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.
The project involved planting flowers, shrubs, and trees around the Boys and Girls Club playground, beautifying the grounds, improving the environment, and enhancing the educational experiences for the boys and girls of Walker County.
The morning began with Michelle Spencer, Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Walker County, giving us a tour and history of the organization and its programs. From arts and crafts to board games to yoga to homework time, students engage in various activities designed to help them mature physically, intellectually, and emotionally.
Such programs are funded with a 1 million dollar budget–much of which comes from grants and donors (click here to give!)–and directed by dedicated staff.
For many of the children in Walker County, this is the only program where they can have a safe and educational environment to be when parents are not. But it is not simply a day care; each of its programs are designed along best practices for educating young people to reach their fullest potential.
While most of the students were captivated by the game room, the LEAP Ambassadors–who helped lead the project–were taken by the Arts room, where the “Blue Dog” art-work of George Rodrigues was featured.
After learning more about the Boys and Girls Club and its wonderful programs, we moved to learning about the planting of trees from Travis Weddle, Program Coordinator for Trees for Houston.
The process involved several steps: (1) staking, (2) digging, (3) prepping, (4) planting, and (5) berming and mulching.
Mr. Weddle did a great job of walking us through these steps, breaking us into teams, and providing the occasional reminder of how to do things.
What followed was much digging, bending, planting, rearranging dirt, watering–and a lot of teamwork.
With student volunteers ranging in age from 18-51 working alongside one another, we also had a chance to make new friends. It was a new learning experience in every sense of the word: from learning about the environment and biology, to learning about the community, and to learning about each other.
As the lunch hour began to pass, we began to finish up. We took the time to pose for photographs with our work and to reflect on our experiences.
Although the trees are far from maturity, we decided they had a pleasant effect on the landscape.
Our new friendships, too, formed a foundation for future endeavors.
And, taken together, we believe a bright future–for us and the community–has taken root.
October has a few milestones for those in Huntsville, but none more important than Main Street’s Annual Scare on the Square! This year, we were fortunate enough to have 3 booths, all run by students from Professor Yawn’s classes. Two groups from the Local Government class and one group from University 1101 Pre-Law braved the eager trick-o-treaters, photo-snapping parents, and swarms of community members, to volunteer for this amazing event.
Main Street Coordinator, Annel Guadalupe was assisted by Main Street Intern and LEAP Ambassador, Jessica Cuevas.
The team did a wonderful job transforming our beloved downtown into a Halloween Celebration! Up at Rather Park, a DJ was stationed playing Halloween music, and there were fall-themed photo stations for families to remember their time at scare on the square. Yvette and I were on standby to offer assistance to the groups and to take pictures.
We coordinated our costumes from the movie Monsters Inc. and became known as the Monster photographers (although, within LEAP, we are known simply as “monsters”)!
Each group of volunteers brainstormed their own games and was responsible for bringing their ideas to life.
Booth one was run by one group from the local government class. Volunteers from this group were: Michelle Bright, Amor Sheffield, Matthew Smith, and Emily Lindahl, Adisen Massie, and Christina Biello.
Their game was perhaps the most creative and required quite a bit of skill from the young trick-o-treaters. With a small tub of rubber ducks and makeshift fishing poles, players were required to catch a duck to win candy! Some got the hang of fishing more easily than others, but intense concentration was a must for this game.
Booth two was the second group from the local government class, run by: Rachel Hill, Johnny Uribe, Gisela Soto, Giselle Martinez, Amari Gallien, and Cameron Gill.
This group kept the game simple, with classic cornhole boards. However, the true competitive colors of almost every player were shown in this game. This booth seemed to produce an endless amount of laughs, as volunteers enjoyed the game faces of the players.
The final group were all in their first semester at SHSU, and they did a great job of decorating their booth, assembling costumes, and putting on a game. This group included Sephora Pham, Faith Barnes, Peyton Jennings, McKenna Nonnennmann, Michelle Cardenas, and Cinthia Villareal.
To win candy at this booth, children had to toss a tennis ball into a Halloween bucket (which sounds easier than it actually is)!
When it came time for the Costume Parade, Annel asked for a few volunteers to escort Frankenstein from the front of the parade! Gisela and Johnny helped corral masqueraders, and led them down the street toward the park.
The parade was a success; Johnny and Gisela even got to help city staff pass out beads to the participants.
Another highlight was just seeing all the young people–and older people–dressed up and having fun.
Scare on the Square is one of my favorite events of the year. Members of the community fellowship in our beautiful Downtown, enjoy the nice weather, and celebrate a fun holiday!
On behalf of the LEAP Center and the students who volunteered, thank you to Annel, Jessica, and the City of Huntsville for making this event possible!
This past week at the Pre-Law Society meeting, we welcomed Ms. Shawn Adams, the director for recruitment at Texas Tech School of Law.
Ms. Adams graduated from Texas Tech with a Master’s in Business Administration and a JD! We learned a lot from her educational background and experience as a practicing attorney.
On this evening, her goal was not only to recruit students to Texas Tech School of Law, but also to give us loads of advice regarding the law school application process and what to look for in law schools. She started by looking for three main things when choosing a law school.
Looking at what the cost of living will be at the school apart from tuition
Bar passage rate
Post-graduate employment rate
All three items can be located on the law school’s 509 reports!
Ms. Adams covered what is needed in a law school application: transcript, letter of recommendation, personal statement, LSAT score, and resume–and how those are weighted at Texas Tech.
We also learned more about what Texas Tech school of law offers and how beautiful and engaging their campus life is! In addition, they offer many great resources for students interested in criminal defense and even have a dual degree program.
As the meeting ended, Ms. Adams stressed that it is essential to go at our own pace, and it is okay if we do not make straight A’s in law school because of how rigorous it is. And she encouraged us, noting that if we continue to work hard and have our hearts in the studying, we can go far.
Many thanks to Ms. Shawn Adams for her continual support of the LEAP Center and Pre-Law Society at Sam Houston State University.
Unless you’ve been comatose for the past several years, you know there have been a series of healthcare crises, the most prominent of which was, of course, COVID. More recently, there has been a resurgence of Polio (!) and, of course, Monkeypox–and the latter was the topic of an expert panel assembled by the Bush School: Drs. Robert Carpenter, Syra Madad, Jennifer A. Shuford, and Robert Kadlec, moderated by Gerald Parker. It was a fascinating discussion, one that left us more educated and a bit more concerned.
There are about 60,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the world, and the U.S. makes up about 39% of those cases, which makes us first in the dubious distinction of leading the world in monkeypox cases. As a public health student, it was especially intriguing to hear how current public health officials view this threat, and what steps are being taken to prevent another pandemic.
Monkeypox is not a new phenomenon. It was first observed in 1958 in monkeys, and in 1970 it made its first known “jump” to humans. Resembling smallpox, it was dubbed monkeypox. This condition appears as lesions on the skin, and these sores make you contagious for up to four weeks. Monkeypox is spread from close skin-to-skin contact where bodily liquids are shared (e.g., kissing or sex). At present, it is most commonly circulating within the male homosexual population (currently, more than 90% of cases are in men), but it is expected to eventually become a disease in the general population. To protect yourself from Monkeypox, practice safe sex, follow good hand hygiene, and avoid contact–especially skin-to-skin contact–with someone known to carry the virus.
The panel also discussed the differences between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Monkeypox outbreak. The key difference between the two was the level of readiness at the very beginning. Because we have been studying monkeypox for more than five decades, and because it is a relative of smallpox, we have vaccines that are effective against it. For COVID-19, we had to invent the vaccine more or less from scratch.
Both, however, may be suffering from misconceptions and poor communication. In Monkeypox, there is a misconception about who can catch it (everyone can catch it), and with COVID-19, there was resistance to the idea that it was even a threat. Those who adopted the latter group were also resistant to vaccines. Add to this the fact that vaccine distribution was spotty in rural areas, and there were some problems reaching everyone.
Dr. Robert Carpenter discussed with us how his team, Texas A&M Health Maroon Line Clinic, helped deal with COVID-19 in rural communities. One of the major issues he brought to our attention was the health disparities people face living in a rural community, such as not having sufficient medical staff. He and his team have brought vaccinations to these small Texas towns, distributing more than 240,000 vaccines and holding more than 2,000 events for COVID-19-related causes. Beyond COVID-19 the Maroon Line Clinic also has provided many primary and secondary prevention tactics such as cancer screenings, diabetes education, and substance abuse intervention.
LEAP found this panel discussion very intriguing and informative, as we further our careers in politics and policy. Going to sessions complements our classes at SHSU and inspires us to make a real change like them in this world. Many thanks to the panel and the Bush School’s Scowcroft Institute for hosting a fantastic program.
Ohana Korean Grill
With inspiration from last week’s venture to see General Chun, we decided to go for Korean food. We choose Ohana Korean Grill in College Station, which was, for most of us, our first time trying Korean food.
We ordered a few samplers such as the seafood pancake, which included vegetables and, to our surprise, octopus. We each got a traditional Korean dish such as the BiBimBap, which is a bowl of rice that comes with an assortment of vegetables and beef on top. I ordered the spicy seafood which came with an array of different sea creatures that most other restaurants might not have included. We sat around talking for so long that they brought us some cinnamon and ginger tea which was a wonderful cap to an entertaining and educational evening.
The LEAP Center typically invites Professor Val Ricks from the South Texas College of Law–Houston to campus in the spring, but we made it a fall event this year. And so it was that, last week, Professor Ricks spoke to 35 SHSU pre-law students who signed up for an educational event–without extra credit, a class assignment, or give-away prizes.
They came because they wanted to learn, and they were willing to do some dense reading beforehand. The reading involved a contract, and this was no accident. Professor Ricks is one of the leading experts in the country on contract law; in fact, some of our alumni who have gone on to law school have informed us that they were assigned his book in their classes!
Professor Ricks began the course by informing us of his goals for this and any class that he teaches: (1) Get the words of the law – law is words, (2) Set the words out in a workable way, (3) Practice applying them, and (4) Consider what is “right” – the law is a moral exercise.
He went about this through the Socratic method since everyone loves being called on and questioned until they cannot answer. At least, we will have to if we plan on practicing the law, especially, in the courtroom. Through his random number generator, he called on those people to answer his questions regarding the G.D. Holdings, INC v H.D.H. Land & Timber, L.P., 407 S.W.3d 856, 2013, after delivering the facts and procedures of this case.
Many of us believed we were prepared but we did not know what to expect, so were we really prepared for Professor Ricks to hit us with questions like, What is the legal issue being addressed? How did you draw this conclusion? What is the ruling of the Court? A few of us addressed this question with the trial court’s ruling which led Professor Ricks to ask us, Where did you read that? Why do you think that is the final ruling? In these instances he let us help each other out when the person he called on was stuck, which we later learned that in an actual law class he would have picked that individual’s brain until they provided the answer he was looking for.
We continued this process as we provided evidence that we thought best fit or would prove the three different clauses of Promissory Estoppel- the legal issue of the case – (a) a promise, (b)foreseeability of reliance by the promissor, and (c) substantial reliance by the promisee to his detriment. It was at this moment, that we felt the high pressure that lawyers feel in a courtroom the most. With us acting as lawyers and Professor Ricks as a judge, who questioned us to help fill in the gaps in the story and understand what we were thinking. This proved to be a lot harder than we thought since proving that a promise, the first part of Promissory Estoppel, had been made was difficult and some of us soon learned that in this context a promise was defined as a commitment.
Following the class, most of us were more certain than ever that we wanted to attend law school. This was a sentiment Professor Ricks encouraged, as we learned when he stayed after to encourage us, answer questions, and take photos.
On the final day of the trip, we made sure to stop by the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) Presidential Library. This will be the third presidential library we have been to since we have also seen Harry S. Truman’s and George H. W. Bush’s Presidential Libraries.
Lyndon B. Johnson was a small-town Texas boy born in 1908. His dad worked in the Texas legislature and his mom was a college-educated woman who was ahead of her time. He was very involved throughout his time in public school including being class president of his 6-student class. He ended up graduating from Southwest Texas State Teachers College with a bachelor’s in education. During his teaching years near the border, the job was able to open his eyes to true poverty and discrimination even among young kids.
Because of the struggle he observed in his students, they inspired him to get into politics to be able to make changes for the underserved communities. He soon started working for a US Congressman in Washington, D.C. while attending law school. He shortly became a senator himself preparing him for his goal to become president. When he lost the Democratic nominee in 1963, John F. Kennedy took him in as a vice president.
Due to the unfortunate assassination of John F. Kennedy, LBJ became a United States president from 1963-1969. Through his library, we learned about this extraordinary man who accomplished so much in 6 years that inspired so much change for the better in America.
The memories of his students boosted his motivation to deal with these issues he saw back home to get them handled now. He extended the new deal made by Franklin Roosevelt which would help provide better access to healthcare and education for low-income families. For example, the Headstart program promotes education to young children in low-income families.
One cause LBJ is notable for is helping certain populations who did not have a voice, such as minority or poverty-ridden groups. During his presidency, he was able to pass acts that enacted a lot of social change, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act prohibited discrimination on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in any instance. Thus, ending segregation which became a huge victory for the Civil Rights movement.
Even though the U.S. did not land on the moon during LBJ’s Presidency he contributed many efforts to make it happen. Therefore, in the museum, they have a section dedicated to America winning the space race and putting a man on the moon. They even have a real moon rock!
LBJ’s most infamous move in the presidency was getting America more involved in the Vietnam war. He was increasing the military presence in Vietnam, which resulted in many young lives being lost in the battle against communism. Many people protested our involvement ultimately taking a big toll on the president.
All of his conversations were recorded in the White House office telephone, so in the Presidential library, you can listen to over 100 phone calls via a wall-mounted phone throughout the library. We each got to experience different phone calls with him some being from other people in government and his mistress.
He was good with people but did not know the definition of personal space. He can be seen in many photos leaning over people with his 6’4’’ frame laughing or yelling, otherwise known as “the Johnson Treatment”. We were actually able to get a feel for the experience ourselves with a picture of LBJ leaning over us.
Lucky for us, we were also able to see the special exhibit of Lady Bird: Beyond the Wildflowers. It featured all kinds of memorabilia from her life including books, diplomas, letters, outfits, and more. This exhibit was made to hone in on who Mrs. Johnson really was and give a broader focus on her life outside of LBJ. My favorite part of this exhibit was getting to see all the elegant dresses she would wear to all sorts of different social events.
Not many other college students can say they have gone to three presidential libraries, so we are always thankful for these opportunities to learn more about our nation’s history. We are always impressed by the artifacts and stories told in the libraries that really in-body the person they are representing.
Two years ago, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) made a decision that they needed approach to diversifying courts across the country. They created a new position–Director of Racial Equity, Fairness, and Inclusion–and they hired Bell to “address racial equality in the justice system.” And, today, owing to a partnership between CRIJ’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office and the Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT), Bell spoke to faculty, staff and students at SHSU.
Introduced by Nu Epps, CJ’s Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion…
…Bell got to the point quickly, discussing a “Blueprint” for a new justice system. This change begins with awareness, requires institutional (and institutionalized) change, is expanded by new processes, and is nourished by recruiting justice-system actors from a cross-section of the United States.
These changes can range from being aware of our biases, includes modifications of how we treat people in the justice system, and extends to the manner in which we target opportunities. One of these opportunities, which will be unveiled fully within the year, is C.O.R.A, which involves targeting minority-serving institutions for internships, clerkships, and positions within the criminal justice system.
Bell is well positioned to assess many of these changes. With a Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice, a Master’s in Business Administration, a Certificate in Judicial Administration from Michigan State University, and a graduate of the NCSC Court Management Fellows program. He has also worked in the court system for more than a decade, serving as judicial administrator, clerk, and as a planner for the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council of Georgia.
Bell’s experience, wisdom, and inspirational message influenced at least one student in the audience. Kiara Williams, a senior Criminal Justice major at SHSU, noted that it was “an uplifting talk, and it opened me up to some opportunities I had not considered.”
Following the event, Bell spent time speaking with audience members, encouraging students (including Williams), and discussing potential future partnerships–before being whisked away to his next opportunity to spread a message of fairness and awareness.
Professor Yawn presented over “A Simple Plan,” directed by Sam Raini, (most famously known for the Evil Dead movies).
He argued that the film is best understood by looking at it from a tragic framework, with questions of free will and fate, the allure of the American dream at its center, and the tension between brothers.
The motif of “brotherhood” is seen again in “Only God forgives,” which Matthew Wysocki addressed in his presentation. More elaborately, though, it addresses the role of mother. Crystal, an untraditional mother if ever there was one, uses manipulation and raw power to gain even more power, abandoning all of what would normally be regarded as traditional maternal behavior.
Lauren Mitchell presented her paper over the movie “Hereditary. ” This film continues the theme of motherhood, highlighting the difficult time we have of seeing mothers as real people, who sometimes becomes mothers despite not wanting children, who sacrifice goals and hopes and dreams for others.
We successfully survived, and even enjoyed our first academic conference, and embarked on our way to our next stop!
Brunch at Elizabeth’s
This afternoon, we drove down to Elizabeth’s Restaurant right next to the Mississippi River. We started with an assortment of appetizers; boudin balls, fried green tomatoes, (some with seafood!), and possibly the strangest of the bunch, praline bacon. While we waited for the starters, we learned that many foods that we love in the US originated in New Orleans, either by invention or through trade. This includes pralines, which originated in France, but which was improved on in New Orleans, and then spread mostly through the South.
My favorite of the selection was the boudin balls, Morgan favored the fried green tomatoes, and for Yvette it was the praline bacon.
To maximize on adventure and try new (to us) flavors, we ordered four main dishes. For our main course, Morgan and Victoria ordered the shrimp and grits; the ratio of shrimp and grits was perfect.
Jessica played it safe with the avocado toast, with a poached egg. Although to her credit, the toast did have some NOLA spice to it, and she paired it with a side of grits.
Yvette chose the duck waffles, which she enjoyed but deemed too spicy, a recurring motif throughout the trip (and from what I gathered, throughout her life).
I picked the sweet meal out of the bunch and had banana foster French toast, which was delicious!
For dessert, we had bread pudding and pecan pie. The bread pudding was average, not the table’s favorite, but the pecan pie was amazing, better than any I’ve had in Texas.
Thoroughly stuffed and with high expectations for our next NOLA meal, we embarked on our adventure!
With a bit of downtime, we hustled over to a City Park, one highlighting civil rights. It was the site of Homer Plessy’s train ride, where he spurred a test case on Jim Crow laws.
Unfortunately, Plessy lost in 1896, and the doctrine of “Separate but Equal” became shameful precedent in the US, not replaced until 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education.
While at the Plessy site, we also looked over the rest of the park, taking in some of NOLA’s civil rights heroes.
Zooming through NOLA
We have concluded over three separate LEAP trips that there is no better way to learn more about a new city than by Segway, and we did just that in NOLA! Our excellent tour guide, John, with Nation Tours did a great job explaining the richness of history, architecture, and culture in New Orleans. So as the LEAP Ambassadors took their Segways through the French Quarter to the Mississippi River, we all gained a deeper understanding of NOLA.
John frequently time-traveled and described what the city was like in days past. Some of the tour was a refresher on previous history lessons, while other parts were new information. We learned that NOLA went through 4 major governing shifts. The city was initially founded by the French, taken over by the Spanish, fell again under French rule, and then finally doubled the size of the U.S. in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase.
Next, we headed to Jackson Square. This central location is deemed such because of the “Hero of New Orleans,” Andrew Jackson, and his unexpected victory as General at the Battle of New Orleans in early 1815. This was a major win for the United States because it spared the US the prospect of the British having control over the mouth of the Mississippi.
Perhaps the prime feature of Jackson Square must be the stunning, almost 300-year-old, St. Louis Cathedral. This Cathedral is one of the oldest in the country and was founded during Spanish occupation!
Our jaws dropped when we discovered we were stepping in front of the oldest Cathedral. We could not miss a photo opportunity!
Up next, Bourbon Street! Here we learned more about the Spanish stock architecture and the fantastic bars that perform the best jazz in New Orleans. this blend of modern-day culture, with historic surroundings is the city’s largest source of revenue Pre-covid, NOLA saw millions of tourists each year, and now those numbers are significantly lower. In fact, without tourists, there is genuinely no thriving NOLA since no revenue is being made.
No matter your age, interests, taste, there is something to be found by everyone in NOLA!
New Orleans felt like its own country. The way the people, location, and everything else are something we are not used to. We are so grateful we were able to learn so much on the Segway Tour guided by John; thank you so much!
Dinner at Oceana
To conclude our evening, we stopped at the corner of Conti and Bourbon for yet another taste of NOLA. Oceana is popular for having a wide variety of NOLA standards, such as oysters, po’boys, and étouffée to name just a few.
To start, we stuck with our trend of an assortment of appetizers including, gator tail bites, boudin balls, fresh, Rockefeller oysters, and chargrilled oysters. For Ashley and me, this was our first time to try oysters and we had slightly different reactions. Ashley tried the Rockefeller oysters and determined they were not her favorite. I tried all three and enjoyed the Rockefeller the most! Everyone enjoyed the boudin balls, and we all agreed that alligator tastes a lot like chicken.
For our main meals, we once again mimicked family style, and tried many new flavors. Victoria and I split a blackened redfish, with a side of greens, Yvette and Jessica ventured out with the taste of New Orleans (creole jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, red beans and rice with smoked sausage), Ashley had the fried shrimp platter, and Professor Yawn and Stephanie split the Bayou Duck.
Verdicts were split on what the best entrée was, but at least three out of seven favored the blackened redfish. The flavors were once again unique but fantastic, a trip to NOLA could be made simply for the food.
Despite having little room for dessert (except for Stephanie because she effectively planned) we selected three options carrot cake, la boehme crème brule, and of course, bread pudding. The bread pudding was easily the favorite, but everyone enjoyed the sweet treats to end our wonderful meal!
We might have seen Bourbon St. during the day, but it was almost a completely new place after dark. Our steps fell in time to the bass of the music around us, and it almost felt like a runway with the flashing lights. If it is true that anyone can find something on Bourbon St, it’s even more true at night. Being only a Thursday night, however, we might gone at a slightly better time as it was not insanely busy.
Not wanting to linger on Bourbon Street and needing some sleep, we headed back to our hotels, to get rest for another day of learning and fun tomorrow.