Empty Bowls No More!

Continuing an annual LEAP tradition originating in 2008, Cynthia Boyd, Elisabeth Espinoza, Alexandra Spears, Victoria McClendon, and I participated in the Wynne Home’s Empty Bowls, the 2023 version! The event is a brilliant way to promote art, engage the community, and fight hunger in one lively, fun-filled day. 

Elisabeth Espinoza and Olivia Discon

Sponsored by HEB with soups donated by local restaurants such as Sam’s Table, City Hall Cafe, Five Loaves Deli, and culinary students from Huntsville High School, the event benefitted the Senior Center’s Meals On Wheels, an organization to help fight food insecurity for the elderly.

How does the event work? It’s pretty simple–for the public, that is. In the months leading up to the event, the Wynne Home hosted pottery classes to make the bowls, allowing volunteers to learn a craft while supporting their community and the arts. These participants could either reserve their bowls or offer them to the Wynne Home for the Empty Bowls event.

Then, on Tuesday, March 7, the public was invited to the Wynne Home for lunch–and a work of art! With a suggested donation of $15, visitors could select any of the bowls created by the volunteers and help themselves to the large variety of soups and sandwich items. The array of vibrant, unique bowls reflects the innate beauty of volunteerism and service…

…but more importantly, the bowls represent food insecurity and the ongoing issue that can be ameliorated with compassion.

The student volunteers were happy to help, by greeting diners, serving soup or food, taking photographs, and helping clean up.

We also purchased soup ourselves and donated to the cause! Moreover, we had the incredible opportunity to speak with the many members of the Huntsville community passing through the doors.

Two of the three volunteers (myself included) are freshmen, so this was not only our first trip to the Wynne Home, but our first chance to meet community figures. We met Mayor Brauninger, Councilmember Humphrey, Councilmember McKenzie, Councilmember Graham, Chamber President Ray Hernandez, Shannon Higbie, Laura Green…

…Professor Jennifer Didier, Linda McKenzie, Jeff Murski, and many City of Huntsville staff. Among the latter included Sarah Faulkner, Angela Robinson, Tammy Gann, Aron Kulhavy, and Tracy Rikard. As a special bonus, we had the opportunity to meet Dr. and Mrs. Pease as well as Nancy Gaertner!

By the end of the event, most of the bowls had been selected and taken home.

…but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t artworks to be appreciated. We took the opportunity to view the Wynne Home’s current exhibit: “Speaking In Color and Light” by Jane Manthei. Although beset by Austism and growing up largely non-verbal, Manthei uses her artwork to communicate and express how she perceives the world.

Manthei’s work is almost photographic in its realism, using intricate and tiny details to configure landscapes, portraits, animals, and nature. 

It was a rewarding day in so many ways, and we wish to thank the community, the sponsors, and the donors for coming together. And, of course, many thanks to the Wynne Home for hosting an event integrating art, community, and public service in Huntsville!

Learning, and Dining, with SHSU Deans

Morgan Robertson

As another measure of celebration for Sam Houston’s Birthday, SHSU Staff and Alumni ventured to the Capitol to deliver a very meaningful gift to all legislative members. The David Adickes statue on Southbound I-45 depicts our great namesake with his signature cane. So, to add a piece of SHSU in the Texas Capitol, legislators were gifted with General Houston canes!

Dean Li, Alumni, Jessica Cuevas, Morgan Robertson, and Sam Houston’s “Cane”

After all of the canes had been distributed, the Deans and interns made their way down Congress Avenue and up to the 10th floor to meet former LEAP Ambassador, Christina Gonzalez, now VP of Governmental Affairs for AECT . Thanks to Professor Yawn’s coordinating, and Christina’s generosity, SHAIP interns had the pleasure of having lunch with Dean Roper, Dean Li, and Dean Lyons!

Dean Roper, Dean Lyons, and Dean Li

We were greeted with great hospitality, and delicious food! We filled our plates with lunch from Alonti. However, the best part of our afternoon was, of course, the conversation!

Dean Li with CHSS Majors:
I. Cuero, A. Sheffield, J. Cuevas, Y. Mendoza, B. Demyers, & M. Robertson

We all were given the challenge to tell the Deans more about ourselves and share what the past two months of our semester looked like. Then, the lunch turned even more into a roundtable. Christina shared some of her wisdom about working at the state level. She reminisced on her time as an intern and described how it was getting her very first bill passed.

Dean Roper and Public Health Major Ashlyn Parker

The Deans asked us how SHSU better prepared us to work in Austin and what new skills we would be taking back to SHSU from our experience in Austin.

Regarding how SHSU prepared us, we unanimously agreed that the Career Success Center and its staff are great resources. Yvette and Jessica noted that the Reba Bock Career Closest has helped as well.

As our youngest Intern, Breanna said she is excited to see how her experiences in the working world translate to her next few years at Sam: “There is only so much knowledge that you can gain in a classroom setting. My time at TAC, Texas Association of Counties, has taught me how the state interacts with urban and rural counties alike.”

Dean Lyons with CJ Majors: Jessica Cuevas, Jayelynn Bordeaux, and Alum Christina Gonzalez

Christina’s generosity extended to allowing us to use AECT’s beautiful view down Congress from their balcony to snap some photos! After some strategic coordination. We were able to get some great photos with our Deans.

On behalf of the LEAP Center and the SHAIP Interns, thank you to Christina for hosting a great lunch with even better company and to the Deans for sharing your knowledge and supporting us in Austin!

Beyond Bars: Prosecution & Courts

October 11, 2022

The second step in our journey through the incarceration process involves the prosecution and courts! We had an excellent opportunity to have a Walker County Courthouse tour, one led by County Court at Law Judge Tracy Sorensen. To discuss the prosecution side of things was Jennifer Jenkins, Senior Felony Prosecutor for the District Attorney’s Office. Every participant walked into the courthouse excited to hear the inner workings of a court from a judge’s and prosecutor’s perspectives.

Starting with the County Court at Law courtroom, Judge Sorensen explained her defense attorney days, as well as her two terms as Judge.

She oversees and handles cases involving juveniles, probates, child custody, and adult misdemeanors in the County Court at Law. Judge Sorensen has a trial jury of six total jurors in the issues that make it to trial.

We were even being taught scenarios about some instances that Judge Sorensen could hear and Prosecutor Jenkins might prosecute. For example, one of the students in Beyond Bars, Rachel Hill, was kind enough to let Professor Yawn use her as an example of a college student caught with less than a gram of marijuana.

Judge Sorensen and Jenkins mentioned they could probably reach a deal, one that might allow for a deferred adjudication, allowing Ms. Hill to keep this incident off her record. This made Ms. Hill very happy.

It was interesting to hear how the process works, while also getting advice from both Ms. Jenkins and Judge Sorenson.

Making our way up to the other side of the courts is the District Court, where Judge Hal Ridley and Judge David Moorman preside when in Walker County. These courts are physically larger, with space for a larger audience and 12 jurors. Portraits of prior judges are hung in the room, along with a portrait of Sam Houston.

While in this room, we shared our experiences of being a juror.

One of our participants, Steve Covington, discussed the time when he was selected to be on a jury hearing a pornography charge. As a juror, he was “forced” to watch hours of pornography in the jury room (with a jury consisting mostly of older women) to determine whether the content was criminal.

Ms. Jenkins and Judge Sorensen were kind enough to join us for dinner at Sam’s Table, where we all had a variety of Sam’s Table’s special menu items such as the Caprese Panini, Sams’s Secret Burger, and the Casado. Everyone enjoyed their meal while they had the opportunity to ask more questions about what it is to be a prosecutor and judge.

We took in new information from the tour and dinner; for that, we would like to thank Judge Sorensen and Ms. Jennifer Jenkins! It was fantastic getting to know more about the prosecutions and courts.

Beyond Bars: Police Department Tour

Jessica Cuevas

There was no better way to kick off our newest LEAP Program, Beyond Bars, than with a back-stage tour of the Huntsville Police Department led by Corporal David Warner. Starting us off was Lieutenant Curt Landrum, who told us the stories behind the artifacts, photos, and mementos that can be found in the waiting area. These included photos of all the chiefs, equipment from back in the day, and the “honorary” shovel used for the groundbreaking.

We also learned more about the building itself, and the interesting features of the structure. These included but were not limited to bullet-resistant glass, interview rooms, a gym, a locker room and showers, and a relay room. All of these have proven to be helpful and beneficial for various reasons such as security, privacy, and in the case of an emergency or a court hearing for those that drive in for a shift accommodation.

We had the opportunity to see the officers’ offices, computer spaces, and interview rooms. In a bullpen area with lots of open space and computers, we met a rookie who was enjoying (or not) filling out paperwork.

The coolest thing in this room was the computer screen that informs everyone where each patrol officer is, whether they are on a call, and if so, how long they have been on the call and the nature of the call. Interestingly, one officer had been called to the State Park to address “six teenagers taunting an alligator,” a crime-in-progress that we did not expect to see.

Before eating dinner, we had the opportunity to see the evidence room, and a joke was made that I would likely fit in one of the evidence lockers because of my small stature, haha.

We also learned a bit of Huntsville trivia. Did you know that on April 15, 2021, one officer gave 99 citations in a single shift? It was the most tickets ever imposed in the City’s history, at least as far as known, and it was done by a motorcycle officer.

As the tour came to an end, we had the opportunity to dine in the Police Department’s lounge area with Corporal Warner, and little did we know of the activity that was awaiting us. On the menu, were delicious tacos al carbon: beef, chicken, pork, or shrimp, and or a choice of vegetarian, cheese, or pork pupusas from the local Salvadorian Restaurant, Carbonero’s.

Corporal Warner provided us with a demonstration of what is done during a sobriety test. In particular, he spun us around and then conducted a “nystagmus” test, which is one of the key indicators of sobriety or the lack thereof. Jazmin Palacios, a Ph.D. student at SHSU, was voluntold to participate, and she not only did this test, but also wore the “drunk goggles” provided while doing a field sobriety test.

Corporal Warner instructed her to take nine steps and walk in a straight line, with each step she took she had to keep her hands by her side and walk heel to toe while counting out loud. It was slightly amusing to watch, but it is less fun when you are the one doing the test! Morgan also got lucky and was asked to do a one-leg test, where she had to count to ten out loud while keeping her leg raised up about an inch from the floor. Somehow, she managed to successfully complete this task.

As the night came to an end, the officer who had been sent to the State Park returned, and inquiring minds wanted to know: what happened to the alligator-taunting teenagers? As it turned out, “there were no alligators, no teenagers, and no witnesses.” Some of us may have been disappointed in the way that turned out.

It was a fun and educational night, everyone had the opportunity to wear the goggles and experience what it is like to be on both sides of the law. Many thanks to Corporal Warner and to the entire police department for helping to keep our community safe.

The LEAP Center would like to thank the Annette Strauss Institute for Public Life and their “Texas Civic Ambassadors Program” for assisting with the costs of the program.

Minding Monkeypox: Expert Panel Peels Back Contemporary Viruses

Ashlyn Parker

Unless you’ve been comatose for the past several years, you know there have been a series of healthcare crises, the most prominent of which was, of course, COVID. More recently, there has been a resurgence of Polio (!) and, of course, Monkeypox–and the latter was the topic of an expert panel assembled by the Bush School: Drs. Robert Carpenter, Syra Madad, Jennifer A. Shuford, and Robert Kadlec, moderated by Gerald Parker. It was a fascinating discussion, one that left us more educated and a bit more concerned.

There are about 60,000 confirmed cases of monkeypox in the world, and the U.S. makes up about 39% of those cases, which makes us first in the dubious distinction of leading the world in monkeypox cases. As a public health student, it was especially intriguing to hear how current public health officials view this threat, and what steps are being taken to prevent another pandemic.

Monkeypox is not a new phenomenon. It was first observed in 1958 in monkeys, and in 1970 it made its first known “jump” to humans. Resembling smallpox, it was dubbed monkeypox. This condition appears as lesions on the skin, and these sores make you contagious for up to four weeks. Monkeypox is spread from close skin-to-skin contact where bodily liquids are shared (e.g., kissing or sex).  At present, it is most commonly circulating within the male homosexual population (currently, more than 90% of cases are in men), but it is expected to eventually become a disease in the general population. To protect yourself from Monkeypox, practice safe sex, follow good hand hygiene, and avoid contact–especially skin-to-skin contact–with someone known to carry the virus.

The panel also discussed the differences between the COVID-19 pandemic and the Monkeypox outbreak. The key difference between the two was the level of readiness at the very beginning. Because we have been studying monkeypox for more than five decades, and because it is a relative of smallpox, we have vaccines that are effective against it. For COVID-19, we had to invent the vaccine more or less from scratch.

Both, however, may be suffering from misconceptions and poor communication. In Monkeypox, there is a misconception about who can catch it (everyone can catch it), and with COVID-19, there was resistance to the idea that it was even a threat. Those who adopted the latter group were also resistant to vaccines. Add to this the fact that vaccine distribution was spotty in rural areas, and there were some problems reaching everyone.

Dr. Robert Carpenter discussed with us how his team, Texas A&M Health Maroon Line Clinic, helped deal with COVID-19 in rural communities. One of the major issues he brought to our attention was the health disparities people face living in a rural community, such as not having sufficient medical staff. He and his team have brought vaccinations to these small Texas towns, distributing more than 240,000 vaccines and holding more than 2,000 events for COVID-19-related causes. Beyond COVID-19 the Maroon Line Clinic also has provided many primary and secondary prevention tactics such as cancer screenings, diabetes education, and substance abuse intervention.

LEAP found this panel discussion very intriguing and informative, as we further our careers in politics and policy. Going to sessions complements our classes at SHSU and inspires us to make a real change like them in this world. Many thanks to the panel and the Bush School’s Scowcroft Institute for hosting a fantastic program.

Ohana Korean Grill

With inspiration from last week’s venture to see General Chun, we decided to go for Korean food. We choose Ohana Korean Grill in College Station, which was, for most of us, our first time trying Korean food.

We ordered a few samplers such as the seafood pancake, which included vegetables and, to our surprise, octopus. We each got a traditional Korean dish such as the BiBimBap, which is a bowl of rice that comes with an assortment of vegetables and beef on top. I ordered the spicy seafood which came with an array of different sea creatures that most other restaurants might not have included. We sat around talking for so long that they brought us some cinnamon and ginger tea which was a wonderful cap to an entertaining and educational evening.

Many thanks to Marybeth Rayburn for joining us!

LBJ Presidential Library

Ashlyn Parker

On the final day of the trip, we made sure to stop by the Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) Presidential Library. This will be the third presidential library we have been to since we have also seen Harry S. Truman’s and George H. W. Bush’s Presidential Libraries.

Lyndon B. Johnson was a small-town Texas boy born in 1908. His dad worked in the Texas legislature and his mom was a college-educated woman who was ahead of her time. He was very involved throughout his time in public school including being class president of his 6-student class. He ended up graduating from Southwest Texas State Teachers College with a bachelor’s in education. During his teaching years near the border, the job was able to open his eyes to true poverty and discrimination even among young kids.

Because of the struggle he observed in his students, they inspired him to get into politics to be able to make changes for the underserved communities. He soon started working for a US Congressman in Washington, D.C. while attending law school. He shortly became a senator himself preparing him for his goal to become president. When he lost the Democratic nominee in 1963, John F. Kennedy took him in as a vice president.

Due to the unfortunate assassination of John F. Kennedy, LBJ became a United States president from 1963-1969. Through his library, we learned about this extraordinary man who accomplished so much in 6 years that inspired so much change for the better in America.

The memories of his students boosted his motivation to deal with these issues he saw back home to get them handled now. He extended the new deal made by Franklin Roosevelt which would help provide better access to healthcare and education for low-income families. For example, the Headstart program promotes education to young children in low-income families.

One cause LBJ is notable for is helping certain populations who did not have a voice, such as minority or poverty-ridden groups. During his presidency, he was able to pass acts that enacted a lot of social change, like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act prohibited discrimination on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in any instance. Thus, ending segregation which became a huge victory for the Civil Rights movement.

Even though the U.S. did not land on the moon during LBJ’s Presidency he contributed many efforts to make it happen. Therefore, in the museum, they have a section dedicated to America winning the space race and putting a man on the moon. They even have a real moon rock!

LBJ’s most infamous move in the presidency was getting America more involved in the Vietnam war. He was increasing the military presence in Vietnam, which resulted in many young lives being lost in the battle against communism. Many people protested our involvement ultimately taking a big toll on the president.

All of his conversations were recorded in the White House office telephone, so in the Presidential library, you can listen to over 100 phone calls via a wall-mounted phone throughout the library. We each got to experience different phone calls with him some being from other people in government and his mistress.

He was good with people but did not know the definition of personal space. He can be seen in many photos leaning over people with his 6’4’’ frame laughing or yelling, otherwise known as “the Johnson Treatment”. We were actually able to get a feel for the experience ourselves with a picture of LBJ leaning over us.

Lucky for us, we were also able to see the special exhibit of Lady Bird: Beyond the Wildflowers. It featured all kinds of memorabilia from her life including books, diplomas, letters, outfits, and more. This exhibit was made to hone in on who Mrs. Johnson really was and give a broader focus on her life outside of LBJ. My favorite part of this exhibit was getting to see all the elegant dresses she would wear to all sorts of different social events.

Not many other college students can say they have gone to three presidential libraries, so we are always thankful for these opportunities to learn more about our nation’s history. We are always impressed by the artifacts and stories told in the libraries that really in-body the person they are representing.

Distinguished Alumni Gala: 2022

If it’s October at SHSU, there is probably a Distinguished Alumni Gala occurring at SHSU. Charlie Vienne, Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations, and his staff do a great job of recognizing many of SHSU’s distinguished graduates and also putting on a wonderful event. This year, with MC duties once again taken by Chris Tritico…

…Alumni Relations recognized Kelly Dehay and Mary Ellen Thornton for their service; named Constance Jones Simmons the “2022 Outstanding Young Alumni;” and designated Houston Police Chief Troy Finner, Kyle Lehne, and Jill Sharp Vaughn as the 2022 “Distinguished Alumni.”

Following the Color Guard and an outstanding musical performance of the National Anthem by Lucianna Astorga…

…Tritico led off with some jokes, including one directed at our advisor, Professor Mike Yawn.

Apparently, the two had spoke on the phone once while Yawn and his “long-suffering girlfriend,” Ms. Stephanie, were on vacation in Oklahoma, and Tritico thought this was hilarious. He introduced Yawn to the crowd, mentioned his favored “vacation spots, and then asked, rhetorically, “Who vacations in Oklahoma?”

When he got done with his funny business, we were free to eat and enjoy each other’s company. Two of us, Ingrid Cuero and Jessica Cuevas, sat at the LEAP Table, with Yawn, Stephanie, Mr. and Mrs. Roberts, Mr. and Mrs. Holland, and Blake Roach. Two of us, Morgan Robertson and Ashlyn Parker, sat at a table with Mr. and Mrs. Frosch, Mac and Leanne Woodward, and Judge Danny Pierce and his wife, Cindy. And three of us sat at a table sponsored by Rick Hanna and Larry and Marsha Corley. We were fortunate to have people sponsor us, and we were fortunate to be at tables with great conversations and great conversationalists!

Of course, the real purpose of the evening was to showcase the alumni, and Tritico, President White…

…and Larry Larrison (President of the Alumni Association) did that very well.

They introduced each of the speakers, showed a brief bio of each, and then the honored guests spoke briefly. For us, as students, it was a great opportunity to see role models who had also spent time learning at SHSU. Whether it was the philanthropy of Kelly Dehay…

…or the innovative teaching of Mary Ellen Thornton…

…or amazing screen presence of Constance Jones Simmons…

…the public leadership of Troy Finner…

…the business acumen of Kyle Lehne…

…or the multi-faceted leadership of Jill Sharp Vaughn…

…there was a model (or several) for us.

Indeed, we had a diverse crew of students, with a POLS major, two HIST majors, three CRIJ majors, and a Public Health Major. We all had a chance to spend time with Mr. Tritico;

…we met and took photos with Chief Finner;

…Ashlyn Parker had a chance to meet her Dean, Dean Emily Roper; and we all had a chance to meet President White again.

And we all had an excellent time, learning from those who have been here before us…

…and in whose paths we hope to follow (and chart a few of our own)!

Serving in the Community: One Grave at a Time

The LEAP Ambassadors spent their Saturday morning in an unusual manner: photographing graves in Oakwood Cemetery.

We were moved to participate in this activity through Just Serve, a program that seeks to match volunteers with projects. So we met our main contact, Judy Webb (a former SHSU employee), and got down to work.

The concept was to help researchers, particularly those involved with genealogy. We downloaded the “Billion Graves” app, and Judy showed us–and about 20 more volunteers, including Jeff Gardner from SHSU–how things worked. Our job is to take photos of graves, and the app then marks the location of that grave. Later, we uploaded the photos, and we transcribed the grave information for 281 graves: name, date of birth, date of death, and the epitaph. This information then becomes available for researchers online.

Grave site of William Franklin Baldwin (1847 – 1911), Elizabeth Jane Baldwin (1854 – 1944)

After a bit of wandering as we tried to figure things out, we settled into teams, with one team taking the north side and one team taking the south side. In addition to the photography, there was some light cleaning, such as picking up trash or cleaning off the tombstone so that it was legible.

Aside from our operational duties, we also tried to learn about Huntsville and its history. So, we learned about the Thomason family…

Grave site of Dr. John W. Thomas0n (1864 – 1942)

…the Adickes family…

…we found the graves of Joshua and Samuel Walker Houston, and, of course, visited Sam Houston’s grave.

Some of our discoveries were somber. We saw the graves of a family who lost four children: one died at 25, one died at 3, one died at 2, and one died the day of birth. We saw the grave of Mary Bobbitt; she was an English Professor at SHSU who went in for surgery over Spring Break, and she didn’t survive. The students found out in class the week after Spring Break.

Grave site of Mary E. Bobbitt (12 Oct 1916 – 17 Mar 1988)

We saw the recent grave of Judge Bill McAdams, and we saw the grave of James Patton, also fresh. It is, of course, appropriate that he is resting in the cemetery he did so much to research and preserve.

Grave site of James D. Patton (2 Sep 1947 – 5 Aug 2022)

We finished with a selfie with Judy Webb (from Just Serve) in front of Sam Houston’s grave. The epitaph, from Andrew Jackson, reads “The World Will Take Care of Sam Houston’s Fame.” And that is true, but sometimes his grave, and the entire cemetery, needs some tending to.