Fun From Mississippi to Missouri

Gulf Coast Parasailing, by Makayla Mason

As LEAP Ambassadors, we contribute to the travel costs of our own trips.  This contribution is an investment in our own education, and while part of our money goes for trip t-shirts, conference registration and museums, our money also goes to fun activities that we engaged in on trips.  And that applied today, when we had a chance to go parasailing!

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU
Makayla, Christina, and Beatriz Prepare for their Turns!

Only one member of our group had ever experienced parasailing and the rest of us were excited to embark on this new adventure. While making our way to deep waters (in every sense of the phrase), one of our tour guides helped the first pair into their harnesses. First up were Christina and Makayla, followed by Ryan and Beatriz, and ending with Mike and Stephanie. With the sun shining down on us, we were anxious for the adrenaline rush the thrill of parasailing elicited. The release from the boat was very smooth…

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

…and as we climbed higher into the Biloxi sky we began to understand why people love to parasail. It was a very peaceful 10 minutes, with a breeze and even sightings of dolphins!

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

While a pair was up in the sky, the other four took advantage and enjoyed the boat ride filled with music and the occasional splash of salty water.  Probably the happiest of the para-sailors were Beatriz and Ryan, both of whom were productive while air-sailing.

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

Ryan filmed the entire 10-minute ride…

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

…while Beatriz waved her arms and kicked her feet in excitement!

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

The view from the sky was amazing, with the boat looking tiny.

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

It’s amazing to have these opportunities as undergraduates, and we had a great time in our rarefied adventure!

Hibachi Dinner, by Makayla Mason

For dinner, we decided on going to Kyoto Japanese Cuisine. Beatriz had never experienced a Hibachi style dinner so we happily made our way to the flat top grill. We made our decisions quickly with Beatriz and Makayla sharing the Hibachi Chicken and Shrimp, Ryan and Christina shared the Rock’N Roll Sushi and noodles, and Stephanie and Mike split the Hibachi Chicken and Lobster. We told our Chef, who was a very humorous man, that Beatriz had never experienced a Hibachi Grill, so he invited her up to cook for us. Beatriz did not last long as our Chef. We experienced an onion train with fire, steam, and sound effects, and then we watched our dinner being skillfully cooked. Beatrix also tried lobster for the first time, she enjoyed it! We left Kyoto with full stomachs ready to dance it all off at the conference’s “Missouri Night” gathering.

Missouri Kick-Off Party, by Christina Perez

After dinner, we headed to the 2018 Missouri Kick-off reception. Each year, the state who is hosting the following year (in this case,  2018’s Conference) gives a preview of the conference by hosting a night full of their state favorites.  Although the states work together, there is no doubt they are a bit competitive, and the states try to provide as much fun as possible to “show off” their state.

When we arrived, we were greeted with goody bags which contained goodies from Missouri companies, and an entry way that was clearly Missouri made!

Southern Legislative Conference, STL MO, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU

We took a group photo and headed for the dance floor. Although some of us were too shy to show off our groovy moves (Ryan), others did not waste a minute. We danced to hit songs from famous artists such as Michael Jackson, Gloria Gaynor, The Isley Brothers, and many more–alongside legislators from 15 states, including at least one Speaker of the House! Makayla expressed her enthusiasm of how she had enjoyed dancing to one of her favorite songs, Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson.  Interestingly, for the first time ever, the LEAP Center Ambassadors are on tape “dancing”….

But this was not the last time!  As a special treat, we also danced in a conga line while holding onto the mascot for the St. Louis Blues.

According to Missouri’s Speaker of the House (Todd Richardson), the purpose of the event was to allow everyone a great time, and we think the “show-me” state did its job well!

See you next year St. Louis!

More Gulf Coast Fun, Night 2, Biloxi

Biking in Biloxi, by Beatriz Martinez

In order to work off the food, the Leap Ambassadors parted ways to see the seashore while exercising. Professor Yawn and Ryan went on a gator excursion, where they fed gators and got to “pet” them. The girls, however, went a much simpler route by doing a variety of safer alternatives.

The first of which was, of course, shopping.  Being at Beau Rivage, we decided to, briefly, get a glimpse at the casino. Being that not all of us were of age, we moved on to the shops and away from the casinos.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Beau Rivage

Along the way we happened to chance upon a face painter and of course Christina and Beatriz got their face painted.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Beau Rivage

Later, after touring the rest of Beau Rivage, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our next excursion.

Part of the city of Biloxi’s recreational/ tourism efforts were incorporated in a bicycling program that you could use in order to cycle across most of the city of Biloxi. The three of us: Makayla, Christina, and I, took advantage of this opportunity and used it to ride 4 miles along the beach.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Beau Rivage

Part of Biloxi’s charm are the sea-themed sculptures along the shore.  Made from trees damaged in Hurricane Katrina, the community brought in artists to turn the dead trees into beautiful art.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Tree Sculptures

It’s a classic case of making lemonade from lemons, and we enjoyed the sculptures (Galveston adopted this program after Ike).

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU,, tree sculptures

After more than 1 hour on the road, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for another night of fun.

Family Night, by Makayla Mason

With a beautiful sunset and perfect weather luring us into the Southern Legislative Conference’s Family Night, there was excitement in the air. To start the night with a hit, Jackson State University made a grand entrance.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU,, Jackson State University Sonic Boom Band

The crowd was cheered with approval as we all enjoyed their enthusiastic dances and electric music.

Southern Legislative Conference, Jackson State University Sonic Boom Band, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Ocean Springs MS

Their whole program was exciting and wonderful.

And the music and moves were great!

Speaking of moves, a certain couple–Christine and Aaron from the Lift School of Acrobatics–had some very flexible ones.

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Arron and Christine, Lift School of Acrobatics

Their balance, elegance, and strength were amazing!

For the rest of the night, we enjoyed a picnic-on-the-beach style dinner with many items to choose from such as hamburgers, corndogs, nachos, cotton candy, and s’mores!

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU

While enjoying our tasty dinner, we enjoyed live music by Steve Azar.

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Steve Azar

Steve Azar, a Mississippi man, fully hit the country scene in 2002. His song “I Don’t Have To Be Me til’ Monday” was the first single to reach #2 on the national country radio charts.

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Steve Azar

We were lucky enough to sing along with him as he played that very same song that is still popular on the radio today.

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Steve Azar

As the night grew late, we played a few beach side games. We even played a tournament of bean-bag toss.

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Playing Horseshoes in the dark was interesting. Half the fun was trying to find where the horseshoes had buried themselves after we had thrown them. Makayla was the only one to get a ringer but Ryan had a few close throws.

We were sad to leave the Fun Zone, but it was off to get sleep for the next day’s adventures.

Gulf Coast Fun, Day 2 in Biloxi

Lighthouse Tour, by Christina Perez

Biloxi, Mississippi is known for its delicious seafood, beautiful sunsets, and of course its lighthouse. The Biloxi Lighthouse is the signature monument that has withstood many sunny days and several stormy nights, as the city grew around it. It all began in 1847, when the US Congress authorized funds for a lighthouse to be built in Biloxi. By 1848, it was ready for operation.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

Today, the Leap Ambassadors climbed its 57 spiral steps to the top that many keepers have had the task of climbing.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

Inside of the lighthouse are the water marks of where the high waters of certain storms reached.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

The most damaging of all was that of Hurricane Katrina, whose waters went up to 21.5 meters above sea level. Although the high waters and high-speed winds damaged most of the city, the lighthouse stood firm, a (literal) beacon of hope through all the disaster.  As we reached the lantern room, we could see the mesmerizing glass lens that had illuminated the town through every situation imaginable.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

The tour guide shared many fun facts about it and the lighthouse in general. Through the windows we could see miles and miles of sand, as well as people enjoying a day at the beach.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

We also had a chance to explore Biloxi’s interesting Visitor’s Center, which has art…

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Visitor Center

…exhibits…

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Visitor Center

…and a nice porch for observation and relaxation.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Visitor Center

Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint, by Makayla Mason

For lunch, we decided to go to Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint. A family style diner, it had a character all of its own. As a starter, we snacked on Hummus with Brick Oven Flatbed as well as Portobello Fries. Both were delicious. After thoroughly contemplating the menu, we finally decided on two of Sal’s Selection Pizzas: the Rockaway Beach and the Gambino. After trying each, the savory Gambino was the resulting table favorite. Following soon after was our dessert.  We ordered Crème Brûlée for those who have never tried it before. We also ordered the Grand Central Station. What pulled up to our table was 10 scoops of 10 different flavored ice cream balls with 10 different toppings. Afterwards, we had to ask ourselves “Did we conquer it, or did it conquer us?”

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Sal & Mookie's

Gator Ranch, by Ryan Brim

As some of us spent time roaming the beaches, riding bikes along the coast, combing the beach, and relaxing this afternoon, two of us rode a bus to Moss Point, a town about 30 minutes away, to go on an airboat tour excursion at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Tours.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Moss Point MS, Gator Ranch

The airboat tour of Gator Ranch was less a gator-spotting adventure, and more of what can be described as the nautical version of an ATV driving through mud.

The trip was not a complete loss for those who wished to see an alligator while out on the murky waters.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Moss Point MS, Gator Ranch

We saw what our tour guide estimated to be a three-year-old gator, which was around three feet long. He (our tour guide, not the gator) also said that female alligators grow up to nine feet long, and that male alligators will continue to grow their whole lives.

Surprisingly, alligators really seem to enjoy marshmallows. When we asked who found this out, he said that some poor guy must have dropped his snack and the gators tore it up. That poor fellow’s sacrifice was surely a noble one, and now our tour guide had something to lure the little reptile to the side of our boat for a better photo-op.

The fact that we only saw one or two gators was fine, though, because after we finished our thrill-filled boat ride…

Surprisingly, alligators really seem to enjoy marshmallows. When we asked who found this out, he said that some poor guy must have dropped his snack and the gators tore it up. That poor fellow’s sacrifice was surely a noble one, and now our tour guide had something to lure the little reptile to the side of our boat for a better photo-op.

…we visited the gator ranch side of the facilities, where around thirty alligators were visible in a sectioned off part of the bayou.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Moss Point MS, Gator Ranch

With gator ranch under our belt, we returned to the hotel, eager for a “family-night” evening on the beach with more than 500 state legislators!

 

 

Far Out with the Far East

The mission of the LEAP Center is to provide unique learning opportunities and implicit in this mission is the idea of learning about new cultures and disciplines.  Cross-cultural and interdisciplinary learning were certainly central to our Houston “Arts and Parks” tour.

We began our 2nd day of the trip with a visit to the Herrman Park Japanese Garden.

LEAP Ambassadors, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, LEAP Center, Hermann Park

We also marveled at an Isamu Noguchi residing in Ms. Moody’s guest room. Perhaps this recurring motif lead us to choose Azuma Sushi and Robata Grill for dinner.

We found this as a great opportunity for some of the students to try new things. For some of the LEAPsters, this was their first time to try sushi. We ordered an array of sushi rolls, noodles, and other traditional Japanese plates so that everyone would have a chance to fulfill their culinary curiosity.

More curiously, it was Makayla Mason’s first time to try ribs.  We all ignored the fact that this Texas life-long resident had never had one of the state’s most iconic meals and recognized her adventurous accomplishment.

Empowered by this adventurous spirt, we took a drive down Houston’s still-roaring roads to visit the Houston Police Officer’s Memorial. Designed by Jesus Moroles, the memorial resembles a Mezo-American pyramid with its geometric outline and elevating levels. Rising in the middle the field, the structure commemorates the lives of fallen Houston police officers. Under the twinkling skyline of the city, we climbed the memorial to get a better view of the mesmerizing vista.

Jesus Moroles, Police Memorial, Houston, LEAP Center, SHSU

Such added adventures made for a late night, but with rain in the forecast, we were promised a late morning start, allowing us to get ready for a continuation of our multi-cultural adventure.

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Continuing a Cultural Adventure, Kaitlyn Tyra

Well rested and eager to leap into the day’s adventures, LEAP Ambassadors embarked on the final leg of our Houston Arts and Parks Tour. To begin our day, we drove to the Asia Society Texas Center. Established in Houston with the help of former First Lady Barbara Bush, the center provides community engagement for Houston residents of Asian heritage and those wanting to learn more about the culture.

Before entering the art gallery, we admired the architecture of Yoshio Taniguchi, a Japanese architect, and learned about the design.

The Asia Society, Houston, LEAP Center, SHSU

Both inside and outside, Professor Yawn emphasized the horizontal lines traditional to that of Asian architecture while the building’s vertical lines incorporated American design into the structure. This was designed by Taniguchi to bind the American and Asian cultures together.

The first floor of the Asia Society houses a café, theatre, and art gallery. The gallery included numerous paintings by . Born in India, he earned his Masters in Fine Arts from Indiana University and now teaches at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Majumdar created works of abstraction. But unlike other artists specialized in this discipline, Majumdar depicts the convergence of cultures through his art work.

 

The Asia Society, Houston, LEAP Center, SHSU, Sangram MajumdarA prevalent motif is also theatre, as he has experience in this profession and uses it as inspiration. His paintings allude to this trade, and depict images of performers getting ready for a play or the proscenium of a theater.

Craving a more realistic representation of theatre, we entered the Brown Foundation Performing Arts Theater, adjacent to Majumdar’s art work. With walls lined with cherry wood panels and seats designed by Poltrona Frau, leather seat maker for Maserati and Ferrari, the acoustically rich theatre was spared no expense in order to achieve an excellent viewing experience. We had a chance to play around on the front stage and bounce on its Appalachian white oak floors.

SHSU, Asia Society, Houston, LEAP Center, SHSU

And even though the ever present use of wood in the building’s walls and floors is an aesthetic pleasure, nothing compares to the beauty of the artwork we were about to see.

Upstairs in the Sarofirm Gallery, we had the opportunity to learn about modern Japanese bamboo art. A new form of art for many of the LEAP Ambassadors, we were amazed by the craftsmanship in every piece.

Asia Society, Houston, LEAP Center, SHSU, Bamboo Art

These artists, some of which come from families dedicated to this craft for generations, have mastered the technique to shape bamboo into whatever form they please.

The process requires a developed taste for perfection and a precision to delicately weave one of nature’s strongest natural substances.

 

Interestingly, many of these pieces had a functional purpose. For example, one of the artists made his piece so that it could function as a fruit bowl, while another crafted the bamboo to use it as a vase.

Asia Society, Houston, LEAP Center, SHSU, Bamboo Art

It left us with much to ponder.

Asia Society, Houston, LEAP Center, SHSU, Bamboo Art

It also capped off the Asian theme of our trip.  Having seen work by Naguchi, visited the Japanese Gardens, eaten at an Asian restaurant, we now had an extensive exploration of Asian art and architecture. It wouldn’t be our last exploration of the trip, but it was one of our most fulfilling!

Asia Society, Houston, LEAP Center, SHSU, Bamboo Art