Arkansas PSA: Little Rock and Monticello

The first two days of exploring Little Rock were filled with adventure and knowledge. However, our adventures were not yet complete. Even after a fully loaded two days in the state, we continued on to the Arkansas Political Science Association Conference in Monticello, setting out at about 6am to make the 1.5 hour trip.

At the conference our very own Professor Yawn served as a discussant for the Undergraduate Research on Public Policy panel and later presented his own research. We were also excited to be there to support our fellow LEAP Ambassador Megan Chapa, who would later present her research paper on “Maquiladoras, NAFTA and their Consequences.” Upon our arrival we were graciously welcomed by Dr. Strong and the staff of the University of Arkansas at Monticello, then made our way quickly to the room where Professor Yawn’s panel discussion would be. The panel room was a cozy fit, much like any classroom you would find on campus at Sam Houston.  This made the presentations of the research  engaging and a personal. Subjects of the research ranged from the cyber security in the United States by Shannon Abbott…


…to the study of multi-lateral agreements by Nicolaas Harrington…


…to the development of Spanish democracy by Sarah Phillips…


to the study of game theory by William O’Brachta…


…to an examination of indigenous autonomy by Emily Mendiola…


Watching other students in the political science field present research encouraged and energized the students of LEAP to one-day present research at future conferences nationwide.

After sitting in on an undergraduate discussion panel on public policy, chaired by Professor Yawn, we waited for Megan to present her research on the impact of NAFTA on the social and economic status of Mexican “maquiladora” laborers. As part of an American Politics panel, Megan presented research alongside four other passionate undergraduate students.

The panel was chaired by Karen Sebold, a professor of public policy at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, whose responsibility during the session was to direct the presentation of everyone’s research papers and lead the discussion in regards to the papers after the presentation of every student.

The session began with a presentation on the Tea Party’s influence on the current Republican Party. With a most timely topic in regards to our political atmosphere, Tyler Harrison of the University of Arkansas at Monticello offered an in depth analysis of the Tea Party’s freedomworks rating system.


Followed thereafter Robert Fletcher, also a University of Arkansas at Monticello undergraduate student, presented his paper on the benefits of promoting bicycle friendly road policy that could stimulate the economic and social prosperity of a small community’s transportation system.


As the third student to present, Jolyon Larson of Hendrix University provided his thesis on the best way for waste plants to cut down on harmful emissions.


Lastly, Leslie Beard of the University of Arkansas at Monticello expressed her fears regarding our nation’s political structure in her paper “Who’s really in control at the top.”


With Megan as the fourth presenter in the panel, we attentively clung to every word of her research on Mexican social issues presented by NAFTA. She focused on the exploitation and harassment of women maquiladora workers, the environmental violations of these industries, and the widespread human trafficking encouraged by these multinational agreements.


It was clear that her, and all the other panelists, were passionate about public policy and a more successful government structure. The conducted research in each presentation was further example of what passion for a noble cause can yield.

We also got feedback from Megan, who presented at her first conference:

I was nervous, but nonetheless confident and excited to represent SHSU and the LEAP Center at the conference. Before our panel began, our discussant informed us that another student had joined our Undergraduate Research Panel and that our presentation time would be cut short by about 5 minutes. I was more nervous about going over my allotted time because I had prepared my presentation to be 15 minutes. I was scurrying through my paper trying to take out 5 minutes of information that wouldn’t take too much away from my research. What I enjoyed most was the constructive criticism I received from my discussant, Dr. Sebold of University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. She was helpful in providing suggestions that will improve the research I am working on. I am thankful for the opportunity to expand my horizons outside of home (Texas) and meet students who are striving to make a difference in the political arena.” -Megan Chapa

We all agreed that this chance to support our fellow LEAP ambassador’s passionate delivery was worth the limited sleep.

The ArkPSA topped off the conference with a lunch and presentation by John Kyle Day, who presented his work on Civil Rights in Arkansas, particularizing on the Southern Manifesto.


It was interesting research and, although we didn’t know it at the time, we would hear echoes of his research the next day, when we visited the Little Rock Central High Museum (see tomorrow’s blog!).

Following the conference in Monticello, we drove back to Little Rock to do some shopping before our adventurous Segway tour. We took the opportunity to explore some of the quaint shops near the River Market and downtown area.


Visiting the local shops, we wandered through shops such as The Freckled Frog, Discovery Museum Gift Shop, and 4Square Café and Gifts. We enjoyed browsing through the shops, but eventually ended up at one of our favorite places, the River Market!


The group refueled with a small snack before heading off to our Segway tour of Little Rock!

We were excited to continue touring more of downtown Little Rock, but this time we were on a Segway! Most of the group have had some experience with riding segways – actually, all except me (Bella Abril), and the others were quick to get with the program…


As clumsy as I am even with just walking, however, I was a bit hesitant on trying it out at first. I was scared I would embarrass myself by falling on my face. However, our Turkish tour guide, Nez Erkman, trained us in such a detailed manner with much emphasis on safety that I found myself easing up. Plus, seeing everybody ride it so calmly gave me confidence that maybe I could do the same. Thankfully, I did! The first step was the scariest part, but the rest was exhilarating. Throughout the tour, we were able to segway through The Clinton Bridge…


…which held a nice view of the sunset…


The Clinton Presidential Library…


and Heifer International. Also, we passed through the Riverfront Park, where we were able to take pictures on the rock that Little Rock derives its name from…


as well as observe interesting historic markers and creative sculptures. From a total newbie segwayer to part of the veteran segwayers of LEAP, the tour definitely deepened both my interest in Arkansan culture and the graceful art of segwaying.

The segway tour not only fueled our desire to learn about Little rock, but also fueled our appetites!  We walked a couple of blocks to get to the well-known Sonny Williams’ Steak Room. We started with a turtle soup and a wild game sausage and cheese plate as appetizers. The wild game sausage and cheese plate consisted of rabbit, elk, and boar sausage. Some of us were particularly hesitant to try the turtle soup and rabbit sausage because it was something completely new for most of us, but we chose to go with our adventurous side and taste each appetizer. For our entrees we all chose a type of steak. We ordered a 12 oz. Filet to a Bone-in Cowboy Ribeye and a New York Strip. As soon as we each took the first bite of our steaks, we all agreed that these were the best steaks we have ever tried. It was clear to us why Sonny Williams is so well known for its steaks. After being extremely satisfied with both the appetizers and the entrees, we tried a couple of deserts. The Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce and the Chocolate Orange Cake were rich enough, but also light enough to kept our satisfaction rating high.

On our way back to the car, we squeezed in a bit more adventure by taking a short detour to an old telephone booth that is now used as a community book exchange. Professor Yawn challenged us to see if we could all fit in the telephone booth, and of course we accepted his challenge.


It was a tight squeeze, especially right after our filling dinner, but we all fit (more or less)!


And, after a bit of a detour to walk off some of dinner…


…called it a night and made our way back to the hotel for a much-needed night of rest.


Law, Art, and Pork: The Heart of Little Rock (Day 2, Morning Edition)

After a quick coffee stop to help wake us, we were fortunate enough to visit the Supreme Court of Arkansas.

We met with the public education coordinator, Cara Fitzgerald, who earned her law degree from Southern Illinois University and who passed the bar in at least three states!


She started the tour by teaching us more about the history of the building. Like the Old State House, the Supreme Court building has undergone changes throughout the years. The first building to house the Supreme Court was actually The Old State House, the second is at the location it is now and then it was remodeled a third time, which is the current building that houses both the Supreme Court and the Appeals Court.

We continued the tour of the west wing, where they display the portraits of the previous justices who have served on the Supreme Court…


…and as we moved along we were shown the portraits of all seven presiding justices.  The first thing that stood out to some of us was that the majority of the Justices currently on the Supreme Court of Arkansas are women.

After learning more about the current Justices and the recent death of their Chief Justice, Ms. Fitzgerald introduced us to Associate Justice Robin F. Wynne who joined in on the tour! Once in the courtroom, we introduced ourselves to Justice Wynne and he then introduced himself and told us about his journey to becoming a Supreme Court Justice.


He then asked us the simple most important question that he asks all of his students, “Why do you want to be an attorney?” Many of us had not been asked this question before, which led us to really reflect on why we wanted to go down that career path. Our answers to the question ranged from helping people and having a say in our society to solving puzzles and upholding the law.


After Justice Wynne was able to get to know us more based on our answers, he and his law clerk, John Webster gave us great advice on how to get the best out of law school.


John Webster explained to us exactly what a law clerk does and why, if we get the chance, it is an opportunity to take advantage of in law school. They also explained to us what they look for in applicants for their office, and one of the most important things was a “hook”. Justice Wynne explained that he not only looks at grades, but also the substance of the applicants’ character. After the very informational discussion with Justice Wynne and Mr. Webster, they took us on a very personal tour of his office where he explained what his typical week at the office consists of. Oral arguments are on Thursday; opinions are on Wednesday; and Monday and Tuesday are much-needed reading days. Each justice is assigned five cases a week and one of those is considered a primary case in which they take a leadership role. After discussing this process, he showed us the conference chamber where the seven justices meet after oral arguments to talk about the reasons they dissent or support each others’ opinions.


Justice Wynne even let us take a picture in the conference chamber with him!


After the private tour, we asked Ms. Fitzgerald how often tour groups get to go up to see the Justices offices and the conference room, to which she replied that she couldn’t recall it ever happening before! We were all extremely grateful for the hospitality that Justice Wynne showed us while teaching us an immense amount about the ins and outs of the Supreme Court of Arkansas.

During the last portion of the tour we dressed in black robes and acted as Justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court. The tour of the Supreme Court of Arkansas was an amazing way to learn more about the court system, and left us all in awe of how great of a time we had while we were visiting. Once everyone had their turn banging the gavel, it was time to go onto our next adventure.

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Our next adventure was the Arkansas Arts Center.  Although  not as large as the major Art Museums, they have a nice permanent collection, much of which was donated by the Rockefellers (Winston Rockefeller was Governor of AR in the 1960s).  The collection contains works by Miro, Picasso, and Monet…


…among many others.

This time, however, the real treat were the special exhibits.  One featured the photography of Dortothea Lange, the photographer who captured the Great Depression and the plight of the migrant workers so perfectly.


Another exhibit featured the work of Charles Burchfield, who focused on the mixed blessings of urbanization.


Both art collections were created near the same time period, but they were very different in medium and subject matter. Charles Burchfield’s art depicted “Industrial Beauty” using watercolor paints. Black Iron, the exhibit centerpiece, was inspired by the port of Buffalo on Lake Erie.


According to the exhibit, Burchfield saw the bridges as part of an industrial complex spewing poisonous chemicals into the river; yet he found the massive structures irresistibly beautiful.” The paintings and drawings used darker colors to convey emotion.

Dorothea Lange is known for her black and white photography during the Great Depression Era. Each photograph captured emotion that strikes viewers immediately. Her works had great impact on legislation during the time period and even in the way films depicted people of the Great Depression Era. One of her most famous photographs, Migrant Mothers, was showcased along with a variety of other photos that were new to many of us.


Each person left with a favorite photo from her collection.

A third,  smaller special exhibit featured the work of Nathalia Edenmont, who makes dresses from flowers and other produce.


This theme tied into a discussion Megan and I have had in our art class, which revolved around the question of whether the Ag Department’s “Floral Design” class should be considered an art class.

The Arkansas Arts Center was the perfect place to learn about a large variety of art because it explained the distinguishing characteristics of each genre. The art ranged from small, detailed, and complex paintings to intricate, colorful, and sometimes puzzling statues.


Overall, the LEAP Ambassadors enjoyed gaining new knowledge of art in Arkansas.

Lunch was a treat for us avid meat-lovers as we decided to fill our stomachs at The Whole Hog Cafe, a LEAP Center tradition. Catering a country style atmosphere while offering a variety of award-winning meat (as indicated by the line of trophies displayed near the entrance of the cafe), we knew we were going to be satisfied! To get the most out of our experience, we ordered three plates of The Ultimate Platter, which consisted of pulled pork, beef, chicken, ribs as the main course, and coleslaw, beans, potato salad, and rolls as sides.


Enhancing the overload of finely cooked meat were the six diverse choices of barbecue sauces, ranging from sweet to spicy to slightly tangy.


Each sauce was unique and each person had a chance to pick a favorite. The top three according to our collective preferences were Sauce No. 1 (sweet, mild, molasses flavor), Sauce No. 3 (spicy, traditional tomato, vinegar flavor) and Sauce No. 5 (sweet, heavy, molasses flavor) tied for 2nd place, while for third was Sauce No. 2 (a less spicy version of Sauce No. 3). We also indulged in the best (according to Alex) chocolate brownies for dessert. The service, the platter, the BBQ sauces and the fun conversations that filled our table made for a great experience at Whole Hog Café.



Midwest Tour, Day 8: Kansas City, Home of the MLB Champs!

We began our Saturday morning exploring Kansas City’s own River Market. Although we arrived a bit early, we got a head start on all of the produce, cheeses, spices, and home goods that the farmers market had to offer. The brisk morning air refreshed us after a short night of sleep and we enjoyed strolling through the different vendors, smelling the fresh flowers, appreciating the colorful produce, and tasting different foods foreign to Texas.


With just a little over an hour to explore, we tried coffee at Quay Coffee and wandered through the shops open at the early hour. With our noses exhausted from the various smells permeating the market, we left to make it to our Segway tour reservation on time.

Led by Kelly, we hopped on the available segways like pros and began the tour of downtown Kansas City.


We started in an area called Westport, home to bars, shops, and many a hipster. The area prides itself on preserving its history, which we observed in the established community and some of the buildings being the oldest sanding in Kansas City. Founded in 1831 by Isaac McCoy, Westport originally sat three miles south of what is today downtown Kansas City. His son, John Calvin McCoy, is credited as the “Father of Kansas City” and we observed a statue of him during the first part of our tour. We left the area of Westport to continue our tour, segwaying past pedestrians and through a few linear parks. Kansas City, known as the least dense and city with the most green space in America, is home to many beautiful parks. We had the chance to enjoy these areas, albeit, on segway. We followed Kelly along a couple creeks, walking trails, and even spotted public work out equipment along the way. We ambled upon Kauffman Memorial Garden after visiting Westport, a clear juxtaposition to the hip, bar district we had just explored.


The garden, quiet and serene, serves as gravesite to Ewing and Muriel Kauffman, philanthropists to the city in the mid 1960s. We left the garden to continue on our tour, only after appreciating the giant chrysanthemums in the greenhouse.

Kansas City is known as the “City of Fountains,” and one of the more interesting fountains we encountered was a memorial to the Vietnam War.  It was laid out in a series of cascading waterfalls, a reference to the U.S’s cascading involvement in the war.  It culminates in two pools of water at the end, a symbol for the split in public opinion over the war.


We spent the most time on our tour on the grounds of the Nelson-Atkins museum, avoiding photographers and muses as best we could. We even had the chance to explore grounds unfamiliar to Professor Yawn, home to sculptures by Ursula von Rydingsvard (Three Bowls), Henry Moore, and Roxy Paine (Ferment).


We also had the chance to get off our segways and try out Robert Morris’ Glass Labyrinth, which we luckily made it out of without running into any of the glass walls.


We left the grounds, after quite a few photo opportunities, including the chance to see a Claes Oldenburg sculpture (a shuttlecock!)….

Segway_Sculpture_Garden_Constance_Alex_Shuttlecock_Web…and an unsettling sculpture titled “Standing Figures,” which is actually a sculpture of 30 headless men standing in rows.

Segway_Sculpture_Garden_30_Men_Standing_WebMeandering through the parks, we also encountered some yoga practitioners, taking advantage of the peacefulness of the park (other than the speeding Segways, of course)…


From there, we made it back to the Kemper Museum of Modern Art, which we had visited the evening before but had yet to observe in daylight.  We were re-acquainted with Louise Bourgeois’s “Spider”…



…as well as Tom Otterness’s “Crying Giant.”

Segway_Kemper_Crying_Giant_WebWe had previously seen Bourgeois’s work in Iowa and in New Orleans, and we had only recently seen Otterness’s work (City Garden, in St. Louis).

That being our last stop…

…we bid adieu to Kelly and her insightful information and headed to scrounge up some lunch.

Much to the recommendation of our tour guide, we decided to eat lunch at Q39, a local Kansas City barbeque joint. We found the restaurant to be very popular and were confronted with an hour wait. With that information, Professor Yawn and Stephanie decided to let us wait and enjoy lunch while they left to grab our bags at the hotel in preparation for our departure this evening. We finally got a table, which was worth every second of the wait, once we received our appetizer of fried onion strings and meals consisting of ribs, sausage, pulled pork, and even better Kansas City barbeque sauce.


Slightly tangy and very sweet, we enjoyed the barbeque that is so different than what we can enjoy in Texas. We left the restaurant full and ready to take on the rest of our afternoon.

We spent the first part of the rest of our afternoon exploring and learning at The National WWI Museum and Memorial. We arrived just in time to sit and watch the introductory video that left us wanting to learn more, so we ventured into the museum. We began with the WWI timeline that started with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and led to Austria declaring war on Serbia.


This led to an entanglement of treaties and soon after, the five Great Powers were at war.


The museums timeline was easy to read and separated every year. The year of 1915 showed how the momentum of the war shifted to the east and highlighted the sinking of Lusitania by a German submarine. The year of 1916 on the timeline highlighted the Battle of Verdun and the Battle of the Somme. The timeline then moved on to the year of 1917, which is when Germany began to renew their unrestricted submarine warfare. One U-boat had cost American lives, which led to America severing its diplomatic relations with Germany and having to decide upon entering the war. The first American troops landed in France on June 25, 1917 and the spirits of France were renewed. The museum also features sections on Air warfare and others. As we walked through the museum we were able to watch another more interactive video about the war which then escorted us to the back portion of the museum that highlighted the America’s role in the War. The museum was very detailed and included many aspects of the war such as every branch of the military, a woman’s position in the war, civilian’s positions in the war, and an exhibit on war propaganda.

WWI_Propoganda_Alex_WebWe entered a reflections box where we were able to listen to voices from the War. We then took an elevator up to the Memorial where the tower commemorating the fallen soldiers stands. After enjoying the view, we walked back over the glass bridge hanging over the poppies that represent the fallen soldiers of the War.

We left the National World War I Museum to stroll down the hill in front of it, capturing the beautiful fall afternoon with a few photographs.


We loved feeling the breeze and seeing the burgundy leaves fly through the air off the trees preparing for the first winter frost.


We walked across the street, following the museum, to enter Union Station in search of the temporary Da Vinci exhibit that the train station holds.  We found the exhibit on the bottom floor of the station and proceeded to get in line, thrilled with the anticipation of learning about one of history’s most prominent inventors and scholars. We entered the exhibit and watched an introductory video about the Renaissance man. Following, we left the compression of the video space and were awed by the expansion of the rest of the exhibit, full of Da Vinci’s inventions.


We had the chance to read about his work in military science, flying machines, scientific diagrams about the human body, civil engineering, and inventions that would make everyday work easier and more efficient. We always knew about the inventor’s paintings, “Mona Lisa”…


…and “The Last Supper,”

Da_Vinci_Exhibit_Last_Supper_Alex_Web…but it was even more compelling to learn about all the musings that were found in his journals ranging from thoughts about poetry to the making of the ideal city. We even had the chance to touch multiple replicas of his inventions, like a pulley and a lock system.


Following the section about his inventions, we had the opportunity to read about his artwork, which about fifteen have survived to this day due to the precariousness of Da Vinci’s experiments with new techniques. It was interesting to read about his work with the golden ration, which can be seen in his paintings and in his drawing of the Vitruvian Man. We left the exhibit awed by a man that we knew very little about before and inspired to expand our horizons just as he did during his lifetime.

We also had a chance to return to the Nelson-Atkins and see the special Thomas Hart Benton exhibit.  The theme was Thomas Hart Benton and the Hollywood epic, highlighting styles that tied in with epic films, as well as the time that Benton spent working in Hollywood.

Nelson_Atkins_Benton_Exhibit_WebWhile in the Museum, we took an opportunity to see some of the pieces we had missed the day before, such as the beautiful gardens…

Segway_Sculpture_Garden_Thinker_Web…Rodin’s “Thinker” up close…

Nelson_Atkins_Thinker_Web…and the strange, intriguing folk art of Philip Haas…


Before leaving KC, we returned to Union Station to grab a few souvenirs before beginning the drive out of town.

After a while on the road we stopped at Pie Five Pizza Co., in Topeka, KS, for a quick dinner. Constance and I shared the biggest Greek salad that I had ever seen and a pesto chicken Alfredo pizza that was delicious. We left the restaurant, and took advantage of our stop in Topeka to see the state’s capitol and other sites.


We stopped at the capitol building, standing majestically in the middle of town. We weren’t able to go into the Capitol because it was late, but we did capture a few photos. Before getting back on the road we had to make one more stop. We stopped at the Brown V. Board of Education National Historic Site. Sadly it was closed by the time we arrived, but we were able to have a glimpse inside provided by the glass doors.


In the building we saw the labels “White” and “Color” that segregated the school. Even though we were not able to go inside, it was still a very sobering experience.

We hopped back in the van, en route to our last stop for the night, Wichita, to sleep before getting back on the road in the morning for the long trek back to Huntsville.

Midwest Tour, Day 6: More Marvelous Madison

We began our morning enjoying breakfast at a local favorite, Marigold’s. Known for their creative breakfast options, we loaded up on coffee, an omelet, some pancakes and fresh squeezed orange juice. It was, according to Alex, the best orange juice ever.  The food was good, too, a fact attested to by Constance, who breakfasted here last year, and now has two years’ worth of data on which to base her conclusion.

Hurrying back to the hotel, we made it back in time for the first session of the 2015 Film and History Conference.  Like last year, it was well organized by Loren Baybrook, Professor at University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh.

Alex and I chose the session titled, “Generational Dilemma: Situating Women and Young People, a Transitional Age of TV.” One of the first things we noticed is that the dress code is pretty relaxed for a professional conference.  We heard from three different panelists discussing young people on TV, domesticity in sitcoms, and utopia in 1960s television.  All of them read more or less directly from their papers.

First, Mr. Michael Cheyne read his paper about the power in domesticity, the gender inequality as a public problem in sitcoms, and the vindication women achieved in shows like “Father Knows Best,” once women finally embraced their role in the home as a housewife, further constraining them to society’s view. Second, Ms. Caryn Murphy spoke about attempted utopia in the 1960s sitcom “The New People.”  Finally, we heard from Daniel Long about “The Failure of Displacing the Young People on Network TV,” in which he discussed ABC’s efforts to gain influence amidst networks like NBC and CBS, while also identifying social issues and confronting them during programing like “The New People.”  Overall, we learned about the different issues important to our peers in the late 1960s, while also acknowledging the line networks had to balance in order to stay relevant.

Listening to the panelists speak certainly awoke our hunger, so we left the conference briefly to eat a truly Wisconsinite lunch at The Old Fashioned. We tried fried cheese curds…

Cheese_Curds_Web…beer and cheese soup (which, intriguingly, is sprinkled with popcorn)…

and three different types of sandwiches–pulled pork, grilled chicken, and grilled cheese.


Satisfied, we left the restaurant to hurry back to the conference for the afternoon.

Our second session of the afternoon was titled “Journeys of Love 1: Romantic Comedy”, which we definitely enjoyed. Before we attended this session, however, we ran to Professor Yawn’s presentation and took a photograph.

Film_History_Yawn_Presenting_WebWe then backed out, somewhat conspicuously, and returned to our regularly scheduled program.

Megan Miskiewicz from Northwestern University was the first speaker for the panel. She discussed marriage timing and economics in romantic comedy films from 1936-1941. To do this she had to answer three questions: who to marry, when to marry and what to do after marriage? She referenced the film “Ball of Fire”, which starred Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck to answer the question of whom to marry. (Interestingly, Dana Andrews is in this film, and the LEAP Center presented a Dana Andrews film festival in 2009 and 2013.)

In this film, as with many films from the 1930s, the key question for women was, “Whom should I marry?”  She pointed out a concept that occurs repeatedly, which is “the hope that something better is just around the corner”.

Deborah Doderlein from the University of Oslo, Norway focused on the film “Guess who’s coming to Dinner,” which was about an interracial couple and all that they must overcome to marry. We enjoyed the romantic theme of this session greatly, which consequently meant we took a bit more away from the presentations.

We left the second session of the day to run across the street of the hotel and hop on the 2:00 o’clock tour of the Wisconsin Capitol building. Wisconsinites pride themselves on their state house and made a point of making it completely accessible to the public. There are no metal detectors, and all entrances are open to the public; that is, there are no “reserved sections” for “staff and elected officials only.”

We began the tour in the rotunda of the house…


…under the largest dome known to any capitol in the nation and also the largest granite dome in the world.

Capitol_Tour_2_WebThe dome makes for a beautiful rotunda scene, enhanced by murals reflecting the various branches of government, all of which were housed in the state capitol.


The walls, columns, and exterior of the capitol boast 43 different types of stones from six different countries and eight states. Completed in 1917, the building is the fifth to serve as the capitol building of Wisconsin and, more recently, underwent a 158.8 million dollar renovation that lasted fourteen years. Sitting at 284 feet and 5 inches from the ground, the magnitude of the building is offset by the quiet subtlety found inside. Alex noted that this might be her favorite capitol visited yet, a nice contrast to some of the more ostentatious capitols we’ve seen.

We walked up to the second floor to visit the House Chamber, which boasts a thirty-foot skylight…


…and another Blashfield mural depicting important events in Wisconsin’s history.

We moved on to the Senate Chamber, which sits in a circle and is technology free. Second to last, we visited the Supreme Court, with four murals by Albert Herter, who painted his son into one of the murals and whom later went on to be U.S. Secretary of State during the Eisenhower presidency.

Capitol_Court_Mural_Magna_Carta_WebFinally, we ascended multiple flights of stairs to enjoy the view of Madison from the observation deck.

Although both afraid of heights, we thoroughly enjoyed the multiple photo opportunities from the great vantage point.

Capitol_Observatory_Constance_Alex_Selfie_4_WebAlthough it was windy…

Capitol_Top_Constance_Alex_Web…and a bit cold…

…it was still a lot of fun.

Finishing up at the capitol, we walked around the square, past a few unnerving Guy Fawkes Day protesters…

…and arrived at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. Sadly, we were unable to photograph the pieces we saw, but did enjoy the opportunity to experience a new channel of art. We were greeted by a horse sculpture by Deborah Butterfield made out of sticks and mud. We have previously seen Butterfield’s works at the New Orleans Museum of Art, UT’s Campus, and in Des Moines’ Papajohn Park.

We ascended glass stairs to enter the main exhibit hall, where we found work from artists like Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Diego Rivera. It was a small gallery, but we spent a bit of time learning about new artists and appreciating the social implications of such art before leaving the modern art museum and heading back to the hotel for the rest of the conference.

The last panel that we attended was titled “Indie Film II: Indie and performance: Changing contexts, Changing strategies”.  Diane Carson from Webster University spoke first about Independent Film director, John Sayles’, films. She focused on the fact that he refused to hollywoodize his films even though he knew that they would not make as much money. She also noted that race issues occur often in his films and that he said “ you can’t avoid it if you’re going to make a movie.” One additional point that Diane mentioned was that Sayles does not sugar coat real social issues and that she hoped that her presentation made us want to go watch his films. The second speaker was Cynthia Baron from Bowling Green State University, who focused on a film called “Set it Off” that focused on women editors in indie films. She noted that indie films used popular actors to gain more views like Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett. To keep her presentation interesting, she showed a few video clips of the film. The third presenter was Chris Holmlund who focused on casing indie actors. She chose to talk about four main actors, John Cusack, Michelle Williams, Lupe Ontiveros and Giancarlo Esposito. She spoke about how actors play social roles because of whom they are and how they look. All performers are not created equal due to their race, body and other identifying characteristics that limit them to specific roles. An interesting way to show this was by informing us that Lupe Ontiveros’ roles were 90% of the time maids. She ended her presentation by arguing that independent films truly allow actors to work.

Following the afternoon of capitol touring and indie film education, we were ready for an adventurous dinner at “A Pig in a Fur Coat”, where we learned about the world of Tapa restaurants. We ordered two snack plates, Duck Fat Fries and Meatballs. All of the food served at A Pig in a Fur Coat was distinctive and different from anything that we had tried. The meatballs for example, included bone marrow, which at least two of us did not particularly enjoy. After our snack plates, our Small Plates arrived. We tried the Pork Belly with shrimp and butternut squash, filled with different and delicious flavors; it was on the smallish side.


the Ravioli filled with duck egg, and topped with bacon, Brussels sprouts and butter, and the Foie Gras Mousse, a bombolini with lard and fig. In the spirit of a Tapa restaurant, we all shared and had a taste of each other’s food. Alex was not a huge fan of the Foie Gras, and was even less so when she found it was made from fattened duck livers.

A Pig in a Fur Coat was much different from expected and was a great place to try new things.

After dinner we decided to return to DLUX for their amazing milkshakes! We sampled the toasted marshmallow with chocolate, Red Velvet Milkshake and the Salted Caramel milkshake.

On a full and satisfied stomach, we decided to walk around the Capitol building…

Capitol_Constance_Alex_Weband snap some photos in the cold weather (editor: it wasn’t cold) before…

Capitol_Constance_Alex_3_Web…retiring to the hotel in anticipation of a full day of driving tomorrow.




Midwest Tour, Day 5: Marvelous Madison!

We started our morning with a fun-filled trip to the admission-free Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. Because of its layout, when we first walked into the zoo, we thought that it was very small, but we soon learned that it was not. In fact, it kept expanding into a bigger area that we had anticipated. As we wandered the zoo, we were greeted by a furry-faced lion…

Zoo_Lion_Web…and some surprisingly active orangutans. Some of our favorite animals were the polar bears, otters, a white rhino…

the giraffes…


and polar bears.


The zoo even had a bird aviary where Alex was almost attacked by a parrot! (Okay, not exactly attacked…)


The zoo also abutted a pretty City park, where they had green space and Lake Wingra…

…along with many geese!

Zoo_Geese_WebBefore heading back, we took some time to enjoy the beautiful foliage in the area…

After that exciting stop, we were ready for lunch–at DLUX. Alex ordered the Farmhouse burger, a beef patty with a fried green tomato, Monterey jack cheese and bacon.

DLUX_Burger_WebThe burger was delicious, but what really gave it a different taste was the tomato jam that came on the side. Constance had the Sunrise burger which featured a fried egg and the tomato jam as well. Alongside the delectable burgers, we shared parmesan and truffle cream fries that were phenomenal. We then tried milkshakes—Salted Caramel, Apple Crisp, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pretzel. All were awesome.

DLUX_Shakes_WebOur appetites satisfied, we made our way to Monona Terrace, via the farmers’ market, which was set up downtown. The market was stocked with locally grown vegetables, fruits, homemade sweets and breads, and of course, plenty of cheese. Some of us were able to sample the many cheeses in spite of our recent, filling lunch.

We ambled our way into Madison’s Monona Terrace, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Built posthumously in 1997, following Wright’s many unsuccessful attempts to get the design approved while he was alive.   Monona Terrace now serves as a convention center in downtown Madison, resting between the capitol and Lake Monona.

Monona_Terrace_Capitol_WebCapitol View from Monona Terrace

Wright designed the complete outside of the building, while Anthony Puttnam, an architect from Taliesin Associated Architects, designed some of the interior.

Viewed from the exterior, multiple curves are a defining element to Monona Terrace’s architecture, adding to an almost space-like futuristic feel. Inside, we passed photos of Wright’s work from all over the nation, while Professor Yawn shared his knowledge of the building. Wright’s theme of circles followed us inside as we observed in the use of lighting, signs, and even a round staircase corridor. The floor, covered in bright burgundy carpet in a leaf pattern, struck us right as we walked in.

Although very different from other works we have seen by Wright, Monona Terrace stands out in its majestic beauty and functionality for the city, two areas Wright strived to make exemplary.


Undeterred by the professionals attending a conference, we wandered the halls and even made it outside to the lake-edge to take pictures and enjoy the brisk breeze off the water.

Lake_Monona_Constance_Alex_WebWe also made our way to the terrace…

Monona_Terrace_Trees_Web…where we enjoyed the lake view.

Lake_Monona_Constance_Alex_Selfie_3_Web…and capitol view.

Mr. Wright would have been proud to see his work come to life, as the convention center served functionally a purpose as well as kept with his original design plans.

After finding our way through the streets crowded with thousands of students walking, biking, and running, we found the University of Wisconsin Law School, ready for our tour. We were guided by a law student who informed us of the strong alum community that the law school has, and described the general day of a typical law student at UW. Our tour guide showed us some class rooms, one of which was the constitutional law class room, and one in which the moot court team holds their practices. We also stopped by the much-occupied library and saw John Steuart Curry’s “The Freeing of the Slaves” mural.


Once our tour guide wrapped up his part, we explored the campus for a while before leaving.

After our enlightening tour at the UW School of Law, we regrouped and returned to another part of the UWM campus for some rec time. We evaded much traffic and many pedestrians en route to The Shell, where students at UWM have the opportunity to ice skate, among other activities, as part of their recreational fees.

Excited to do something not generally available in Texas, we grabbed skates and entered the small arena. What we did not expect was the experience of those who would be skating around us. Natural-born Texans, we both have ice-skated only a few times in our lives, combined, with those living in the North likely to learn to skate shortly after walking, as the tale would be told.

We sucked in our pride, put on our skates, and stepped out onto the slick ice. Close to the stress we encountered at the Willis Tower Sky Deck in Chicago, both of us clung to the sidewalls with death grips to avoid falling at all costs.

After a few times around the rink on the wall, Constance got a bit of a hand at it and slowly sped up and away from the safety net.

Alex, meanwhile, stayed closer to the wall, but made a few friends along the way – even one possible future hockey star, if he is to be believed…. We had less than an hour in the rink but had an absolute ball; and Alex insists she must come back in order to truly master the art of ice skating. (Or maybe to check up on that hockey star…)

Finally, after working up an appetite on the ice, we roved through traffic across Madison once more to find dinner. A cute restaurant tucked in a strip mall, Nile offered Mediterranean food that was very different from what we had tried previously. We began the meal with salad, soup, and an appetizer of Kibbee Balls, a fried meat and bulgur mix that had a great smoky flavor. Alex tried the Mediterranean Shrimp, served in a red sauce with a side of rice, while Constance enjoyed the beef kebab and hummus that was truly, otherworldly good. Overall, the meal satisfied our craving for Mediterranean and impressed us at the same time. It was a great day in Wisconsin; one that made us very happy that our paths had crossed with LEAP and Wisconsin!



Midwest Tour, Day 4: Our Kind of Town, Chicago

We began our morning with a trip to the village of Homewood, Illinois to check out their Richard Haas murals.  Although Huntsville boasts the largest collection of his murals (14), we were excited to find 13 murals that call Homewood home. Arriving in the quaint village, we parked and excitedly began our scavenger hunt for the elusive, illusive murals.

The first we found clung to the wall of a florist’s shop, a greenhouse to accompany the business’ theme.


Moving on, we came across a theater, paying homage to the original theater and marquee formerly found in Homewood.


Interestingly, the theater’s “Coming Attractions” involve at least one film involving Chicago, “Some Like it Hot,” which the LEAP Center used as its centerpiece for our Marilyn Monroe Film Festival.

Walking down the historic Dixie Highway, which connected the US Midwest with the South, we came across even more murals–one in recognition of the ever-present Midwestern prairie alongside the Dixie Highway…


…one depicting dancers (on the side of a dance studio, no less),


and finally, an extensive mural on the history of the bicycle.


With the hunt for his thirteen murals complete, we hopped in the car to commute to downtown Chicago.

Parking was a challenge, but we found a central location. We ventured into the very busy Chicago streets and made our way to Millennium Park, where the very famous public sculpture “Cloud Gate” (a.k.a., “The Bean”) is located.

Constance had visited Chicago and “The Bean” last year, and she guided us through the crowded crosswalks that astounded Alex, thankful to not be wandering aimlessly alone. The crowd of Chicago pedestrians thinned out around Millennium Park, and we were met by a new crowd of tourists at “Cloud Gate” (Anish Jay Kapoor), where we actually fit right in. We explored the sculpture, and snapped a number of pictures before Professor Yawn and Stephanie met us there. Alex even had the chance to participate in a picture series photographer Susan May Moody is working on titled, “Jumping at The Bean.”

She wasn’t the only one in the series.  Others also jumped for joy.

After taking more pictures than we’ll ever use, including one with sculptures by Jaume Plensa


…we made our way down to the Chicago Architecture Foundation shop. We were welcomed by souvenirs of an architect with whom we are all familiar, Frank Lloyd Wright–as well as an intriguing model of Chicago.


Circumventing busy professionals and tourists alike, we lunched at Russian Tea Time. Our first time trying Russian fare proved to be a bit overwhelming initially, by all the menu items offered, but we were excited to dig in to our appetizers, stuffed mushroom…

Russian_Stuffed_Mushrooms_Web…and Russian Dumplings…


…and our shared Chicken Duran Schnitzel entrée.


The food was wonderful. We look forward to the opportunity of comparing the Russian schnitzel with the Austrian variety we will try at Grunauer’s in Kansas City in a few days.

Stuffed, we walked off a bit of our lunch en route to the Chicago Institute of Art.


Constance was excited about her return trip through the extensive exhibits, she was most excited to view Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” which was on loan during the LEAP Center trip to the Film and History Conference last year. Alex, on the other hand, reported being overwhelmed upon entering the vast lobby of the 122-year-old building originally built to house the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.


With no time to see all the works, and with exhibits separated by style, we began in pre-1900 American art, perusing Tiffany lamps…


sculptures and paintings alike by Frederick Remington, and quite a few works by John Singer Sargent. We focused next on American art post-1900, where we encountered several works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,”


Wood’s “American Gothic,”


and a new favorite artist, James McNeill Whistler, famous for many works, especially “Nocturne: Blue and Gold-Southampton Water,” a beautiful piece in subdued colors and plentiful shadows highlighting a moonlit night. Alex’s favorite was Monet’s “Stacks of Wheat.”

Next, we headed to the much-anticipated Impressionist exhibit to find Renoir, Degas, and Monet.


We were awed, overwhelmed by the immensity of the exhibit along with the magnificence of its various artists. Just being in the same room as so many notable artist’s works was like a dream. To commemorate we took a few photos with one of the most famous works, Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”


We also saw Vincent Van Gogh’s famous self portrait.

CAI_Van_Gogh_Self_Portrait_WebIt was also a chance to make connections to other things we’ve seen and done.  The Museum, for example, had a statue of Abraham Lincoln by David French, whose also did the statue for the Lincoln Monument, a replica of which also graces Lincoln’s Tomb.

CAI_French_Lincoln_WebThere was also a sculpture of James Fraser’s “End of the Trail,” the larger version of which Constance had seen on her first LEAP Center trip to Oklahoma City.

CAI_End_Of_Trail_Fraser_WebFinally, we also had the chance to view an expansive exhibit of sketches, paintings, and even sculpture by Edgar Degas, famous for his dancers.  Both of us have seen his house in New Orleans, on separate LEAP Trips.

To finish our musings, we scouted the Modern art section, part of which, much to our dismay, was closed for construction. Deterred not, we explored the farthest exhibit from the entrance in search of pieces by Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso. With little time left for wandering, we took photos with a few renowned art pieces, such as Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist.”


Alex, new to Dali and Matisse, commented on the distinction their art holds in the easily recognizable themes in their pieces.

But we also discovered other artists with whom we weren’t familiar (but  researched and found to be quite famous!), such as Lyonel Feininger…

CAI_Fenninger_Harbor_Web…Thomas Cole…

CAI_Thomas_Cole_Web…and Childe Hassam…


We left the museum, awed by the history we had encountered and encouraged by the inferences we can begin to make as our repertoire of art knowledge grows.

With the sun setting, we began a brisk walk towards our anticipated yet unnerving next destination, Willis Tower. Built in 1973, the 108-story building rose above us, almost as if to gloat in its terrifying height. We bought our tickets, entered the elevator, and began ascending to the Skydeck at a whopping 17 miles per hour (or 24 feet per second), finally reaching the top, 1,353 feet high.


At the top, we encountered 360-degree views of the Chicago skyline at sunset.


It was completely worth the frightening elevator ride. Mustering much more courage, we even had the chance to stand on a clear floor 1300 feet up in the sky, which was beyond our comfort zone.  With that behind us, we had an impulse to leave, but we stayed, continuing to document Chicago’s descent into night.

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After the adventurous and phobia-induced experience at the Willis Tower, we taxied to Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Constance_Alex_Loyola_Law_School_Webto meet with former Junior Fellows President, Daniel North – a reunion of sorts for Professor Yawn and Stephanie, and an introduction for us. Daniel showed us the equivalent to the LSC Ballroom at SHSU, where we sat while Daniel described his life at law school along with his plans after graduation, answering our questions about law school, and reminiscing about his time at SHSU and as a member of the Junior Fellows.


Daniel also showed us the courtroom where the Loyola Moot Court teams argue, and the Loyola law library, where we can expect to spend numerous hours in study. It was another connection for Alex, who recently spent time at UNT and TTU Law School Courtrooms as part of her Moot Court Experience.


We also attended a Professional Responsibility class session with Daniel and his classmates. We sat in the back row of the class where we could see all the students prepared for class with their laptops, water bottles and books. Professor Grogan was passionate about what he was teaching and incorporated many previous cases which he has encountered (or taken an active role in) to help students understand the material.

Professor Grogan made the class exciting and kept his students engaged by incorporating humor. The main topics of discussion during the class were contingency, ethics, fraud, and a brief note on veterans, which quickly captured Constance’s attention. The hour and forty-five minute class flew by because of the interesting material and discussion.

It was an amazing experience for us, and we were very grateful to Daniel and Loyola Law for giving us this opportunity.

Daniel continued discussing his law school experience while we walked to Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria for dinner. After splitting a couple of small appetizers…


we shared a “classic” Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, filled with cheese and topped with a layer of sausage. Daniel suggested that one slice would be enough, and one slice was definitely enough for most of us!


After such a filling dinner, we hoofed it for about a mile and a half across Chicago, checking out the beautiful architecture and river scenes.

Constance_Alex_Chicago_River_Selfie_WebOne such photograph we specifically took for Austin Campbell…

Chicago_River_Trump_Tower_Web…who, for reasons unknown, is obsessed with Donald Trump.

Getting in past midnight, and leaving Chicago at 6am, we returned to our hotel, with a busy and bustling day to reflect on as we descended into sleep.