Sam Houston State University is one of the top law-school feeders in North American. Indeed, it ranks in the top 200 nationally (out of almost 3,000 four-year Universities/Colleges) in sending students to law school. The LEAP Center helps with this, offering dedicated pre-law advising, numerous pre-law activities, and also providing students the opportunity to take a Mock LSAT every semester.
This semester, we had 20 students sign up–and 19 students show up–for a Saturday morning test.
While many may think this is an activity for juniors or seniors, we actually encourage freshmen and sophomores to take the test. One of our goals is to get an idea for how close they are to getting the score they want, so that we can help them develop a study plan to get into an acceptable school or, even better, the school of their choice.
Such tests are supplemented by summer workshops we offer and occasional scholarships we offer so that students might pursue additional help for getting the score they want. This process, in fact, is one of the ways that PLS member, Kaylea King got into Washington University in St. Louis!
The LEAP Ambassadors took an evening trip to the Woodlands to attend yet another fantastic WAC event on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the Glades Art Gallery. Walking in, the gallery was stunning to witness as the WAC staff welcomed us. It was a wonderful combination: looking at paintings from local artists while preparing to become more educated on a global issue was a terrific opportunity.
The art on display ranged from portraits and landscapes to statues. A favorite of ours was the Cherry Blossom tree that spread across six canvases by Victor Tapu. Throughout the exhibit, we connected the artwork in the Glade to similar works by renowned Masters; for example, we compared the miniature statue of a ballerina to Edgar Degas.
Moving from the art to learning about the current crisis in another part of the world, we heard from Richard Fontaine, the CEO of the Center for a New American Security, one of the world’s leading defense and geopolitical think tanks. Mr. Fontaine was also a top foreign policy adviser to Senator John McCain.
Dr. Fontaine discussed the horrific battle in Ukraine and how it could signal the start of a new post-Cold War era. Putin’s motive to overtake Ukraine was to prevent their affiliation with NATO, among many other things. The war has affected numerous countries. Poland, for example, was one Ukraine’s most significant trading partners, a relationship that will much limited until the end of the war and perhaps beyond. The war has also increased inflation in the US, while also affecting the oil supply and even food staples such as corn. China, too, is watching the war closely, seeing how it will shift the balance of power in the world and change their massive trade relationships.
One interesting fact we learned is that Ukraine has shattered the Russian government-built encrypted phone lines, compelling the Russian military to use unencrypted lines of communication. Who knew?
Hearing an update on the Ukraine-Russia war from Dr. Fontaine was eye-opening. Seeing how these impacts bordering countries of Ukraine and our homeland is heartbreaking, but this will bring us together and prepare us for future moves that may involve a more significant threat.
As always, the WAC event was enlightening and enjoyable, and we look forward to our next event!
Lama Mediterranean Restaurant
After filling our heads with new knowledge about the war in Ukraine, we stopped at Lama to expand on our understanding from outsides our country’s borders at a Mediterranean restaurant located in the Woodlands!
Our appetizers were classic Mediterranean dishes, homemade falafel, and hummus with warm pita bread. Overall, all the food was terrific, but the hummus appetizer we got was the biggest hit among the ambassadors. The entrees ranged from chicken shawarma and gyro sandwiches with sides of rice and french fries. At the end of the meal, our plates were empty from devouring each of our entrees. We had some hot tea and baklava to end our meal, which was a sweet touch to our full stomachs.
The Old Town Theatre brings numerous acts to town, but few stir as much excitement as, “The King.” Of course, Elvis Presley passed away more than 40 years ago, but there are numerous “Elvis Tribute Artists” around to keep him fresh in audience’s minds, and Travis Powell is one of the best, offering a full command of the Elvis songbook, uncanny mannerisms reminiscent of “The King,” and a genuine enthusiasm for fan interaction.
And so the LEAP Ambassadors spent a Sunday afternoon assisting the Old Town Theatre with a matinee performance. With a surfeit of volunteers, we helped early on with seating the balcony section, but once the full-house was seated, we moved quickly to photography.
With low lighting and an energetic performer, photography can be a challenge. But with three photographers, multiple lenses, and a curious group of photographers-volunteers, we were able to get some good shots–and it helped that Elvis himself not only yielded to photos, but occasionally even posed!
The evening began with “Shake, Rattle, and Roll,” a wonderful quartet of four women, whose jokes, music, and personalities–not to mention bling–set the tone for the rest of the evening.
But it was Elvis who took the audience to another level, beginning with a medley of some familiar hits, followed by more than two hours of favorites.
Jessica, our shyest member, began by photographing near the stage, but that changed when “Elvis” approached her and offered her his hand. Quaking, she extended it, and also managed to get a great shot of the performer, who certainly looked the part.
But this was a bit much attention for Jessica, so she retreated to the back of the auditorium to work the stationary camera. Heather took her place on the side of the stage, where she also received attention, and also got great shots of Elvis.
He began in black leather, evoking his 1968 comeback tour.
After intermission, he switched to his white, sequined jumpsuit. He was a hit in both outfits.
Speaking of intermission, the Old Town Theatre’s Director, Lauren Edwards, took this time announce the winners of the raffle, and she was joined by an audience member, “Kid Elvis.”
Powell performed the great Elvis tunes, “Don’t be Cruel,” “Love me Tender,” “Hound Dog…”
…”Jailhouse Rock,” and, probably the crowd favorite, “Suspicious Minds.”
What we didn’t know is that we didn’t have to go to the stage to get a great shot, because Elvis soon ventured into the audience, taking photographs, holding hands, and a bit of dancing with the audience. It was a hit, and he worked the entire lower auditorium.
When he returned to the stage, some women decided that they would approach him, leading to a protracted segment in which he sang while allowing women to take the scarf from his neck, which was then replaced by a stagehand. Our estimate is that Powell may have gone through 35-40 scarves in this manner.
We were somewhat surprised when Jessica, our formerly shyest member, sauntered to the stage to get in on the action, reaching for Elvis’s hand, grabbing a scarf, and more or less acting like a smitten fan-girl. This behavior continued for at least a day.
Powell wrapped up the extended set with requests from the audience, the American Trilogy, and closed with “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.”
But Travis Powell was not done! He moved quickly to the lobby, posed with fans and gave autographs, and then invited people to Seven Leguas to share in dinner.
Of the thirty or forty events, we’ve done this semester, we were in general agreement that this was the most entertaining. Travis Powell put on a great show as “Elvis,” the crowd was very appreciative, and we always enjoy working with the Old Town Theatre.
Every spring, the LEAP Center works with Lt. Col. David Yebra to bring in Judge Alberto Gonzales to speak with students, and every year the event is informative, entertaining, and rewarding.
Judge Gonzales obtained his undergraduate from Rice University and his J.D. from Harvard Law. He became the first Hispanic partner at Vinson & Elkins, Texas Secretary of State, TX Supreme Court Justice, White House Counsel, and Attorney General of the United States. He is now Dean of Belmont University’s Law School.
One of the things we learned, which might seem small, is that typically you refer to a person by his highest office. In Gonzales’s case, that would be “General Gonzales,” but since Gonzales was in the military as a Private, and because he doesn’t want anyone confusing him as a military General, he prefers “Judge Gonzales.”
Out of all the advice about life and law school he provided us with, the most impactful one was on how to approach difficult situations or problems. He told us that “if you ever go to someone with a problem, you should always have a solution.” Even if the solution is not the strongest, it is a starting point which can serve as a starting point for improvement. This advice is vastly applicable, whether it is a situation with our families, jobs, or even life changing decisions.
Of course we also enjoyed hearing about his time as White House Counsel, Attorney General, and Dean of Belmont Law. But it was his advice that likely stuck with us the most: “you should be happy when you are pursuing your career and navigating through life because you cannot be as helpful if you are not happy.”
We are very appreciative and fortunate to have been given this opportunity to meet Judge Gonzales and we hope to have him visit Sam Houston State again in the near future!
On April 13th the LEAP Center hosted the 10th Court of Appeals, which came in from Waco to hear cases on SHSU’s campus. Like all Appeals courts, the 10th COA holds hearings that review the legal process of lower courts, assessing whether an actionable error occurred. Currently, the three Justices serving on the 10th Court of Appeals are Chief Justice Tom Gray, Justice Matt Johnson, and Justice Steven Smith. The Court heard three cases throughout the day, one at 10 am, 11 am, and another at 1:30 pm.
The LEAP Ambassadors gathered the large crowd outside of the Kerper Courtroom in the College of Criminal Justice building. Heather and Jessica handed Courtroom Etiquette Rules and case facts to students and other attendees of the 10th Court of Appeals session.
With 3 cases to hear, the court began around 10:00 a.m. with its first case! The turnout for the first case happened to be one of the largest crowds in recent years, with more than 100 students, faculty, and other audience members. The proceedings begin as all rise, and the Justices enter the room.
As always, Chief Justice Gray introduces elected officials in the crowd, including County Judge Pierce, Judge David Moorman, County Court at Law Judge Tracy Sorensen, and District Clerk elect Leslie Woolley. He also introduced the LEAP Ambassadors.
The first case involved a personal injury claim. The plaintiff sued Cowboy Up (a furniture shop) after her fall from the stairs of the shop which resulted in multiple injuries.
One of the features of this program is that the Justices allow the attorneys to turn to the audience and describe the facts of the case, which helps the lay audience follow along, somewhat, with the legalities.
Students, in particular, enjoyed the hearing of the first case and were left with many thoughts, reflections, and imponderables.
Once the first case wrapped up around 11 a.m., the judges remained in their places while the new audience found their seats. As the crowd settled down the hearing of the second case began.
Lasting about 60-70 minutes, the second case concerned the mask mandate enforced by Governor Greg Abbott. The legalities associated with this case were the most complex, and not all of the audience (including me!) followed along fully.
Nonetheless, the seriousness and importance of this case informed the audience of the role of the governor vis-a-vis local officials, while also highlighting the importance of jurisdictional issues.
After the conclusion of the second case, the three judges, elected officials, and the LEAP Ambassadors made their way to the Friel’s conference room for a brief lunch before the third case hearing and question sessions began.
During this time the LEAP Ambassadors spoke with Justice Gray, Justice Johnson and Justice Smith, Judge Sorensen, staff attorneys Rick Bradly and Jill Durbin, Court Clerk Nita Whitener, and District Clerk elect Leslie Woolley.
Discussions held at lunch ranged from the future career goals of the LEAP Ambassadors to the positions held by each judge present in the room, to conversations about which law schools are the best and of course the tasty cookies Linda McKenzie sent for our lunch since she could not attend.
Wrapping up our conversations and lunch, the LEAP Ambassadors and Judges made their way back into the courtroom for the last hearing of the day.
In the third case, the appellant, Michael Todd Austin was represented by Carmen Roe and Brian Wice for his conviction of sexual assault.
This case was very well delivered, easy to understand, and kept brief as both appellant and appellee argued the facts of the case.
As the last case came to an end, Chief Justice Gray opened the floor to the audience members, who had many questions for the attorneys regarding their jobs and roles. One student asked, “How do refrain from emotional attachment in cases such as the one presented today?” while others asked about the duration of cases and the complexity of courtroom procedures. Justice Gray, Carmen Roe, and Brian Wice, along with the prosecution attorney Doug Howell…
…answered each question with extensive knowledge for the students!
After the question session, the LEAP Ambassadors made their way down to greet the judges and have informal conversations and take pictures!
It was an honor hosting the 10th Court of Appeals for another year. We are very thankful to Chief Justice Gray, Justice Johnson, and Justice Smith for coming to Sam Houston and making it a memorable experience for students and faculty!
Following our spring break and trying to get back in the swing of things, our Pre-Law Society meeting allowed us the opportunity to hear from our peers. As part of the normal business, this meant our President, Heather Noman, having minutes approved and funds moved, but we quickly moved to the main topics.
Heather & Kaylea King took the stage, and told us what they know, what they wish they knew, and other tidbits about applying to law school.
For Kaylea, the timeline was stressful for her. She was a junior when she realized she wanted to go into law. She took the Mock LSAT to get her bearings, and then was selected for the Pre-Law Society Prep Course. With some improvement under her belt, she took the LSAT in August of last year, and was able to get a good score. Armed with that score, she applied and was accepted to several schools.
For Heather, the worst part was the actual LSAT. After not being happy with her performance the first time, she took it again. She had technical difficulties, and that added to her stress, and she also regretted taking an LSAT Prep course during the semester. She recommended taking the prep course and doing the bulk of the studying over the summer and taking the LSAT in August.
Both encouraged students to sign up for an LSAT account as soon as possible, if they haven’t already.
Heather spread a broad net, applying to many schools as she awaits her score. Kaylea applied to nine, using the 3-3-3 strategy: apply to 3 reach schools, 3 schools at which you are competitive, and 3 safety schools. Ultimately, she chose the University of Washington Law School in Saint Louis, MO, which is ranked 16th in the country. Kaylea got a good feel from the school, they are ranked highly, and the people were nice.
For freshmen, Kaylea and Heather recommended not getting too intense in terms of studying. Crossword puzzles, sudoku, other logic-related games and, of course, reading can be helpful.
For juniors, the time is more urgent, and having a rigorous self-study plan or formal LSAT Prep course is essential.
In terms of personal statements, Kaylea suggested being honest and genuine, and letting the school get a sense of the real you. In terms of letters of recommendation, Heather suggested getting a professor, one you have a great relationship with. Taking courses in which the professor can evaluate you across numerous assignments and diverse types of assignments and getting to know the professor outside of class are key in getting a good letter.
After providing these excellent tips, Heather moved on to some upcoming events and our next meeting. With this hearty welcome back from Spring Break, we adjourned the meeting.
On Saturday, the LEAP ambassadors and volunteers were able to participate in the Wynne Home’s annual Easter Celebration! The event is filled with many games and crafts, such as sand art, face painting, painting magnets, an egg toss, sack races, and more. The event had the added fun of a visit from the Easter Bunny!
Our day started early at 8:30 a.m., when we met with Wynne Home staff Sarah Faulkner, Angela Robinson, and Peyton Conley to assist them with preparations. We hid 1,800 eggs…
….set up the prize tables, the sack race, ring tosses, sidewalk chalk, selfie station, and crafts.
Shortly before the scheduled kickoff, we got an influx of volunteers from the Center for Community Engagement: Sara Burchett, Taylor Morrison, and Bram Sebio-Brundage…
…as well as some of our friends, Isabel Behm and Jocelyn Vazquez.
The Easter bunny made his surprise appearance around 11 a.m. ready to take pictures and even dance with a few ambassadors and volunteers.
The selfie station is always a hit…
…as was the face-painting station.
Everyone was a bit skeptical of the sack races at first, but after a demonstration/ completion between Center of Community Engagement volunteers and LEAP Ambassadors, the lines began forming! The adults might have even enjoyed the sack races more than the children.
After numerous activities, it was finally time for the Easter egg hunt. And when we “opened the gates,” the kids almost ran over us!
After the initial flurry, however, things calmed down and almost all the kids ended up with a bucketful of eggs.
Of course, the crafts table stayed busy, and…
…people also could just relax on the grounds.
Around 12:45 p.m., families were leaving, and kids were getting their last-minute face paint or coloring page. The kids were tired, worn out from their busy morning!
While we were cleaning, the ambassadors and volunteers decided to start smashing the eggs on each other’s heads with the extra ones. Needless to say, there was a lot of confetti tracked into our cars.
The ambassadors and the volunteers would like to thank the Wynne Home for having us help with this event again and we look forward to doing this again next year!
Capitalizing on the hard work of Professor Kurt Smith with the Political Science department, the LEAP Ambassadors and Jocelyn Vazquez recently enjoyed a short but informative lunch with Judge Jamie Rene Roman and Dr. Kurt Smith, learning about law, politics, and life.
Judge Roman served as a Judge in California after being appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has also worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). Although Judge Roman acquired his J.D. from the University of California, Hastings College of Law, he continued his education after law school at Boston University to obtain his L.L.M, allowing him to specialize in International Banking law!
Upon entering the room, Judge Roman began his greetings and empowered us with his experience as a young attorney working. As we talked about our career goals and what would be next after we graduated from SHSU, Judge Roman, Dr. Kurt Smith and the LEAP members began to unravel the packaged deli sandwiches catered by Aramark for our small group lunch.
Stressing the importance of education and a great work ethic in law school, Judge Roman advised us on what to look out for once we begin our careers and what to expect in law school.
His advice for not only law school, but the LSAT gaged us to have a deeper understanding of the importance of what steps are needed to go to the law schools that we want.
Judge Roman discussed the hardships that he faced in his career as he witnessed the dynamic yet bitter truth about family law and shared with us how busy every day would be with the incoming cases. He shared his insights regarding any questions we had, some of which related to the BAR exam for California and how it compared to the Texas Bar exam.
We also asked Judge Roman questions relating to the difference in court structures in California and in Texas. Judge Roman explained how he got a good grounding in the law by rotating, spending two years as a judge in one type of court, two years in another, and four years in another. This gave him the kind of all-around foundation that we one day hope to achieve.
On behalf of the LEAP Ambassadors , a big thank you to Judge Roman for taking the time to speak with us and and offer advice, and another thank you to Dr. Smith for setting up such a meeting. And Thank you for visiting SHSU!