LEAP Ambassadors Explore Art, History, & Literature in Austin

It’s not often students can take off in the middle of a week, keep up with their assignments and, at the same time, learn a whole lot outside of the classroom.  But that’s exactly what happened with six students who took a two-day LEAP Center trip to Austin.

It may only have been two days, but it was jam-packed with learning, including engagement with Mass Communication, Texas History, Literature, Politics, Management, Art, and even architecture!

Bob Bullock by Chase Kenemmer

            The learning began with the Bullock History Museum, which is an extraordinary history exhibit in the state of Texas, dedicated to the history of Texas, and the progression the state has undergone.  When we first entered the museum the sense of awe swept over the group; we could feel the history come to life as we entered through the giant doorways. The museum was packed with children and adults for a special “Home School” day, as we were corralled through the opening to the first floor. We were greeted by the immense remnants of the French naval ship “la Belle” that sunk as French colonists tried to settle in an uncharted region of Texas.

Flash-forward to the next floor, we see the history come to life as actors described the stories of Mexican President, Santa Anna, flooding the State of Texas with his army, the fall of the Alamo, and the victorious battle of San Jacinto led by General Sam Houston.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin, Bob Bullock Museum

As we transition through the rooms, we see the Texas History woven into American History; the Annexation of Texas. There is a brief pause in between the Reconstruction Era and the Modern, we can see the Goddess of Liberty, which sits upon the Texas Capital building to guide her people into the modern era.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin, Bob Bullock Museum

We also had a chance to learn more about Sam Houston…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin, Bob Bullock Museum

…Reconstruction…SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin, Bob Bullock Museum

..and even had a chance to see some cowboy roping take place!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin, Bob Bullock Museum

Interview with Stephen Harrigan by Chase Kenemmer

It’s not every day a Sam Houston student gets to help interview a famous Texan author, but today Beatriz and I both took time out to help Professor Yawn and Michael Foster interview and film author Stephen Harrigan.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin TX, ATX, Stephen Harrigan

Professor Yawn talked with Mr. Harrigan, while Beatriz and I worked with Mr. Michael Foster, the Sam Houston’s Video Producer, to fix the lighting and block out the green dull light. He showed us that putting a thin blue cover over the light will naturally even the lighting to what we needed. We helped put the mic on Mr. Harrigan, and the interview began.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin TX, ATX, Stephen Harrigan

The interview lasted about an hour long and we learned interesting things about Mr. Harrigan’s new work, some interesting history facts, and what we can expect at Sam Houston’s Honors College event “Let’s Talk”; where Mr. Harrigan will sit and talk about his work as an author and screenplay writer. Towards the end of the interview, we discussed the exciting process of writing a book, and the skills it takes to become a writer.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin TX, ATX, Stephen Harrigan

Both Beatriz and I learned that it takes a special skill to record and produce videos, as well as writing and publishing books.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin TX, ATX, Stephen Harrigan

New World Deli Lunch by Christina Perez

Before heading to the students favorite Austin art gallery, we headed over to grab a quick lunch. They decided to try Stephanie’s suggestion of New World Deli. The deli was in the heart of the city. Open since 1997, the cozy family owned restaurant is known for its excellent soups, sandwiches, and salads.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Austin TX, ATX, New World Deli

They ordered some of the house favorites like their “Award Winning” Reuben and their broccoli cheese and tomato basil soups. The restaurant had a lot of different art on the wall and opened conversation about art appreciation. This made us excited for the next part of our day!

Daniel Arredondo Studio and the Shoal Creek Gallery by Sawyer Massie

After lunch, we all hurried into the front lobby of the Shoals Creek Art Gallery to escape the brisk winter breeze. Immediately, the famous pieces by James Surls gallantly presented themselves on three of the four walls of the room.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, James Surls

While marveling at the beautiful displays of modernist artistry could have taken all of our allotted time, Professor Yawn eagerly escorted us to the studio of Mr. Daniel Arredondo.  We stared in admiration at the entire walls and floors that were lined with painted cigar boxes and impressionist landscapes on canvas. Mr. Arredondo recognized Professor Yawn and his face lit up as he excitedly greeted every newcomer as a friend.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Daniel Arredondo Art

Most of our time was spent learning about Mr. Arredondo’s latest works and about his previous career as an assembly-line worker for IBM. He explained that many of his works that involved trees with visible roots beneath the horizon represented people and their deepest secrets.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Daniel Arredondo Art

One thing that remained constant, however, was his enthusiastic and wholesome outlook on life and work. Many of us left his studio with gifts that he painted because, “anyone who comes to my studio and listens to me talk shouldn’t leave empty-handed.”

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Daniel Arredondo Art

With smiles on our faces and beautiful works of art in hand, we continued on our tour of the rest of the gallery. This took us to an exhibit on Lorena Morales, a Houston based artist which included the intricate translucent pipe sculptures of varying shapes and colors. Some pieces included a row of piping hung on the wall while others were stood alone and rested on the ground. Most interesting, however, was the message of perspective behind these works and how standing in a certain place could change the entire aesthetic of the piece. In the back of the gallery was a smaller exhibit that included colorful pieces of varying art styles and artists.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

There, we observed all of the motifs and styles of the different artists and discussed what we enjoyed about each piece. It is safe to say that each of us left with a newer appreciation of art and expression.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Daniel Arredondo Art

Harry Ransom Center and James Turrell Skyspace by Christina

            We made a quick stop was to see the Gutenberg Bible at the Harry Ransom Center. One of the first printed books, there are only around 40 existing today in the entire United States. It was impressive to learn that we had one in Texas and so close to Huntsville. We accidentally continued the art motif after by getting glitter coffee…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

…before heading over to the James Turrell Skyspace. The University of Texas at Austin has a wonderful “Landmarks” program that includes one the twelve Skyspaces open to visitors in the United States. The LEAP Ambassadors have visited about five Sky Spaces all together, but this time we brought some new friends along. As they walked into the Skyspace we could see the glowing faces of the first timers when they looked up at “The Color Inside.”  Tyara and Ilexus had never been to a Skyspace so this was a sure treat for them! “It was an eye-opening experience,” said Ilexus. The colors shifted from blues to grays and from pinks and purples.

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It is always very relaxing to sit through the show and wait for the sun to set completely. They were glad that their new friends enjoyed the experience and were happy to learn about a new type of art.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, James Turrell, UT Skyspace

Habesha Ethiopian Dinner by Beatriz

            As our last outing we went to go eat Ethiopian food in a restaurant. It was not a regular meal. Since most of us had not tried Ethiopian food, we ordered the Habesha Special Meat Combination Platter, that came with assorted meats to try.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Habesha, Ethiopian Food

Although different than the regular cheeseburger and the use of injera bread as a utensil instead of a spoon or fork. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, especially when dessert time came around and “exotic” vanilla ice cream, tiramisu, and baklava. With special end, we headed back to our hotel, looking forward to getting a tour at the Capitol tomorrow.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, James Turrell, Skyspace, UT Austin


Au Revoir Austin

Although our official work week was over, it didn’t mean our education was complete.  Accordingly, we planned out a day that involved virtual exploration, actual exploration, and some adventurous food choices!

Bob Bullock Museum and National Parks

We began our morning with virtual exploration of the National Park system at the Bob Bullock Museum.  The Museum was presenting America Wild: National Parks Adventure.  It was narrated by Robert Redford, whom we had just seen in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on Thursday, and it reinforced some of what we had learned when we brought Mark Burns to campus in March to exhibit his photos of the 59 national parks he had visited and photographed in Black and White.

The Documentary was created to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the National Park Service.  Although Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and others had taken steps to preserve America’s most treasured lands, it was Woodrow Wilson who signed the legislation enabling the National Park System for generations of Americans to enjoy.

The documentary was in 3-D, so we put on our glasses, sat back, and enjoyed the show…


…while reinforcing our appreciation of the National Parks in the United States.

The Bullock Museum also has a limited exhibit of photographs from the National Park System, and we were followed up the documentary with a viewing of the photographs.


From Virtual Exploration to Actual Exploration

After seeing a high-adventure documentary, we chose to experience some of that adventure ourselves.  That evening, we headed off to the Rowing Dock to get in some kayaking.

It took Karla and me (Alex) a while to find our rowing rhythm, but once we did, we sped up to catch up with the others.

Karla and Alex Begin Their Kayaking Adventure!

The river was full of kayakers, canoers, and paddle boarders rowing up and down the river and under the busy bridges. I admired the mix of city and nature as we paddled up the river.

The Austin Skyline from a Kayak

It was a combination that I am not accustomed to seeing. After a while of paddling, we all gathered under a bridge that seemed to be making a strange sound. We stayed there for a while as Professor Yawn explained to us that the noise was being produced by bats! Apparently “South Congress” is known for its bat population that flies out at sunset every day.  We paddled along and saw a few more interesting water mechanisms; a swan boat, a Cambridge Racer…


….and paddle boards with bicycles as the motor. But mostly we all just enjoyed the exercise…

Beatriz and Kaitlyn Taking Off from the Rowing Dock

…the skyline…

Stephanie and Megan Enjoy the River

…each other’s company…


…the sunset…

Alex and Karla Sail Into the Sunset

…actually, we enjoyed the sunset a lot…

Kaitlyn and Beatriz Sail Into the Sunset

…and even the moonrise.


In fact, we were so taken with the moon that we were a little late getting our kayaks back.

Kaitlyn and Beatriz Pull in at Moonrise

It was a satisfying adventure all around.


After learning about the bats under the bridge, we decided to get a look for ourselves.  Accordingly, we scurried off to the Congress Avenue Bridge, where hundreds of people gathered to watch for the 750,000 or so bats that begin coming out around sunset.



We didn’t see 750,000 bats, but we saw a lot of them!  They are difficult to photograph, however, and we didn’t get any usable photographs, at least not of bats.  We did get a decent group shot, though:


A Food Adventure

With more time than typical, we could explore our food tastes.  And explore we did!

For lunch we enjoyed Indian cuisine at Clay Pit, a place known not only for its food, but also for being housed in the Bertram historical building.  The Clay Pit offers a lunch buffet, giving us the chance to sample varieties of food.  Starting with crunchy fried veggies to the scrumptious Chicken Tikka Masala we stuffed ourselves with food in a classy environment filled with Indian music. Accompanied with these dishes were naan: some filled with melted cheese and jalapenos, while others had sweet cherries, nuts, and raisins. After our meal, we decided to get dessert which consisted of Chai Spice Creme Brulee and strangest of all,or at least not commonly heard of, Gajjhar Halwa. This is a dessert described as a “hot and cold love”.


Interestingly, it consisted of cold vanilla ice cream and warm carrots, a dish recommended to us by SHAIP (Sam Houston Austin Internship Program) alumnus Shelby O’Brien. Everyone enjoyed this shockingly delicious dessert!

Despite the large lunch, our evening kayaking adventure whetted our appetite for a large dinner, which consisted of Ethiopian food.

Our appetizers were Sambusas, which are pastries filled with onion, green pepper, and beef accompanied by a spicy sauce.

While we waited for our food, we talked about our favorite experiences during our week in Austin. We all had different favorites, but we all agreed that we definitely learned a lot this past week. It was filled with fun and adventure, but also a lot of work and learning time; the best combination!

That learning and fun continued with the arrival of our entrees, presented in a large Ethiopian basket!

Our entrees consisted of the Habesha special meat combo that included Doro Wot, Siga Wot, Kitfo, Yebeg Tibs, Alicha Fitfit, Bozena Shiro, Gomen Besega, Habesha special tibs, and Ayib; thankfully we had a great waiter that could explain each one of these to us! We also ordered from the Poultry menu, the Doro Tibs, chicken breast cubes sautéed with slices of onions, herbs, and sauce. For the least adventurous, we ordered spaghetti with meat sauce. The food really seemed to be authentic Ethiopian food which was a great way to introduce this type of food to us first-timers.

Even as first-timers, we did our best to eat in the Ethiopian tradition, using the injera bread as utensils.  It was great food and a great way to wrap up our adventurous week in Austin.

We headed back to the hotel to pack up and get ready to hit the road the next morning. We were all thankful for the opportunity to intern at the Texas Capitol for the week. We were also thankful to meet extremely helpful people and eat really good food. Until next time, Austin!