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.


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


A View from an (Austin) Bridge

Thanks to the ever-alert Glynda Turner, we learned that the Pennybacker Bridge in Austin has a Huntsville connection!  Anna Pennybacker graduated from SHSU in the early 1880s (then Sam Houston Normal School) and in 1884 married Percy Pennbacker, for whom the Pennybacker Bridge in Austin is named.

The Pennybacker Bridge is known for its interesting architecture and for spanning a particularly attractive area.  In honor of its Huntsville connection and its attractiveness, the LEAP Ambassadors decided to celebrate Anna Pennybacker’s 156th birthday by visiting the site at sunset.

Pennybacker Bridge, Austin Texas, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, SHSU, Sam Houston Austin Intern Program

With its hills and waterways, Austin is something of the sunset capital of Texas, but even so, the Pennybacker vistas are impressive.

Indeed, the aesthetic qualities of the area encouraged us to linger and engage….

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…although Alex soon went off to a corner of the cliff for solitude…

Pennybacker Bridge, Austin Texas, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, SHSU, Sam Houston Austin Intern Program

…perhaps because his fiancee was playing pattycakes at sunset with one of the other interns…

Pennybacker Bridge, Austin Texas, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, SHSU, Sam Houston Austin Intern Program

We also had a little fun with the photography, creating ghostly images…

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All in all, it was a fun way to celebrate Anna Pennybacker’s birthday, and to have some fun and enjoy Austin and nature at the same time!


Hanging Around Austin, Texas

With the first part of March spent traveling back to Huntsville  to host the Texas Supreme Court at Sam Houston, the month was off to a great start! Between experiences at the Capitol and in the city, living in Austin for the semester has been pack full of excitement! This session, I am interning for State Senator Schwertner. Senator Schwertner is the Chair of Health and Human Services Committee for the Texas Senate and is a member of several other committees. My responsibilities include a range of office tasks that range from administrative duties to policy analysis.

Kaitlyn Tyra, Austin Internship Program, LEAP Center, Senator Charles Schwertner

This month the 85th Legislative Session hit two important milestones: the sixty-day filing deadline and the Session halfway point! According to the Constitution, the first sixty days of session is the only period where bills can be filed. During this period bills can not be heard on the Senate or House Floors unless the Governor declares it an emergency item. However, after the sixty day deadline no more bills can be filed.

Now that the deadline has passed, the House and Senate can vote on regular bills. As a result, committee hearings, floor discussion, and bill analyses are an every-day occurrence at the Capitol. Also, the session halfway point has come and gone which means our 140 days of session are flying by and leaving!

Not only have I been learning every day in the office at my internship,  I’ve also had interesting experiences as a result of my internship. This month I attended the Texas Legislature’s Army Day where Legislative members and staff learned about the Texas Military.

Kaitlyn Tyra, Austin Internship Program, LEAP Center, Senator Charles Schwertner

I, along with other Legislative staff members, had the opportunity to fly out Camp Swift in Bastrop, TX, where the Texas Military Department hosts thousands of National Guard militants for training every year. During our day at camp, we flew on Blackhawk helicopters…

Kaitlyn Tyra, Austin Internship Program, LEAP Center, Senator Charles Schwertner

…participated in firearm simulations, and shot a real machine gun (with the supervision and assistance of National Guard members of course).Kaitlyn Tyra, Austin Internship Program, LEAP Center, Senator Charles Schwertner The experiences were as memorable as working inside the capitol! I appreciated that the Texas Military Department took the day to teach us through a hands-on experience about their department’s duties.

One of my favorite parts of living in Austin has included trying new restaurants every week! Often, I get together with my fellow LEAP Ambassadors and Austin Interns to try a new and exciting restaurant. This month, my favorite restaurant we tried proved to be Kebabilicious which not only has great food, but a fun atmosphere! Exploring Austin has given me new perspective and experiences that I am thankful for! I am looking forward to the rest of Session and more of our weekly food adventures!

Additionally, I have enjoyed sightseeing around Austin. This month I visited Pennybacker Bridge which is not only an architecturally interesting bridge, but includes a short hike to overlook the sprawling hillsides of Austin.

Kaitlyn Tyra, Austin Internship Program, LEAP Center, Senator Charles Schwertner, Pennybacker Bridge

Although our days at the Capitol can be long and exhausting, I always enjoy getting away from the busy city to enjoy the refreshing scenery of the hillsides.

As I continue through this session, whether I am shooting a thousand rounds per second or making my 5 mph commute through I-35, I cherish every day of my Austin experience. As the Senate gets busier I’ll appreciate a moment to just hang around in Austin.

Kaitlyn Tyra, Austin Internship Program, LEAP Center, Senator Charles Schwertner