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.
On April 30th, LEAP Ambassadors volunteered and attended the annual Reagan Dinner, the annual fundraising event for the Walker County Republican Dinner. This year’s keynote speaker was Col. Allen West, with numerous other notable officials also taking the stage, all of whom helped make this a fun, informative, and successful event.
As we arrived at the Huntsville Fairgrounds, we were greeted by the host and Chair of the Walker County Republican Party, Linda McKenzie.
The LEAP Ambassadors were assigned certain tasks a few hours beforehand to help prepare for the event. We made sure all the tables were properly configured for the formal dinner. As the event time drew closer, we helped sign each guest and sponsor in. Through this process we got to meet many politicians and local citizens of Huntsville.
Once everyone was seated, we took a seat at a table that was sponsored by U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady, who was gracious enough to sponsor seats for students. Mrs. McKenzie then gave her opening remarks and introduced judges, council members, and many other important people. She was followed by District Attorney Will Durham, who led us in the pledge of allegiance. Then all 300 people were served savory ribeye steaks, mashed potatoes, bread rolls, and homemade cheesecake, all catered by the local Huntsville restaurant, Humphreys. While we ate dinner, Mrs. McKenzie ably emceed the program.
Speakers such as County Judge Danny Pierce…
Representative Ernest Bailes…
…and Congress Kevin Brady…
… updated attendees about happenings in the County, the state legislature, and the US Congress.
Our keynote speaker, Lieutenant Colonel Allen West, had a motivational speech that touched on an array of topics about conservatism. He specifically spoke on the importance of voting in local government races, emphasizing the impact young people will have on the future of our country.
Lastly, Colonel West gave us the opportunity to ask questions. One gentleman asked, “Will you be running for President?” He responded that he will be following the path of God wherever that may lead him. After Colonel West was done answering questions, he was kind enough to take a picture with the LEAP Ambassadors.
As the event came to an end, LEAP Ambassadors helped with the clean-up process. We would like to thank Linda McKenzie for the opportunity to help out with such an exciting event.
This past Wednesday, the LEAP Ambassadors hosted the District Attorney’s office, which sponsored a simulated voir dire, to help students better understand the jury selection process. Speaking to student participants from diverse majors, attorneys Stuart Hughes, Malori Martin, Phil Faselar, Taylor Carter helped the students understand the entire jury selection process. With this demonstration and the attorneys’ recaps, were able to see firsthand how voir dire factors into the trial process.
We acted as a group of potential jurors three separate times, each time learning a different attorney’s approach and method of getting to know a jury. An attorney’s job during this time is to find the type of juror they want to serve during the trial by asking broad questions that are relevant to the case. Members took on different personas and, to the full extent of their abilities, tried to answer questions as 56-year-old school district employees, 28-year-old graduate employees, and 45-year-old gas station cashiers–biographies provided to them by the LEAP Center. Members enjoyed the challenge of thinking on their feet and answering questions in character.
After the final voir dire, PLS members were able to ask questions about law school, learn about the different positions our guests held throughout their careers, and inquire about internships. Overall, it was an eye-opening experience for everyone involved. We saw a more in-depth view of the trial process and were able to offer a practice opportunity for the DA’s office coming out of a post Covid-19 world. Thank you to the Walker County District Attorney Office for coming to Sam Houston State University and teaching us about the voir dire process.
Last week, LEAP Ambassadors got together to watch the World Affairs Council’s Ronan O’Malley interview the former Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner.
Although nothing can compare to attending events in person, the WAC never fails to deliver intriguing and informative programs, even when we are watching remotely as a group.
With his new memoir, On the House, now for sale, Boehner tuned in to discuss his time in Washington, D.C., sharing a blunt and brutally honest perspective about what needs to change.
Boehner mentioned that he has, to date, met 10 U.S. presidents. I was intrigued to learn that he felt he had a good working relationship with President Bill Clinton. He described Clinton as the best politician he ever met, and said that he maintained a great relationship with the White house when Clinton was in office. He explained that the key to having a successful bipartisan relationship was compromise. However, he qualified that by reminding us that there is a difference between compromising on values and finding a common ground.
That being said, Boehner had no problem criticizing his former colleagues for failing to do just that. In what was certainly colorful language, the former Speaker of the House condemned the “knuckleheads” of Washington, a category of leaders consisting of both Republicans and Democrats, that prefer anarchy and disruption to actual governing. This group tends to consist of those who lean far in either direction and refuse to compromise.
To challenge these so-called knuckleheads, Boehner has come up with a number of quotes for current and future leaders to consider in their efforts to make a difference, which his staff has coined as “Boehnerisms.” Among these are: “Disagree without being disagreeable,” and “do the right things for the right reasons.” These are certainly helpful thoughts to keep in mind, not only in politics, but in all facets of life.
As always, the LEAP Ambassadors appreciate the efforts of the WAC to keep the community engaged and exposed to speakers like Speaker Boehner. We look forward to the next event, and hope to attend in person soon!
Last week, the LEAP Center invited SHSU students to ask questions and engage in conversation with Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. With top students participating in this small-group session, Judge Gonzales shared his experiences as Attorney General and various other positions he has held throughout his career.
After a brief introductory video…
… Judge Gonzales launched into his background, explaining how he became who he is today. Having grown up in Humble, Texas, Judge Gonzales talked of his upbringing and about how, upon graduating high school, he enlisted in the air force. Judge Gonzales was flagged as a good candidate for the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), which he attended for three years. Following his attendance at the USAFA, Judge Gonzales received a degree from Rice University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School.
With a natural aptitude for practicing law, Judge Gonzales worked hard and became a partner at Vinson & Elkins, one of the largest law firms in Texas. Judge Gonzales eventually left the private sector to serve on the Texas Supreme Court, after which he was asked to serve as the White House Counsel to President George W. Bush. After that, Judge Gonzales was appointed the first Hispanic Attorney General.
Judge Gonzales then shared about his experience during September 11th, 2001 as White House Counsel. For most of us, our knowledge of 9/11 consists of what we have learned from classroom settings or our parents’ own accounts. Judge Gonzales was able to share a new and enlightening, yet chilling, perspective on that day. On the morning of the attack, Judge Gonzales was meant to fly out of Dulles Airport to give a speech. Following the first attack, all airplanes were grounded, and Judge Gonzales felt it necessary to return back to the White House and await President Bush’s arrival. After finally securing a mode of transportation via navy pilot, Judge Gonzales was able to return back to the White House. Judge Gonzales recalls watching President Bush walk off of Airforce One, walk right past him without a word, and into the White House to prepare to address the nation.
Toward the end of the event, Judge Gonzales opened the room to questions and discussion. Questions ranged from inquiries about his current position as Dean of Belmont College of Law, his time as Attorney General, the tough decisions made regarding national security, and a few little known facts about the White House.
Judge Gonzales shared with the students that while intelligence is important, hard work and dedication are even more important. There will always be times when easy decisions are impossible, but the perseverance of the individual is vastly required. Judge Gonzales encouraged us to strive for excellence and continue to surpass our own expectations for ourselves.
The LEAP Ambassadors began waiting in line to enter BookPeople, voted the Best Bookstore in Austin for the past 20 years or so. We explored their array of books, consisting of politics, poetry, and even classic novels–and that was just the first floor!
On our way to the second floor, we noticed a painting of a Blue Dog, by the American Artist George Rodrigue. Interestingly, he did the painting while in the bookstore for a booksigning. Talk about a productive visit!
Alongside the Blue Dog were pictures of all the authors who have come to do book signings at BookPeople. These authors include former President Bill Clinton, Stephen Harrigan, Meg Gardiner, and Jeff Guinn. In fact, the LEAP Ambassadors had attended some of these!
We all enjoyed the bookstore, and we each picked out at least one book from genres that included politics, history, crime, and classics.
Following our trip to the bookstore, we visited Austin’s Fresa’s Mexican Cantina. We started with classic appetizers such as queso, guacamole dip, chips, and tortillas. For the main meal, we had specialty tacos: Pulled Achiote Chicken and Agave-Lime Chicken. As for the other entrees, they were Power Bols packed with agave lime chicken, sweet potato, garbanzo beans, and fresh spinach. The waiter was so kind to bring us two homemade sauces, one being jalapeno and the other creamy ranch.
Surprisingly, a side dish of crispy brussels sprouts was seasoned so well with Pasilla Aioli that it made vegetables something you would go out of your way to eat!
We topped off our afternoon with a sweet dessert of ice cream in two different flavors, cookies and cream and strawberry guava with a sugar cookie on top, as well as the churros with cajeta.
We left the restaurant full and happy.
Bob Bullock Museum of Texas History
By Morgan Robertson
For our final major stop on the Austin trip, we visited the Bob Bullock Museum. Our learning not only involved the exhibits, but also several tutorials on using a camera.
The four-story museum covers the pre-contact era to the modern times. One of my favorite displays was the contents and items found on a Spanish ship, including 371 cannon shots, 785,000 glass beads (that would have been used for trading), 675 axel heads, and a large collection of dishware.
Of course, Texas history was thrown into the mix with an emphasis on Sam Houston, learning more about the namesake of our University.
It was nice to learn more about this great Texan, particularly as students from SHSU.
Of course, we also learned about Texas’s fight for independence, role in the space program, technological developments, gas and oil, and indigenous wildlife.
Within the museum, the LEAP Ambassadors attended an IMAX documentary called Into America’s Wild. This film highlighted the outdoors, and featured many spectacular scenes in the United States.
It also featured many individuals from underrepresented populations, highlighting how the outdoors has transformed their lives.
The inspirational tone from the documentary left us with a sense of longing to chase adventures and exploration.
Finally to conclude the trip, the LEAP Ambassadors stopped at the local bakery, Quacks. Amongst some of the chosen pastries were giant chocolate chip and ginger cookies, raspberry lemon cupcakes, apple crumble pie, butter croissants, and raspberry tea cookies. On the car ride home, LEAP ambassadors shared and conversed over different baked goods, leaving our stomachs and hearts full for the ride home.
Competing with the wind, currents, and occasionally each other, the LEAP Ambassadors spent the morning kayaking on Lady Bird Lake. Jessica and Yvette were partnered in one kayak, while Quinn and I were in the other.
We set off upstream with skills ranging from novice to Eagle Scout and everywhere in between.
Initially, finding a paddling rhythm was difficult, but after a few minutes of trial and error, we figured things out.
Naturally, kayaking became a competition. In general, Quinn and I held the lead, followed closely by Professor Yawn and Stephanie (who, in addition to rowing, handled all photography responsibilities)…
and finally, Jessica and Yvette in the back (who did their own version of photography).
We enjoyed racing across the water, trying new paddling techniques, and observing the local landscape and architecture lining the reservoir.
After kayaking left us hungry, the Ambassadors turned to a local burger spot called P. Terry’s, whose menu consisted of hamburgers, cheeseburgers…
chicken-burgers, fries and shakes.
Settling at Treaty Oak for lunch…
…the group learned about the 700-year-old tree and its history. We found out that Treaty Oak had served as a meeting site for the Comanche tribe and Steven F. Austin, as well as a place for Sam Houston to visit during his time as governor. We wrapped up lunch with quick selfies…
…and LEAPing photo by an ATX sculpture.
“What Lies Beneath”: Meeting Daniel Arredondo
By Jessica Cuevas
After lunch, the LEAP Ambassadors embarked on a trip to Daniel Arredondo’s beautiful art studio. Mr. Arredondo is known for his tree and landscape artwork with acrylic paint that comes in a variety of different mediums. He has a unique and creative art style in which he depicts not only what the eye can see but what may be found on the other side or under the landscape.
Arredondo has always painted landscapes, and has a particular affinity for trees. It was not until he sat down with his wife to watch the movie, What Lies Beneath, that he got the inspiration to include things beyond what the eye can see into his paintings. He shared with us that he enjoys drawings trees because they are beings of nature that are not that unlike humans; just like us, they come in different sizes and kinds.
Every single one of his paintings is unique in the sense that they each tell their own personal stories or deliver a unique message. Even those that appear to be similar have a different origin and story to tell.
In every art piece Arredondo creates, a piece of his heart is left behind. He loves his paintings so much that he treats them as the treasure they are. In fact, he lives by the motto that he hopes to catch the viewer’s attention and hold on to it for every possible second.
We walked away from his studio pleased not only with new pieces of art (some purchased, some given as a gift), but also with the advice of starting a collection of something we truly find fascinating or interesting. I am unsure of what I will start collecting, but I am looking forward to the process.
We greatly appreciate Mr. Arredondo for coming out to his art gallery and giving us a personal tour of his studio. We will never forget his kindness and generosity.
Dinner in Salado
By Yvette Mendoza
In the evening we arrived in Salado, Texas, and ventured into various local stores. Each store had its own unique handcrafted art, which ranged from handmade jewelry to blown glass. In Benton’s jewelry store, we met the owner, Bob Hargrove, who made all the pearl necklaces, diamond encrusted earrings, and sterling silver rings that are sold. Salado’s Glasswork shop had handmade blown glass, which was blown in a separate, colossal room at the shop. Walking alongside the shopping center, we encountered the ruins of the Salado College, which was founded in 1860.
While observing the bluebonnet-filled remains of the building, we learned intriguing facts about how much tuition was in the 1800’s (certainly not as much as today) and what the school’s rules consisted of, which also probably are unenforceable today.
Continuing our journey through Salado, LEAP Ambassadors met with the Edwards (Rocky and Lauren) at their lovely ranch. Lauren’s father was the founder of the Friends of the Old Town Theatre nonprofit in Huntsville, which Lauren now presides over as president.
Shortly after we arrived, Lauren showed us how to feed a baby calf, which was both exciting and nerve wracking.
She also provided a fascinating tour of her greenhouse and other outdoor areas. Inside her greenhouse she showed us the fascinating secondhand stained glass and doors she had saved and repurposed from her parents’ and grandparents’ homes.
After petting their horse (Barbie), watching Rocky call in the heifers with his voice alone, and petting the cows…
…we got to eat delectable grilled burgers.
Lastly, Lauren gave us Native American arrowheads that were from the Salado creek, where various tribes had resided, which was greatly appreciated. We cannot begin to express our gratitude for their graciousness and hospitality, and we look forward to visiting again soon! This was definitely a great end to our day.
On the LEAP Ambassadors’ first day (or actually, evening!) touring downtown Austin, we walked through lively streets filled with loud music and a diverse array of people. For many of us, it was the first time to sixth street, which we traveled on simply to get to our restaurant. The travel was a bit slow going, owing to the maskless throngs (from which we took wide berth) and aggressive requests for money.
For dinner, we stopped at the Mediterranean restaurant CAVA.
The appetizing assortment of options ranged from lamb to falafel, which were topped with a variety of savory and sweet sauces, as well as other toppings. Although we had all had Mediterranean food previously, we did try new food items, whether it was falafel or tzatziki sauce, and we were very pleased!
After wrapping up dinner, we walked up Congress Avenue, stopping near the statue of Angelina Eberly. Ms. Eberly was well connected, having hosted both Presidents Lamar and Houston in her home, but that did not impress her much. In fact, in 1842, when President Houston sent emissaries to remove the state archives from Austin and relocate them, Ms. Eberly greeted his officials’ with a cannon, thus repelling efforts to relocate the archives and capital. This “archives war” is preserved in Pat Oliphant’s statue prominently featured on Congress.
As we made our way further up Congress Ave, we took a moment to observe the Texas Capitol. Unfortunately, the gates to the Capitol were closed, and we had to view–and photograph–it from afar.
Across the street is Governor’s Mansion, where the LEAP Ambassadors were surprised (and excited) to encounter Governor Greg Abbott’s two golden retrievers. We weren’t positive of their identities, but Blake Roach, who works for the Governor, provided us with the dogs’ names (peaches and pancake) and a bit about their personalities!
Thus armed with knowledge, we posed with Peaches and Pancake and provided us with a very satisfying beginning to our trip.
Today we had the honor of hosting a LEAP LIVE with NY Times best-selling author, Jeff Guinn. Guinn began by telling us that he had hoped to be an author since he was 8 years old, and that he considers himself fortunate to able to work as a full-time author.
Guinn began his career at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as a journalist, where he learned how to properly conduct research, draw out the most relevant objective facts, and meet deadlines–traits that all contributed to him becoming a successful author.
Several of the biggest takeaways for us as students was an appreciation of Guinn’s intellectual curiosity, his perseverance, and his participatory way of getting to know his subjects or topics. In his newspaper days, for example, he worked as a migrant worker in the Rio Grande Valley, he lived in a (high-crime) public housing project, and he went homeless for nine days–during which time he was attacked by a drug dealer. This type of participatory journalism allowed Guinn to understand the topics about which he was writing.
This is a method he has used in his non-fiction works as well. For his work on Bonnie and Clyde, he traveled to the locations Bonnie and Clyde did; he slept in his car, as they did; he even swam a river they swam, all for the sake of better understanding their experiences. For his book on Jonestown, he traveled to the jungles of Guyana, cutting through area that marked Jonestown, now overgrown by jungle. He discussed, too, some of his work on The Vagabonds, which covered the annual travels of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. (LEAP students were fortunate to have assisted in some small ways with the research for this latter work.)
Following the FB Live session, Mr. Guinn generously agreed to spend time with a handful of students, answering more in-depth questions about his career. This, too, was revealing and interesting, allowing us to see the research habits and techniques of a major writer. He told more about the friendships he has made in writing, including friends who are survivors of Jim Jones’ church; he went more in depth about his experiences interviewing the Manson women in California prisons; and he discussed his favorite artifact he’s seen while research his books (Thomas Edison’s original light bulb).
For me, the best advice he gave to us was that, no matter what our future careers are, we need perseverance. The bumps in the road are normal and everyone encounters them at a certain point. The successful fight through those bumps in the road.
Thank you Jeff Guinn for taking the time to speak with us about the experiences and encounters you have had, as well as sharing the knowledge and wisdom you have gained while researching your books.
The LEAP Center would like to thank the Sam Houston Memorial Museum and the Old Town Theater for allowing us to broadcast on their FB Channels. We’d also like to thank Sarah Faulkner for joining us in the post discussion.