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.
The event started with a warm Aggie welcome and some introductions.
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.
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.
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.
Then followed a discussion with Cheney and Quayle as they shared their memories from their time as Vice Presidents.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
Justice Boyd even showed us the room where the justices meet once a month for a conference where they discuss their cases.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The day was jam packed with lots of coffee, art, sightseeing, and invaluable experiences.
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…
…checking the light with a light meter…
and snapping a quick shot with an old Polaroid camera.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While on the bridge, we made a small cairn, which, according to Professor Yawn, officially made us hikers.
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.
The 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.
Our first event of the 6-day forum was a workshop run by Dr. Teri Varner, Associate Professor at St. Edwards University. The workshop focused on making impactful introductions for speakers. I found it extremely helpful as a LEAP Ambassador because the steady stream of speakers and guests that we regularly bring to campus need introductions to the groups they’re brought in to speak to. This was our first workshop because of the fact that every forum participant was required to interview and then use that information to introduce at least one of the speakers during the week.
Then was the panel titled “Women in Politics.” The panelists were Dr. Susan Heinzelman, the Director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas, Maggie Buchanan, President of Maggie Jo Consulting, and Kimberly Inez McGuire, Senior Program Director at Conway Strategic. Also included in this panel was none other than Nancy Bocskor, the President of the Nancy Bocskor Company.
Nancy has been a guest speaker for the LEAP Center many times, and was a FIR (Faculty in Residence) for the Forum. The women in this panel focused on their experiences in politics, and the challenges and triumphs that came with those experiences.
DAY 2 – Friday
Our first event of the day was a panel titled “Why YOU Should Consider Running for Office,” and it featured Gina Hinojosa, a Texas State Representative, Delia Garza, an Austin City Council Member, and Sheryl Cole, a Texas State Representative Candidate. Also included in this panel was another one of the LEAP Center’s previous guest speakers, the Chairman of the Railroad Commission, Christi Craddick (who gave a wonderful talk to SHSU women in January!). The four women talked about their respective journeys before, during, and after getting elected to their respected offices. The panelists also shared many of the difficulties they faced in getting to where they are now.
The next workshop was titled “Networking and Making Connections,” and was led by Karen Landolt, a professor for the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.
Ms. Lundolt talked about the importance of using weak ties like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Weak ties are connections that you’re able to make over social media with people that you wouldn’t have been able to connect with otherwise, and they’re becoming increasingly important in the 21st century.
After lunch, we had a short walk across campus to the Texas Union through the hill country heat. We were headed to hear from the Forum’s keynote speaker, Representative Mary Gonzalez.
She shared with us her education, how she got her start in Texas politics, the daily problems that face her constituents and what she is doing to try and help them, and the different challenges that she faces as a woman in a field dominated by men. After the keynote address, we posed for a quick group photo with her…
…and then we were welcomed to a spread of fruit and sweets in the next room as a part of a reception that the Forum hosted for us and Representative Gonzalez.
Day 3, Saturday
Our third day began with a workshop that explored our different leadership styles. Susan Billmaier is a Program Officer at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and she specializes in workshops that support and encourage personal journeys, leadership styles, diversity and inclusion, and conflict resolution. By the end of the session we found ourselves divided into four different groups, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, and we all thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more about each other in this type of setting.
After a small coffee break, the Community Advocate Panel began. This panel was geared towards getting young women to become more active on a local level. The three panelists were all active in the Austin area. The panel shifted towards the panelists giving advice to all the young women of the forum. The main message that all three panelists could agree on was to stay true to yourself and your cultural identity.
The next workshop was titled “Texas Civic Health Index Report and Civic Reflection.” The goal of this workshop was to get the students involved in interactive civics exercises. We took a quiz to determine our level of civic engagement and compared our responses with our peers. We then discussed the factors that may contribute to some of us being more civically engaged than others. We learned that education is one of the main factors that impacts civic engagement.
Our last workshop of day 3 focused on Unconscious Bias. The workshop was run by Yulanda McCarty-Harris, and it focused on recognizing unconscious bias, who has unconscious bias, and how to combat it. Ms. McCarty-Harris was incredibly animated and everyone was engaged and interested. The second part of the Unconscious Bias workshop was a panel that featured Courtney Chavez, Dr.Ted Gordon, and Lana Petru. They all gave their insights as to what our society can do to combat unconscious bias.
DAY 4 – Sunday
Our first session of the day was “Political Fundraising” by Nancy Bocskor.
She gave a rousing speech on her experiences as a democracy coach around the world. She shared with us the same fundraising principles that she’s taught to people in all 50 states and in 27 different countries across the world. We learned how to utilize any organizations that we may be involved in, and that people we know are twice as likely to donate to any cause that we ask them over strangers.
Our second session of the day was a panel titled “How Tech is Shaping Politics,” and it featured three panelists that were experts in the field of technology and politics. They talked about how they use technology in their careers, and the different ways that technology can help and hinder political action.
“Managing your Message” was a session led by Jenifer Sarver, a professor in the Moody College of Communications at The University of Texas. Her presentation focused on effective communication. We touched on how to present yourself, considering your audience rather than simply the message that you want to convey, and working to establish your credibility. She also stressed the importance of using visual aids when attempting to get your message across.
DAY 5 – Monday
Our fifth day began with us grabbing a quick breakfast and loading up on a charter bus to head to Austin City Hall for a tour. We learned about the building’s architecture and how it was created to have a low impact on the environment. We also observed all the art pieces inside the building and we learned that they were all done by local artists. At the end of the year, Austinites are able to cast a vote to pick their favorite piece, and the City of Austin purchases that piece and adds it to its collection. We paused for a group picture up on one of the terraces of the building before heading back inside for a panel titled “Women in City Leadership.” The panel consisted of women that work in various city government positions within the City of Austin. They gave us advice on finding mentors, balancing our families and careers, and finding our passions after graduating college. When the panel ended, we were presented with certificates of congratulations from the City of Austin for completing the NEW Leadership program.
After our time at Austin City Hall, we stopped by Scholz Garden for lunch.
It was a German Restaurant where we were served some delicious fajitas. A few of us finished early and went outside to pose for a few photos with our newfound friends while we waited for the charter bus to come pick us back up to head to the State Capitol Building.
When we arrived at the Capitol, it was many of the NEW Leadership participants’ first time there. We took a special tour that focused on the women that helped shape our state’s history. For instance, we learned about a woman named Obedience Fort Smith who followed her son to Texas and owned 3,368 acres in what is now of the City of Houston. Tranquility Park, a park commemorating the Apollo 11 moon landing is a part of the land that was presented to her in 1845.
We then heard from four different women involved in Texas Politics. We heard from Donna Howard, a Texas State Representative, and then Lauren Hadley who is the Director of Constituent Services for Representative Howard. Then we heard from Terri Williams, Vice-President of Government Relations for the American Heart Association, and Linda Battles, Deputy Commissioner for Agency Operations and Communications for the Texas Higher Education Board. They shared with us their struggles and triumphs they’ve experienced throughout their years in the political sphere.
After a group photo in the capital…
…we headed back to our dorm rooms on UT’s campus. We changed out of our business casual attire for once and were able to just comfortably lounge while we worked on our political action projects that were due to be presented the next day.
DAY 6 – Tuesday
In the morning we began our day by presenting our Political Action Project that we had been working on periodically throughout the week. The project was a mock hearing on House Bill 316 (a reformation on Texas’s Law of Parties). Some students played the role of representatives that were either for or against the bill, some students were reporters asking questions of the representatives about the bill, and some students played the role of family members and friends offering testimony about how Texas’s Law of Parties had impacted their lives. The mock bill passed, and those of us that had been in opposition good-naturedly recognized our defeat.
After presenting our political action project, we heard from Lizzie Robbins, the State Program Manager for IGNITE Texas. IGNITE is an organization designed to teach young women to be civically engaged and step into public service. She gave us information on how to start IGNITE chapters on our own college campuses. We also learned that online students still can be active in the organization by joining the chapter on the college campus that is closest to them.
After lunch and a debrief it was time for us all to head home. Some of us had much longer drives than others, and after hearing from 52 speakers and sitting for 35 different panels and sessions throughout the week, we were all a bit worn out. It was a bittersweet ending to the week. We were all going to miss each other and the supportive and positive environment we had all created, but we also all wanted to see our own friends, families, and beds. We all exchanged hugs and contact information and said our goodbyes. There was laughter and tears, but also the realization that many of us had created lifelong friends this week, and that NEW Leadership Texas really had opened doors for many of us.
On November 28, the LEAP Ambassadors participated in one of Sam Houston’s oldest traditions. Since 1921, students and faculty at SHSU have gathered to light the university Christmas tree. Emceed by SHSU’s 2017 homecoming king and queen, this year’s ceremony included a performance by Orange Pride and an SHSU musical group. As always, the LEAPsters had their decorated wreath prepared to hang on the tree and join the wreaths of other university organizations. After hanging our wreath on the tree and singing the last few lines of Jingle Bells the ceremony ended. From all the LEAPsters, we want to wish everyone a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!