An Ex-Soldier’s View of World Events

By Yvette Mendoza, November 16, 2021

With another semester wrapped up, a few of the LEAP Ambassadors headed to Houston for–of course–another World Affairs Council event. We arrived a bit early, as we try to do, and we enjoyed the Christmas ambience.

As with all WAC events, we were learning about foreign affairs, but this time it was from an ex-soldier’s point of view. And not just any former soldier: Dan Crenshaw.

Representative Crenshaw was introduced by WAC Director, Maryanne Maldonado, who welcomed us all to a wonderful lunch and program.

Congressman Crenshaw was a part of SEAL Team 3 that served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was injured while serving, leaving him with only one working eye, an outcome resulting in his ever-present patch–and two Bronze Star Medals, the Purple Heart, and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor.

After retiring in 2016 from the military as Lieutenant Commander, Congressman Crenshaw began to consider a political run, and in 2018, he was elected Congressman for Houston’s 2nd Congressional District.

Moderator Ronan O’Malley, the World Affairs Council’s Program Director, asked questions written by the attendees and directed them towards Congressman Crenshaw.

He began by discussing a few issues within our government: specifically, the adverse effects of withdrawing from Afghanistan “too soon.” Another topic discussed was the situation at the border, as the number of undocumented immigrants has increased in recent months.

Congressman Crenshaw spent part of his youth in Ecuador and Columbia, is proficient in Spanish, and he believes the US is currently spending insufficient resources developing relationships with countries in South America. Doing so, he believes, would alleviate some of the current problems, at least in the long term.

On all of the issues discussed, Representative Crenshaw noted that he is grateful for being a veteran, which he believes has given him a different approach when addressing issues.

He also reminded the audience several times about the book that he published, Fortitude: American Resilience in the Era of Outrage, noting, somewhat jokingly, that it would be an excellent gift for a loved one for the holidays.

When asked about his potential future ambitions in the political spectrum, he left the audience with a cliffhanger: “We’ll see what comes.” And, with that, he left for his next event, leaving many in the audience wondering what the future, in fact, holds for Representative Crenshaw.

Brazilian Energy (and food)

Mario Ocampo, November 15, 2021

If it’s another week at the LEAP Center, we are probably headed to another fantastic World Affairs Council meeting, and this time Brazil was on the menu. Today’s luncheon included a mouth-watering meal that brought many wonderful and exciting individuals together. The event included the conversation on transitional projects needed to ensure Brazil a profitable yet environmentally-friendly energy future. The keynote speaker and panelists engaged the attendees with a market-based discussion of the energy transition, including hydrogen as the leading alternative to fossil fuels.

Today’s luncheon was located at the well-known Brazilian Steakhouse, Fogo de Chao. As the smells of various meats filled the room, many in attendance quickly engaged in enthusiastic conversations. Erin Juarez, Saara Maknojia, and I did not shy away from trying as much food as possible.

The moderator, Norman Nadorff, Counsel of Mayer Brown LLP, opened the floor and explained Brazil’s energy transition framework and economic incentives and the role that oil and other energy companies are expected to play along the way.

The featured speaker of the event, Francisco Monaldi, the Director of the Latin America Energy Program at Rice University’s Baker Institute, spoke about the critical transitions Brazil and other nations must achieve to reach net-zero carbon emissions by the year 2050.

Panelist Benigna Cortes Leiss, a Nonresident Fellow at the Baker Institute, explained the steps the country of Chile is taking on investing in renewable energy sources.

Benigna educated us on the active roles supporting companies like Siemens are conducting to expedite the transition to Hydrogen energy. The Co-Lead of Energy Transition, Greg Matlock, Partner at Mayer Brown LLP, elaborated on the importance of government incentives and how it promotes the growth of greener energy source alternatives.

Mr. Matlock explained that governments must create tax incentives to incentivize more funding towards greener energy sources like Hydrogen. The proper capital appropriation is vital to keep us on track to achieve the zero-carbon emissions goal.

To the World Affairs Council staff in attendance, Mayer Brown LLP, and all the event speakers, thank you for making this event extremely engaging and insightful.  

PLS: Wrapping up the Fall

Jordan Long, Historian

Welcome back! Today’s November 17th meeting was the last meeting of the semester, and it was a pretty fun one if I do say so myself.

Our President, Heather, started the meeting with some quick housekeeping: members should all have their t-shirts and any upcoming graduates will be receiving cords. The minutes from last meeting were approved.

Next, we started the games, leading with a legally-themed crossword puzzle. Crosswords and puzzles are good for the brain, and, accordingly, they help prepare your brain for the logic portions of the LSAT. While winning was motivation enough, the winner of this contest actually won a scholarship. And Morgan Robertson was the winner! Congratulations Morgan! (You know your Pre-Law Society, girl!)

Heather next spoke on the LSAC Forums offered physically across the United States and digitally on Zoom. Heather advised everyone to go to at least one. She attended the one in Atlanta, and she found it amazingly helpful. In these forums you get a chance to get application waivers, which are very useful when those fees start racking up. Prospective students attend from all over, and law schools come from all over to get in front of the students. Networking is important, and the admissions officers will help get any questions you may have answered and help in the application process. And it is FREE!

After that she introduced another game: “strike a juror.” We were divided into groups of six and our goal was to strike jurors based on the scenarios provided.

This game was very fun and informative, especially with Ms. Loveall participating and in putting her very helpful perspective!

There was a drawing for members who were very active this semester in the events that Pre-Law Society has hosted or partaken in. The winner of this drawing was our very dedicated member Ashley K! Ashley won a scholarship as well. Thank you for your consistency and congratulations Ashley!

Lastly, upcoming events will be the M*A*S*H Toy and Food Drive on December 1st and 2nd. To kick next semester off, the next meeting will be January 19th following our Ice Cream Social! And elections will happen soon after, so be on the lookout for another busy and rewarding semester in the Pre-Law Society!

The LEAP Center and Pre-Law Society will kick off the spring with a panel on crime in mid-to-late January! Stay tuned and keep up with our “upcoming events” page: https://www.shsu.edu/centers/leap/upcoming-events.html.

The State of the City: 2021

December 6, 2021

Morgan Robertson

Prior to our final organizational meeting of the semester, the LEAP Ambassadors stopped by the annual State of the City at the Walker County Storm Shelter

We walked in to see the whole facility lively with the conversation of citizens interacting with one another and City staff.

The Huntsville Public Library was one of our stops. I was able to introduce fellow Ambassadors to a few of the Library Staff: Rachel McPhail, the City Librarian; Brenda Collins, the Service Specialist; and Linda Huff, with Adult Literacy. HPL had a great visual aid made up of popcorn to demonstrate how much money patrons save and the return that the city receives.  

As we made our way around the room, we stopped at the IT booth, where they had an old rotary phone, a box Tv, and a security camera. Erin even learned how to dial on the rotary phone!, examining it as if it were a telegraph machine from the 19th century.

Seeing all the departments in Huntsville was a great learning opportunity, and it helped that we knew many of the staff. We even got to take pictures with Huntsville’s Main Street photo booth. 

As everyone took their seats Mayor Andy Brauninger began the opening remarks, expressing his love for the city and how much it means to him.

He also introduced School Board Trustee Ken Holland, who gave the invocation…

…and a local Boy Scout troop, who ably took care of colors.

Mayor Brauninger then introduced the City Manager, Aron Kulhavy. Aron Kulhavy gave a speech discussing the last two years and the City’s achievements.  

As Aron Kulhavy addressed the many updates Huntsville has, we were able to learn about the new developments such as a city-run animal shelter, an expansion of I-45, and an expansion of the MLK Center.  

After Aron Kulhavy’s closing remarks, we were able to talk with Aron Kulhavy about the City, and to thank him for his time.

It was an informative evening, and a great opportunity to see some familiar faces, such as Cody Humphrey and Brian Aldaco.

Christmas on the Square, 2021: Merry Christmas Huntsville!

Erin Juarez

The Leap ambassadors took a break from studying for finals and volunteered at Christmas on the Square on Saturday, hosted by Main Street Huntsville. This is an event where the whole community comes together and celebrates Christmas in early December. The city offers fun activities involving snow, Santa Claus, a train ride, karaoke, vendors, and so much more!

After we arrived and situated everything at our station, we began to see people walking toward the line to meet Santa Claus. As soon as he sat down in his chair, ready to listen to all the children’s Christmas wishes, they began to rush over to take a picture with him. There were people of all ages: newborns, toddlers, teenagers, and even adults. They all made sure to tell Santa if they had been naughty or nice this year. As a treat for each person who declared that they had been good, Santa gifted them a candy cane. He then promised them he’d visit on Christmas and bring whatever gift they had wished for.

Yvette and I have been good girls this year, so we made sure to tell Santa. We even took a picture with him!

The kids were eager to ride the train, sing karaoke, get their faces painted, and participate in all of the activities that the city had planned for them. For starters, the train was always busy, the children loved being able to cruise around downtown. They also enjoyed singing Christmas music, and I can’t say that we blame them… Yvette and I went on stage and sang a song too!

The event was live: the music, the dancing, the events, and the pet contests were all enjoyable.

It was nice seeing familiar faces there: Mac and Leanne Woodward and their grand kids were there;

Mayor Brauninger and his wife were there;

and we had a great chance to spend time with City staff, who made this event such a success.

There was so much joy in seeing how everyone from different backgrounds came together to serve the community, which is something I personally cherished.

After witnessing how people banded together to make this event happen: the volunteers, the staff, the residents, and their attribute of selfless service gave me reassurance as to my reasoning behind the desire I have to serve my country and become a part of the US Army.

On behalf of the Leap Ambassadors, we are so thankful for everyone who was a part of this event and we wish everyone a safe and wonderful Winter Break and Happy Holidays!

WAC: Gabriela Gerhart

Gabriela Gerhart: From Communism to Capitalism 

Yvette Mendoza 

The World Affairs Council hosted yet another amazing event, this one featuring Gabriela Gerhart on her journey from communism to capitalism. After experiencing many ups and downs, she has become an entrepreneur and created a pregnancy and motherhood wellness resource, called the Motherhood Center. The LEAP Members were not only able to meet Gabriela, but also received a copy of her book, After the Fall

Through a moderated Q&A session with Sandija Bayot, we learned a lot more about the author and entrepreneur, Gabriela Gerhart. Gabriela spoke of her seemingly normal childhood in Czechoslovakia, but it did not remain normal for long. One day in 1989, her 8th grade history teacher informed the class that they would have to relearn their history, as everything previous had been a lie. As a little girl, Gabriela experienced the truth of communism without even realizing it.

During the communist control everything was restricted, even radios! Gabriela mentioned a time when her grandfather was listening to an illegal radio station; the next day they received a knock on their door and were reprimanded. It was as if everyone was constantly walking on eggshells. There were the longest of lines just for her family to get oranges, butter, and clothes. Gabriela’s mother would even trade tangerines with a neighbor for clothing. 

During her teenage years, Gabriela ventured and explored. When she landed in America on a short-term basis, she was blown away by all the differences, especially the grocery stores! She mentioned other differences: from the side of the road drivers drive on, to having mayo on the shelf and not on the fridge, and even how many people support the American flag out of their own free will. While starting her new life in America and trying to learn English from watching the American TV show Friends, Gabriela began to establish her own roots.

Gabriela fell back to her love of nursing and infants, and set about building her new business around that. She recognized that there was a lack of pregnancy and motherhood support and knew there was work to be done. Gabriela became a budding entrepreneur in the business of helping mothers and their babies through a program called, The Motherhood Center located in Central Houston. They offer pregnancy and parenting classes, massage spa services, and even yoga and fitness! 

Gabriela has struggled and thrived in many ways from living in a communist country, a place where you can’t truly amount to anything unless you are in the hierarchy of communism in Czechoslovakia. She has learned an entirely different language, become an author, and is now a CEO of a company that is thriving in Houston, while helping numerous families with children. 

She left us with the question, what are you grateful for? Gabriela emphasized that you should always say what you are grateful for, because your situation has the possibility to be much worse. Hearing her journey to freedom has been an inspiration to all of us and a true eye-opener to the effects that communism has on many people.

From Communism to Capitalism 

Erin Juarez 

After our event, the students went to a local Vietnamese restaurant called Lucky Café. We would have preferred to eat food from the Czech Republic, but there are no such restaurants in The Woodlands, so we ate at a Vietnamese restaurant, Lucky Cafe, to maintain the Communist theme.

When we arrived, we were seated by Lucky Café’s great staff and received our menus. The food ranged from Pho, to sweet and sour chicken, to several other combination plates. We began to browse the menu, to see what seemed most appealing to us. 

For starters, we ordered Spring Rolls and Dumplings. I was excited to try Spring Rolls for the first time, and they were delicious!

The orders for our entrees, varied from General Tso’s Chicken, Pho, to Orange Chicken.

Over dinner, we had informational conversations regarding communist countries and how grateful we are to be living in the United States. Some of what Ms. Gerhart conveyed to us about living under an authoritarian government was alarming, and we are grateful for the opportunities we have at SHSU, the freedom of expression, and the freedom to learn about other cultures and, of course, for the great Vietnamese food.

Making Smiles Happen: (M*A*S*H)

This past week the LEAP Ambassadors were happy to help–and recruit more help–KSAM radio do their annual “Make A Smile Happen” holiday gift drive for the community.

This drive encourages the local community to provide food items, pet supplies, cash, or toys, and these, in turn, go to one of six non-profit agencies: Santa’s Helpers, Huntsville Independent School District, Good Shepherd Mission, SAAFE House, and the YMCA.

Although the tasks associated with assisting are not difficult, they are time consuming. The drive spans two days: 6am-6pm on Wed, Dec 1; and 6am-3pm, Thu, Dec 2. Because we attempted to have at least four students on hand at any time, that’s 84 man-hours of volunteerism–on the last day of school and “study day,” making it for a particularly busy time.

Our tasks were manifold: (1) hold signs marketing the event to the high-traffic area on 11th street;

(2) help donors load an unload donated items from their vehicles; (3) organize and count the items;

and (4) come up with creative marketing tools.

Along the way, the students had the wonderful opportunity to meet and learn from new people: Tim Johnson, the station’s General Manager;

…radio personalities such as Steve Rixx, Rob Hipp, Glenn Edwards, and Carlos Zimmerman; and several sponsors and other volunteers.

It was a great learning experience and, in fact, we were able to practice our radio interviewing skills!

The students also had a chance to learn more about each of the non-profits involved in the program, how radio programming works, and in general simply learn more about how communities work–including an opportunity to meet some community VIPs.

It was, as the results will show, a successful drive. KSAM/KHVL did a wonderful job getting the word out, landing almost 1,000 toys, more than 600 pounds of pet food, some 3,000 items of food, and almost $8,000 in donations. It was a great service to the community, and we were thrilled to be part of it.

The LEAP Ambassadors would like to thank Isabel Behm, Alex Dieck, Destiny Woods, Heather Barodi, Mario Ocampo, Saara Maknojia, Mckenna Webb, Landon LaPrairie, Rachel Hill, and Lucy McCool for their help. And, of course, we’d also like to thank the staff at KSAM for allowing us to serve!

Wynne Home Art Exhibit

November 5, 2021, by Saara Maknojia 

On November 4th, Yvette Mendoza and I explored the beautiful art exhibit at the Wynne Home Arts and Visitor Center. The trip began with a tour of a passage that led to the driveway holding some of Jose Moroles’s art sculptures!

The finely carved stones were placed at the entrance of the 19th century Wynne Home. Yvette pointed out the architectural structure of the house which consisted of gorgeous Greek Corinthian columns. 

Upon entering the home, we were greeted by some of the attendees of the reception and the Cultural Service Manager, Sarah Faulkner! Taking a look into the Art Exhibit, which happened to be a first-time experience for me, I was in awe of the wonderful artwork on display.

Yvette and I went through the art pieces by gathering knowledge of the artists and the medium they used for the art piece. We learned about the different forms of art and conversed on the difference between oil and acrylic paint. 

Throughout the exhibit, we saw the works of Scott McCarley which included a beautifully sculpted piece of wood and stone that, appropriately, was named “Wood and Stone”!

We also had the honor of meeting Betty Liles, the artist of one of Yvette’s favorite pieces, “Quiet Evening”. The painting contained cool tones of nature with swaying trees and a river. Mrs. Liles brought charismatic energy into our conversations and told us more about her paintings. 

My favorite piece from the art exhibit was “Mountain Mist” by Al Hogue. To me, this piece represented the horses moving forward from the mountains they once grazed on. The intricate detailing in this piece was absolutely eye-catching and gave a sense of mystery. 

Yvette and I also toured the home. Throughout the home, we were met with a variety of art pieces from renowned artists like Charles Pebworth…

…and local artists. We were able to take a deeper look into the historic legacy the home provides to Huntsville.

The Wynne family founded the house in the 1880s, since then the Wynne home has been a foundation of Huntsville. It was such an insightful tour and the art exhibit gave me a great perspective of Huntsville’s local art!