The last day of our Midwestern Tour arrived, and we were able to visit the beautiful Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The beautiful museum was designed by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, and the funds for the museum were provided by Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress. Although open for fewer than ten years, the Museum is one of the most ten visited museum in the United States—despite being location off a major highway, and hours from a major airport.
But it is worth the effort to get there. The Museum grounds are beautiful…
..and the art was amazing.
Among the favorites were political works, such as Charles Wilson Peale’s famous portrait of George Washington…
..and a piece by an artist who is becoming a favorite of ours, Georgia O’Keefe:
Not only is there no entrance fee to the Museum, but the Museum offers free audio guides, which highlight hundreds of works of art, providing background and instruction for those of us who are not already art connoisseurs. In the piece above, for example, we were able to see connections in the white crown of the Radiator Building with many of O’Keefe’s work focusing on the southwest, particularly animal skulls, which take on a similar color and shape.
We learned how Benton used similar contour lines depict the sky, human/animal life, and the ground to make a connection between life and its environment, a connection hat would have been particularly salient in the 1930s in the midwest.
The Museum also allowed us the opportunity to engage in some “performance art”…
It was sad as we ended the trip, with a final look at the Museum…
The end of the trip, however, also offered a time of reflection on what we learned and experienced. Accordingly, we voted on our favorites, with the following results:
In general, our favorite cities were (1) Madison, WI, (2) Kansas City, and (3) a tie among Chicago, Bentonville, Little Rock, and Spring Green. Madison was the big surprise, impressing us all with its beauty and many shops and amenites.
Identifying our favorite sites was more difficult. The Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park was a favorite…
We started our day in Independence, Missouri, with hot chocolate, mocha, coffee, and various pastries at Home Sweet Home Bakery in town. The hostess was welcoming, had an interesting haircut, and was very helpful.
Following breakfast, we headed to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library, starting with a short movie that introduced us to how Truman came to be, from his life in Independence as a young boy up until his career as 33rd President of the United States.
The Library features various exhibits, including parts of his personal diary, and pictures from his presidency.
One favorite picture of the group was the famous “Dewey Defeats Truman” news headline in which Truman holds the Chicago Daily Tribune with an erroneous headline that indicated Dewey had defeated Truman in the 1948 election. Truman is laughing in the picture, clearly celebrating his victory and ready to begin his second term. The Library also features an original of the newspaper that was published in 1948.
The Library’s largest exhibit is “The Presidential Years,” featuring videos, Truman’s personal diary, newspaper covers, and other artifacts depicting his presidential years. One interesting feature of the Library was the replica of the Oval Office during Truman’s presidency. Also interesting was a documentary on the Cold War, which was very informative.
Another favorite exhibit, also of the newspaper variety, included a display of enlarged newspaper covers, presented in chronological order, and featuring headlines such as “ROOSEVELT IS DEAD: TRUMAN TAKES OATH,” and “FIRST ATOMIC BOMB DROPPED ON JAPAN.” Finally, we took pictures with Truman’s statue…
…and we visited the graves of him and his wife, Bess Wallace.
After visiting the Library, we headed to the Truman Home. Even though the Trumans were not wealthy, the house is far from modest. In fact, the house belonged to Bess’s family, which was wealthy. A wraparound porch surrounds most of the house, and stained glass windows front the house.
The guide led us into the kitchen, which is very modest, with furniture and wallpaper that reflect 1950s style. The chairs, counters, table, and cupboards are all painted apple green, a popular color at the time.
The rest of the house is filled with wooden furniture and golden interiors. The second floor is closed to the public, so we only visited the dining room, Truman’s studio, the two living rooms, and the main hallway. In the larger living room, used for special occasions and guests, is a portrait of Harry, while in the family living room hangs a portrait of Bess. The portrait liked most was in the main hallway, of Margaret Truman, their daughter and only child. At the end of the tour, more pictures in front of the house, and then on to our next destination, Kansas City.
It was lunchtime, and we had to eat Kansas City style barbecue! Our research led us to try Oklahoma Joe’s Kansas City Barbecue, rated the number one place for barbecue in KC. We arrived at a very long line outside the restaurant and decided to utilize our backup plan. We headed to Fiorella’s Jack Shack.
Fiorella’s Jack Shack was voted by The Zagat to be one of the best places to eat in Kansas City; but, we were not impressed. We faced a wait of 30 minutes, at least that was the story according to the waittress. An hour and fifteen minutes later, and after some slight vocalization of our displeasure, we were seated. Overall, the food was average. The sliced pork was above average and the beans were good, but the bulk of the meats were no better than you can find in Huntsville.
We had a negative experience at lunch, but we would not let lunch defeat us! We headed over to the World War I Museum with full stomachs, armed with curiosity. The Museum was beautiful and showcased the Monument in a spectacular way.
The inside of the Museum had a glass floor that led from the main entrance to the museum exhibits, showcasing poppies commemorating those fallen in World War I. Each of the 9,000 poppies in the display represented 1,000 fallen soldiers. Walking across the glass floor and seeing the poppies below really demonstrated the vastness and destruction of World War I.
There were several great exhibits. One of the most interesting and informative was on wartime weapons development. The war started with very basic weapons; however, many developments were made in terms of weaponry and battle strategy. One particularly effective strategy was camouflage. The British would paint their ships in various patterns that they pulled from Cubist paintings to confuse enemies and make it harder to track the ship’s speed and course.
In terms of weaponry, countries were still in the early development stages. The first machine guns were poorly designed and very slow – but the Germans developed the German Maxim machine gun that performed fast, concise and very well. Grenades were also introduced in World War I and made trench warfare brutal. Various gases were used as well, making World War I a chemical war. Other developments such as tanks and submarines changed transportation for troops during the war and helped improve reconnaissance efforts.
We closed down the World War I Museum and continued our exploration of KC starting from the top of the museum, which is the bottom of the 265-foot tall Liberty Memorial. We walked up the stairs to the Liberty Memorial and were astonished at the view: the entire skyline of Kansas City.
After taking several pictures of the skyline (selfies and groupies), we walked the several blocks to Union Station. On our walk, we encountered a large field of grass with an American Flag in the middle: the perfect place for a race. We had tried a race the night before, but because Professor Yawn left Silvia in the dust, he agreed to run backwards against her this time. It was much closer this time, and Silvia edged out Yawn in a photo finish.
During the race, though, we stumbled upon a beautiful tree in full fall foliage, displaying red, orange and brown leaves like a proud peacock. The tree served as a perfect backdrop for more pictures of us as a group…
We finished our stroll in the brisk Kansas City air at Union Station, an historic train station. Built in 1914, the train hub is home to Amtrak, museum exhibits like Science City, and theaters. Awed by the extravagant architecture and design of the interior, it was interesting to learn that after being closed in 1985, $20M was spent on restoration of the building to recover it from its solitude and dilapidation. Intriguingly, it’s still an active train station.
Historically, the KC Union Station was the second to be built in the country and followed Second Empire Style and Gothic Revival. After consuming all available space in the 1878 location and eventually flooding, the decision was made to move the station to its current location. Designed by Jarvis Hunt, the great hall with three massive chandeliers and ornate ceiling adornments is what we see today.
We were fortunate enough to be spectators to all the 100th year celebrations the Saturday evening held for Union Station. Drinking our coffee, we watched patron after patron stroll past, determination in their eyes, dressed in authentic 1920’s regalia. Unsure of what was happening, we followed a few to find, to our surprise, swing dance lessons going on. We watched, thankful for such perfect timing for something so entertaining.
With the sun setting…
…we hightailed it out of the enormous train station and headed back to the car in search of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Sighting a Chihuly, we knew we had arrived at the home to many inspiring pieces of modern art.
We wandered through the museum, admiring exhibits such as Summoning Ghosts: The Art of Hung Liu, full of poignant, politically vocal pieces about communistic China, and Miss Your Mark, which sought to allow artists to make their mark using the manipulation of different materials.
We even explored the museum’s café, full of art by Frederick James Brown, which paid tribute to many artists throughout time. Our artistic appetite not quite satisfied, we left the Kemper and walked to the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park, to appreciate the pieces by moonlight. Among those seen, our favorites included Shuttlecocks by Claes Oldenburg and Rodin’s Thinker. Although we had filled one appetite, our hunger made an appearance, so we left in search of sustenance.
An all-time favorite of our own Professor Yawn, we walked into Grunauer’s, not knowing what to expect. We quickly learned of the many Austrian delicacies available but had trouble narrowing it down to just a few. We began the meal with an assortment of sampler appetizers, including different kinds of cheeses, bratwursts, meats, and breads. Some of the unusual choices included currywurst, liverwurst, and brie. We downed the wonderful, new foods in preparation for the main course. Among some of the delectable entrees we enjoyed were Hungarian Beef Goulash, Cordon Bleu, Kasespatzle (noodles and cheese), and Fisch im Strudelteig-a fish baked in pastry adorned with spinach and mushrooms.
Stuffed to the gills, we surprisingly found room for apple strudel, chocolate cake, and nutella crepes for dessert, much to our full bellies’ dismay. Such an enjoyable end to an exciting day, we loaded up in the car to make our way to Bentonville, Arkansas for our final day of the Midwestern Tour.
Today was the second day of the 2014 Film & History Conference. As yesterday, the featured panels were many, and the titles all appeared to be interesting topics. What appealed to me the most was a panel titled “Jimmy Stewart for president and Ronald Reagan for best friend: Star Image and Political Campaigning,” by Amit Patel. Amit began his presentation by introducing Ronald Reagan’s initial career as a B movie star. In fact, he starred in low-budget films such as Love is on the Air and Santa Fe Trail. In 1942, the film Kings Row finally gave him some recognition as a movie “star.” Interestingly, Reagan was initially a Democrat, but later switched to the Republican party. In 1976, he embarked in a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination against incumbent Gerald Ford. Amit focused on Ronald Reagan’s use of Jimmy Stewart in his campaign. In fact, Stewart strongly supported Reagan, and even participated in a political ad were he stated that Ronald Reagan was his friend, therefore, the American public should vote for him. Reagan lost the nomination, but campaigned again in 1980, and became president. I thought it was an interesting panel because a candidate’s image is probably the most important thing during a campaign, and if the candidate was a known public figure beforehand then that plays in his favor. In addition, the use of famous actors or public figures to support a political candidate is common nowadays, and it is interesting that it was used in Reagan’s campaign, too.
A tour guide showed us the most important features of the Capitol, and shared the details of its construction. What interested me most was that Madison had previously had other two state capitols, but they both burned down. The second time around, the Capitol had recently discontinued its fire insurance, so the state did not have enough money to rebuild it. Ingeniously, the state had the idea to tax railroads that were passing through Wisconsin at the time, and with that revenue, they rebuilt the Capitol between 1906 and 1917. The architecture of the capitol is mesmerizing, featuring marble from many different countries, such as Greece, Italy, France, and Germany, as well as some beautiful mosaics.
Perhaps most interesting, the capitol staff apparently have a very liberal speech code in the building. Numerous exhibits were posted around the capitol rotunda protesting the performance of Governor Scott Walker, and one impressively vocal protester’s shouts could be heard throughout the building.
After the tour, we decided to go to the observation deck at the top of the building, and experienced true cold for the first time on our trip.
The winds were so strong that it was hard even to close the door behind us. Nonetheless, it was worth it because the view was beautiful.
Leaving the Capitol, we took a stroll in the brisk Wisconsin air to find ourselves some nourishing lunch. We finally settled on Marigold’s, a local deli, where we reveled in the many options available. Among the delights we delved into were lavender white mocha and grilled ham and cheese with a hint of strawberry jelly. Packed with locals, Marigold’s was definitely a winner.
Out into the invigorating weather we went again to make our way to another of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces, the Monona Terrace. Opened in 1997, the Terrace was built posthumously and served as the cause of much strife and contention during his career. Using Wright’s design of the exterior, Wisconsin contractor J. J. Findorff and Son Inc. carried out the great architect’s dream, while his previous apprentice, Anthony Puttnam, designed the interior.
Once inside Madison’s event center, we explored the gift shop full of Wright memorabilia before embarking on a tour with guide, John.
Pointing out certain Wrightian things, such as the dome on the west side of the building and the arches in the grand ballroom, John proved to be a formidable docent as he never ran out of interesting facts and stories to regale. Braving the gusty winds, we had the chance to view Lake Monona, which Monona Terrace balances precariously over, thanks to the intricacies of Wright’s design.
Awed by the view and many selfies taken, we headed inside to embrace the warmth it offered and finish our tour.
Seeing it was getting late, we rushed back to the car in order to make it to a few last minute shops, original to Madison. Among those, we re-caffeinated and browsed a wonderful cheese boutique, Fomagination. Overwhelmed by the many options and tastes, we took in Wisconsin’s finest and tried to contain our enthusiasm at all that was available. It was incredibly exciting to see so many things unavailable in the great state of Texas. We loaded up on cheeses and cheese accessories before tumbling back into the car to begin the final leg of our trip.
We admired the beautiful fall landscape of Wisconsin; the rolling hills and deep yellows, greens, and reds created the perfect ambiance for our drive to Dubuque, Iowa. There, we enjoyed the Fenelon Place Elevator, or Dubuque Incline, claimed to be the shortest and steepest railroad in the world.
Gripping the seats…
…up we went on the side of the hill to eventually reach one of the most inspiring views of the trip so far. Known as “the magic hour” in film circles, we caught the sun setting on the horizon, creating beautiful red and orange tones in the sky and on the trees off in the distance.
Proud to say we had viewed three states at once (Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin) from the top of the incline, we got back in the cable car built in 1882 to return to our vehicle and carry on to the next leg of the journey.
After a short drive, we arrived at our final destinations: The John and Mary Pappajohn Sculpture Park and the Des Moines capitol building. The 4.4-acre sculpture garden is unique and home to 28 sculptures from 22 different artists. Various paved paths provided a route for us to take through the garden, however, curiosity and the lure of new art, propelled us forward.
Many of the sculptures were created by artists that were foreign to us, however, one sculpture in particular provided us with the comfort of familiarity: Painted Steel by Mark Di Suvero. Di Suvero also has an art piece called “Proverb” in Dallas, Texas, which we were able to relate to. “Painted Steel” was made out of steel and painted in the same red that “Proverb” is painted. Both statues have similar characteristics, but varying dimensions and structure.
Another interesting sculpture that we saw was, “Back of Snowman (Black)” and “Back of Snowman (White).” These sculptures were created by artist Gary Hume and were located side-by-side in the middle of the park and held a spectacular gleam given off from the surrounding lights. Each of the statues consisted of two round pieces of bronze covered in enamel, one in white enamel and one in black. These statues were especially appealing because each round piece of bronze was perfectly symmetrical and smooth, giving the piece a unique trait of looking seamlessly perfect.
The last sculpture that really caught our eye and our interest was “The Thinker on a Rocky” created by Barry Flanagan. This piece was a large rabbit sitting upon a boulder in the same pose as Rodin’s “The Thinker.” The piece was clearly a satire on Rodin’s famous statue, which only added to its appeal!
While the statue garden was a fantastic experience, we had to continue our night and head to the Des Moines capitol building. The Renaissance style capitol, designed by John Cochrane and Fred Piquenard, was absolutely stunning! The capitol building featured a 23 carat gold dome in the middle of the building and was accompanied by two smaller domes on either side of the building. The capitol took expansive resources and large amounts of time to build and open to the public. The building took fifteen years and a staggering amount of $2,873,294.59 to complete. On June 29,1886, the capitol was ready to be open for use!
Both the capitol and the sculpture garden trips were the perfect ending to day five of the trip!
Our Midwestern Trip second day was especially busy. After a short night and a hearty breakfast, we headed to the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site, located in Webster, Missouri.
First, we watched a short video that covered Grant’s life and career, emphasizing the loving relationship between him and his wife Julia, as well as covering his military and presidential careers.
Grant was originally from Ohio, and later graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he met his roommate and future brother-in-law, Fred Dent. He actually resigned from the military to be closer to his family but re-entered when the Civil War began. He rose to prominence with excellent military skills and led the Union to victory. A few years later, he was elected President of the United States.
The National Historic Site features White Haven—his residence—which, incidentally, is green.
It was Julia’s childhood home, and home to Ulysses and Julia for many years of their marriage. Julia’s father, Fredrick Dent, named it White Haven in honor of another property he had; subsequent caretakers of the house during Grant’s ownership painted it green. Inside, as we walked through the halls and rooms filled with pictures and quotes from the Grant family, we imagined how life was over a century ago.
After lunch we ventured deep into St. Louis to tour the Gateway Arch. The closer we got to the Arch, the more intimidating the monument became – it was stunning, elegant. The panes reflected the light so as to make it look iridescent.
We made our way underground to the visitor’s center where we bought our tickets to ride to the top. The Gateway Arch was designed by the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen; it took $13M and a little over three years to complete. Comprised of stainless steel, it reaches a staggering 630 feet high, making it the world’s tallest arch. To get to the top of the Arch – and the spectacular views – we traveled in a small pod (emphasis on small) that offered a rocky trip up the arch.
After checking out the beautiful views…
…it was, back down to the visitor’s center to begin our next adventure to the Old Courthouse.
The Courthouse looked much like a capitol in that it had a large dome and several levels that were separated by beautiful spiraling staircases.
On a more substantive level, this is the building in which Dred Scott sued for his freedom, winning in state court, but losing when his case made it to the Taney-led Supreme Court.
This much we knew going into the building, but what we didn’t know is that Mr. Scott was granted his freedom by his “owner” and, although he died a short year later, he died a free man.
Feeling rather free and adventurous ourselves, we walked through several local parks, took a picture with the “running man…”
…and, of course, took selfies…
…and then ventured through several historical buildings. We saw the Wainwright Building, which was constructed in 1981 by Ellis Wainwright and designed by Louis H. Sullivan, who would go on to mentor Frank Lloyd Wright. The Wainwright Building became the father of the contemporary skyscraper and was a turning point in architectural history.
We learned about the difference between modernism, which has an accompanying slogan that “less is more,” and post-modernism, with the slogan that “less is a bore.” Modern buildings consist largely of glass windows and steel, whereas post-modern buildings have unique designs and shapes—often incorporating many styles from the past—that make the buildings one-of-a-kind.
Regaining energy with a Starbucks break, we left to further our learning in the state of Illinois. We arrived in Springfield just in time to eat and take a nighttime tour. We mollified our hunger at Lake Pointe Grill where, according to Silvia, there is such a thing as too much arugula on a pizza. Lake Pointe Grill boasts the only wood-burning grill in Springfield, clearly showcased by the delicious fare we enjoyed. We did not dally at dinner, as the Capitol was drawing us in, in all its glory.
Our first night stop was in front of the Capitol building, where our architecture lessons continued. Showcasing a French Renaissance style, the building lit at night seemed spectacularly imposing. The current capitol building happens to be the sixth Capitol building since Illinois became a state. Designed by Cochrane and Garnsey out of Chicago, the immensity of the building begged exploration. Even though we were not able to enter, we were successful in taking a photograph with Abe Lincoln before making a regrettable leave to our next stop.
Lincoln’s influence in his hometown does not end at the Capitol. Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln’s home sits smack in the middle of town. After searching the park full of many historical homes, we finally found the former President’s home on the corner of Eighth Street. The home clearly fit the spacial needs of the Lincoln family, compared to its original (smaller) size when they bought it from Rev. Charles Dresser.
To finish our nighttime explorations of Springfield, Illinois, we juxtaposed the very proportionate and grand architecture of the state house with a Frank Lloyd Wright home. Mr. Wright built the early 1900s home for Dana Thomas, with imposing walls and sunken bricks representing the change from the open, trusting social life to the more guarded, private lives of the early 1900s. Even though it was dark, we could clearly make out his trademark hidden front door, taunting us with what is inside. So different from the vertically enhanced capitol building, Wright’s horizontal home seemed to sink into the ground and succeeded in representing the plains of America.
Back in the van, we headed to Chicago to continue our journey in the “Windy City.” As we ended another long day, we anticipated a chilly, activity-packed day –to hopefully fulfill our goal to learn more about the art and architecture the White City has to offer.
It was a nice day at the Capitol building. LEAP Center students visited the Texas Legislature to learn more about the operation of the Texas Legislature. With the help of Scott Jenkines, Representative Armando “Mando” Martinez’s Chief of Staff, they learned quite a lot.
Most House offices, according to Jenkines, have a Chief of Staff positions, a District Director/Administrator, a Policy Director, and a Staff Associate, although these positions may be fully filled only during the session. There are also committee staff positions available. Senators, with five times the number of constituents as House members, have additional staff. Both the House and the Senate offices offer internships, and an SHSU student, Bianca Kyle, worked for Jenkines during the last session (Spring 2013).
Jenkines spent considerable time discussing expectations of interns and their duties. He praised Kyle, whom he indicated was more of a “Staff Associate than an intern,” noting that she was “a natural” with constituents. Jenkines, who has worked with more than sixty interns in the legislature, expects interns to be on time, to be professionally dressed, and to maintain a good attitude with both staff and the public.
As Chief of Staff, Jenkines allows interns to represent the office at various functions and even attend committee meetings on behalf of the office (Rule: “If you go, you have to stay the entire time”.) For more technical skills, he trains the student and, in fact, typically offers them the chance to initiate research in a policy area.
SHSU Business Major Jessica Rodriguez, who is interested in becoming an Austin Intern, asked Jenkines what kind of policy work a student might be engaged in. Jenkines allows interns to attend Committee hearings, but he does have a rule: “If you go, you have to stay the whole time.” Moreover, Jenkines typically allows students to initiate research in a policy area.
“We’ve had great support from the offices in which we’ve placed interns,” noted Mike Yawn, Director of the Austin Internship Program. “Students have had the chance to work on policy, plan events, and see the process up close. We’re very grateful for the offices that have helped us place the SHSU interns.”
Note: Sam Houston’s Austin Internship Program, which began in the 2013 session, has placed students in the following offices:
Over a two-day period, students with the Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics (LEAP) heard from some of the brightest minds around. Mayors Annise Parker (Houston) and Harry LaRosiliere (Plano) talked local government with Councilmembers Bill Spelman (Austin) and Jungus Jordan (Fort Worth); Representative Larry Gonzalez talked the state legislature with Senator John Whitmire; and a host of policy experts explored corrections, privacy, human resources, public administration, and health care. The conference was presented by Governing Magazine, and the discussions served to trumpet many of the “best practices” used by government leaders across the country. Below, the students who attended discuss the panel each found most interesting.
Jake Rivera: “Deploying Data & Performance Metrics to Achieve Results”
This panel featured Brian Anderson (Information Security Officer at Texas A&M-San Antonio), Bill Bott (Consulting Partner, Change & Innovation Agency), and Jerry Madden, for the Representative in the Texas Legislature; and the moderator, Dustin Haisler (Governing Magazine). These men discussed the difficulties that public officials have of evaluating their own programs, a fact compounded by concerns about privacy and even foreign espionage. They also discussed some interesting new technologies (e.g., an app that points drivers to empty parking spots) that could make governance more efficient and customer oriented.
Jessica Rodriguez: “The Local Perspective”
How do you spark connections between elected officials and their constituents? You couldn’t do better than to ask Harry LaRosiliere (Mayor of Plano), Annise Parker (Mayor of Houston), Bill Spelman (City Council, Austin), and Jungus Jordan (City Council, Fort Worth). Although unrehearsed, they each emphasized infrastructure—from basics such as the roads to cutting-edge innovations designed to bring citizens closer to each other and to those that represent them. Perhaps the most intriguing example of these types of connections is the “Food 4 Kids” program in Plano, Texas, in which the City partners with the North Texas Food Bank and local businesses to provide lunches on the weekends for children. The panelists also seemed to be in agreement that local government, while not the most glamorous of the elected positions in the country, was the closest to the people: “If you want to be a [local] official,” noted Mayor Parker, “you have to care about the potholes in the streets, whose trash didn’t get picked up, and toilets being able to flush properly.”
All: “The Legislative Perspective:Empowering Reform in Service Delivery.”
In this panel, Senator John Whitmire and Representative Larry Gonzales had a free-wheeling and far-ranging discussion of issues facing Texas: crime, transportation, mental health, and education.
This was probably the most invigorating of the discussions, with the experts on the stage being given time to explore fully various alternatives. Nothing was off the table. How about an income tax? How about legalizing marijuana? The panel didn’t necessarily try to answer some of those questions, but they raised a number of intriguing possibilities, offering discussions that lingered with us beyond the conference.
Ariel Traub: “Workforce and Management Strategies:”
Featuring star panelists Joyce Wilson (CEO of Workforce Solutions, Upper Rio Grande Valley; former City Manager of El Paso), Bob Lavigna (Vice-Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin), and John Keel (Texas State Auditor), this session brought to light numerous intriguing ideas for attracting, training, and retaining professional employees in government. Citing the difficulties government has competing with private businesses on salary, the panelists suggested combining the following strategies to sweeten the deal for potential and current employees:
Offering school loan forgiveness
Providing tuition flex time or work-at-home days
Ensuring fair evaluation methods
Promoting workforce morale through reward and recognition programs
Working with working mothers and fathers to provide flexible leave programs for workers with children
Although many of these programs have been published elsewhere, the panelists offered interesting twists. Joyce Wilson, for example, noted that it was difficult for many employees to pay for tuition up front and wait to be reimbursed. She suggested that companies bear the up-front costs rather than reimbursing employees. Moreover, all of the panelists noted that, in addition to offering specific benefits to individuals, the proposals also had community-wide salutary effects. Flex-time and work-at-home opportunities, for example, not only provide flexibility to employees, but these policies also cut down on traffic and pollution. Leave programs for mothers and fathers promote strong and stable families. Tuition programs promote greater productivity and employee self-actualization. And so on.
Although the panel was specific to HR strategies, it offered an example of strong approaches to build a stronger organization across all departments.
Tara Cobler: “Investing in Talent: Developing the Workforce to Sustain and Grow Texas’s Economy.”
Any discussion of future employment opportunities has to involve in training and education, and these panelists covered these topics thoroughly. One interesting problem that was broached by an audience member was the issue of Texas’s large prison population. Texas prisons hold more than 150,000 people, the largest prison population in the United States. Accordingly, there is also a large population of ex-inmates, and even more relevant, many people convicted of lesser crimes who were not actually sent to prison. These previous convictions are huge impediments to gaining employment. Some former offenders go through extensive training programs (many of them state funded), only to find that they cannot be licensed in their field with a conviction. The result is a triple loss: (1) the prospective employee remains unemployed, (2) taxpayers have spent thousands of dollars on training to no avail, and (3) the prospective employee is often left dependent on other forms of public assistance.
The panel suggested that criminal histories should be contextualized more fully, giving more ex-offenders the opportunity to gain employment, when appropriate. The program was not only enlightening, but it was also important because it illuminates how public officials can gain knowledge and sympathy to the plights encountered by those who are most affected by public policy.
Alan Garcia: “Closing Remarks: Adrian Garcia”
As a citizen who grew up in Harris County, I expected a great speech from Sheriff Adrian Garcia–and he delivered. He did an excellent job with his closing remarks, tying together the themes of previous speakers and providing an inspirational coda to the day’s panels.
Echoing the sentiments of previous speakers, Sheriff Garcia noted the importance of electing officials who truly care about citizens. Slick candidates may be able to appeal more effectively to voters, but the day-to-day governing activities require dedicated and devoted public servants. Similarly, Garcia reiterated the importance of community institutions such as family, non-profits, and public-private partnerships (“P3s”). Garcia drew on his personal experiences and background to illuminate the different factors that led to his success, and it provided a microcosm for community success. Like Sheriff Garcia, I am a first-generation American, the youngest child in my family, and–like Sheriff Garcia–I hope to be a successful public figure in the United States while also honoring my Mexican-American heritage.
The conference was a wonderful learning opportunities for us, and we are grateful to Governing Magazine for this opportunity. In addition to hearing from the panelists, we had numerous opportunities to speak with professionals from across the state. This is a wonderful program for current professionals and a great opportunity for aspiring professionals, and we are grateful to both Governing and SHSU for providing this opportunity for us.
Our final day involved presentations by national figures from the campaign world as well as our own presentations of our hypothetical campaigns. Compared to previous years, Sunday’s day was longer, giving us more time to work on our campaigns and to present them to our panel of judges. To cap the weekend off, we were treated to a mini-job fair, with representatives from ten or so state campaigns on hand to accept applications.
Joycelyn—Our fourth day in Austin was filled with a mixture of emotions. Some of us were anxious about presenting our mock campaigns, a fact exacerbated by the fact that we had still work to do. We did, however, get up early, grabbed our most professional suits, and headed to the Belo Center for New Media.
The teams presented their proposed campaigns in different manners. My group went first, followed by Makeebba’s. My focus was on the finance and fundraising section of the campaign, while Makeebba discussed the dynamics of campaign messaging. (Jake and Lupe’s groups presented at a separate session, so I was not able to see them present.)
Following our presentations, we retired to a “reflection room,” where we shared experiences, goals, and tribulations, while also discussing people who had influenced us in the field of civic engagement.
At the end of the Campaign Bootcamp, awards were handed out to outstanding groups. Makeeba’s group won first place in overall presentation. Although I was not part of her groups, I was very glad she and her group were recognized. After all, I knew she had worked very hard. Lastly, we also had the opportunity to exchange business cards with campaign recruiters.
The Campaign Bootcamp was a wonderful opportunity to have hands-on experience in many aspects of the political campaign process. Over my four years at SHSU (I graduated in May) I learned an immense amount of information in class, but I’ve also learned extensively by practicing what has been taught to us.
Makeebba—Today’s session was pretty intense. Our first session over research, which was pretty interesting, but a difficult one for us given that we were focused on our presentations. Following lunch, we had additional time to prepare for our presentations.
We only had six members on our team (compared to other teams, which had eight), so we had a bit of double duty. But things came together about thirty minutes before “game time,” and things worked! Our team won! I was very pleased, and I learned a whole lot about not only campaigning, but also about life. I can apply these skills that I’ve learned to almost any job or to life situations.
Lupe—The last day of campaign bootcamp consisted of one last workshop over research, along with group presentations, followed by tips on job opportunities. At crunch time, we were given the scoop on how to find last-minute facts, data, and other information on the opponent.
We used a vast array of public sources to find information that could be useful to our candidate, and we spent about an hour to get with our group and put the final touches on our campaign.
Feeling confident about my team and our hard work we waited for our time to shine. Unfortunately we ran out of time during our presentation! Our team had an amazing introduction and opening segments, but they ran a bit long. Still, we received honorable mention for our field plan, and I was very proud of that.
Following presentations, our mentors gave us on tips on how to be involved and potential careers in campaigning. We also had a mini-job fair, with many campaign representatives present and advertising opportunities that were available.
I gained a wonderful experience of working in a team with strangers, putting aside our different views, and working together as a team.
All—It was a wonderful four-day program. It’s hard to believe that we began it on Thursday night by watching “The Foreigner,” and following it the next day with a tour of the Bob Bullock Museum. The three-days of presentations, hands-on learning, and exposure to students from across the state was a formative experience. It encouraged professional growth, broadened horizons, and provided a lot of fun!
Our third day in Austin was the busiest. We began the day at 8:30am and got back to the hotel a little before 11:00pm, spending the whole day in “Campaign Bootcamp.” Fortunately, the day flew by, filled with learning, hands-on activities, and group interaction—much like people involved in real campaigns. With so much to learn over such a long day, we each had our own favorites and lessons we took away.
Jake Rivera: One of the great things about the NPF Bootcamp is that all the speakers have specialties which they share with students over the course of the weekend, providing students with a comprehensive look at campaign work. Today was our busiest day, with about 11 hours of presentations followed by three hours of teamwork. Our primary mentor, Parag Mehta, taught us the importance of taking care of campaign volunteers.
On the other end of warm and fuzzy, Michael Beach taught us the importance of enhancing communications technology. Beach’s style, which is reserved, may be a little less captivating to some of the students, but the substance of what he said was enormously important and, to me, very interesting.
In reflecting on his concepts, it’s easy to see why his consulting firm is successful. Rounding out the day were seminars on fundraising, earned and paid media, social media, voter contact, and political pitches.
One of the things that dawns on you as you move through a program like this is that, in addition to learning the content of the seminars, you are also acquiring skills, especially in the hands-on section. Fundraising is about communication skills and persuasion; working with volunteers is about organization and management; polling is about research and statistics; and cutting across all of these topics is the skill of teamwork.
Of course, we had some of these skills and, in fact, the four of us—me, Joycelyn, Makeebba, and Lupe—came here as a team. Ironically, by working with other teams in Austin, we’ll return to SHSU as an even more effective team.
Lupe Cuellar: There were so many fascinating topics and captivating presenters today that deciding on a favorite could be difficult. For me, however, Ms. Liz Chadderdon stood out as a favorite. Her topic was “messaging” and her style was energetic, engaging, and heavy on opinions. She was passionate about her topic, and it came through as she detailed specific strategies for communicating directly to voters (go for mail!).
My team, which consists of one high school and several college students, has diverse political beliefs. We’ve turned this diversity into a strength, however, incorporating multiple ideas and strategies into a cohesive strategy. I’m hoping it will carry us to victory on mock-election day, tomorrow.
Makeebba Deterville: We had seven speakers today over about eleven hours. It made for a long day, but it also made for a wonderful learning opportunity. Whether it was Parag Mehta discussing campaign volunteers…
…or Michael Beach discussing communications, we got inside the machinery of a successful campaign. The most interesting to me, however, was Liz Chadderdon, who spoke about crafting a campaign message that motivated sufficient voters to win a campaign. She has a unique style, sometimes cursing, occasionally screaming, and always passionate.
At the end of the evening, we broke into our groups and worked on our own campaigns. Although we spent three hours working in a group, it’s not enough time to put together a winning campaign, so I’ll need to turn from the blog and focus on the final touches of our campaign.
Joycelyn Ovalle: The New Politics Forum campaign bootcamp is all about learning—from the importance of volunteers, to crafting a message, to targeting voters, to polling…
…and there is no doubt that by the end of the day our brains were full of significant strategies and knowledge. But the Bootcamp is designed to go beyond filling your head with knowledge; the NPF staff also asks us to put those ideas into action, to apply our knowledge. Accordingly, we followed our many seminars with a three-hour session of teamwork, assisted by our mentors: Luke Marchant, Parag Mehta, and Pasha Moore.
They helped us crunch numbers, finesse strategies, craft messages, target specific demographics, and improve our campaign skills.
The venue for this event was the Belo Center for New Media on the University of Texas’s campus. It’s a large venue, giving campaign groups to move around and settle in different areas. But many of the groups interacted or were sufficiently close such that the conversations trespassed group boundaries. This allowed me to observe how the groups worked together, how they listed to one another and strategized. The teamwork was impressive. If congress could work like that, we would all be very fortunate!
Overall, the day was intense and rewarding, allowing us to learn, apply, observe, and reflect—education at its finest!