we had quickly switched gears from ushering to grabbing the camera and capturing the magic of Frank Sinatra’s music being performed.

Moving all around the theater we created the gorgeous star effect through the camera when capturing Dave Halston’s movements that mimicked Sinatra.

We continued to snap as many pictures as possible…

…and then it was time for a brief intermission. At that time Erin and I helped with the raffle ticket drawing. We were very successful collecting money to help fund the non-profit, Old Town Theatre. Now it was finally time to draw the winning tickets.

Erin went on stage with Mrs. Lauren Edwards to choose the winning raffle tickets. The crowd lit up when the winners were announced and given their free tickets to the next concert!

Before leaving the Old Town Theatre, we sat in seats and sang along to the Theme from New York, New York. And that was the best way to finish off a night in the Golden Age.