Once a semester, KSAM’s Larry Crippen hosts the LEAP Center for a discussion that airs on “Around Town.” The program focuses on one person or organization, but since LEAP is an engagement organization, the program inevitably covers many aspects of the University and the community.
This semester, for example, we have worked with the Huntsville Police Department, the Walker County Courthouse, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Boys and Girls Club, Main Street Huntsville, the World Affairs Council, the Freshman Leadership Program, Texas Tech University, the City of Huntsville and we’ve attended events hosted by Student Activities, the Alumni Association, the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, the Art Department, the Texas Tribune Festival, and the Popular Culture Association.
And so it was the LEAP Ambassadors, along with their advisor Mike Yawn, met with Crippen in the Holcombe Room for a short discussion of the fall semester and even looking ahead to the spring.
We were able to discuss our first-ever “Beyond Bars” program, our trip to Austin for the Texas Tribune Festival, our trip to New Orleans for a conference, and our normal volunteer work.
It was one of several collaborations with the media this year–undertaken by us and our advisor. And while we may never get accustomed to speaking into a microphone or camera, it was an enjoyable event, in part because we also work with KSAM every fall on their Make A Smile Happen gift drive.
Although the semester isn’t over–we have finals and papers!!!–it’s nice to look back on a semester where we able to accomplish quite a bit!
Our early rise in Wichita, KS was accompanied by a nice and cool breeze! This morning we had a hankering for a more local taste for breakfast, and we were excited to try the homemade pop tarts from the local restaurant, HomeGrown. Sure enough, upon arrival, we had three of their brown sugar pop tarts, which were very tasty!
This time around, Morgan and Yvette ordered zesty yet sweet lemon dishes, Limoncello French Toast and Lemon Ricotta Pancakes.
Ashlyn ordered one of their specialties, the Croissant French Toast.
The seasonal flavors were a nice contrast to my savory Chilaquiles Verde Bowl, which was delicious. It was a great breakfast filled with an assortment of flavors!
If you are ever in Wichita, HomeGrown is a must-try especially if you want a taste of something local!
Frank Lloyd Wright’s: Allen House
Our next stop was also a local gem, one specifically designed for the prairies of the interior plains of Kansas: the Allen House. Completed in 1918 by Frank Lloyd Wright, the home was stunning! Not only does the home provide a glance back to an earlier time, but the intricate detail and expert craftsmanship are excellent examples of Wright’s works.
While we could listen to facts and history about the house itself for hours on end, it is important to know about the family who commissioned it. Our tour guide, Mary, wove the history of the Allens with facts about the home during our tour. Henry J. Allen was a Wichita native, newspaper editor and publisher, U.S. Senator, and two-term governor of Kansas. When the Allens decided to build a new home, they remembered hearing about a certain architect with quite the reputation. By word of mouth, he and his wife Elise, knew that they must have a Wright home of their own in the city of Wichita!
Since Wright took on designing the Allen’s dream home soon after working on the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Japan, there is a beautiful incorporation of Japanese techniques within the home.
Wright is known for bringing the exterior and the interior together; the effect of the outside meeting the inside is truly captivating.
The Allen House employs the use of horizontal lines, examples of this can be found in the cantilevers, etched designs, light fixtures, and even the grout between the bricks!
Instead of aligning the bricks with the grout, Wright deeply ranked the grout in and created more horizontal lines in and out of the house. With each home we have seen, it is easy to fall in love with the personality Wright gives the home.
Wright loved to add a poetic nature to everyday items, and with crystalized frozen air (windows) lining the home, it truly does make the home a work of art.
The home is filled with Wrights’ iconic built-in bookshelves, five fireplaces, and a Japanese-style pond, making for quite the property. The living room and dining room are adorned with crystalized frozen air (windows) that contain colors found in nature. The lamps around the home show the Japanese influence and are crafted with mulberry paper to create a softer light (photos were not allowed inside).
Wright implements a technique called compression and release in the living room in which you transition through a small door and low ceiling to a grand living room.
Elise Allen was an art collector herself and had several pieces around the home. Some reflected religious motifs, while others were done in a Japanese fashion; but most interesting to us was the Birger Sandzén lithograph!
We were in awe of the beautiful home and were not ready to leave, but we didn’t leave without snapping a picture in the beautiful garden maintained by seven master gardeners who donate their time to maintain the home’s landscape.
This tour couldn’t have been possible without the excellent staff and our tour guide, Mary, at the Allen West Home.
As a result, we learned more about Frank Lloyd Wright and the Kansans who cared about educating others regarding the legend and art of Frank Lloyd Wright.
Larkspur Bistro & Bar
Not only was the Frank Lloyd Wright Allen Home an amazing tour but it also helped us pick our lunch destination! Before touring this beautiful home, we had two options in mind that we were struggling to choose between. However, after we saw a Larkspur flower in the garden, we took it as a sign to eat at the local Larkspur Bistro & Bar! How could we not?
Mary, our guide for the Allen Home tour, recommended that we try their Kansas Wedge Salad and, sure enough, that is what Ashlyn and I ordered.
For our appetizers, we had delicious, crafted bread with oil, hummus, and crab cakes. Yvette ordered the Salmon Fettuccini and Morgan the Air Capitol Burger.
Larkspur Bistro & Bar was yet another great local stop on our trip and we love getting the recommendations from locals!
Wichita Art Museum Ashlyn Parker
After lunch, we headed to the Wichita Art Museum. To our surprise, upon entering the museum, we were met by a Dale Chihuly Persian Ceiling!
We thought that we would experience the Persian Ceiling, also known as the Chihuly Bridge, from one viewpoint, but the surprise continued as we made our way to the second floor and were able to walk across the glass work! In the atrium of the museum, another Chihuly piece, titled Confetti Chandelier, is featured with the typical swirls and orbs illuminating the space.
This museum offered many different styles of art including one exhibit that was strategically lit to display the pieces of contemporary artist, Beth Lipman. Her work is most famous for her use of glass still-life compositions. One piece, in particular the Laid Table, uses common pieces of glass such as a bowls, vases, or plates in a unique way beautifully placed around a tabletop. This piece used about 500 separate pieces of glass to create and lots of glue. The glass in her work represents the fragility of human lives and how delicate they really are.
We came across works by artists we have seen in other museums on our trip. There was an Andy Warhol lithograph depicting scenes of Jackie Kennedy as a remembrance of her husband John F. Kennedy after he was shot. The painting is in typical Warhol fashion as it is divided into four squares, with the image in each square exemplifying a different emotion.
The Carlene and Lee Banks Rotunda Gallery contained 19th-century oil paintings, and everyone tried their hand at guessing the artists. Morgan probably did the best of all of us, an outcome that might have been helped by the fact that Thomas Moran was among the artists in the mix.
But we all saw works by familiar names: Frederic Remington, Roy Lichtenstein, and Louise Nevelson, for examples.
We also saw two artists we weren’t fully familiar with, but which we would become familiar with over the course of the trip: John Steuart Currey…
…and Birger Sandzen.
We enjoyed getting to see a variety of different themes, styles of paintings, and sculptures throughout this museum.
It never ceases to amaze me what these talented people can do with a paintbrush or glass.
Mental Health Courts
Across the nation, new and more specialized methods of trying cases are arising. Today, there are 150 mental health courts in the United States that are completely independent of drug courts, municipal courts, and other courts to which nonviolent offenders with mental health illnesses are assigned.
Leading this cause in her home state of Ohio is former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Evelyn Stratton.
Sworn into the Ohio Supreme Court in 1996, Justice Stratton made great strides advocating for mental illness. Justice Stratton helped form the Supreme Court of Ohio Advisory Committee on Mental Illness and the Courts, and is a co-founder of the Judges’ Leadership Initiative.
Joining Justice Stratton on the panel were mental health professionals: Kimberly Nelson, the Regional Administrator for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration serving Region 7, which includes Kansas, Megan Quattlebaum, Director for the CSG Justice Center, Wenhan “Chris” Cheok, the Mental Health Program Manager for Sedgwick County COMCARE, and Flor Alvarado, a Mental Health Court Clinician/ Sedgwick County Offender Assessment Program (SCOAP) & TT Team lead for Sedgwick County COMCARE. Kansan State Senator Pat Pettey led the discussion and prompted some interesting questions.
The Stepping Up Initiative, which we had previously heard about in an earlier sessions, is one of the leading efforts addressing the public health crisis in county jails across Ohio. “Stepping Up is a national effort to break the cycle of jail being the de facto mental health hospital,” are the words of the Ohioans who are working on the Ohio Project.
Ms. Quattlebaum explained how offenders with mental health illnesses are currently prosecuted and processed through the system. Offenders are either tried like any other case in the court that follows the offense, or they are placed in a hospital for forensic treatments. Conversely, mental health courts will use competency restoration for offenders who are not fit for court after three, six, or twelve months of restoration. Depending on the individual, they will either be released or processed through the system and tried at the Mental Health Court.
The need for mental health courts is more prevalent than ever. These courts with their justices and treatment facilities will further help everyone involved, providing the defendants/accused with the help and resources they require.
After the panel discussion was over, Jessica spoke with Justice Stratton about her work and her career, and we were all fortunate to snap a quick selfie with her!
State Dinner at the Midwest Council of State Governments Annual Conference
At many of the Council of State Government regional conferences, the organizations host a “State Dinner” on the final evening, and this was true for the Midwest. This is a big event for LEAP Ambassadors–often their first such experience–and it was made even more fortunate by the presence of two CSG staff members at our table and some entertaining musical performers with the Aerotones Big Band, featuring Jaslyn Alexander on lead vocals.
Throughout the evening, Aerotunes played songs through the decades, often jumping 50+ years in the process. We soon grew to love the range of the music styles and genres and despite the variety in sounds, dancers kept on dancing!
We were first greeted by Senator McGinn, who not only introduced the posting of the color guard…
…and the invocation…
…but also introduced some humor into the proceedings, setting a light tone to a lively evening!
At first, there weren’t a lot of takers on the dance scene.
But when the Ambassadors got on the floor, they soon had the opportunity to learn new dances (or just be led through the dances in some cases). Kansas Representative Mark Schreiber was a particularly generous dance instructor…
…and with some real dancing going on, the dance floor soon came alive!
We hate to say who is the best dancer in the group, but we are really glad we brought Ashlyn.
We were pleased with how nice everyone was, and we were grateful for the new friends we made.
This summer was a bit busier than usual, with my job, LEAP activities and volunteerism, and an LSAT Prep Course occupying my time. But I still found time to spend time with family, and I still managed to explore and learn in the process!
Let me take you along the journey of my summer trip right as we wrap up our summer. My family and I went to the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, where my mother’s side of the family is from.
I had the opportunity to not only visit my family, but immerse myself in nature, learn more about my culture, eat fantastic food, and, most importantly, relax.
Here are some of my favorite things I was able to do in Puerto Rico that I recommend for anyone interested in interesting adventures.
First, hike through the beautiful El Yunque National Forest. You will fall in love with vibrant green palm trees and the touches of pink from our native flower, the hibiscus. Here, some trails will take you to the highest peak with breathtaking views. As I climbed to the top, I stumbled upon iguanas left and right. It was an excellent way to experience the island’s nature, but make sure you bring a rain jacket!
While getting a good exercise and learning more about the history of Puerto Rico, I walked through Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, a fort located at the Northwestern point of Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Its construction began in 1539 when the Spaniards governed Puerto Rico, and this fort was used to defend against naval attack.
You can’t forget Puerto Rico’s excellent food, such as tostones (fried plantains), pernil (pork), rice and beans, and various desserts! My favorite restaurant in Puerto Rico has to be the Zimple Restaurant and Bar. They had a variety of seafood. I fell in love with Paella Marinera, which has octopus and shrimp on top of perfectly seasoned rice.
Lastly, you can’t miss the beautiful palm trees stretching across the ocean shore! Puerto Rico is a lovely island that I’d recommend adding to your destinations list.
With the conference going full blast, we awoke early to get in a full day of learning, networking, and marketing Sam Houston State University!
NextGen Under 30 Breakfast
If your city suffers from a high percentage of brain drain and you are looking for a way to “honor, and retain talent,” then the NextGen Under 30 breakfast was the place to be. Across the nation, a lot of cities have experienced or currently have a brain drain problem. This is mostly seen in smaller cities that lose young individuals to larger cities with (1) universities and (2) a more competitive workforce. To combat this, Kansas joined the NextGen Under 30 Foundation which recognizes and honors young leaders and helps them become more engaged in their home state.
NextGen targets individuals who are 30 or younger and aids them with knowledge about their cities while providing them with a vast networking opportunity through various events. To be considered for this opportunity, you must not only be under 30 years of age, but you must also be nominated and complete the application process. All applicants are then considered, and the winners are selected by a group of judges who are business and civic leaders. The winners get the opportunity to meet the governor and lieutenant governor of the state, tour the capitol, and participate in an awards dinner and ceremony. The honorees have the opportunity to apply to become ambassadors for the following year and assist the upcoming winners.
Kansas State Senator Tom Hawk then welcomed comments and questions from the legislators.
However, the narrative was quickly turned over to us (the younger crowd) when one of the legislators asked to hear from us and what would compel us to stay in the area. The number one response to the question was “respect.”
My personal answer was upward mobility, in addition to respect.
Young people want to be able to grow and advance in the field that they go into and not remain stagnant through the course of the years. The lack thereof adds to the brain drainage in certain cities because there is either (1) no competitive work opportunities or (2) no mobility, even after a few years of working there. This dual lack of employment opportunities and career advancement makes it a simple decision when larger cities or even the private sector offer competitive employment opportunities.
The breakfast was not only a good opportunity to be heard and to network but also a nice start to our busy day! (Professor’s note: At lunch, a state representative came up to me and told me that the comments from Morgan helped him feel much better about the younger generation.)
Opening Session: Warm Welcome to Kansas
The LEAP Ambassadors received a warm Kansas welcome from Kansas State Senator Carolyn McGinn, Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple, Kansas State Senate President Ty Masterson, and Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman! All of these legislators shared interesting facts about Kansas. The most important fact that we learned is that Kansans do not speak of the Arkansas River in Kansas as the “Arkansaw” River. Calling it so, is a great indicator to the locals that you are not from the area because it is referred to as the “big river” and “little river”–or, maybe the “ArKansas River.” Along with its geography, Kansas is known as the air capital of the world! Kansas is the home of the Spirit Aerospace Headquarters and the National Institute of Aviation Research, a facility that Morgan and Jessica got to tour! Following this interesting detail, Mayor Whipple mentioned that Wichita is rated the #1 city to be single in and the worst city to date in (a prospect that excited Yvette greatly).
Dante Chinni, our keynote speaker and the Director and Founder of American Communities Project, specifically reviewed Kansas demographics and discussed how the statistical data are interpreted and utilized to highlight issues such as the benefits of Kansas’s manufacturing and the brain drain Kansas is experiencing.
More specifically, Chinni highlighted demographic characteristics such as exurbs, working-class counties, military posts, and college towns, etc. These data show that the Midwest consists of a highly complex terrain that defines easy understanding. Even within individual states, single policies can be difficult fits.
Along with demographic research, we were also shown economic differences and challenges. Coming out of COVID, new problems arose, such as population growth vs. decline, internal personal wealth, and internal community wealth. With these topics, Chinni emphasized the greater use of specific data such as the asset income per capita.
Hearing the data from Kansas allowed us to compare how our city Huntsville, TX, experiences brain drain. Our university facilitates brain gain with incoming students, but after graduation, a high percentage will leave to pursue their careers elsewhere in a more populated city that has much more job opportunities. This phenomenon leaves the City of Huntsville with a much bigger brain drain problem.
Aside from the obstacles Kansas must overcome, we can see the beauty Kansas has to offer and what it can produce to have a better Kansas and uplift our nation. I was fascinated to learn more about the state. I consider Kansas a great state to visit with its excellent hospitality.
Postsecondary Access and Affordability: Policy Options for States
Yvette and I made our way to the post-secondary access and affordability breakout session which was moderated by Senator Dietrich…
… and featured by Dr. Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute. As a national expert on secondary education affordability, Dr. Baum was able to provide plenty of statistics to support her claims. Her point was very clear. Not only are we wanting to make colleges more affordable to students, but we want to keep them at a decent quality to have constant graduation rates. There have been frequent conversations about the possibility of college being free and whether that possibility could potentially lower the quality of the schools, which is something Dr. Baum is afraid of.
The statistics showed that more than half of the full-time students at public four-year institutions have their tuition and fees covered by grant aid. The obvious trend we see is that low-income households are not saving their money to put towards their child’s college career. This explains why most students at public colleges are depending on grant aids and loans. Many young people are not willing to go thousands of dollars into debt just to get a four-year education.
Our focus needs to be on helping low-income students become more aware of different financial aid options that will pay for their college. On their behalf, colleges need to, in some way, be accessible to everyone who is willing to put in the effort and work into programs, related to financial aid, that can help tremendously.
Luncheon with Legislators
Once the clock struck noon, we followed the hungry crowd toward the Redbud Ballroom for the featured presentation over lunch. Ashlyn and I sat at a table with State Senator Reynold Nesiba from South Dakota and Kansan State Senators Beverly Gossage and Kristen O’Shea (Senator O’Shea is the youngest female Senator in Kansan history!). Similarly, Yvette and Jessica sat at another table with a senator from Illinois.
Having asked plenty of questions of our own, the legislators were curious to know where we were from and soon enough, we found ourselves answering questions about LEAP and Sam Houston State! Before the presentation commenced, we were able to learn more about what each senator was passionate about, why they chose to become public servants, and asked for advice on running for office.
Soon after, Senator Carolyn McGinn made her way toward the stage and began introducing the guests of honor. The first guest of honor was Kansas Governor Laura Kelly. Governor Kelly expressed her gratitude for all the legislators in attendance and gave a shoutout to our neighbors in the north from Canada!
Unfortunately for us, she was unable to stay for the lunch, but as the past CSG National President, Governor Kelly knows the importance of attending conferences to learn as much as possible from others.
The next speaker put on quite the show! CSG national Chair, Washington State Senator Sam Hunt gave a brief CSG report. He reminded everyone to not forget that the national conference, hosted in Honolulu, Hawaii, is just a few months away. To emulate the spirit of the next host state, Senator Hunt stripped off his dress shirt and jacket–amid nervous twitters from the audience–and showed off his best Hawaiian gear, gear that was underneath his sports jacket!
Senator McGinn then introduced the keynote speaker, Dr. H. W. Brands, the Jack S. Blanton Sr. Chair in History at UTA. Dr. Brands is a renowned author of 30 books covering American politics and history and two of his books were finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.
Dr. Brands told us the stories of two completely different historical figures, with a common objective in mind: John Brown and Abraham Lincoln.
Both Brown and Lincoln shared abolitionist views but acted in very different ways. Dr. Brands explained that John Brown acted with violence and aggression, while Abraham Lincoln believed that the law and policy were the best avenues for change.
Dr. Brands did a great job of outlining why the men thought the way they did, and what implications their different perspectives had on the nation. It was a captivating lecture, and I’m sure the whole room cannot wait to read The Zealot and The Emancipator!
Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
On the Second Family evening, Ashlyn, Yvette, Jessica, and I all experienced a new touristy trip with LEAP: a trip to the zoo! The Sedgwick County Zoo is the seventh largest in the United States and is home to 3,000 individual animals and 400 species.
Typically, a zoo groups species of animals based on the region they are from or the type of habitat they belong to. With cameras in tow, and knowing that we had the zoo for the evening, we scurried over towards the different habitats hoping to capture some great shots!
We were thrilled to see African giraffes graze on leaves…
…the running rhinos playing in their pen…
…and the zebras strolling lazily.
The meerkats were already posed to perfection and proved to be some great models!
As we wandered through the different continents, we eventually found the buffet meant for us! We had a great meal over which we shared our thoughts on the day’s sessions. While jokes were made, (ambassador note: mostly at our expense), we shared a few laughs and enjoyed gazing at the animals.
Despite missing out on the opportunity to touch and feed the stingrays, we enjoyed seeing the available exhibits in the Reptile and Amphibian room through the glass, except for the tortoise! The room was full of a wide array of different creatures from the rarest turtle in the world to recently fed snakes.
While in the room, we found it amusing that a turtle and a frog were playing a game of copycat, as humongous bullfrogs sat idle and lurking in the murky water.
The Cessna Penguin Cove exhibit was right around the corner and Jessica was eager to check it out. We quickly learned why: penguins are Jessica’s favorite birds! The zoo supplied many interesting facts and displays, but most insightful for us was the chart showing the different heights of the penguins. After some convincing (editor’s note: and some dragging) we learned how LEAP Ambassadors fit into the size up!
Stepping back into our childhoods for a lovely outdoor trip to the zoo was so much fun! Thank you to the Midwestern staff.
We awoke early and a bit nervous, headed to the first conference session of the day.
We didn’t expect SHSU to be recognized and highlighted during our first event at the Midwest Council of State Governments (CSG) Conference.
The key speaker and presenter, Carl Reynolds, earned his MPA from the LBJ School of Public Policy, received his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law, and he also worked for the Texas state legislature (Senate) and the State of Texas for a couple of decades. Before speaking, he noted he was happy to see SHSU students at the conference, and further commented on the fact that he had enjoyed his many travels to Huntsville. This helped ease us into the conference!
Reynolds highlighted three major programs led by the CSG Justice Center. These three were:
Justice Reinvestment Initiative uses tools and data from multiple disciplines to take an evidence-based approach to criminal justice problems. This program is employed in more than 30 states, and it begins with the principle that the people most likely to recidivate are the people most resources should be expended on. Another key aspect of the program is to bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners.
Stepping Up focuses on reducing the number of people with mental health issues who “come in contact with the criminal justice system” and, in particular, reducing the number of people with such issues who are jailed.
Justice Counts emphasizes the use of data for problem-solving in public affairs, and, by extension, believes that metrics should be simple, feasible, and effective. They study seven major sectors using this data-driven approach: police, prosecution, defense, pretrial/courts, jails, prisons, and community supervision.
The Chair of the Committee, Senator John McCollister (NE), did a superb job of taking questions from the committee—and the floor—and Mr. Reynolds was a wealth of knowledge.
Following the session, we spoke with Mr. Reynolds for a bit, discussed Texas (where he still lives), and even found that we have common friends (Mr. Wayne Scott!).
With its Texas-friendly environment, its emphasis on issues we can relate to (we live in Huntsville, after all!), and the knowledge of the panelists, this was the perfect first panel for us to attend!
Gabby’s Peruvian Restaurant
Before continuing our educational journey on expanding our knowledge of state governments, we dove into local cuisine, Gabby’s Peruvian Restaurant, to fuel our bodies and brains. The restaurant’s decor gave us a small taste of what the Peruvian culture uses to liven up a space, such as beautiful tapestries with llama designs.
Our aperitivos of fried yuca, papa rellena, and tostones rellenos with either tuna or chicken were all very delightful in their way.
This was my first real experience with Peruvian food, and I was not disappointed. I ordered the fried tilapia, which had a beautifully thin layer of fried batter that–to my delight–did not take away from the flavor of the fish.
The rest of the party ordered more traditional dishes such as Bistec a lo Pobre, Aji de Gallina, Tallarin Verde con Bistec, and a traditional Peruvian breakfast.
All the dishes looked extremely appetizing, and I would personally recommend you all to eat at this restaurant if you ever visit Wichita, Kansas.
Although this was one of the first times that a few of us had Peruvian food, it was delightful! We made our way back to the conference hotel with enough time to prep before breaking off into the different sessions that interested us: Health and Human Services, Education, Midwest-Canada Relations, and the Economic Committee meeting.
Health and Human Services Committee
At the Health and Human Services Committee session, Morgan and I listened to speakers Stephanie Anderson (the program specialist for Wichita Public Schools), Holly Yager (Program Specialist for Wichita Public School Psychologists), and Melissa Zieammermann (Director of Behavior for Wichita Public Schools). They all discussed how they have been implementing mental health practices in local Wichita Public Schools through the Kansas Opportunity Support Program (KOSP).
KOSP offers 24/7 mental health services to children and family members in the public unified school district (USD 259) headquartered in Wichita, KS. To be able to give everyone access to the help they need, the school system is set up with psychologists, counselors, social workers, and even a behavior health school liaison! All faculty and staff receive training at least annually on how to deal with students who want to harm themselves. The program motto is “Stay. Listen. Get Help.”; and, everyone on campus is equipped to watch for the patterns of mental illness.
Not only do they provide round-the-clock mental health professionals, but they also have many other policies and programs in place to aid in determining who is most at risk. These include the Social, Academic, and Emotional Behavior Risk Screener (SAEBRS), a screening tool that was taken by all 47,000 students and faculty in the district this past year to determine who they thought were most at risk.
KOSP’s work is not so much measured by statistics as it is by the stories they have been told as they implement these services in the school system. For instance, they were able to save a faculty member who was attempting to take their life and would have succeeded without the proper training that others received. This wonderful program improves and saves multiple lives each year in the Wichita Public School District. Hopefully, more programs like the KOSP can be established in other public school districts throughout the country.
While both Ashlyn and Morgan were at the Health and Human Services Committee meeting, Yvette went to the concurrent session of the Education Committee.
A remarkable society strives for making K-12 students’ education a top priority! Unfortunately, with COVID-19, there has been a slump in children’s education. The two keynote speakers, Lindsay Dolce, Chief Advancement Officer of ServeMinnesota, and Wendy Wallace, the Director of Engagement and Development for the National Student Support Accelerator for Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform, have one mission: to improve student performance and achievement with high-impact tutoring.
Both Dolce and Wallace discussed and promoted how their respective programs have helped the goal of assisting students in advancing in their studies, despite any disastrous event that may become an obstacle. These are the programs:
National Student Support Accelerator: Wallace explained the components of this high-impact tutoring program that also provides statistics on how beneficial tutoring is to students. The main points are facilitating implementation with research-based tools; catalyzing the tutoring field by having research and communities of practice; and engaging and activating stakeholders.
AmeriCorps, ServeMinnesota: In describing this program, Dolce discussed the process of meeting milestones in math and reading to live up to their mission statement, “a future where all children are proficient readers by the end of third grade and algebra-ready by the end of eighth grade.” With the high-quality training, evidence-based interventions, and expert training and coaching, one can see measurable progress in the students’ understanding of the material.
The entire audience, Education Committee members, and legislators peppered the speakers with specific questions that will get the gears turning on applying these tutoring programs to their midwestern states to benefit their students’ education.
This topic is critical since education plays a significant role in our identity. It was heartwarming to know that our passionate government officials play a crucial role and take seriously that role in doing all they can to help our schools.
Like in several other sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic had a big impact on United States’ international relations. Laurie Tannous, a cross-border attorney for the Cross-Border Institute, and Christopher Sands, Director of the Canada Institute for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, were the experts on the US-Canada relationship. Quoting President Ronald Reagan, Sands opened with the words many people fear, “I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.”
Following are a few of the general topics both keynote speakers touched on:
NAFTA: During the pandemic, trading between the Mexico, U.S., and Canada borders “suffered,” as they each implemented their own protection measures. However, the U.S.-Canadian border suffered the most and is still not functioning at full capacity. Despite goods being transported, drivers only ever made it as far as the border. Goods were then stored in a facility before distribution, causing the supply shortage. The biggest takeaway for most legislators was that both governments need to work together through the pandemic and its aftermath and not just for trade purposes.
Open Border: It boils down to how the U.S. and Canadian governments struggled to compromise and be on the same page. Although they both implemented regulations to respond to COVID-19, they had different requirements and exemptions for travel. They both compared how the Canadian and U.S. governments considered different policies to be essential and how those differences became real issues for citizens of both countries to travel to and from both these countries, even for work. Some legislators expressed concern over borders cutting back hours of operation.
9/11: The lessons learned after 9/11 were often used to compare the response of the U.S. government to its COVID-19 response. During 9/11, the U.S. focused on pilot projects and more easily adapted and recovered from that tragedy. Some argued the U.S. should have used a similar approach with COVID-19, keeping in mind that ‘one shoe does not fit all’.
Following the presentation, the committee members continued their meeting by discussing three pending resolutions: (1) Support of the U.S. – Canada Trade Relationship, (2) Protection and Return of Indigenous Remains and Property, and (3) Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, but the resolutions were tabled until there were “enough Canadians” to help answer questions and discuss opinions.
While all the speakers were interesting, I was most interested in meeting Ms. Tannous, who was not only an attorney, but one who specialized in immigration, an area I am interested in.
Opening Reception at Botanica, The Wichita Gardens, and the Lighting Ceremony at the Keeper of the Plains
To close out a great first day of committee meetings covering a wide array of topics, we made a quick wardrobe change, then headed out. Botanica, The Wichita Gardens, just a short bus ride from the conference hotel, was a nice break in scenery from the brick and mortar of the downtown.
The gardens feature 17.5 acres of flora, foliage, towering trees, koi ponds, statuary, and more. We followed the path and crowd toward the main amphitheater and quickly joined the crowd. Much to our surprise, we arrived just in time to see the Wichita War Dancer! Professional Native American performer Greg Victors explained his traditional garb and the process of how it is made. I was fascinated by the bright colors and intricacy of design.
We were amazed when the Wichita War Dancer put down the microphone and began his first dance. This war dance was fast and lively, and the movements allowed for his clothing to be shown off perfectly. Some of us were able to snap some photographs, while others were mesmerized by his routine.
Then, after a few other dances, he gave the audience a call to action, beckoning us to the front to join him in the Snake Dance. Traditionally, this dance was performed by snake dancers to stamp down and level the dance floor for the ritual dancers, held over four days from sunrise to sunset. The Wichita War Dancer instructed us to form a line and follow the leader. Yvette and I stepped up to the call, and Jessica came along with us! We then, as a line, snaked across the lawn with our arms extended, stamping our feet.
The dance was quite fun but also a little confusing when we lost the form of our line! We ended by taking a shot at our best war cries, some of which were good, and some of which could use practice.
We were also able to take a selfie with the Wichita War Dancer and thanked him for teaching us more about the Native American traditions.
The rest of the gardens awaited us, so we made our way along the paths. With some guidance from a staff member, we found the butterfly house filled with native butterflies.
Much like our group of travelers, some of the butterflies were all for the show and ready to pose for the perfect photo, whereas others preferred to not flash their wings around.
The next Wichita stop was the Lighting Ceremony of the Keeper of the Plains, a steel sculpture that is the city’s icon.
The Keeper of the Plains stands above the confluence of the Arkansas and the Little Arkansas rivers with his head held high.
We claimed a spot on the footbridge to watch the lighting of the fires and took advantage of the beautiful sky to capture the moment.
At 9:00 p.m. sharp, flames began to light up on the metal fire pits. They lit up one by one until all five had a blazing fire.
As the festivities came to an end, we strolled back to the hotel, welcoming the beautiful night and cooler breeze, right alongside the Arkansas River.
With four cities to see in one day, we had to hustle after seeing the OKC Memorial & Museum and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. Ashlyn and I ran by the Oklahoma City (OKC) Museum of Art to see a single piece: a beautiful (and large) work by glass artist Dale Chihuly.
Following that stop, we drove by the Oklahoma State Capitol building. We picked up our cohorts and food, and had lunch in the car. The lunch from Kitchen 324 was very good.
Philbrook Museum of Art
by Morgan Robertson
After a grab & go lunch, we ventured out of OKC, heading northeast toward Tulsa and the Philbrook Museum of Art. Before becoming a museum, the Philbrook Italian Renaissance Villa was once a once a home to a wealthy oilman and his family. In 1938, it was gifted by the owners to the City of Tulsa to be an art center. And what an amazing space it is!
Despite the heat, some of the more persistent flowers were still in bloom across the 25 acres of gardens at the home. Water features and angled sidewalks cast a viewer’s eye directly towards the gazebo at the base of the hill.
We descended through the gardens while capturing photos. (And I made sure to snap a few of my favorite, sunflowers!)
Almost hidden in the greenery, was an Allan Houser statue of a Native American with outstretched arms, gazing towards the sky.
We had intended to find this and were pleased that we did!
We had to make our visit at the Philbrook brief, but we still made time to see some important pieces. Displayed with glass vases and other small sculptures, Yvette found her favorite: an early James Surls that was a wooden axe!
The museum exhibits and pieces varied widely: an exhibition on Mexican art, several regionalist pieces, and even a Picasso – one of Jessica’s favorites.
In addition, we saw works by Thomas Moran, our newly discovered Kehinde Wiley, and Alexandre Hogue.
Sometimes, our own Ambassadors think they are a work of art…
…really, though, they are just a piece of work.
Sometimes, though, they created some art of their own, as in this cool photograph by Yvette.
Bartlesville, Oklahoma (Jessica Cuevas)
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower and the Price Tower Arts Center
Frank Lloyd Wright (“FLW”) was a unique and famous architect, mostly known for his revolutionary approach to American architecture, which incorporated timeless aspects of geometry into his work as well as site-specific structures that blended with the environment.
So, after our short stop at the Philbrook in Tulsa, we made our way to Bartlesville, Oklahoma, to see and tour the only skyscraper designed by Wright. Yes, you read that right—in Bartlesville, Oklahoma!
Wright’s definition of a skyscraper was a building that met several requirements. It had to have residential spaces; retail spaces; and commercial spaces, as well as reach a certain number of stories…all of which the Price Tower had when it opened, and it still has to this date!
Designed in 1952, with construction starting in 1953, the Price Tower didn’t open its doors until 1956. We toured three of the 19 floors of the Price Tower, getting a good look at the first…
…17th, and 18th floors, with lots of detailed information on the architectural elements by our tour guide, Mr. Price Conner.
As is usual with Wright’s designs and commissions, Price Tower went considerably over budget. Wright was nothing if not true to his design, so once he had an idea or design, there was no deviation. This can even be seen in the (tiny) elevators.
We rode a small honeycomb-shaped elevator up (in groups of three, so it took two rides), to see two spaces – an apartment and a corporate office. Wright liked to hide or minimize things that distracted from his intent of a space, even if it made them less functional, so the apartment’s kitchen and powder room, staircases, and other things were made as small as possible. The office, meanwhile, had its own impeccable designs, including wall art that complemented the motifs of the building.
With the Price Tower, Wright heavily used and reinforced use of the triangle, both inside and outside, along with other motifs.
The Price Tower was designed to emulate a tree on the plains. No side of the skyscraper is the same, but somehow the whole remains cohesive. Compared to the surrounding area, the Price Tower stands like an ancient tree, weathered by time.
We then strolled (through Unity Square) to the Bartlesville Community Center. The public outdoor space contains a small sculpture garden featuring Robert Indiana’s 66, along with xeriscaping, and a modern statu3 that may have caused some consternation when it was installed.
Although not a Frank Lloyd Wright design, the Community Center has similar architectural elements, probably because it was designed by one of Wright’s protégés, William Wesley Peters (who also became FLW’s son-in-law). Peters, who was chief Architect at Taliesin West, designed the Community Center, infusing the interior design with round, circular shapes throughout, bringing in the exterior shape to the interior, including the door handles, windows, and staircases.
The Center’s director, Liz Callaghan, provided a lovely tour with many little stories of the not-little space – it soars with wonderful details.
(We were only able to peek into the main stage, as rehearsals were going on, but we were all amazed at the space. The Bartlesville Community Center can seat 1,692 people, five times our own Old Town Theatre seats!)
We enjoyed making many other comparisons and connections between the Community Center and the Price Tower and other FLW spaces we’ve seen, taking in the detail and uniqueness of the Center. (Wright demanded nothing less than his own ideas for his students, so it’s no wonder that a student and scholar of Wright’s would pay attention to such detail!) As one small example, the mural in the lobby of the Community Center, designed by Heloise Swaback, was designed to complement the color scheme of the Price Tower, while reinforcing the colors of the Bartlesville Community Center space and its own curvilinear shapes. It is the “world’s largest cloisonne art work, a mural that is 25-feet long which depicts a stylized northeastern Oklahoma landscape“.
The Community Center has certainly been doing its job: providing space and events and activities to bring the town together!
At Ms. Callagher’s suggestion, we wended through the park to return to our car. We had fun with the landscape, enjoying it’s beauty, and the unique way the park, the Price Tower, and the Bartlesville Community Center beautified–and strengthened–a welcoming community.
The LEAP Center tries to plan trips around specific learning experiences–in this the Midwest Council of State Governments’ Conference–and then builds multi-disciplinary learning opportunities around that central event. So, on this day, we learned about art, terrorism, architecture, community assets, and, in our last stop of the day, the natural environment. Thus it was that we found ourselves at the beautiful Great Plains Nature Center, nestled in Wichita, KS.
The Park is almost 300 acres, and it has 2.5 miles of paved trails–and we covered a good portion of them! The setting was beautiful…
…and it brought us across bridges, into wooded areas, across water features, and into restored prairies.
It also brought us into view of wildlife. We saw a snake, a turtle, an Great Horned Owl, many ducks, and a heron.
We also saw several deer, at least one of which seemed to not care that we were walking within a few steps of its space.
Yvette had managed a beautiful shot of a Red-Tailed Hawk earlier in the day…
…. and the cumulative experience of the day had provided us with a fairly comprehensive education–a theme, we hope, that will continue throughout the trip.
Late afternoon on Friday, we loaded the car and embarked on our journey to the Midwest! Our destination for the first half of our week is Wichita, Kansas, for the 76th Annual Meeting of the Midwestern Legislative Conference. Leaving late afternoon, though, we only made a few hours on the road before our first stop.
On the museum grounds, we were introduced to a new (to us) artist, Richard Serra, known for his massive bronze sculptures. His abstract works develop a “patina” over time, meaning that the metal changes color. Since its creation in 2002, we could clearly see how the coloring of Vortex has changed over time.
We snapped a few shots and made our way to another nearby outside piece, Hina, by another new (to most of us) artist, Deborah Butterfield. Butterfield also works in bronze, but her horses look like they’re made of wood!
Chatting about the different techniques, we made our way inside to meander through the modern pieces, on the lookout for more new and inspiring artists and works.
The minimal and modern building blended perfectly with the landscape and the works inside. The interior layout is designed to display prominent exhibits, with soaring ceilings and a lot of glass, and it is an appropriate motif for minimalist works such as those by Donald Judd.
The east and north sides overlook a reflecting pool, across which stands a gleaming Roxy Paine with interweaving branches entitled Conjoined.
Yvette quickly identified the distinct squares and colors of Josef Albers and Jessica spotted her favorite part of the museum, a collection of Andy Warhol flowers, and we were pleased to see that we would be rewarded with other Warhol works as well.
True to the nature of modern art, the pieces were not limited to paint and canvas. Steel and fiberglass adorned the center of one gallery, while interesting messages displayed on LED signs followed a vertical and uniform pattern in another. Of particular interest were Nancy Graves’ Inside-Outside and Jenny Holzer’s Kind of Blue, which we spent a lot of time on, pondering and (trying to) photograph.
Ashlyn best liked a rather unique photograph that featured a simple middle-class home balanced upon a pair of legs, Laurie Simmons’ Walking House. She was drawn to the piece for how it “stood out” and could be interpreted on multiple levels.
We made our way (rather quickly because of the temperature) through the sculpture garden which, in addition to the Paine, featured a KAWS…
Professor Yawn’s favorite piece was one by Martin Puryear, titled “Ladder for Booker Washington.” While we didn’t understand the reference, Yawn discussed it and offered several interpretations for this intriguing piece.
The more dynamic pieces allowed us to practice creating interesting and unusual photographic compositions and ultimately resulting in some nice shots.
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth was a good start to what soon will be a week worth of art, history and politics!
La Cena at Salsa Limón
With Oklahoma City in our sights, we chose somewhere quick (that turned out to be just right!) for dinner—Salsa Limón. We made our selections, while attempting to create a variety of options (which in my opinion, is becoming increasingly more difficult since our tastes sometimes converge). Jessica and Morgan chose similarly (boring burritos!) with pastor and chorizo, respectively, Ashlyn had a chicken molco bowl (“Just what I was expecting!”), and Yvette, Professor Yawn and Stephanie had an assortment of tacos, from barbacoa, to mushroom & cheese, to pastor, to black bean & avocado.
It was a good and light meal, energizing us for the final leg of our day’s travels.
Judge Hatchett was very enthusiastic as she shared her stories and words of wisdom to inspire all the attendees. Unlike other speeches, Judge Hatchett meandered around the room and asked questions of attendees. She encouraged everyone to establish professional and private goals and to stick to them!
For us, the breakout session was an opportunity to learn from senior managers at the conference.
After the breakout session, she left us all pondering her powerful message: “on the other side of fear is your freedom!” Reminding us to not be afraid to act upon our dreams and do what we are meant to do.
Receiving a standing ovation from the audience, Judge Hatchett walked off the stage to converse on a more personal level with a few of the attendees. It was then that we realized what a small world we live in when we “bumped” into Scott Wayman, who, as it turned out, is married to Diane Gottsman! For those wondering who Mrs. Gottsman is, she comes to Sam Houston State University (brought in by Career Success) every semester to teach us about etiquette, and we very much enjoy her annual visits, where we pose with her in annual selfie.
So, we did that with Mr. Wayman!
As we got ready to leave, we said our goodbyes to Ms. Breland, Mr. Wayman, Mr. Stokes, and Judge Hatchett.
We are looking forward to attending the 2023 TCMA Conference in Allen, Texas!