Nashville: It’s a Wrap!

Belmont Law School Tour 

Morgan Robertson

On the early morning of our final day of the SLC trip and my birthday, we got up, and we dressed in our best suits to head to our first law school tour at Belmont University College of Law. Belmont University is found in the heart of Nashville, making it an ideal location to be connected on and off campus. Having never been on a law-school tour, we walked in not knowing what to expect. 

We had previously learned of Belmont College of Law from Judge Alberto Gonzales, who serves as Dean of the law school. He regularly visits SHSU, and we were fortunate to learn about Belmont, the law in general, and much about politics from his visits to our campus, so we were excited to visit his!

Ms. Courtney Wilson allowed us to pop our heads into his office to say a quick “hello,” but Judge Gonzales had other plans. He greeted us warmly, invited us to sit down, and asked us many questions about our school, families, and ambitions. And we, in turn, asked him questions: about Belmont, going to law school, and the study and practice of law. We also had a chance to see some of the awards that Judge Gonzales and Belmont College of Law have received.

The beauty of the campus expresses itself onto and into the structure of the Randell and Sadie Baskin Center, the law school building. Interestingly, the law school is found all in one building, the Baskin Center, which makes it extremely convenient for classes, studying, and access to the two-story law library. Our tour guide, Ms. Wilson, amazed us with the facilities, including the trial courtroom, an appellate court, and a state-of-the-art classroom in which competitions are held every year and even judged by Judge Gonzales and fellow friends.

Belmont University is on the rise, not only with an incredibly successful law school, but also with the addition of a new medical school. 

Belmont University is the prime example of a new and young law school with a dedication to education and success. The 96% passage rate and the 100% ultimate passage rate for the BAR Exam allows them to be selective and efficient at turning out new attorneys. Belmont university was a great first experience in viewing what a successful law career can look like. And while the entire tour was exceptional, getting to meet with Judge Gonzales again was the highlight of our first law school tour. 

Lunch: Shake Shack and Jeni’s ice cream

Yvette Mendoza

Celebrating a birthday lunch for fellow LEAP Ambassador, Morgan, we headed off to Shake Shack, where they serve fast food (editors note: we don’t typically allow fast food, but since it was the student’s birthday and her idea of food….), following our tour of the Belmont College of Law. We all decided we’d all order the Smoke Shack which comes with niman ranch, applewood-smoked bacon, chopped cherry peppers, and the special Shack Sauce, all of which we washed down with a fresh lemonade.

As a birthday treat, we walked into Jeni’s ice cream shop. With an assortment of unique flavors from Brambleberry to Rocket Pop, a mix of pineapple and blueberry ice cream, they were all favored, making it the best dessert to get in the city of Nashville.

STAR Awards

The Southern Legislative Conference meets annually, giving legislators and their staff the opportunity to solve problems collaboratively, while also learning about the latest innovations and “best practices.” During this process, SLC staff also puts together nominations for the “State Transformation in Action Recognition.”

A committee then picks the top programs. Our advisor, Professor Mike Yawn, is on this committee, and the committee is chaired by Jay Hartz, Director of the Legislative Research Commission in Kentucky.

The committee considered and evaluated five excellent programs this year…

…before ultimately deciding on the top two. They were both developed in Virginia: one, Military Medics and Corpsman Program (MMAC), helped veterans transition to the civilian job market, especially those with medical backgrounds–a particularly important service in the time of COVID. The other, Restrictive Housing Reform for Inmates with Serious Mental Illnesses Secure Diversionary Treatment Program (STDP), focused on effective housing for inmates with special needs. Such an effort is not only humane, but also reduces costs, incidents, and, ultimately, helps with reintegration.

Tennessee State Capitol

Jessica Cuevas

On our last day in the beautiful city of Nashville, we visited the Tennessee State Capitol Building. This sophisticated structure was constructed in 1859 and designed by architect William Strickland.

In comparison to the other capitol buildings I have toured, it is smaller and more intimate.  Resembling Greek Revival structures, the capitol also has multiple Corinthian columns and, unlike other capitol buildings we have visited, this one is not domed at the top; instead it has a cupola.

Despite only having access to the first and second floors, we were given a guided tour by one of the staff members…

…and were able to go up into the House of Representatives chambers.

The room was elegant, but not as large as the chamber in the Texas Capitol.

On the first floor there is a portrait of none other than Sam Houston, who was governor of Tennessee before moving to Texas. He is the only man in US history to be governor of two states.

Although we were not able to step into the senate chambers, we were able to pop our heads in and noticed how much more intimate the room is compared to other states with the desks being significantly closer to the bench, it was also the only place where we saw the state seal displayed.

We also had a chance to see the old Supreme Court chambers.

Interestingly, we also found out that on the grounds there are four bodies buried, including those of President Polk and Mrs. Polk.

At the end of the tour, we were shown to the balcony where one can see the Tennessee State Museum.

Eager for the State Dinner later that evening, we left the capitol with enough time to allow us to get properly dressed. We were also content that we were able to visit another capitol building out of the 44!

State Dinner

Yvette Mendoza

Our last evening of the Southern Legislative Conference was a night to remember. Walking into the state dinner, we were greeted with two beautiful, ginormous guitars, decorated with a fresh and large floral arrangement. We took a ton of pictures to preserve this moment.

Each LEAP Ambassador was dressed in their elegant attire and were eager to meet legislature members as well as to expand their knowledge of politics. We took our seats with two members of the House of Representatives from the great state of Arkansas. Both representatives conversed with us, educating us on how each session works, noting that their sessions are 60 days (if not extended), and that they have 100 representatives and 35 senators.

As we continued in conversation, we turned our attention to the very loud cheering coming from the audience members as the presentation of their state flag was being given along with one interesting fact about the state. The beautiful presentation of the southern states’ flags was presented that night in the order in which they were annexed to the United States.

The legislators also announced the STAR awards and presented additional recognitions, educating us on their annual business.

Continuing through the dinner we were served our delicious meal which began with a salad topped with nuts, as for the entree was a delectable grilled steak with a side of pomme puree and asparagus.

To top it all off was a delicious tart dessert served with a marshmallow top and chocolate mousse.

While we were eating there was a live Jazz Band, Memphis All-Stars, playing relaxing music in the background.

Following the presentation of the awards to the dedicated members and to the state with the best plan, we then topped our night off with dancing to music from the 80s! 

Everything tied together wonderfully, and it made for an exquisite dinner and a delightful event.

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express News, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Stamford Advocate, Greenwich Time, Huron Daily Tribune, Laredo Morning Times, Beaumont Enterprise, Connecticut Post, and Midland Reporter Telegram. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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