DAY 1 – Thursday, by Victoria McClendon-Leggett
Our first event of the 6-day forum was a workshop run by Dr. Teri Varner, Associate Professor at St. Edwards University. The workshop focused on making impactful introductions for speakers. I found it extremely helpful as a LEAP Ambassador because the steady stream of speakers and guests that we regularly bring to campus need introductions to the groups they’re brought in to speak to. This was our first workshop because of the fact that every forum participant was required to interview and then use that information to introduce at least one of the speakers during the week.
Then was the panel titled “Women in Politics.” The panelists were Dr. Susan Heinzelman, the Director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas, Maggie Buchanan, President of Maggie Jo Consulting, and Kimberly Inez McGuire, Senior Program Director at Conway Strategic. Also included in this panel was none other than Nancy Bocskor, the President of the Nancy Bocskor Company.
Nancy has been a guest speaker for the LEAP Center many times, and was a FIR (Faculty in Residence) for the Forum. The women in this panel focused on their experiences in politics, and the challenges and triumphs that came with those experiences.
DAY 2 – Friday
Our first event of the day was a panel titled “Why YOU Should Consider Running for Office,” and it featured Gina Hinojosa, a Texas State Representative, Delia Garza, an Austin City Council Member, and Sheryl Cole, a Texas State Representative Candidate. Also included in this panel was another one of the LEAP Center’s previous guest speakers, the Chairman of the Railroad Commission, Christi Craddick (who gave a wonderful talk to SHSU women in January!). The four women talked about their respective journeys before, during, and after getting elected to their respected offices. The panelists also shared many of the difficulties they faced in getting to where they are now.
The next workshop was titled “Networking and Making Connections,” and was led by Karen Landolt, a professor for the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.
Ms. Lundolt talked about the importance of using weak ties like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Weak ties are connections that you’re able to make over social media with people that you wouldn’t have been able to connect with otherwise, and they’re becoming increasingly important in the 21st century.
After lunch, we had a short walk across campus to the Texas Union through the hill country heat. We were headed to hear from the Forum’s keynote speaker, Representative Mary Gonzalez.
She shared with us her education, how she got her start in Texas politics, the daily problems that face her constituents and what she is doing to try and help them, and the different challenges that she faces as a woman in a field dominated by men. After the keynote address, we posed for a quick group photo with her…
…and then we were welcomed to a spread of fruit and sweets in the next room as a part of a reception that the Forum hosted for us and Representative Gonzalez.
Day 3, Saturday
Our third day began with a workshop that explored our different leadership styles. Susan Billmaier is a Program Officer at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and she specializes in workshops that support and encourage personal journeys, leadership styles, diversity and inclusion, and conflict resolution. By the end of the session we found ourselves divided into four different groups, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, and we all thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more about each other in this type of setting.
After a small coffee break, the Community Advocate Panel began. This panel was geared towards getting young women to become more active on a local level. The three panelists were all active in the Austin area. The panel shifted towards the panelists giving advice to all the young women of the forum. The main message that all three panelists could agree on was to stay true to yourself and your cultural identity.
The next workshop was titled “Texas Civic Health Index Report and Civic Reflection.” The goal of this workshop was to get the students involved in interactive civics exercises. We took a quiz to determine our level of civic engagement and compared our responses with our peers. We then discussed the factors that may contribute to some of us being more civically engaged than others. We learned that education is one of the main factors that impacts civic engagement.
Our last workshop of day 3 focused on Unconscious Bias. The workshop was run by Yulanda McCarty-Harris, and it focused on recognizing unconscious bias, who has unconscious bias, and how to combat it. Ms. McCarty-Harris was incredibly animated and everyone was engaged and interested. The second part of the Unconscious Bias workshop was a panel that featured Courtney Chavez, Dr.Ted Gordon, and Lana Petru. They all gave their insights as to what our society can do to combat unconscious bias.
DAY 4 – Sunday
Our first session of the day was “Political Fundraising” by Nancy Bocskor.
She gave a rousing speech on her experiences as a democracy coach around the world. She shared with us the same fundraising principles that she’s taught to people in all 50 states and in 27 different countries across the world. We learned how to utilize any organizations that we may be involved in, and that people we know are twice as likely to donate to any cause that we ask them over strangers.
Our second session of the day was a panel titled “How Tech is Shaping Politics,” and it featured three panelists that were experts in the field of technology and politics. They talked about how they use technology in their careers, and the different ways that technology can help and hinder political action.
“Managing your Message” was a session led by Jenifer Sarver, a professor in the Moody College of Communications at The University of Texas. Her presentation focused on effective communication. We touched on how to present yourself, considering your audience rather than simply the message that you want to convey, and working to establish your credibility. She also stressed the importance of using visual aids when attempting to get your message across.
DAY 5 – Monday
Our fifth day began with us grabbing a quick breakfast and loading up on a charter bus to head to Austin City Hall for a tour. We learned about the building’s architecture and how it was created to have a low impact on the environment. We also observed all the art pieces inside the building and we learned that they were all done by local artists. At the end of the year, Austinites are able to cast a vote to pick their favorite piece, and the City of Austin purchases that piece and adds it to its collection. We paused for a group picture up on one of the terraces of the building before heading back inside for a panel titled “Women in City Leadership.” The panel consisted of women that work in various city government positions within the City of Austin. They gave us advice on finding mentors, balancing our families and careers, and finding our passions after graduating college. When the panel ended, we were presented with certificates of congratulations from the City of Austin for completing the NEW Leadership program.
After our time at Austin City Hall, we stopped by Scholz Garden for lunch.
It was a German Restaurant where we were served some delicious fajitas. A few of us finished early and went outside to pose for a few photos with our newfound friends while we waited for the charter bus to come pick us back up to head to the State Capitol Building.
When we arrived at the Capitol, it was many of the NEW Leadership participants’ first time there. We took a special tour that focused on the women that helped shape our state’s history. For instance, we learned about a woman named Obedience Fort Smith who followed her son to Texas and owned 3,368 acres in what is now of the City of Houston. Tranquility Park, a park commemorating the Apollo 11 moon landing is a part of the land that was presented to her in 1845.
We then heard from four different women involved in Texas Politics. We heard from Donna Howard, a Texas State Representative, and then Lauren Hadley who is the Director of Constituent Services for Representative Howard. Then we heard from Terri Williams, Vice-President of Government Relations for the American Heart Association, and Linda Battles, Deputy Commissioner for Agency Operations and Communications for the Texas Higher Education Board. They shared with us their struggles and triumphs they’ve experienced throughout their years in the political sphere.
After a group photo in the capital…
…we headed back to our dorm rooms on UT’s campus. We changed out of our business casual attire for once and were able to just comfortably lounge while we worked on our political action projects that were due to be presented the next day.
DAY 6 – Tuesday
In the morning we began our day by presenting our Political Action Project that we had been working on periodically throughout the week. The project was a mock hearing on House Bill 316 (a reformation on Texas’s Law of Parties). Some students played the role of representatives that were either for or against the bill, some students were reporters asking questions of the representatives about the bill, and some students played the role of family members and friends offering testimony about how Texas’s Law of Parties had impacted their lives. The mock bill passed, and those of us that had been in opposition good-naturedly recognized our defeat.
After presenting our political action project, we heard from Lizzie Robbins, the State Program Manager for IGNITE Texas. IGNITE is an organization designed to teach young women to be civically engaged and step into public service. She gave us information on how to start IGNITE chapters on our own college campuses. We also learned that online students still can be active in the organization by joining the chapter on the college campus that is closest to them.
After lunch and a debrief it was time for us all to head home. Some of us had much longer drives than others, and after hearing from 52 speakers and sitting for 35 different panels and sessions throughout the week, we were all a bit worn out. It was a bittersweet ending to the week. We were all going to miss each other and the supportive and positive environment we had all created, but we also all wanted to see our own friends, families, and beds. We all exchanged hugs and contact information and said our goodbyes. There was laughter and tears, but also the realization that many of us had created lifelong friends this week, and that NEW Leadership Texas really had opened doors for many of us.