LEAP Center Celebrates Sam Houston’s Birthday in Austin


LEAP Center students spent a fun-filled, celebratory evening in Austin, Texas, honoring the Lone Star state’s most famous figure: Sam Houston.  Every other year, the SHSU Alumni Association sponsors a celebration of Sam Houston’s birthday at the Bob Bullock Museum.  The event draws University staff, University alumni, Regents and Administrators from Texas State University System, legislators, legislative staff, executive office officials, and many elected officials.


For the LEAP Center, it meant getting all of the Sam Houston Austin Internship Program (SHAIP) students involved, along with bringing LEAP Center students to assist the Alumni Association with working the event.

There are eight students in the Austin Internship Program, working for Representative John Otto, Senator Charles Schwertner, Representative Ron Simmons, Representative Carol Alvarado, Representative Todd Hunter, Representative Armando Martinez, Representative Will Metcalf, and Representative Senfronia Thompson.  All eight of the interns attended the event, with President Gibson highlighting their contributions during her speech.


For the LEAP Center students, it meant doing additional volunteer work–part of the Center’s mission–and having the chance to network.  The networking included talking to SHAIP Interns, SHSU Alumni, TSUS Staff and former Regents, Legislative Staff, and, of course, the President of the University.


It was, according to the consensus, the most fun event of the year, and it was also probably the most rewarding.  Many thanks to Charlie Vienne and Casey Hughes for inviting LEAP Center students!


Today@Sam Covers LEAP Center’s Mock Law Class


Today@Sam provided in-depth coverage of the LEAP Center and its pre-law programming, offering a special emphasis on the LEAP Center’s recent Mock Law class.


Program Gives Students Law School Experience

At first glance, it looked much like any other class at Sam Houston State University.  A distinguished professor led an in-depth classroom discussion, facilitating comments among the 35 or so students assembled for a typical 75 minute class session. A keen observer, however, might have noted that the students were dressed in business attire, that the teaching style was exclusively the Socratic Method, and that all the students had read.  What was going on?

What was going on was a “Mock Law Class,” a unique partnership between the Center For Law, Engagement, And Politics (LEAP) and the South Texas College of Law, in which pre-law students had the opportunity to participate in a simulated law class.  The class was taught by Professor Val Ricks, whose qualifications include a JD from Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark’s Law School, time as an Associate Attorney with Kirton & McConkie, and 18 years teaching at South Texas College of Law, including five years as the Vinson & Elkins Research Professor of Law.  The preparation for the class involved in-depth readings of three legal cases and the knowledge that the class would be fully participatory—there were no “passes” given when called upon.


To participate, students were required to sign up for the class in advance and agree to read the original court opinions issued by the courts.  The result was some dense reading, the expectation of being called upon and pressed for answers, and a bit of trepidation heading into the classroom.  “It was a little more intense than a regular class,” observed pre-law student Kaitlyn Tyra, “but it was good to get that experience.”

SHSU Senior Daylene Moreno agreed: “The way Professor Ricks engaged the students kept the class actively involved, and the experience solidified my plan to attend law school. I cannot wait to get an acceptance letter!”

“The idea of the class,” noted LEAP Center Director Mike Yawn, “is to help prepare our students for law school or for making the decision about law school.  There are so many uncertainties about post-graduate education, particularly law school, it’s important to give students a realistic view of what the experience is and allow them to use that information to make good decisions.”

In recent years, many SHSU students have made the decision to apply to law school.  In fact, the Law School Admissions Council now ranks SHSU as a top “law-school feeder,” meaning that it is among the top six percent of the nation’s Universities at producing law-school applicants.  Last year, for example, 97 SHSU students applied to law school, with 60 being accepted to one or more law schools, including Baylor, University of Colorado, University of Houston, Indiana University, Loyola, Penn State, University of Minnesota, Syracuse, SMU, University of Texas and South Texas College of Law.

In all, SHSU students applied to 92 different law schools last year, and South Texas College of Law was the one most applied to—45 different SHSU students applied there.  “We’ve been pleasantly surprised at the number of SHSU students applying here,” noted Denee Page, the Associated Director of Admissions. “This is the third year we’ve done the Mock Law Class at SHSU, and we’ve been impressed by how prepared and interested the students are in the class.”

The Mock Law Class is one of several activities that the LEAP Center offers to help pre-law students.  This spring alone, the LEAP Center has partnered with Kaplan to offer a Mock LSAT, worked with other law schools to provide informational sessions, and brought in several practicing attorneys to meet with students.  In addition, on April 1st the LEAP Center is hosting the 10th Court of Appeals, which will hear Oral Arguments in four separate cases.  On April 14th the LEAP Center will host a presentation by Michael Morton, whose wrongful conviction in 1987 and subsequent 25 year imprisonment resulted in the Texas Legislature’s Michael Morton Act, which changed the rules of the discovery process.

The LEAP Center’s programs go beyond law-related programs and extend to all academic disciplines. “Our goal,” noted Yawn, “is to expose students to diverse learning opportunities across all fields.” To that end, earlier this semester LEAP Center students lunched with Assistant Secretary of State Roberta Jacobson, attended the Governor’s Inauguration in Austin, and have worked regularly with local non-profits.  Later this semester, the LEAP Center will host a non-profit roundtable, a student workshop on “Paths to Public Service,” and will partner with the Huntsville Public Library to offer a “Citizenship Preparatory Course” to local immigrants who wish to earn their citizenship.

For more information about the LEAP Center, contact Professor Mike Yawn at mike.yawn@shsu.edu or 936-294-1456.


Mock Law Class Comes to SHSU

The LEAP center partnered with South Texas College of Law from Houston to offer a Mock Law Class for SHSU students. Prior to the class, students were sent the case reading and expected to be ready to analyze the cases in class just as actual law students at South Texas College of Law (STCL) would do.


In fact, Professor Val Ricks–who taught the class–teaches at STCL.  He began class with open-ended questions to lead the discussion toward the rules of each case. He then let students guide themselves through their answers, although he was quick to question–and correct them–when needed.

Professor Val Ricks
                         Professor Val Ricks

The Mock Law Class gave students a clear idea on the structure and expectations of law school. Additionally, students realized the importance of reading prior to class and being prepared for discussion. Professor Val Ricks and STCL Admissions Coordinator, Ms. Denee Page, were also available to answer student’s questions after the class. Students took advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the law school admissions process and the philosophies of South Texas’s College of Law.


This event helped students gain a greater understanding of the reality and rigor of law school. For many, the Mock Law Class helped give a sense of direction for students on how to begin their law school journey. Many thanks to Professor Val Ricks and Ms. Denee Page for helping SHSU students learn and helping them prepare for their next steps toward a career in law.

Law School Information Session–TAMU School of Law

For the pre-law students at SHSU, there are some tough questions to ask as they prepare for law school. What should I include in the personal statement? Who should I ask for letters of recommendation? What should those letters say? What schools should I apply to, given my GPA and LSAT score? When should I take the LSAT?

Those questions were answered last week at the LEAP Center’s “Law-School Information Session,” featuring a visit by Katherine Sims, of Texas A&M University School of Law. Ms. Sims is the Admissions Coordinator at TAMU Law, and she put her knowledge on full display, to the benefit of the students.

Speaking to 25 motivated students, she went through the process, offering the following advice:

  • Take the LSAT the year prior to your enrollment in law school. The LSAT is offered in February, June, October, and December. For students interested in going to law school in the Fall of 2016, for example, students should probably shoot for a June, October, or December LSAT. In a pinch, a February LSAT might work, but that’s typically after law schools begin making enrollment decisions.
  • The best people to ask for a letter are people who know you and your skills, particularly in the areas of writing, critical thinking, and communication. Typically, these are professors, but a letter from an employer or intern supervisor can also work.
  • For the personal statement, students should try to be themselves while, of course, putting their best foot forward. Ms. Sims resisted describing a “typical successful” essay, because the essays should be appropriate for the individual applicant—and the applicants all have different experiences, strengths, and reasons for wanting to go to law school. Of course, apart from the content of the statement, the applicant’s writing skills are closely scrutinized.
  • To know which schools to apply to, students should research where their LSAT and GPA fit into the rankings, and then to examine specific aspects of the schools and their cultures to find a good fit. For TAMU, the median LSAT is 154, and the median GPA is 3.21, but Ms. Sims emphasized that all applications were examined, and encouraged all the students to apply (no application fee is charged!)

The LEAP Center Advisory Board students would like to thank Ms. Sims for her information presentation, and the 25 pre-law students who attended to learn more about law school—and their future!

LEAP Center Offers Mock LSAT

For the past seven years the Junior Fellows/LEAP Center has offered a Mock LSAT each semester to help students prepare for the real deal.  The LEAP Center encourages students of all classifications to take the Mock LSAT, which is generously sponsored by Kaplan Testing.  For freshmen and sophomores, the Mock LSAT provides an idea of what the test is like.  A lot of younger pre-law students, for example, think the test asks about the law.  It doesn’t.  It asks questions about reading comprehension, logic, and arguments.

For juniors and seniors, it provides an idea of how close they are to being prepared to take official LSAT.  This has to be planned out, because the LSAT should be taken the year before the student wishes to enroll in law school.

Forty-seven students showed up for this spring’s Mock LSAT, following a showing of 51 in the fall of 2014.  These are the largest class of Mock LSAT takers in SHSU history, a testament to the University’s growing number of pre-law students.


The LEAP Center will follow up this Mock LSAT opportunity with many other law-related activities:

These programs are part of the LEAP Center’s mission of helping students achieve their professional goals.  To attend any of the upcoming events, contact Professor Mike Yawn at mike.yawn@shsu.edu.