Campaigning at the Deadline: Experiential Learning with LEAP

By Brian Aldaco

With early elections around the corner, more and more  candidates on the November ballots are upping the ante in order to secure a victory this November 8th. This is especially true of Congressman Will Hurd’s campaign in District 23 against Pete Gallego, which has made it the most contested district in Texas. As Congressman Hurd’s re-election campaign draws to a close, Republican officials from varying levels of government have assisted in his efforts, including Paul Ryan, Gregg Abbot, Tom Mechler (Chairman of the Texas Republican Party), and others.

This past Friday, Congressman Pete Olson and his staff flew from DC to join the list of party officials to contribute to the Republican success in the district. Among the staff members and the Congressman who convoyed from Sugar Land to Del Rio there was a group of volunteers ready and eager to help in Hurd’s Campaign.  I spent my Friday afternoon completing the six-hour trip down to the border town of Del Rio and canvassing in favor of Congressman Hurd on Saturday.Congressman Will Hurd, SHSU, LEAP, Brian Aldaco, Pete Olson

With staffers located in DC, many of those in the convoy were more than happy to finally be in their home state of Texas, Congressman Olson included. On the way to Del Rio I was placed with a volunteer from Richmond (a retiree who had worked for the TSA in DC, the Corrections Board in Baltimore, and traveled around the world), a District Director for Congressman Olson, and a DC intern (freshly graduated from A&M who was among those ready to indulge in the Texas spirit). Passing through old Texas towns, vast free-range pastures, and some barren patches, the road became longer and lonelier as we got near border. From pines and oaks, the landscape turned into shrubs, sand, and mesquites, a desolate land with a few settlement’s along the way. After crossing the border patrol check point, marking the 25 mile mark before arriving to Mexico, we remarked how there was still no signs of civilization as we neared Del Rio. Eventually however, we neared a medium-sized building which advertised fajitas and tortilla chips; we had finally entered Del Rio.

As our first time in Del Rio for all of us, and the first time that close to the border for most, Ms. Dana Benoit (Congressman Olson’s campaign manger) deemed it apt, some may say necessary, to dine with a feast of Mexican cuisine. So being we entered Manuel’s Steakhouse, where those DC émigrés relished upon the savor of fajitas, tacos, and margaritas (a taste of authentic Mexican which they had long been waiting for). With conversation about the hectic DC lifestyle, the night soon came to an end. We then retired to our hotel rooms to rest and get ready for the block-walk-filled Saturday.

Upon waking up in the little Del Rio hotel, we packed our bags and met inside the local Chick-Fil-A. There we met campaign staffers from the Hurd team, Hurd’s Chief of Staff included. After a briefing of the day’s plan, and some words of encouragement from Congressman Olson, we climbed into our assigned cars and immersed ourselves within the Del Rio community.


The team I was assigned to included Stoney Burke (Congressman Hurd’s chief of staff) and Jorge (a student from the University of Houston), who had traveled with us from Sugarland. With a majority hispanic constituency, Being able to speak Spanish was a real benefit for Jorge and me because we were able to communicate better with the voters we met during the day. Like any other block-walking operation, however, the number of constituents that answered the door was minimal. However, those that did answer were friendly and cared about their community, considering it highly important to choose the best to represent them at DC. Through meeting with constituents we learned how their major concerns rested on border security, adequate care of veterans, and the proper maintenance of Highway 277. We continued block walking, driving through houses of all shapes and sizes that resembled Mexican architecture, until we finished two sets of walk books.


With only a few constituents declaring that they will not vote for Hurd, those from the Hurd and Olson campaign alike considered the day a very positive indicator of what the results would be come November 8.

After we all finished our assignments, we regrouped at Chick-Fil-A to get ready for our drive back to Sugar Land. We then said our goodbyes to the Hurd Campaign, extremely grateful to help Congressman Hurd, and bid farewell to Del Rio. With the sun bearing its last rays on the endless pastures of green and hay, we sped through highway 90 en route to Sugar Land. As we left the border town we sympathized with that dimming twilight which shone its last glimmering lights to make way for the unknown night. With such an uncertain presidential election, all we can do now is wait for November 8th to come and hope that our contributions will at least yield victory at the local level.


The LEAP Center does not engage in partisan politics.  The Center does provide internship and volunteer opportunities for students.  In the past two years, we’ve worked with students who have interned or volunteered for the Democratic, Republican, and Green Parties. 

Citizenship and Engagement: Being an Informed Voter

As a public service to the community, the Walker County Republican Women hosted a “candidates’ forum” on Monday night, inviting candidates at all levels and of all stripes to meet the public. With five minutes to discuss their intentions and platform and an almost unlimited time to mingle, the forum provided a key service to the voting public.


The Walker County Hospital District candidates were the first to speak. With three positions up for election and six candidates running for the position, the meet and greet was important to decide on who to elect this November. Two of the candidates currently serve on the board while the other four are seeking election for the first time. This was an informative meeting; we learned about the important distinction between the Walker County Hospital District Board and the Huntsville Memorial Hospital Board. The Hospital Board is a board of directors composed of community leaders who oversee the broad direction of the Hospital. The Hospital District Board, on the other hand, is made up of elected officials responsible for overseeing the District, its finances, its physical structures, and its health care.  Although this latter district has the ability to tax, such revenues only make up a small portion of the hospital’s overall revenues.

The Huntsville City Council candidates also participated with their own five-minute overviews.  They also engaged in a Q&A by the audience, and addressed the bond election.  The voters of Huntsville will decide on three bond propositions:

  • Proposition One: Improve Public Safety Facilities (not to exceed 31,000,000)
  • Proposition Two: Improve City Service Facilities (not to exceed 24,000,000)
  • Proposition Three: Improve City Waterworks and Sewer Facilitiies (not to exceed 73,000,000)

With these weighty matters on our minds, we thanked the Republican Women for organizing the event, and we exited pondering upcoming decisions.


Tailgating with CHSS for Homecoming

Nonstop chanting filled the backstreets of SHSU as the community gathered for the 2016 Homecoming tailgate. As the first college tailgating experience for most of the LEAP students, we took on the crowds of students, parents, fans, pets, and Huntsville community members. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences (also known on campus as CHSS) kindly allowed the LEAP Ambassadors to join their tailgate celebration.


As volunteers, our duties were simple; set up and help pass out food.


We passed out over 1,200 chicken wings and they went fast! Many lined up to win a prize from the CHSS booth and get a sample of the savory wings. Although hot and crowded, the tailgate was a fun experience. Dean Abbey Zink and Associate Deans Rhonda Callaway along with Jerry Bruce also joined our pre-game celebration. It was great to see the community and faculty come together for our homecoming game against Abilene Christian University.


After our shift with CHSS ended, many of the LEAP students explored the other booths to scout out their prizes and food. We ate pizza, turkey legs, sausage wraps, popcorn, and topped it off with some sweet tea. Various booths blared music and gave free SHSU merchandise. These school spirited trinkets and momentos where used to represent our school at the game which had begun right after the festivities. The chants continued all the way to victory against ACU (48-21). The LEAP Ambassadors are always happy to try new things, especially when it involves delicious food, fun football, and volunteerism!


Mock LSAT: Prepping for the Real Thing

Every semester, the LEAP Center offers a Mock LSAT, a chance for pre-law students to practice the most important test of their careers. The Mock test is an actual exam used by the LSAT in previous years, it is professionally scored by Kaplan, and students receive their scores the day they take it.  The only difference from the real thing is that this one doesn’t count.

Mock LSAT, Kaplan, SHSU, LEAP Center

For many of the test-takers, that’s a good thing.  The scores on the Mock LSAT tend to be low, primarily because we have a lot of people who are freshmen, sophomores, or otherwise unprepared for the test.  But that’s a good thing, too.  The LEAP Center encourages students to try the Mock LSAT as soon as possible, allowing them to see where they are in the preparation stage, and to have a better idea about how much time they will need to be ready for the real thing.  Our advice is to prepare for the LSAT correctly, and to take it once.

Here is the LEAP Center’s suggested timeline:

  • As early as possible, freshman year if possible: Take Mock LSAT
  • Spring or Summer of Junior Year: Take LSAT Prep, if needed
  • Summer of Junior Year/Fall of Senior Year: Take LSAT

The LSAT Prep course isn’t a panacea, and not all students will need to take it.  But unless a student has the score they want to get into the school they are hoping for, or unless a student can study 12-16 hours a week without the discipline of meeting times and deadlines, then the LSAT prep is a reasonable option.

But an LSAT prep test isn’t likely to get a student from a 140 to a 160 (it’s been done, but it isn’t likely).  But it might get a student from a 145 to a 152, and that’s the difference between going to Texas Southern University to going to Texas Tech, and that’s a big difference in terms of life and career opportunities.

Mock LSAT, SHSU, Kaplan, LEAP Center

For students with a score below a 140, particularly those who are a junior or senior, a year might not be sufficient to get the score you need.  For those in this situation, a gap year should be considered, while a long-term plan for LSAT-prep is undertaken.  For those who are scoring in the 160s, a good law school is already within reach, and it’s just a matter of how high you can climb.

But whatever the goals the student has, taking the Mock LSAT early on in his/her school career is to the student’s advantage.

The LEAP Center will likely offer another Mock LSAT in February 2017.

Law School Informational: Texas Tech Law

By Beatriz Martinez

Thirty or so bright- eyed students attentively paid attention to Danielle Saveedra, the Associate Dean of Recruitment for Texas Tech University’s School of Law.  She was presenting information on the next stage these aspiring attorneys-to-be were contemplating: applying to law school. Crucial questions such as where to start when considering law school, the application process, and what to look for in a law school, were  all discussed during the presentation and absorbed by the students.

TX Tech Law School, LEAP Center, SHSU

Ms. Saveedra had come to SHSU to guide us through the process of preparing for law school.  In a nutshell, she walked us through:

  • A timeline for law-school preparation
  • Taking the LSAT
  • Deciding which law schools to send applications
  • Applying to Law School, including
    • sending in transcripts, reference letters, the resume, and the personal statement

This may sound quite simple, however it is in fact considerably challenging. A law school’s environment whether cut-throat or nurturing, emphasis on certain types of law, and cost of living, Ms. Saavedra told us, will influence where a student may decide to go. Decisions on what law schools to apply to (each application has a fee), or choosing between a good law school that costs less versus a more prestigious at a higher cost can pose challenges even to a well-prepped student.


However, all of these decisions were weighed and measured during the law school informational. Ms. Saveedra covered every single possible piece of information needed to be successful in law school and gave constructive tips. Every prospective attorney left reeling with information, but departed knowing they were now better prepared for the challenging journey ahead. Law school will now be less intimidating, allowing students to further their education in the legal field.

Noises Off-Laughter On

By Beatriz Martinez


“Everyone please take your seats, turn off your phones, and open any candy wrapper that needs to be opened. The show will now begin.” The Leap Ambassadors enthusiastically sat down inside the Erica Starr Theatre waiting for the curtains to open as they were waiting for “Noises Off” to begin. This three act play is well known for its converging perspectives that revolve around one plot. It is a “play within a play.”

Noises Off, SHSU, LEAP Center

The main story consists of a theatrical group trying to put together a performance in the midst of personal drama, lovers’ quarrels, quirky characters, and a director with a god complex. During the first act, we are introduced to the different characters during the dress rehearsal of their own play “Noises On.” Just like any other dress rehearsal, there were many missed cues, missed lines, and missing (drunk) actors …”well, you know,” as Garry says. In the second act, the actual performance begins and we see the backstage perspective. The performers have been left on their own and tension is high. Mayhem runs rampant behind the scenes, and at some points even on stage. Regardless of everyone “trying” to get the show on the road, axes fly, bourbon bottles are drunk, and slaps are thrown around, making for a spectacularly silly sight to behold.

The third and final act allowed the viewers to see the final performance of “Noises On” in its full glory.


A very short glory that is, as sardines went flying everywhere along with the actors. Doors opened and doors closed (on the characters). And sometimes they could not be opened again. But we did have to applaud their improvisation skills coupled with a great choreography. It gave the audience a big laugh as we watched their performance go from bad to worse, leaving the audience to ponder Brooke’s “Sorry?”

Noises Off, SHSU, LEAP Center, Double Double


As the remarkable farce ended, everyone laughed and cheered while giving the SHSU performers a standing ovation as the SHSU theater department once more gave an excellent performance.