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.

Faculty and Staff Giving Campaign

November 11, 2021, by Yvette Mendoza

I was recently asked to be part of the Faculty and Staff annual giving campaign, and I, of course, jumped at the chance to help. The goal was to share my experience in a video interview, describing how my scholarships have benefitted me. The hope is that, by seeing how much scholarships can matter to students, more people will give to this important campaign.

A bonus of the interview was my opportunity to visit the Peabody Library.


I was mesmerized by the building, which had a large organ, beautiful stained-glass windows, and wonderful decor. It is the second-oldest building on campus.

The wonderful setting added to the interview, which was conducted by the College of Arts and Media.

Weslie Gray facilitated things wonderfully, giving me the opportunity to speak to the significance of the Andrew and Ila Martinez Scholarship. Additionally, I discussed how donations to services such as the Reba Bock Career Closet can also help students. It has certainly helped me enhance my wardrobe with clothes I can wear to interviews, special events, and work.

Not only was I able to expand my knowledge on a historic building, the Peabody Memorial Library, but also express my sincere appreciation for those who have helped me at SHSU!

Pre-Law Society Entertains Alumni (and they educate us!)

By Jordan Long

At this week’s meeting Heather (President) made a quick but concise introduction, introducing us to some upcoming events, issuing some reminders, and confirming minutes. But the real order of business is the introduction of Alejandra Galvan and Lexi Gonzales, who were introduced by Professor Yawn.

Yawn asked a few questions to get the discussion started, the first being “Are you both first generation students?” They answer yes, and Lexi mentions that she is a first-generation graduate student.  

What was the biggest change from Sam Houston to law school? 

In response to this, Alejandra urged us, “DO NOT SHOW UP UNPREPARED!” In law school, the expectation is that students will be prepared, know the material, and will speak clearly and loudly when called upon. That’s not always the case in our current classes…

What were some classes that were helpful from Sam? 

exi noted that her Pre-Law class with Professor Yawn, her theatre class (which helped her with speaking), and her other political science classes were helpful. Alex noted that, while some classes were helpful, Moot Court was probably the most helpful.

How did networking and relationships you built help get you into law school? 

To this, Alex mentioned her internship in the Texas Senate, where she made friends with other staff and professionals. These types of relationships helped her build her resume and get internships during law school. She also advised, “do things that make you uncomfortable: that’s how you grow.”

Lexi reminded us that, “Everyone in the room is part of your network.” Our fellow organization members are interested in law, all are likely to go into the field, and, accordingly, all could help us land a job.

When it was our time to ask questions, President Barodi led off by asking whether working after graduation helped or hindered. Alex noted that she would have liked taking a gap year, but she urged us to make the most of a gap year, suggesting that take on an interesting job or enjoying unique experiences.

Lexi noted that she tried to make the most of her experiences even before her gap year(s). She recalled her volunteerism during spring break her senior year, which involved waking up at five am each morning, making milk and cheese, and, on one occasion, cutting the umbilical cord of a goat. She, too, encouraged us to get out of our comfort zones.

Jackie Galo asked a question many students have: do you need to go into law school knowing what kind of law you want to practice? The answer to that, is “no.” Lexi, in fact, still isn’t sure what type of law she wants to practice. For Alex, the decision came organically. She was involved in eminent domain issues while interning in the senate, then took a course on property law, and she ended up being interested in it.

Max asked about internships, a popular topic. Alex, who had three internships as an undergraduate, discussed getting her internships through the organizations she was in (LEAP Ambassadors). She didn’t always do well in the interviews, but she stuck with it, and encouraged us: “Don’t be afraid of being rejected.”

Lexi also got her undergraduate internships through LEAP, working at the Wynne Home and, later, at the State Legislature.

In closing, Lexi encouraged us to read, “How to Sort of Be Happy in Law School” and Alex just left us with two pieces of advice: (1) Read, and (2) Be kind to everyone.

Afterward, they were surrounded by students interested in more of what they had to say. All of us were grateful for their time and, at least for the moment, felt the urge to go home and read.

Lunch with Governor Abbott

Yvette Mendoza

October 12, 2021

On October 12th, the LEAP Ambassadors had the opportunity to attend a luncheon with Governor Greg Abbott. This wonderful lunch was hosted at a soon-to-be-opened restaurant in Huntsville, La Misión Grill and Cantina. As this was a new type of event for us, we didn’t know what to expect, but we were filled with excitement to be able to help the staff set up and have the chance to hear the Governor speak to the citizens of Huntsville.

Setting the mood all throughout the Mexican restaurant were elegant patriotic decorations. The centerpieces were decorated with a beautiful floral arrangement of hydrangeas, roses, and Texas flags, as well as homemade sugar cookies in the shape of the Governor’s Mansion.

Although Jessica and I were admiring the gorgeous set up, we were also running around helping ensure each table had the proper name tents. We were then assigned to the role of giving out name tags to the arriving guests. We were excited to see some lovely familiar faces: Linda McKenzie, Mayor Andy Brauninger, Mr. Alvin Martin, former council member Tish Humphrey, and many more community leaders of Huntsville.

As everyone began to take their seats, the moment we had all been waiting for finally came when Governor Greg Abbott appeared in the middle of the restaurant. He spoke on the topics of currents issues including the crisis on the Texas border, our economy, and his views on the current political scene.

He also mentioned Walker County’s strong voter turnout in the last election.

While Governor Abbott spoke, we were being served by the kind staff at La Misión. We had a plate that had Mexican style cream of corn, rice, cheese enchiladas, and a chicken mini taco garnished with salsa verde. It was nice enough to be in the same room as the governor, but a particular treat to also have some gourmet, flavor-packed Mexican cuisine.

Following his speech, Governor Abbott’s opened the floor for questions and we were able to ask questions, hear his thoughts on a wider variety of issues, and learn about what others thought as well.

Following Governor Abbott’s talk, we were able to hear from Senator Charles Schwertner, who spent much time discussing the special session and redistricting.

The day was a great not only to experience new things, but also to become informed for the upcoming election!

LEAP LEADs Through Education

October 18, 2021

Jacqueline Galo

LEAP LEADS enjoyed another informative evening at their fourth meeting of the fall semester. We had discussions and presentations which covered the topics of public and higher education–with two guest speakers who know their fields–not to mention a surprise visitor.

The evening began with a surprise visit by US Congressman Kevin Brady. He was there for a meeting but decided to make a quick stop and meet LEAP LEAD members and the LEAP Ambassadors.

We started our meeting with updates and reminders before we were introduced to our first guest, Ken Holland, (a Huntsville ISD school board member).

He kicked off the meeting about how the school structure system works and what his role is as a school board member. This led to an in-depth (for us!) discussion of what school boards do, their responsibilities, and approaches. Afterwards, we had a Q&A discussion in which fellow LEAP LEAD members asked questions such as how public schools get their funding, how standardized testing has changed education, and how COVID affected the attendance percentage and what was done about the situation. 

As part of our continued education on education, we had dinner and enjoyed local fare from Sam’s Table. Dishes ranged from hamburgers, paninis, Casado, to Alfredo pasta. We enjoyed the good portions, and Sam’s Table was generous to give each of the LEAP LEADs member a card with a lollipop and a 10% discount for the next purchase.

After dinner, Ken Holland closed his speech with his intriguing adopting experience and how that helped shape him to who he is today.

We then dove into a different topic: higher ed. Our second guest was SHSU’s Interim Vice Provost, Dr. Anne Gaillard. 

Dr. Gaillard spoke on what her day-to-day role is as an Interim Vice Provost and was followed by an organized Q&A that LEAP LEAD members had prepared. She discussed her educational background such as her Biology PHD, her challenges, and her most rewarding feeling on the job as well as how she manages to balance her personal life with such a role. The members were surprised when learning how her lab experience has helped her with her current role as administration. She ended her speech and brought us a gift, which was a Sam Houston medallion of Austin Hall.

Thank you both, Ken Holland, and Dr. Anne Gaillard, for sharing your experiences and challenges and for providing insight on public and higher education. LEAP LEAD members were very satisfied after a memorable night.

Exploring the Unpleasant: Human Trafficking in Houston

October 13, 2021, Saara Maknojia  

This week the LEAP ambassadors, LEAP students, and Pre-Law Cohort members took a trip to downtown Houston at the Houston Community College of Spring Branch for a Human Trafficking Panel event, hosted by the World Affairs Council. The event included Chris Graves, the Associate Director of the Mayor’s Office on Domestic Violence and Human Trafficking; Dennis Mark, who is the Task Force Coordinator for the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance for the Houston Police Department; and Sergeant Robert Medel, who serves in the Houston Police Department in the Vice Human Trafficking Unit. The attendees for the Human Trafficking event included Heather Barodi, Yvette Mendoza, Morgan Robertson, Erin Juarez, Audrey Hightower, and Saara Maknojia. 

As we entered the corridor to the Houston Community College we were greeted by the wonderful staff from The World Affairs Council, and we soon found seats near the speakers.

After introductions from Administrators from HCC and Ronan O’Malley and Jahan Jafarpour…

Tatiana Ulkist, Program Coordinator for WAC, began the informative discussion about Human Trafficking.

Throughout the discussions, I was interested in the concepts of “attachment” that a trafficked person felt towards their trafficker, a concept that Sergeant Robert Medel elaborated on. Chris Graves offered insight into how he and his team work with trafficked individuals to provide resources to overcome their traumas. Dennis Mark included the behavioral changes a victim may undergo and signs to look for if you believe an individual is being trafficked.  

Near the end, the ground was open for questions. Yvette asked the panelists whether the victims of human trafficking ever experience Stockholm Syndrome. All three panelists said that it is very common.

Audrey also asked a question for the speakers concerning the limited resources that we have as of right now, and what the uses of manpower could do to change or add on to defeating more human trafficking from taking place.  

Eventually, the panel discussion came to an end, but Chris Graves, Sergeant Robert Medel, and Dennis Mark were kind enough to spend some personal time with the SHSU students. In the short time we had with them, the speakers answered any remaining questions we had and made efforts to know each and every one of us better.  

We were so thankful to be able to take some pictures with the speakers! 

Chris, Dennis, and Sergeant Robert were very compassionate and knowledgeable in the Human Trafficking Task Force. My favorite part of this event included getting to learn new concepts of a victim and trafficker relationship, the changes a victim may undergo, and the signs we were taught by the panelist to search for in possible victims.  

Discussing Human Trafficking Over Dinner

Erin Juarez

After enjoying the Human Trafficking event, hosted by WAC, we walked across the parking lot to a Greek restaurant, called  Niko Niko’s Greek & American Cafe.

Everyone was so excited to have Greek food, but even more excited to have dinner together. As we walked in, the cashiers greeted us so nicely and handed us the menus. They also told us about their special plate of the day. There were so many choices on the menu, it seemed almost impossible to decide. I was so excited to have Greek food, it has been over two years since I last had it. I was excited to see my food make its way to the table.

The menu had many options: Salads, Sandwiches, Sides, Burgers, Plates, Soups and Starters.

We took a closer look to see what appealed most to us. For starters we got appetizers that ranged from Hummus with their famous chips, cheese sticks, and calamari.

We were impressed by how good the appetizers were and had fun deciding which hummus was our favorite. I was already full, but I knew I had to make room for more! Choices ranged from the Gyro Plate, Gyro Sandwich, Greek Salad, to The Hercules Plate.

It was delicious to say the least. I was very content with my choice and so was everyone else. I, personally, will be coming back to Niko Niko’s Greek & American Café. Their service and their food were great.

By the time we finished our food, the restaurant was closing the place down. That did not stop us from ordering desserts, though. Ms. Stephanie and Morgan chose the desserts–and they did an excellent job. They came back with three different cakes: Black Forest, Walnut Cake, and Kasetina. Because it was close to closing hour, we enjoyed them in the car.

Overall, the night went well, and our stomachs were content. I remembered how good Greek food is, and everyone was satisfied with their meal order. Whenever I am back in that area of Houston I know where I am eating!

SHMM (aka Sam Houston Republic of Texas Presidential Library)

The Sam Houston Memorial Museum has always been a special place, and that is one reason why the LEAP Ambassadors enjoy volunteering there. Not only does it help educate citizens on the life and times of Texas’s greatest hero, but it also offers wonderful hands-on demonstrations, intriguing art exhibits, and beautiful grounds, highlighted by the ever-popular duck pond. But now it has even more to offer: today marked the official opening of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum as an the official Sam Houston Republic of Texas Presidential Library.

Our job was to greet and direct people, and it’s a role we greatly enjoyed. We saw County Commissioners, former Mayors, former Regents, the University President (and a former President), SHSU Deans and Vice Presidents, members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, descendants of Sam Houston, and many other community and University leaders.

Members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe with Houston’s Descendants (and a little Astros Pride!)

Volunteering is as educational as it is fulfilling.

Emcee of today’s event was the Museum’s former director, Mac Woodward.

Throughout the event, he highlighted important information, described the timeline for the evolution of the Museum as a Republic of Texas Presidential Library, and introduced key speakers, of which there were many!

First up was President White who, as Woodward noted, was probably the only person who has been the President of two Universities named for Tennessee Governors (Austin Peay in Tennessee and, of course, SHSU). President White’s comments were short, sweet, and eloquent, reminding us Sam Houston’s example to today’s leaders and today’s students.

James Haley, author of the definitive work on Sam Houston, also spoke and delivered lively and entertaining comments about the Texas leader.

Most important, he spoke to why Sam Houston is historically important and relevant to today’s world and, in fact, the future.

Haley was humorous and insightful, offering a glimpse into why his books are also intriguing and educational.

Curator of Education, Mikey Sproat, discussed the various manners in which the Library would highlight these collections, noting that a large emphasis would be on digital availability, providing world-wide access to the Library’s holdings.

Closing out the speaking portion of the event was Derrick Birdsall, newly appointed as the Museum’s Director.

Birdsall was brief, highlighting Houston’s status as a hero–not as a perfect man, but a hero nonetheless–and encouraging all guests and visitors to enjoy the Museum and its multi-faceted offerings.