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!

Old Town Theatre Clean-Up 

Jessica Cuevas 

On Saturday, October 23rd, members of the Pre-Law Society and the LEAP Ambassadors volunteered to deep-clean Huntsville’s Old Town Theatre. Before the cleaning began, Professor Yawn gave us a tour of the interior…

Students are clearly mesmerized by the tour

…including the backstage, dressing rooms, and exterior of the Old Town Theatre, where we also learned about the works of the artist Richard Haas.  The dressing rooms, with large bathrooms and soft lighting, were clearly the favorite of the tour.

As we embarked on the fall cleaning, we assessed what needed to be done and strategically coordinated our cleaning. 

We separated into three groups to tackle our tasks more efficiently, focusing on the main auditorium, balcony, and stage. 

Each group worked in an assembly-line style, with someone vacuuming, cleaning, and disinfecting the backs and bottoms of every seat.

Our advisors, Stephanie and Professor Yawn even joined in the fun, and we also got the windows at the front of the theatre.

 As each task was being accomplished, there was a drawing for prizes such as snack packages, power banks, candles, cups, and throw blankets. Everyone was able to get a prize as a thank-you for their help.

After cleaning, we were satisfied with all our hard work, Professor Yawn headed upstairs to show us how the lighting and sound systems work as he began My Cousin Vinny, a fan favorite. We enjoyed a clean theater and cautiously ate the popcorn we were treated to. 

After the movie was finished, those of us who had not seen it clearly understood why it is favored by so many attorneys.  

WAC: Brainwashing

November 9, 2021, Erin Juarez 

The LEAP Students traveled to Houston for another wonderful World Affairs Council event, this time to hear Dr. Joel Dimsdale speak on the subject of brainwashing.  When we arrived the staff greeted us with smiles and gave us the book, Dark Persuasion, written by Dr. Dimsdale, after which Samaria Herbert introduced the speaker.

Dr. Dimsdale began the conversation by talking about the evolution of brainwashing, from its beginning in the field of psychology to the current social media era. He explained how brainwashing began even before the Cold War, but pointed out that the Korean War really drew attention the concept.

Dr. Dimsdale also spoke on what research scientists have done on brainwashing, and they simply haven’t been able to reliably control subjects’ minds. Initial experiments, such as Pavlov’s experiments with dogs, may have been promising, but they haven’t been replicated on any large scale with actual humans.

After Dr. Dimsdale spoke about experiments that have been done on brainwashing, he dove further into the Stockholm Syndrome and how this sense of dependency has been used by cult leaders to build, incrementally, a following. After making followers dependent on them for basic resources, the followers become psychologically dependent as well.

Lastly, we focused on the brainwashing effect of social media in our modern society, which is, of course, its own fascinating phenomenon–and something everyone in the room had opinions on!

Following the event, we had a chance to speak more in-depth with Dr. Dimsdale, and we appreciated the time he spent with us.

As we have come to expect, it was another wonderful event at the World Affairs Council!

Grandma’s Noodles

November 9, 2021, Saara Maknojia

To connect our conversation with Dr. Dimsdale on the effects of brainwashing–which became most publicized in North Korea, we thought it would be appropriate to eat at a local Korean restaurant called Grandma Noodle

Upon arrival, we were met by a lady who sat us in our designated area and gave us a moment to order from a variety of authentic Korean recipes. 

For many of us, it was our first time to eat Korean, and it wasn’t easy to figure out what was what from the menu–or, considering the language barrier, with the restaurant staff.

We loved the quantity of the appetizers and entrees; they each had a delicious, distinct taste. The varieties allowed me to understand that the bases of most Korean food are commonly fermented chili paste or many steamed vegetables.

The flavors of the appetizers appealed greatly to the LEAP members, but we had to make room for the main entrees.

The favorite dishes of the LEAP members, were the Bibimbob which contained rice with a wide variety of vegetables and a sunny-side-up egg…

the spicy rice cake with cheese (tteokbokki),

the fish cakes, the buckwheat noodles with veggies and spicy chili paste, and the Korean sausage.

And, of course, the largest of the meals, tackled by Yvette Mendoza.

Overall, Grandma Noodle gave us a better insight into Korean food culture. We were even taught how to eat the food in a natural Korean manner by the lady who hosted us at our table!

The small local restaurant opened our minds to the differences of cultures as well as our taste buds! 

LEAP LEADs: Preparing for the Workforce

Mario Ocampo, November 2, 2021

LEAP Leads

For our Fifth LEAP LEADs meeting of the fall semester, we had the honor of having Vinessa Mundorff as our guest speaker. Currently, Vinessa Mundorff serves as the Associate Director of the Career Success Center at Sam Houston State University. In her presentation, Vinessa Mundorff eloquently covered the changes we are all experiencing through the COVID pandemic, and the steps we can take to be successful in finding future careers. LEAP LEADs members gained knowledge on how to construct an excellent resume and about the resources we have at our disposal through the Career Success Center.

With our minds full of newfound knowledge, we transitioned to the next task in the evening’s agenda, the delectable food. We enjoyed local fare from Huntsville’s very own McKenzie’s BBQ. Our mouth-watering meals ranged from fresh pulled pork, chopped beef, pork spareribs, and were complemented with traditional southern sides. Along with our meal being delicious, the portions were abundant. To say we were all satisfied would be an understatement.

With our appetites satisfied, we turned our attention to applying the interview tactics Vinessa Mundorff covered in her presentation. In addition to the presentation, Professor Yawn outlined the different questions employers may ask and how to best prepare for them. Unbeknown to us, we were going to be tested on our newly taught information.

Instructed by Professor Yawn, a mock interview followed, including Yvette Mendoza as the interviewee and Catalina Padron as the interviewer. Starting as a one-on-one mock interview, we transitioned to a vigorous mock panel interview. Both students were able to showcase their newly learned skills. Unfazed by difficult questions, Yvette Mendoza kept her composure and conducted herself as a true professional. This example illustrates the initiative LEAP LEADs students are taking to expand their personal professional development.

We are very grateful to Vinessa Mundorff for the informative presentation, and the knowledge we gained will prove to be invaluable to LEAP LEADs students in our future endeavors.

Scare on the Square

October 30, 2021, Yvette Mendoza

LEAP Leads and Pre-Law Society members had the opportunity to volunteer at a spooky and thrilling event, Scare on the Square, hosted by Huntsville Mainstreet! Families poured through the downtown streets of Huntsville to attend this event that consisted of a costume contest, food tents, KSAM’s music hits, and a variety of organizations with booths that gave away Halloween candy, food, and prizes!

Our LEAP Leads and PLS groups set up our booth with a spooky bowl full of eyeballs, and a fun LEAP cornhole and ring toss game. The children were dressed up and ready to explore Scare on the Square!

Our volunteers had multiple different costumes that made the event much more spirited, from animals, movie characters, a hippie, and even a banana! We all kept in the character of our costumes as we rotated positions in making sure our booth ran smoothly. While some of us were working the prize table and giving out candy, the others were assisting families in playing corn hole and ring toss.

Continuing the exciting festivities, we were able to walk through the lively, jam-packed crowds and view other organizations setups at Scare on the Square. It was great to see CHSS (thank you for letting us borrow your organization’s tent), Tammy Gann and the interns at the Huntsville Economic Development tent; Sarah Faulkner representing Main Street and councilmember Beebe’s skateboards!

Each booth had kids and volunteers filled with an immense amount of excitement and there were smiling faces everywhere you looked! As more volunteers began to come in to switch with the ones that have been at ours for the first half, we were able to see the fun and creative costumes they wore. Catalina was an adorable minion while Mario was a movie character from Top Gun. We all captured the moment and took various pictures in our attires.

Towards the end children were running ramped from the high consumption of sugary candy, and parents and volunteers were exhausted. Although everyone may have been tired, we all wouldn’t miss out on making all the children at Scare on the Square have the brightest of smiles. LEAP Leads and PLS volunteers learned how to work as a team and help our beloved city of Huntsville celebrate Halloween weekend!

 Distinguished Alumni Gala 

October 22, 2021, Yvette Mendoza 

Sam Houston is known not only for the service of its students, but also the service and success of our alumni. Nothing displays that more than the annual  Distinguished Alumni Gala, hosted by the Alumni Association at SHSU.

From the elegance of the Lowman Student Center ballroom flowing with orange crush and white roses, to the gourmet food being served, the whole event was magnificent, and the guests, sponsors, and LEAP Ambassadors were eager to learn more about our alumni. We were grateful that Mr. And Mrs. Woodward invited us; it was very generous, and it was lovely to spend the evening with them.

It was also a special night for me, because I was able to meet Russell Martinez and Andrea Scott, and be reintroduced to Wayne Scott. The Martinez and Scott families sponsored my scholarship, the Andrew and Ila Martinez Scholarship, and it was great to spend time with them!

Attorney and SHSU Alum Chris Tritico emceed the event…

… and he was joined by SHSU President Dr. Alisa White…

… and SHSU Alumni Association Board President, Scott McCarley.

They spoke with pride and passion, touching on the accomplishments of the University. These included the football team winning the National Championship, the beautiful renovation and reopening of the Newton Gresham Library, and our new College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Dr. White’s motivational and gracious speech ended by thanking the sponsors and attendees for continuing to express their Bearkat spirit and their love for the SHSU. 

As we ate our delectable grilled steak with asparagus and creamy mash potatoes…

…Chris Tritico began to introduce the six Sam Houston State University alumni who have made significant contributions to their occupations, society, and our great university. They were either awarded a Distinguished Alumni Award, Outstanding Young Alumni, or the Service Award. 

A short video played for each awarded recipient before they began their speech. The videos briefly told the stories of the recipients and their time at SHSU. As currently enrolled students, it is sometimes hard to see beyond the next 3 years, but to hear from successful and established SHSU graduates provides a good example of how to approach a career.

Brian Hall was the first recipient honored. Mr. Hall is a Small Business Liaison Officer for Shell Oil Company and founded Friday Harbor, a Houston based non-profit organization providing free temporary housing for cancer patients/families seeking treatment. 

Following Mr. Hall was Edgar Reeves, a dairy-farm owner in Aldine, Texas, who represents the Sam Houston livestock organization with pride. While he was not able to be present for the award, his son accepted it on his behalf.

Awarded the Outstanding Young Alumni award, Stephen C. Morgan has held leadership roles as the Chief Executive Officer and President of TransTex Treating, a leading provider of natural gas. 

Ray Burgess, is a practicing attorney who had a remarkably successful civil litigation practice and was quite humorous in his speech. 

Adding to the diversity of different careers that were honored, the next recipient was world-renowned artist, James Surls. 

Following the event, the LEAP Ambassadors were even lucky enough to get his autograph on a picture of his “Around the Flower Wall,” an art piece that hangs in the Gaertner Performing Arts Center Lobby. 

Last, Terry Williams was a recipient who has been involved with SHSU and has impacted Huntsville by establishing the well-known and loved H-E-B as a Regional Vice President. He even pointed out our steaks we enjoyed from the fine dinner were from H-E-B! 

Our evening was brought to a close when the SHSU Marching Band marched in playing our alma mater and fight song, and we were able to meet some of the evening’s VIPs.

We could not have had this opportunity if it were not for Mr. and Mrs. Woodward, and we would like to extend another huge thanks to them for this wonderful evening at the gala. And, of course, Charlie Vienne, Director of the Alumni Association at SHSU, did a wonderful job planning and hosting the event.