A Four-City Trip through the Midwest–in a day

Day Two-Saturday, July 9, 2022

We started the day with a bit of a split, to maximize our short time this morning in OKC. That split involved Ashlyn and me visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and Yvette and Morgan visiting the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum.

National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

By Yvette Mendoza

Morgan and I stopped by the best place to learn about Midwest culture and tradition: the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in OKC! Its variety of artists and different styles of artwork perfectly immortalizes the West from the 1800s-present. With a museum as unique as this one, we had the perfect opportunity to expand our learning on renowned, international, and local artists, while also being exposed to famous cowboys (and cowgirls) throughout history.

Throughout the space we found some magnificent sculptures by James Earl Fraser. At the heart and grand atrium of the museum, The End of The Trail displays a defeated Native American hanging his head while riding his horse.

We walked through the museum’s 50th annual “Prix de West” invitational art exhibition and sale. We saw not only the various aspects of life in the West, but also where the artists hail from and if they were cowboys or cowgirls themselves. “Hometowns” ranged from Iowa to New York, but they all showed their love for Western art and culture in their various media.

While most followed similar Western themes, some were vastly different in terms of color or composition. I loved a vibrant water-colored painting of a Native American mother and child painted by Sonya Terpening, titled Securely Bound. 

On the other hand, Professor Yawn found the cool colors of an impressionist painting (Grace by Daniel W. Pinkham) one of his favorites.

And Morgan was mysteriously intrigued by one of the sculptures, a roadrunner by Kent Ullberg titled BEEP-BEEP!

 The further we moved through the museum, the more artists we discovered or rediscovered: Frederic Remington, Albert Bierstadt, Charles Russell, Allan Houser, and Thomas Moran.

Collections of Frederic Remington and Charles Russell are truly the embodiment of Western heritage pride, and this museum has a lot of pride, with rooms dedicated to the works of these artists. We saw sculptures and paintings showing the thrill and action of a stampede and of working cowboys raising cattle to put food on the table. (Quite literally—one of Charles Russell’s paintings is called Meat’s Not Meat ‘Till It’s in the Pan (Hunters Luck).)

The painting of canyons and national parks especially reeled us in. Specifically, Ed Mell and his Canyon Flow collection were some of Stephanie’s favorites. Mell’s art-deco-ish treatment of canyons, big skies, and sunsets in his unique style made them truly stand out. 

Not only did we experience Western art come to life, but we also walked through an old western town with everything an old western town could—or should—have: saloon, chapel, law office…and, its very own jail that Morgan just might have been trapped in… 

The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum was not what we were expecting.

It is a beautiful place to saddle up and take a trip to the Old West while getting to experience artwork that has a different take on the meaning of the wild, wild West.


Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum (Ashlyn Parker)

Meanwhile, Jessica and I started our day off at the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, which captures the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history. The museum is set up in chronological order from the beginning of that fateful day, April 19, 1995, through the conviction of Timothy McVeigh. 

“Just like communities everywhere, it is the start of a day like any other day.” The museum exhibits start off with an innocuous, yet ominous, greeting. We saw images of all the different “everyday” events going on throughout the city, with everyone walking through their normal, mundane lives, the usual hustle and bustle of a city’s downtown. 

We were led into an enclosed room that was dimly lit. We were unsure what to think until the recording began. We heard voices over the speakers, the starting of a meeting of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board. Everything sounds completely normal, then… BOOM. Listeners hear the bomb exploding at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. We heard the building shake and people panicking. The lights in the room flickered, then the doors opened to the rest of the museum. That room, the recording, the lighting—it immortalizes 9:02 a.m. on that fateful day.

Next came artifacts from the destruction of the building—and so many lives and families. It’s overwhelming.

There are many visual and audio effects– and for some, many tears. The bombing killed (what is believed to be) 168 people, including 19 children. On display are keys, shoes, watches, and parts of the building recovered from the site, but what really hit home for me was a planner. The planner belonged to Terry Smith Rees, a HUD supervisor on the 7th floor. To me, it symbolized the horrific crime that took place, that took the future away from 168 people and their families. 

Several rooms are dedicated to the direct aftermath of the horrific scene: first responders from all over rushed to help; the many, dead and alive, who were stuck in the rubble of the building or parts that did not initially collapse;

…support letters written by children to survivors and families. Much space is dedicated to images of what you would have seen at the location, or on the news from around the world. One display includes all the different news stations playing at once, creating a movie-like moment where you can feel the impact of the event just by listening.

Along with the chaos and confusion of rescue efforts, police and other law enforcement had to shift focus to finding the cause of the bombing. The museum exhibits display this well, too, with many evidence artifacts: original police sketches of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols;

…various other relics from the case; and, even the yellow Mercury Marquis Timothy McVeigh was driving when he was pulled over and arrested just 90 minutes after the bombing (for not having a license plate and having a concealed gun). And we saw a more “local” connection: one of Timothy McVeigh’s defense attorneys interviewed was Chris Tritico, a good friend to the LEAP Ambassadors (and also a Sam Houston State University alum!).

The museum is not just an inside space though. It is truly a memorial. We saw some of the original rubble from the site behind a glass wall. There is a “chair” memorial to those who lost their lives, with one chair per person designating which floor they were on when the bomb went off. We walked along the shallow reflecting pool that glistens between the 9:01 and 9:03 walls, symbolizing two extremely different moments in time, just a moment apart, on either side of that fateful detonation.

And the memorial continues. Outside the memorial proper is a fence with some items from the families of the victims (flags, wreaths, pictures, and stuffed animals) in memoriam to their lost loved ones.

And across the street, a statue placed by the nearby Catholic church, Weeping Jesus, further memorializes the tragedy.

Overall, it was one of the best museums I have been to…

…with displays and a chronological order that allows visitors to understand what happened that day, creating in some spaces what it must have felt like had you been there.

And with those sobering thoughts, we resumed our trip of the Midwest, aware that tragedies occur all over, even in the country’s heartland.

Law & Order in Madison County

By Jessica Cuevas

Although it is summer, and we are all working in various jobs, LEAP Ambassadors current and former carpooled to Madison County to witness, first-hand, an attempted murder trial in Madison County. This opportunity came at the invitation of Judge David Moorman, the presiding judge in the case.

As in almost all trials, the defendant was present in the court, along with the victim and her family. Our experience with the Courts has been restricted mostly to witnessing the 10th Court of Appeals, where attendance by defendants or victims is rare, so this was a new experience for us.

Judge Moorman began by reading all the charges–all ten counts–that the jury would have to determine whether the defendant (Alex Carter) was (1) not guilty, (2) guilty of a lesser charge, or (3) not guilty for each count. The key charge was aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, stemming from incidents allegedly occurring in early May 2021. In sum, the charges could result in imprisonment for more than 20 years.

Following the opening argument from the state, Frank Blazek, a well-known criminal defense lawyer (and former Walker County DA), opened the final arguments for the defense side by disputing the prosecution’s argument and presenting photo evidence to the jury, focusing on the technicalities of the events.

Robin Whitney, an ADA for Madison County, ended the final arguments for the trial. Her deliberation was very different from the rest, probably one of the best, with a compelling rebuttal speech and heartfelt performance. Robin’s main focus was to “redirect” the jury, encouraging them to focus on the most compelling evidence for the prosecution side. These tactics, of course, are staples of our adversarial court system.

After the jury broke for deliberation, we had the ability to speak to Judge Moorman and lawyers Whitney and Blazek. We even had the opportunity to see the photo exhibits as we waited for the jury to decide! All of these experiences help guide us in our path through pre-law, and we are immensely grateful for the attorneys’ willingness to spend time helping undergraduates.

Not knowing how much longer it would take after already being there for six hours, unfortunately, we said our goodbyes and began our trip back to Huntsville, pondering on what we thought the verdict would be–which, as of this writing, is still not decided!

Wrapping Up in OKC

Segway Tour 

Saara Maknojia 

To conclude our trip for Oklahoma, the LEAP members attended a Segway tour! Our instructor Mr. Skip, began with refreshment courses for Yvette since she had already ridden a Segway. For Morgan, Erin and me Mr. Skip taught us how to move the Segway using our bodies by leaning forward and stopping by leaning back and keeping the Segway upright. 

The beginning of the tour consisted of a visit around Bricktown. Mr. Skip informed us about the Sonic Headquarters, Cincinnati Park and Dodger stadium where we saw sculptures of many famous baseball players, such as Mickey Mantle! 

Other parts of Bricktown included the first restaurants to ever be opened in the area, such as Chenlinos and Abuelos. Mr. Skip gave us a brief history about how businesses were incentivized to open in the area to encourage foot traffic and tourism. We were also fortunate enough to see one of the murals painted to resemble a timeline of the history of Oklahoma.

Leaving Bricktown, we rode our Segway’s fast and fluently towards downtown Oklahoma City. We were welcomed by the view of tall glass skyscrapers and modern architecture. 

The LEAP Members followed Mr. Skip to a bridge crossing the main road. As we looked up, we were able to see a very large sculpture of a scissor-tailed bird. Other views of downtown consisted of the Marriot Garden, a skating ring, a large koi fishpond and a river walk! 

Mr. Skip took us to the large bronze “Sooners” sculptures to end off our amazing tour. We were very thankful to have such an intimate and adventurous tour of Oklahoma City. The breath-taking views of downtown Oklahoma allowed us to witness the modern and contemporized infrastructure of the city, whereas historic Bricktown allowed us to travel back into the beginning years of Oklahoma.

Cattlemen’s Steak House  

Erin Juarez 

After touring Oklahoma City while riding on Segways, we found that we had built up quite the appetite. So, we decided to stop at Cattlemen’s Steak House.  

We walked into the restaurant, and were greeted with an old-timey Western feel. To our surprise, the restaurant has been serving steak for one hundred years and continues to promote Western Folklore.  

We looked at the menu to see what sounded appealing to each one of us. The restaurant had many options: burgers, steak, lamb, and more. For starters we chose lamb fries and onion rings. Yvette got a steak, and the rest of us elected to eat steak burgers.  

After we tried the appetizers, Professor Yawn mentioned that the lamb fries were in fact lamb testicles. This made me a little uncomfortable knowing what I had consumed, but they were too tasty to not keep eating.  

The appetizers were good to say the least. When we saw our meal making its way to the table, we became very excited. Who would have thought riding a Segway would be a workout? The steak was delicious and so were the burgers. Everything was appealing, and this was as good as a restaurant could be to try lamb testicles.

Overall, the food was amazing, and the service was fast. The restaurant provided a nice meal to end our journey through Oklahoma!

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!