Exploring Gutsy Women with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton

The LEAP Ambassadors had the opportunity to see Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Chelsea Clinton at The University of Houston, this is one of the highest-profile speakers LEAP has had the opportunity to see in person. The event was hosted by Brazos Book Store and the University of Houston, highlighting the Clintons’ co-authored novel “Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience”.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Hillary Clinton, Brazos Bookstore

The Clintons’ book highlights several important woman throughout history, some taught in classrooms and others not. The book discussion  was moderated by Barbara Ann Radnofsky, a UH alum and Democratic politician.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Hillary Clinton, Brazos Bookstore

Our conversation started with the significance of Harriet Tubman, someone Hillary Clinton remembers learning about as a young girl. When Clinton was a senator she was able to pass a bill in congress for the pension owed to Harriet Tubman for her husband’s efforts in the Civil War.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Hillary Clinton, Brazos Bookstore

Hillary and Chelsea discussed the formation and importance of the book stating that “women deserve to see themselves in history”. When asked about how they were able to narrow down the amount of women in the book, and why Hillary Clinton, despite being the first woman to win the presidential nomination from a major party, wasn’t in it.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Hillary Clinton, Brazos Bookstore

Hillary explained that there are so many “gutsy women” whose stories are still happening now like Michelle Obama and Greta Thunberg. When asked if she would consider another presidential as part of her story, she commented that she had been having some fun on Twitter lately.

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Our conversation shifted to serious issues that our country is facing that primarily impacts young girls – like how there is no minimum age for girls to be married in 48 states. They also adamantly spoke against voter suppression and how next year will mark the 100th year anniversary of women being able to vote. The audience was able to see a shared bond between the two when they spoke about becoming mothers and a grandmother, both Hillary and Chelsea described the feeling as “soul-expanding”. The evening ended with a standing ovation for our two speakers, and a copy of the book.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Hillary Clinton, Brazos Bookstore

Star Pizza

After dinner we headed to a Houston Favorite since 1976, Star Pizza. For most of us this was our first time here, but all pizza lovers we were excited to try it. For our appetizer we started with Garlic Bread with cheese and a marina dipping sauce, a classic.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics, Star Pizza

For the pizzas we tried the cowbell (a true Texan pizza topped with BBQ), chicken Alfredo, and a classic margarita. The favorite among our group was the chicken alfredo, with the margarita a close second. After a night of great conversation and food we headed back to Huntsville.

Favorites from the Festival

Saturday, 20190929

We piled in the car and headed east to Huntsville, way too early for a Sunday morning drive, but we each had long to-do lists awaiting our return.  We passed by the Elisabet Ney Museum, to pay small homage to the artist who created the statue of Sam Houston (and of some other Texas hero) in the Capitol.  Ney’s historic home and studio museum was not open, so it was truly a drive-by, but it was also close-by our final destination before leaving Austin city limits, Quack’s 43rd Street Bakery.

Topped off with coffees and teas, and the usual plethora of pastries, we headed out.  We drove into the sunrise, reliving some of the more interesting, fun, frustrating, and even silly moments of the trip, our favorite panels/sessions, meals/restaurants, and some “honorable mention moments” shone through:

TribFest Panels/Sessions

  • The Stories of 9/11 and One-on-One with Julián Castro (tie for most votes!)
  • Points of Light

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  • Trade Off
  • Ed & the Feds

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin Texas, Texas Tribune Festival, Tribfest, Susanna Martinez

  • From Within


  • CAVA and Clay Pit (tie for most votes!)

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  • Kerbey Lane Café
  • Coffeehouse at Caroline

Trip “Honorable Mentions”

  • Book signing by an author — not on the book signing list (Julian Castro)!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Texas Tribune Festival, Julian Castro, Miranda Estrada

  • One traveler’s first time to visit the Texas State Capitol – Senate & House floors, Hall of Governors, and learning what the Texas Capitol icon the Goddess of Liberty *really* looks like…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin Texas, Texas Tribune Festival, Tribfest 2019

  • Seeing Austin City Hall at night.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Texas Tribune Festival, Austin City Hall

All in all, everyone agreed it was a packed trip, full of interesting information and exciting experiences, and in some cases, the opportunity to gain insights that may even challenge one’s current way of thinking.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin Texas, Texas Tribune Festival, Tribfest, Susana Martinez

A Trifecta of Vice Presidents Discuss the Vice Presidency

by Francisco Peña

The LEAP Ambassadors and Friends had a once in a lifetime opportunity to see three vice presidents in one day. With the planning of the Bush School and Scowcroft Foundation, vice presidents Mike Pence, Vice Presidents Dick Cheney, and Dan Quayle were planned to host an event outlining the significance of the vice presidency. It was also a historical moment because the Presidential Library Foundation was renamed to George and Barbara Bush Foundation. Upon arrival, we could see the heavy presence of security. We were screened by the secret service and then proceeded into the Annenberg Presidential Conference Center. We also saw Chuck Norris.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheny, Mike Pence, Vice Presidency

The event started with a warm Aggie welcome and some introductions.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheny, Mike Pence, Vice Presidency

First, the announcement was made that the many foundations and charities that George and Barbara Bush had founded and oversaw would now be under the umbrella of the George and Barbara Bush Foundation, which is the new name that has been given to what was formerly the George H. W. Bush Library Foundation. This received many cheers and much applause.

Vice President Mike Pence spoke first and shared his experiences in public service and included that he draws heavily from George H.W. Bush and is proud to serve as Vice President of our great nation.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheny, Mike Pence, Vice Presidency

Before the panel, he and his wife, along with Cheney and Quayle, had gone and paid their respects to George and Barbara at their gravesite that they share with their daughter Robin. They had brought lilies from a bush that George and Barbara had planted at the Vice-President’s residence when they lived there.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheny, Mike Pence, Vice Presidency

We saw a sneak peek of the documentary “President in Waiting” by Jefferey Roth which documents the role of the office of the Vice Presidency, and the relationship between the President and Vice-President.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheny, Mike Pence, Vice Presidency

Then followed a discussion with Cheney and Quayle as they shared their memories from their time as Vice Presidents.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheny, Mike Pence, Vice Presidency

Cheney recalled what it was like to be Vice-President during 9/11. He recounted that he was in his office in the West Wing when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, and he was quickly evacuated to the bunker under the White House.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheny, Mike Pence, Vice Presidency

Quayle talked about his time spent with George H.W Bush and what a kind and giving President he had been.

Finally, in a touching tribute to the late President George H.W Bush, we heard a special recording that he made and left to his children. There was hardly a dry eye in the room afterwards.

We dallied in the lobby of the convention center and were pleased to see many faces that were familiar to us. We saw Jean Becker, who was kind enough to set up a tour of the former President’s Houston area office for us in February, and who had just been named as a board member to the newly named Foundation! Congratulations Ms. Becker! We were also able to speak with Ambassador Chase Untermeyer, who came and spoke to a group of our students earlier in the semester. He was kind enough to pose for a quick photo with us before we all had to head out.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheny, Mike Pence, Vice Presidency

After the event, we went to Taz Indian Cuisine in College Station and sampled some of the fare. We tried a crispy bread made from lentils, and some sweet and spicy sauces. Victoria had the Goat Biriyani which is goat and basmati rice with herbs and spices. Francisco had the Chicken Tandoori, a dish made with chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and then cooked in a clay oven called a tandoor.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassador, Taz Indian Restaurant, Indian Food

Stephanie tried the Masala Dosa, a sort of crepe made from rice batter and lentils, and stuffed with onions, potatoes, and other spices. Everything was so good that we were stuffed by the time dessert was offered. Luckily the Gulab Jamun didn’t come in a very large serving, but it was still so delicious!




Scare on the Square, 2018

Last Saturday, the LEAP Center hosted a booth at Scare on the Square. Scare on the Square is an annual Halloween event sponsored by The Huntsville Main Street Program in which approximately 40 different businesses, schools, and local organizations host games and activities for community children. It is sponsored by local businesses and is a safe atmosphere for families to enjoy themselves.

The cost is one dollar per person at admission, but you could have avoided this by embracing the spooky costume fun and dressing up! Keeping with past traditions, the LEAP Ambassadors dressed up in the spirit of Scare on the Square and became Shaggy, Daphne, Velma, Fred…but somehow overlooked Scooby Doo.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Huntsville Main Street, Scare on the Square

With the days ticking down to the spookiest event in Huntsville, the LEAP Ambassadors got together on their own time to design a fun, competitive, and a ghostly game. The idea become “Ghost Bowling” and the community kiddos had a wonderful time playing it.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Huntsville Main Street, Scare on the Square

Just like regular bowling, it required the “pins” (toilet paper rolls that had drawn on ghost faces) to be set and the kids to knock the ghouls down by rolling the ball.

The SHSU Pre-Law Society and Pre-Law Cohort joined the Ambassadors in the event with their own unique games and tents.

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The groups each prepared their tent with spooky decorations and helped make the day special for every person who attended. With smiling faces, all the children waited in line to play, ready to bust some ghosts and eat some candy!

In between the hustling the bustling and giving out candy, we amused ourselves by noticing the creative costumes the kids would come in: Concha breads, Paw-Patrol pups, Elsas, a Huntsville Hornet Marching Band Member, as well as some actually frightening costumes.

After the LEAP center’s 2000 pieces of candy were gone, we packed our tent and witchy game satisfied with the 400 plus jolly children that had visited us. The LEAP Center is grateful to all of the sponsors that helped put on Scare on the Square and look forward to another hauntingly spectacular event next year!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Huntsville Main Street, Scare on the Square

Exploring Austin: The Texas Supreme Court

In 2017, the LEAP Ambassadors were fortunate enough to host the Texas Supreme Court, which came to SHSU and conducted two oral arguments, while also agreeing to a lunch, dinner, and Q&A period with students, faculty, administrators, and local attorneys.  Texas Supreme Court, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, LEAP Center, Center for Law Engagement And Politics

It was a highlight of our time at SHSU.

Two years later, we received a pleasant surprise when, after we posted on social media that we were in Austin, Justice Jeff Boyd contacted us and offered to “repay our hospitality” by offering us a tour of the Texas Supreme Court.  It was an offer that was equal parts surprise and generous, but if there’s anything we know, it’s when to say, “Yes!”

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassasors, Texas Supreme Court, TXSC, Justice Jeff Boyd

The building is located right next to the Capitol and is actually connected by the underground expansion of the Capitol, so following the inauguration, it was convenient for us to walk over and enjoy this unique opportunity.

We began in the court room that is used to hear oral arguments.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassasors, Texas Supreme Court, TXSC, Justice Jeff Boyd

The room is surrounded by portraits of former justices–but only those justices unlikely to hear cases before the court.  A former justice who is still a practicing attorney, for example, would be perceived to have an unfair advantage if his or her portrait was hanging in the courtroom.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassasors, Texas Supreme Court, TXSC, Justice Jeff Boyd

Interestingly, we saw a portrait of Justice Bob Gammage, who taught at SHSU.  (Professor John Domino, a POLS Faculty at SHSU, is currently finishing a book about Gammage and his legal career in Texas.)

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassasors, Texas Supreme Court, TXSC, Justice Jeff Boyd

Justice Boyd then explained the process of how cases reach the level of the Texas Supreme Court and what type of cases they hear.  Furthermore, Texas is unusual because it has a bifurcated top court, with the Texas Supreme Court hearing civil cases and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals hearing criminal cases.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassasors, Texas Supreme Court, TXSC, Justice Jeff Boyd

Justice Boyd was particularly insightful when discussing the informal processes of the court, such as when he explained the importance of seniority, which impacts where the justices sit at the bench to how their robes are arranged in the robing room.

Speaking of which, Justice Boyd then took us into the robe room where the justices put on their robes and relax in-between hearing cases.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassasors, Texas Supreme Court, TXSC, Justice Jeff Boyd

Justice Boyd even showed us the room where the justices meet once a month for a conference where they discuss their cases.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassasors, Texas Supreme Court, TXSC, Justice Jeff Boyd

It was a such an amazing opportunity to watch a Texas Inauguration and then have a Justice of the Texas Supreme Court give us a personal tour.  Although the Ambassadors have taken many trips to Austin, this one was particularly special and memorable.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassasors, Texas Supreme Court, TXSC, Justice Jeff Boyd

Deep in the Art of West Texas

By: Peyton Reed

We began our day with a trip to Cedar Coffee and Supply. The coffee shop was incredibly popular and trendy, something unexpected from a small town in the middle of west Texas. We each ordered an assortment of coffees off of the menu and had a delicious breakfast. Half of us ordered the Red Hatter, a delicious Belgian waffle covered in Rose Crème and fresh, organic strawberries.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Alpine, Cedar Coffee and Supply

The other half ordered the Ol’ Faithful, a hearty bagel with bacon, a fried egg and spinach. The morning was full of good conversation and stories told by Mark Burns.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Alpine, Cedar Coffee and Supply, Mark Burns

After, Mark left to head back home and we explored the shop next door that had art from local woodworkers.

 We went back to the hotel for a few hours of editing, then we revisited our new favorite coffee shop for Coffee milkshakes, Nitro Floats, Rose Lemonade, and a Basil Snap. After fueling up on coffee, we headed to the Museum of The Big Bend on the Sul Ross Campus. We enjoyed seeing the historical exhibits…

…history of photography installation, and an original mural painted by Xavier Gonzalez that is believed to have been painted while he was a student.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Alpine, Sul Ross, Museum of The Big Bend

 While downtown, we wandered into a co-op ran by a coalition of local artist who take turns running the shop. We purchased a couple of pieces, and I stepped in to help the artist running the shop change the receipt paper when it ran out.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Alpine, Gallery On The Square, Peyton Reed

While browsing, we met an artist named Tim McKenna, the photographer who composed the images used in the 2018 Big Bend Calendar. He took us to the art co-op next door and told us the stories behind some of our favorite images of his. We all purchased some of his prints, and even got a photograph with him and his wife, Julie.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Alpine, Gallery On The Square, Tim McKenna

 Once we finished purchasing our pieces of art from the second Co-op, we were all ready for dinner, so we walked across the street to “Guzzi up,” a local restaurant. For starters, we had the garlic bread and spinach artichoke dip.


The appetizers were amazing and devoured within minutes. For dinner we ordered an assortment of items off the menu, a Margherita pizza, The Libby sandwich, a buffalo chicken sandwich, and grilled cheese with spinach and artichoke soup.

 After dinner, we drove to the Prada Marfa art installation, which was about an hour from Alpine, Texas. Surrounded by a fence with locks left by people in love, the Prada building contains genuine Prada items, six bags and thirteen right shoes. As the sun set, we photographed the building and fence…

…and even got our signature LEAP shot.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Alpine, Prada Marfa, Maggie Denena, Peyton Reed, Anne Jamarik

The day was jam packed with lots of coffee, art, sightseeing, and invaluable experiences.

Big Bend or Bust!

Our first day in West Texas started early as we departed our hotel at 5 am. The drive to Big Bend National Park from Alpine, TX is around an hour and half which gave us plenty of time to load up on coffee and good conversation. As we were driving along the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, a 30.9 mile road located in the center of the park that is primarily used for biking and scenic driving, we saw an opportunity to get some great shots of the sunrise, and we took it. We all looked on (and even helped when he would let us) as Mark Burns unloaded his meticulously packed car on the side of the road and began to set up his equipment to capture the perfect shot of the sun just over the horizon. Mark showed us the process of how he plans his shots: setting up his camera…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Mark Burns

…checking the light with a light meter…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Mark Burns

and snapping a quick shot with an old Polaroid camera.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Mark Burns

After getting a few great shots, we loaded back up and began scouting a new spot to get some footage. We found a new location at the Sotol Vista Overlook, that was also right off of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, to get some great shots of Mark Burns driving on the winding road below. The Sotol Vista Overlook provides a spectacular view of the western side of Big Bend National Park and offered a beautiful but hazy view of Burro Mesa due to a fire located in the Upper Burro Mesa.


Next, we headed to the Boquillas Canyon Overlook where we found a rock covered in handcrafted, wire and bead knick-knacks shaped as road runners, peacocks and cacti.

We all picked out our favorite piece to take home as souvenirs. We even got to meet the two men who made them. Each day, they wade across the Rio Grande River from Mexico to replenish their supply and collect any money people have left for them in a weighted-down water bottle. Just as we were loading up the car for our next location, Mark stopped us because he saw a perfect opportunity to take a photo of the Canyon. We were able to see Mark use what is called a cable shutter release. A cable shutter release is a cable plugged into the camera and is able to release the shutter with a limited amount of movement to the camera. This is especially helpful when the camera is set to a long shutter speed. Watching Mark work with different tools is always interesting to watch.



We hit the road again until Maggie and Anne then got a spark of bravery (re: ignorance) and scaled an old stone tunnel to get the perfect aerial shot of Mark entering and exiting the tunnel.

After risking it all on the crumbling stones, we decided to take a break from our Evil Kinevil like stunts and stop for a quick picnic. At the Rio Grande Village, we stopped at the visitor’s center and ate a quick lunch while Mark told more stories.


After lunch, Mark suggested we visit the Hot Springs. We came across a hike down to the Hot Springs trail which, if I am being honest, was not as impressive as I had hoped. The trail is a 1.1 mile loop that is classified as easy, is moderately trafficked and is primarily used for hiking, biking and bird watching. We decided to do a little off road exploring to get a better view of the Rio Grande river.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Anne Jamarik, Maggie Denena, Peyton Reed

The Springs were murky and muddy, so we decide not to get in, but there were a few brave tourists who were swimming when we approached. The coolest aspect of the Hot Springs Trail was the old  General Store that had been run down to ruins.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Hot Springs, General Store

Mark snapped a quick photo of the old structure with his old Polaroid camera.

After hiking to the springs, we loaded into the car and drove to Sana Elena Canyon. While on our way, a torrential downpour left us feeling less than confident about the views and the photos we would be able to get of the Canyon. Never the less, we found a way to have fun and admire the views that Sana Elena Canyon had to offer.


After the muddy mess of an adventure, we were back to work at Balanced Rock. As we hiked up to the incredible view, we saw many multi colored lizards that we were sure to capture close photos of.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Balanced Rock

We took a few stops on our way up the mountain and got to ask Mark about some of his favorite national parks and most unique experiences. Mark told us amazing stories about the wild life in Alaska and the underwater photographs he got to take while in Florida at Biscayne National Park. While Mark was telling stories, Anne ran back to the car to grab a microphone and ran into two javelinas. Once we reached Balanced Rock, we listened as Mark described his last visit to the area four years ago when he captured the photo used in the National Parks Photography Project. The lighting and cloud coverage was perfect, something Mark did not have when he originally took his photo of Balanced Rock. Mark placed his camera tripod in the same exact spot it had been four years prior and snapped a beautiful picture of Balanced Rock.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Big Bend, Balanced Rock, Mark Burns

Maggie got brave and scaled a large rock to get an aerial shot of Mark as he talked about his previous trips to Big Bend. After many great shots from Balanced Rock, we headed back down the trail as the sunset, which offered the perfect view as we ended our day. We loaded up the car one last time and made our way back to the hotel, in preparation of another busy day–exploring Alpine and Marfa, Texas–ahead of us.


Ambling Across Arizona

By: Anne Jamarik and Maggie Denena

Today, LEAP Center students hiked up to Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, Arizona. With narrow spaces and lots of steep “steps”, the hike up was slightly more challenging than our previous hike, but we knew the payoff would be worth it. The trail was steep but offered shady spots that we took advantage of when we would stop to admire the red rock of the canyon (and catch our breaths). The narrow path was lined with prickly pear cacti, tall century plants and hikers sitting to get some water and rest for a moment. Once we made it to the top of the bridge, we knew all the climbing had been worth it. The views from Devil’s Bridge were breathtaking.SHSU, LEAP Center, Sedona, Devil's Bridge


Just as we began feeling brave, we met a man who asked us to take a photo of him doing a handstand on top of the narrow bridge, putting us all to shame.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Sedona, Devil's Bridge

While on the bridge, we made a small cairn, which, according to Professor Yawn, officially made us hikers.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Sedona, Devil's Bridge, Maggie Denena, Anne Jamarik


After admiring the views from Devil’s Bridge, we began the trek down, but not without a few pitstops. We went down and caught a quick glimpse of the bridge from below.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Sedona, Devil's Bridge, Maggie DenenaThe trip down seemed much easier as we were all still so amazed at what we had just experienced.


After a quick bite to eat at The Wildflower Bread Company in Flagstaff, Arizona, the LEAP center explored the town square. The square on Friday evenings is vibrant with people shopping and eating at the unique food joints.


We visited a cool little bookstore where there was a live performance from a local band while the small crowd sang along to a song about mermaids.

After our group slowly made our way around the store reading the back of books and discussing ones we’ve read, we headed to a local favorite co-op art gallery and window shopped. Unfortunately, the gallery was closed, but we were still able to admire the beautiful works of art within. Next, we headed to a mystical store called Crystal Magic, where we all shared a few laughs about the shops interesting perspective. We continued our way around the square admiring local cuisine and the different types of people around each corner. Finally, we made our way through their local mall, which offered fashion of all types and a fun candy shop. I had never tried chocolate covered orange peels and surprisingly liked them! One thing I thought was interesting about Flagstaff was how active the square was on a Friday night, there were people everywhere! It really added to the fun and easy-going vibe of the town. I thought it was neat how all the restaurants were locally owned, each offering their own unique menu.  Flagstaff is a town I would enjoy visiting again and hopefully trying out a few of the favorite food joints.