As part of the three-day conference for the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism, Cynthia Boyd and I joined Sarie Fuller, Dr. Audrey Murfin, SHSU graduate students, and Professor Doran Larson on a tour of the Walls Unit of Huntsville. Our tour had a uniquely symbolic start, as we witnessed a person now free from their incarceration be released from the very doors we were about to enter.
After stepping through the golden gates (actually Bronze doors), Assistant Warden Castleberry led us through the historic East Wing of the prison; three stories of old holding cells, ceilings cast with a thick layer of precious copper, and even some commissioned items awaiting delivery from the prison’s craft shop. We all gazed in wonder at the structure, while learning of the prison’s past. This wing of the Huntsville Unit hosts a myriad of infamy: inspiring films like The Life of David Gale and A Perfect World, as well as personalities such as Clyde Barrow, Chief Satanta and John Wesley Hardin spending time in the prison. What surprised me personally was in plain sight: an unassuming, painted-over dent in the wall was once the entrance to the old Death Row, where Old Sparky was famously housed.
We were then taken to the Death Row Chamber, where we were briefly informed of the process of one being condemned to execution. This part of the tour was exceedingly sobering (and profound) to all in attendance. Entering the green painted execution chamber, we gathered around the leather-strapped gurney to discuss the intricate rules and legislative oversight that goes into such an important operation. Touching up the paint, replacing broken equipment, and permitting those presiding over the execution requires approval from the legislature to ensure proper conditions for each incarcerated person are being met.
Having the opportunity to visit the most frequented execution chamber in the United States was both demanding and captivating for everyone who went on the tour. As conversations on carceral reform continue in both the NASSR Conference and our current legislative session, this firsthand experience was necessary and humbling.
Many thanks to Professor Yawn and former TDCJ Director Wayne Scott for organizing this tour!
The Conference is taking place over three days, March 30-April 1, with dozens of panels, workshops, entertainment, tours, and other interesting and entertaining programs. LEAP assisted with one of these, a tour of the Huntsville Unit for a group of students, conference attendees, and SHSU staff. Mostly, though, we just enjoyed the conference, benefitting from the great work of Demson and an entire conference committee from individuals across campus and, in fact, from campuses across North America.
The meat of the conference was from the plenary speakers and the panels, both virtual and in-person, with approximately 200 people attending.
LEAP students attended a few of these, including the first-day plenary speaker, Professor Doran Larson, who, among his many titles, is the Director of the American Prison Writing Archive, and he was introduced ably by Professor Michael Demson.
Professor Larsen discussed the distinct themes in prison writing, noting how little they had changed over time, a reflection of the horrible state, as he sees it, of our prison system.
His presentation generated much interest and discussion.
The conference picked up the next day, with a full day of panels, which we were able to attend. We saw great panels featuring professors not only from the United States, but from around the world. All of the panels helped us learn about justice, literature, and many different cultures.
We even learned about Finnish literature from SHSU’s own Dr. Helen Halamari, with her husband Dr. Rob Adams in attendance.
This was our favorite panel. Interesting fact: not only is Dr. Halamari a TSUS Regents Professor, she also has a Ph.D., and four different Master’s Degrees.
Many kudos to Dr. Demson and the great staff (Deanna Briones, Sarie Fuller, Yahneed John, Brittany Johnson, Jerin Milan, and Rhonda Owens) who helped bring this conference to SHSU.
The Woodlands’ residents and various students got the opportunity to indulge in another World Affairs Council event, this one focusing on the “myths of globalization.” This event, featuring Shannon K. O’Neil, included amazing insight into regionalism and foreign relations.
O’Neil is an expert on Latin America, foreign relations, global trade, and supply chains. Shannon O’Neil has an extensive and impressive education which includes two degrees from Yale university in international relations and Latin American studies and a PhD in Government from Harvard University. Along with her qualifications and various degrees that make her an expert in Latin America, Dr. O’Neil has resided in Mexico and Argentina.
Following brief remarks by Sandiia Bayot, Mr. Seitz (from Cypress Creek’s Speech Team) introduced Dr. O’Neil. Moderating the event was Mr. Ray Cunningham, one of the WAC staff and a good friend to the LEAP Ambassadors. The two discuss how globalization can be confused with internationalization and development, although the terms have different implications and meanings.
Dr. O’Neil began with a personal anecdote about her hometown, Akron, Ohio, and how a city once booming internationally in the tire industry became desolate due to a lack of regional support. She compares this story to modern day trade and how weak ties with neighboring countries puts a nation at a disadvantage in world markets.
She took us on a trip back in history by discussing post-war development and how it impacted production and trade in different regions today. Focusing on three specific regions, Asia, Europe, and North America, she discussed their different economies, trade agreements, and regional dependency.
Dr. Shannon O’Neil spent a lot of time discussing new initiatives that are currently being worked on in the United States. She noted how the United States is actively developing and searching for ways to become less dependent on overseas production, especially in the area of semiconductors. She also discussed agreements like NAFTA and the USMCA, addressing the benefits and consequences the accords bring to our economy, dependency, and local trade.
Something I learned from the discussion is that Laredo, Texas is the second largest (land) port in the United States. I had not anticipated an inland port to be one of the most heavily trafficked in the nation.
The conversation then moved on to a Q&A where a lot of interesting topics were brought up by the audience such as sanctions and how they can be a weapon in international conflicts as well as the logistics of manufacturing companies to Latin America.
As two students studying Criminal Justice, economics and globalization are not subjects at the forefront of our education. However, Dr. O’Neil made such an intricate and nuanced topic super attainable and inspired us to learn more about the subjects. We had the pleasure to speak to Dr. O’Neil after the event, get our books signed, and learn more about her and some of her opinions on development in Texas.
Before and after the event we also had the chance to appreciate beautiful art pieces from the Glade Art Gallery. We had the chance to indulge in the art and find some pieces that resonated with us. Although extremely hard to choose “Lost in my Mind series 4” by Rebekah Molander was one of my favorites.
Whether it’s art, the experts, or the friendly staff at World Affairs Council, we are always grateful to attend one of their events.
An army general, a lawyer, the first and third, President of Texas, Governor of Texas, Governor of Tennessee, and the first of two Texas senators in the United States: Sam Houston is nothing short of a Texas hero. We honor his legacy through our university, exemplifying leadership and service at every turn. To celebrate our namesake and the excellence of Sam Houston State University, both current and former Bearkats gathered at the Austin Club in downtown Austin.
The birthday reception was held on Tuesday evening at the Austin Club, hosted by the Sam Houston State University Alumni Association and supported by the President’s office. This allowed us to learn from, and work with, Jennifer Alexander, Hollie Garza, and Tabitha Shanley. Texas legislators, Sam Houston alumni, SHSU students and staff, and Texas State University System Regents and staff were all invited to help celebrate the 230th birthday of Sam Houston.
Professor Yawn and Dr. Gene Roberts drove us (Olivia and Michelle) from SHSU to Austin to assist with the event. In addition, three of the LEAP Ambassadors as well as Ingrid Cuero (all SHAIP interns) and Kiara Williams volunteered to assist us: Jessica Cuevas, Morgan Robertson, Yvette Mendoza, and Ingrid Cuero. Our job was to assist the President’s Office and the Alumni Association’s Office, mostly by greeting guests, helping guests with nametags, and doing some odds and ends.
This was an excellent opportunity for us to expand our professional networks and to meet the people who support SHSU.
We were all impressed with Tabitha’s, Hollie’s and Jennifer’s attention to detail. Every minor adjustment, or rearrangement helped ensure the look of a professional event. We also enjoyed meeting Associate Vice President Charlie Vienne, as well as Dr. McCartney Johnson and General Dave Glaser.
President Alisa White briefly spoke about many of the university’s accomplishments, such as the success SHSU School of Osteopathic Medicine, the University’s strong rankings in social mobility for students, and SHSU’s strong showing in online classes. The President of the Alumni Association, Julia Woods, capped the remarks with a toast to Sam Houston!
After most of the guests arrived, we were able to enjoy the event and mingle! We had the pleasure to speak with Texas State University Systems Vice Chancellors Sean Cunningham and Mike Wintemute, as well as Pierce Mitchell.
For Michelle and me, who’ve had the least amount of time with TSUS Staff, it was great to get to know them and see how close the SHAIP Interns have gotten with them.
Amongst our favorite guests, were Dean Li of CHSS, Dean Lyons of CRIJ, and Dean Roper from Health Sciences. All three Deans made it a point to speak with the students and seemed to enjoy the event!
Bearkats from all walks of life; current students, SHAIP interns, recent graduates, and Alumni all had the opportunity to speak with one another. The student volunteers were able to mingle with the LEAP Ambassadors who are interning in Austin and learn more about their experience and responsibilities thus far in the 2023 legislative session.
Although he doesn’t normally enjoy photographs, Professor Yawn said the highlight of his evening was the opportunity to capture a photo with his current and former students, all under 32!
Happy 230th Birthday to Sam Houston! Thank you to the Office of the President, and the Alumni Association, for allowing LEAP to assist with such a wonderful event.
This past Wednesday, the SHAIP Interns learned that the pride and spirit of the colleges in the Texas State University System isn’t limited to the various towns across the state. For the 2023 biannual TSUS Presents, TSUS staff, members, legislators, country legends, and even SHSU students, gathered at the Austin City Limits to celebrate and honor that spirit.
Artists with the most appearances at ACL
Just last month, we had the opportunity to tour the TSUS offices and meet those who oversee TSUS. It was a great chance to network and learn, just one of the many opportunities for us as SHAIP interns. TSUS also provided lunch, and Development Director Malú González and Vice Chancellor Mike Wintemute presented us with the amazing opportunity to assist with this event. It is at least the third time that SHAIP interns have assisted with this event, which occurs biannually.
We were scheduled to arrive at 3:30pm, but our preparation began earlier, with event descriptions to read, software to download, and instructions to learn. While we waited for guests to start arriving, we visited with Vice Chancellor (and Foundation Director) Mike Wintemute, and Vice Chancellor Sean Cunningham. They were very interested in how our first month of session had gone and how we’d been faring. We even got to say hi to Chancellor McCall, and it was especially nice to work under the leadership of Malu Gonzalez.
(L-R) Ashlyn Parker, Ingrid Cuero, Morgan Robertson, Jessica Cuevas, and Malú González
As a thank you to some of the sponsors, Speaker of the House, Dade Phelan donated his time in the form of photo-ops! And while a couple of the volunteers assisted with that, the rest of us assisted with checking-in the special guests and attendees who after a long day of work were ready to sit back and enjoy the concert: TSUS Presents Dwight Yoakam. Many attendees were members and staff of the Legislature–some of whom we knew after working in the Capitol for a month–members of TSUS Universities (such as the presidents and other cabinet officials), and governmental affairs specialists from all over. In short, it was a networking bonanza! But we did stick to our job, which was directing these guests, all generous donors, towards the photo-ops, auctions, and seating.
Part of the benefit of working this program is that we also attend the event! So, we had a chance to hear from Regent Amato…
…and, of course, the honoree, Speaker Dade Phelan.
Speaker Phelan introduced some humor into his speech, while also praising the work of educators, public universities, and the entire process of education. It was appropriate that the funds raised for this event–which totaled more than $700,000–would go to scholarships.
This knowledge made the event even more special for us, in as much as the SHAIP internships for which we were selected are only possible, the result of donors providing scholarships. In a small way, our volunteer work was our way of showing appreciation for the support provided by TSUS, SHSU, SHAIP, and its officials.
As important as we all agree education is, that didn’t mean people weren’t awaiting the main attraction, which was, of course, Dwight Yoakum. And, thus, the lights were dimmed, and the stage where Speaker Phelan previously stood had been rearranged to better suit the needs of country legend Dwight Yoakam and his band!
They quickly filled the room with hit music, including “The Streets of Bakersfield,” “Fast as You,” and “Please Please Baby.”
That was only the beginning even Yoakam noted that was only his warmup. The real concert did not begin until Yoakam played Honky Tonk Man; Little Ways; The Heart that you Own; A Thousand Miles from Nowhere; Guitars, Cadillacs; and many more, including his favorite Willie Nelson tune.
Yoakam wrapped up the concert in fashion as he not only strummed his guitar and danced his signature moves, he also passed on the spotlight to every member of his band recognizing their talents as each took the opportunity to rock out!
After the concert ended, the SHAIP Interns took the opportunity of being around such amazing people and started snapping selfies! Amongst our selfie guests were Assistant Vice Chancellor, Pierce Mitchell;
L-R: Morgan Robertson, Ashlyn Parker, Jessica Cuevas, and Pierce Mitchell
…Vice Chancellor Sean Cunningham and Elliott Herzlich;
Elliott Herzlich, Jessica Cuevas, Mike Yawn, Ashlyn Parker, Stephanie Fors, Morgan Robertson, and VC Sean Cunningham
…Vice-President Heather Thielemann and Dr. McCartney Johnson…
Morgan Robertson, Dr. McCartney Johnson, Jessica Cuevas, Yvette Mendoza, Ashlyn Parker, Vice-President Heather Thielemann, and Ingrid Cuero.
We also had a chance to meet Dr. Carlos Hernandez, currently President of Sul Ross University and formerly VP of Finance at SHSU, and his wife, Lupita, who also worked at SHSU.
…and President White and Speaker Phelan.
This was a great night and we were all thankful to be able to volunteer and attend this live concert! Many thanks to Malu Gonzalez and all those at TSUS for hosting a wonderful event and for supporting students.
LEAP students enjoyed another wonderful World Affairs Council event, this one featuring a former Vice President of the United States: Mike Pence. It was an educational evening, allowing students, alumni, and fellows SHSU faculty/staff of all political affiliations to hear about public affairs directly from public figures.
After brief introductions by WAC Director Maryanne Maldonado and other staff…
…Vice-President Pence and moderator Paul Hobby took the stage. With approximately 400 people on hand, Hobby asked a series of questions to Pence, with most of the addressing, not surprisingly, foreign affairs.
He also asked VP Pence about his duties during the January 6 riot/insurgency, in which Pence certified the election results. Pence noted that his job was simple, which was to follow the constitution.
In this case, he continued, there was no evidence that any voting irregularities amounted to sufficient cause to question the outcome of the election, and he had a clear duty to certify the results indicating Biden won. Somewhat surprisingly, he indicated that Vice President Al Gore, who lost the 2000 election but similarly certified the election results showing Bush won, was an inspiration to him.
On other topics, Pence indicated he believed the United States should show more strength on foreign affairs generally. Perhaps the most discussed topic involved the balloons that have been spotted floating over the United States. Pence expressed much alarm and dismay by this, expressed his belief that the US took too long to respond, and reiterated that no foreign vessels should be allowed on (or above) US Territory (what constitutes acceptable airspace is globally disputed, but this is a starting place). Pence indicated that while he had heard reports that foreign balloons were deployed over the United States while he was Vice-President, he expressed some incredulity about that, saying, “that’s news to me.”
While the World Affairs Council is nonpartisan, they bring in public figures from all over the political spectrum. The crowd was respectful to VP Pence, and it was clear he had many supporters on hand.
Meanwhile, we had the opportunity to get Vice-President Pence’s book, So Help Me God, and follow up the event with dinner at the nearby Kenny and Ziggy’s. Interestingly, this is the sixth Vice-President the LEAP Center has taken students to see, with the others being: George H. W. Bush, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and, now, Mike Pence.
Kenny and Ziggy’s
If you haven’t tried Kenny & Ziggy’s, it’s a great place to get good food and large portions. It is a NY-style deli, and we were all big fans of the sandwiches. While no formal vote was taken, Michelle’s Philly Sandwich may have been the favorite, but not one of the four students who ordered a Reuben was disappointed.
For us, it was also a chance to spend time with alumni (Esme Mata and Victoria McClendon) and SHSU staff, including Mike Yawn, Stephanie Fors, and Gene Roberts. This was a great opportunity to hear from public officials and learn about career opportunities while expanding our professional network.
Students and Woodlands’ residents enjoyed another World Affairs Council event, this one highlighting the leadership changes in Latin America. This event, featuring Ambassador Michael McKinley, proved entertaining and educational, hallmarks of WAC events.
McKinley is uniquely qualified to discuss Latin America. In addition to being born in Venezuela and having a PhD in international affairs, McKinley also served as Ambassador to Peru, Brazil, and Columbia (not to mention Afghanistan).
Following introductions by Sandija Bayot and Baylee Cammack from Caney Creek High School, the forum was turned over to the excellent moderator Ronan O’Malley.
McKinley discussed the unique challenges of Latin America, including periods of instability, colonial rule, poverty and inequality. This, he noted, had been particularly acute in Peru when Castillo was in power: In a sixteen-month period, Castillo’s cabinet went through 80 members, an unprecedented number. Moreover, Castillo attempted to suspend Congress.
While such episodes have occurred throughout Latin America’s history, much progress has been made, and McKinley notes that while the largest six Latin American countries now have left-leaning governments, these governments fall within normal and accepted economic and governing strategies: they aren’t socialist or Communist governments.
Moreover, in most of the countries, much progress has been made in institutionalizing democratic reforms, auguring well for the future.
McKinley noted that the United States needed to devote more attention to Latin America. While he noted that Ukraine and China are two paramount concerns right now, issues in these regions should not fully overshadow the importance and promise of Latin America. Remarkably, he noted that while the United States had sent 68 billion dollars to Ukraine last year, only 2 billion had been sent to all of Latin America. Moreover, the US accepts more than 500,000 students from China, India, and Korea, but we accept less than 100,000 students from all of Latin America. With attention, effort, and resources, these disparities can be addressed, benefiting both the United States and Latin America.
Gratifyingly, there were a large number of students on hand to hear Ambassador McKinley’s response.
Indeed, overall, there were more than 70 people who came out to hear the Ambassador speak, and it’s safe to say that everyone came away more informed. Ambassador McKinley spoke with guests following the event…
…and we also had the chance to peruse the wonderful Glade Art Gallery, which is constantly rotating its art work, giving us the chance to find new favorites–which we did!
Once again, we’d like to thank the World Affairs Council for offering these wonderful learning opportunities to students from SHSU and beyond.
The Sam Houston Austin Internship Program kicks off each session with “Speaker Series,” and this week’s session placed double duty on the word “Speaker.” On Friday, the nine Austin Interns heard from three members of the House Speaker’s staff: Margo Cardwell (Counsel), Sydney Watts (Chief of Staff), and Cassi Pollock (Press/Media).
With lunch from Alonti’s (thanks to Malu Gonzales from TSUS for the recommendation), the students got two-hour overview of running a leadership office–as well as invaluable career advice.
Margo Cardwell emphasized the importance of discretion in the workplace, offering discussions of both office culture and the legal requirements of reporting office communications. She also explored the protections the Texas House offers against sexual harassment, and she offered the nine young women resources for addressing that issue, should they need resources. Cardwell then discussed her own career path, which involved an undergraduate degree in Washington, DC, law school at the University of Texas, and a series of legal/political jobs.
Without a master strategic plan to end up as Legal Counsel for the Speaker of the House, the jobs she chose made her both qualified and ideal for such a position. With six of the nine interns wanting to be attorneys, her advice was well received.
After serving as a reporter for several years for the Texas Tribune, Cassi Pollock now works as Press Secretary for Speaker Phelan. Pollock’s years covering politics and ability to write and communicate serve her well in her current role.
She emphasized the importance of writing skill for any office-legal-political job, a point echoed by Margo Cardwell. Pollock also underscored the need to stay true to your moral compass.
As a political reporter, she did her best to remain neutral and report the facts as she learned them and not to be swayed by her own–or others’–political leanings.
Sydney Watts has worked for two speakers, Bonnen and now Phelan, serving as the latter’s “Director of Administration.” She discussed basic management, tips for professional settings, tips for interns, and navigating the capitol.
One point she made was that no job is beneath any staffer. In fact, she pointed out that Margo might be “stocking the refrigerator” on one day, and the next she might be representing the Texas House in the court system. She highlighted the fact that the Texas House is one of the best places in the country for young people to work and to make a difference. In addition, she encouraged the interns to ask questions, particularly if (1) they were uncertain about something, (2) if they were curious, or (3) if they needed assistance with prioritizing tasks. For students in their first professional jobs with real responsibility, the advice was needed.
The students also had a chance to chime in, discussing what they’ve learned about things in the legislature, their biggest challenges, and aspects of Austin or the Texas Legislature they’ve found most interesting. Jessica Cuevas discussed the challenges of being an introvert and asserting oneself, Amor Sheffield discussed the challenges of being semi-introverted and having to speak to so many people in the Capitol all day long…
…and Breanna Demyers commented on the diversity of people from Texas’s 254 counties.
After the rewarding visit, we were able to take a photo in the House Gallery, with Ms. Cardwell and Ms. Watt (Ms. Pollock was, by this time, in a meeting).
It was a rewarding day for all of us, occurring in the midst of what is shaping up to be the most rewarding semester in our college careers.