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!
As I entered the Sam Houston Memorial Museum Walker Education Center, I was greeted by warm and friendly smiles from the staff and both the former director Mac Woodward, his wife Leanne Woodward, and current director Derek Birdsall. This was no ordinary day over at the Walker Education Center, for artist, Lee Jamison, was exhibiting a select paintings in the gallery, reflecting his work on East Texas.
Lee Jamison, of course, was also there greeting and thanking EVERYONE individually for coming. He was featuring paintings from Huntsville, one of Sam Houston’s Woodland Home itself, and others from across the region.
The room was matched the title of the exhibit, as all the paintings expertly captured the essence of East Texas. Jamison even commented how he had brought more paintings than the room could fit!
The three paintings that stood out the most to me were (1) Roots of Texas (2) His first painting (3) Old Main.
The Roots of Texas is a painting of a tree, its roots, and the trench near it. It was significant since it told the story behind how our beautiful state got its name. It originated from the word Tejas which Caddo Indians used to describe friends. I thought it was amazing that he included his very first painting in this exhibit but also that it was placed next to the Roots of Texas one.
I believe it to be because they are both origin stories, one of how Texas got its name and the other of how Jamison’s art career began. There is nothing better to show that than his very first painting, which is different than the rest of his works. It definitely stands out.
This other art piece just takes your breath away and leaves you admiring its beauty. It is a perfectly beautiful painting of Sam Houston State University’s famous Old Main Building. You can really see and adore the architecture and how majestic Old Main was. This was one painting that everyone stopped to look at and engage in conversation with those around them exchanging their stories and memories of this building. Even that of the night that broke everyone’s spirit as they saw this building burst into flames.
When the clock struck 6:30 p.m., the crowd went over to the next room and took their seats, and waited to hear from Jamison. The opening speech was the quickest history lessons I had ever heard about Mexico and Texas. It was given by none other than Caroline Crimm.
I learned that back then, one of the conditions needed to become a Mexican Citizen was to convert to Catholicism. This was particularly interesting since the LEAP Center is volunteering for a U.S. Citizenship Prep Course.
Crimm’s history lesson led very well into what Jamison would discuss since in her crash course she discussed what happened in East Texas over the course of centuries. Hence, Jamison’s book title and the exhibit’s name Ode to East Texas.
He went in depth about the evolution and stories behind a couple of his paintings, some of which were exhibited, while others were not.
The stories behind each of his paintings really resonated with me since there was a meaningful significance behind all of them, which I found inspiring. When discussing origin stories, for example, he discussed his time at Lon Morris College, where he not only learned to refine his artistic skills, but also met his wife, Melinda!
After his speech, many people re-entered the gallery room to see the exhibit one last time before the museum closed. Jamison even stayed longer to sign copies of his book “Ode to East Texas,” which was on sale at the museum store.
The Jamison exhibit will be displayed at the Walker Education Center until May 28, 2022. Be sure to check it out if you have not already!
For our first full day in D.C., we made sure we bundled up before we braved the chilly weather. After a typical quick breakfast, we laid out a plan of action for the day and set off on foot. Our first location was within a reasonable walking distance inside the National Mall, and we could see our destination from a distance. As we neared, we could see the details of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, which was adorned with Corinthian columns and several reliefs.
We were grateful that there was no great line to enter the museum but we were shocked at the number of people also exploring their way through history. A grand foyer and a posed elephant welcomed us as we entered the building. As a group, we gathered and quickly discussed the best use of our time and the order in which we should meander through the exhibits. We soon were enthralled by specimens, fossils, and skeletons that left no room for downtime. The exhibits were displayed by date, species type, and even dramatic scenes.
Yvette and I split off from the rest of the group and started our journey through time. We were also blown away at the sizes of some of the displays.
A few towered over us…
… while others were the size of a hummingbird’s femur. Yvette and I especially enjoyed the lab on the first floor of the museum which had cameras and screens set up to allow visitors to watch scientists work on the fossils. We were mesmerized by the work the scientists were conducting on the specimens.
Interestingly, we also saw a first edition of John James Audubon’s “Birds in America,” which was beautiful, and bigger than any book we’ve ever seen!
The crown jewel of the museum was, naturally, the Hope Diamond. It was mined in India in the 17th century and changed hands several times over the last few centuries. It was eventually purchased by famed jeweler Harry Winston who donated it in 1958. It is one of the most famous parts of the museum. It gets its blue hue from trace amounts of the element boron in the stone. We learned that a diamond’s size and clarity are good indicators of its worth. The Hope Diamond is a prime example of the size factor, weighing in at 45.52 carats and costing upwards of $350 million. We could have easily spent the entire day inside the Museum of Natural History alone, but we pulled ourselves away from the many fascinating and—in the case of the Hope Diamond, dazzling displays and headed toward the exit.
Smithsonian National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
As we left the museum we spied portions of sculptures peeping over the tops of shrubbery across the street and decided to investigate further. Imagine our delight when we realized that they were works by artists we know and love! We had recently seen one of Robert Indiana’s “LOVE” while we were in Oklahoma, and this time we found ourselves looking at his sculpture, “AMOR.” A true pop artist, Indiana uses modern materials such as aluminum and bright, contrasting colors in his works.
As we roamed the rest of this sculpture garden, some among us were introduced to other pop artists like Claes Oldenburg and Roy Lichtenstein…
…for the first time. We paused briefly at a striking work by Roxy Paine, whom Professor Yawn acknowledged as being one of his favorite artists. Paine is recognized for his giant metallic tree installations that combine the natural world and man-made elements.
Personally, Joel Shapiro’s sculpture Untitled, 1989 was my favorite. Shapiro is well-known for his minimalist sculptures consisting of fixed rectangular elements that evoke a sense of movement.
And, of course, we also got to see a couple of Calders…
…with so much to see here, it’s no wonder that we fell in love with D.C. as we rambled across the city.
But it was the Smithsonian that we witnessed the largest collection of American Artists, some we had previously seen and others we had not. We were exposed to such varied styles of works from artists that we were familiar with, that we found ourselves eagerly moving from painting to painting in the hopes of seeing something new from artists that we had become used to.
Unlike other museums we had previously been to, we were able to see more of Thomas Moran’s and Albert Bierstadt’s works. Their breathtaking landscapes scenes consist of the country’s natural beauty, with luminosity provided by the artists.
Morgan, who typically prefers a Moran or Bierstadt painting over other artworks, today favored a piece by Sargent; the “Corner of a Church on San Stae.” We all noted that this work was much different than anything we had seen by him up until this point. We had only seen his portraits!
Interestingly, we saw an early Jackson Pollock, and the influence his mentor, Thomas Hart Benton, had on him was obvious.
And this became more clear when we saw an entire wall dedicated to Benton!
Up on the second floor, we were able to see the Presidential Portrait Gallery. In this wing was included at least one portrait of every U.S. president, starting with President Washington, proceeding all the way up to President Trump.
Upon entering we were immediately confronted with the famed George Washington Portrait done by Gilbert Stuart.
This portrait is deeply symbolic. It depicts our first president, but it also includes several other details regarding the birth of our nation. In the background of the painting through a window, there can be seen a rainbow emerging from dark storm clouds, suggesting that America was emerging bright and new from a dark and stormy era. Washington’s right arm gestures toward a quill pen and parchment on his desk while his left arm rests on the hilt of his sword, suggesting that our newly-formed democracy was ready to assume its governance role but that it would still defend itself if the need arose. The law and philosophy books under his desk portray Washington as an enlightened leader in addition to his being a man of action. This is the famous portrait that we see on our dollar bill.
Prior to this museum, we’d stopped briefly at Ford’s Theater, where President Lincoln was assassinated. Seeing his presidential portrait and then a face casting made before and after his death, resonated with us.
Although most presidential paintings were traditional and sort of regal, former President John F. Kennedy apparently asked Elaine de Kooning to do something unique when he commissioned his official portrait. The portrait is semi-abstract with hundreds of strokes of greens and blues coming together to show Kennedy sitting casually on the canvas looking back at the viewer.
As the sun began to set, we rushed in order to see as much of the museum as we could. While most of what we saw were paintings, we did encounter a few sculptures including a James Surls piece!
Such a rich art experience on our first full day in our nation’s capital gave us the opportunity to encounter new artists but also to deepen our knowledge of the artists that we were already familiar with.
In leaving the Museum, we realized we weren’t too far from the White House, which prompted us to make a detour before going to eat.
Dinner at Oyamel
To cap off a long and rewarding day on the National Mall, we stopped in at Oyamel, a wonderful Mexican restaurant not far from our hotel. All the food was good, but we especially like the appetizers, which ranged from Brussel sprouts…
…to queso fundido…
The entrees were equally as good. We had a mix of food, with the shrimp and the tacos being the best of what we tried.
We didn’t know it at the time, but this turned out to be the best food we would have on our trip.
On Sunday, March 27, 2022, countless citizens and veterans from Huntsville, Walker County, and the State came together to honor and dedicate the H.E.A.R.T.S. Veterans Memorial Museum’s Vietnam Wall Memorial.
Tara Burnett, Executive Director of the HEARTS Museum, began the ceremony by thanking everyone who played a role in establishing this great asset in our community. With a beautiful and (literally) monumental new background, speakers addressed the crowd. The colors were presented and placed along the wall, and a choir led us in the national anthem.
This Memorial, originally designed by Maya Lin for the DC Mall area in the nation’s capital, is an 80 percent scale model of what Americans now simply know as “The Wall.” It contains the names of all 58,000+ Americans who lost their lives while enlisted in the military during the Vietnam War, and it has found a home at the HEARTS Veterans Museum.
Ernest Bailes, our TX House member from district 18, expressed his admiration for Walker County and the Veterans who call it home.
As representatives of the City, Mayor Andy Brauninger and Joe Rodriguez read a proclamation that declared March 27, 2022, as H.E.A.R.T.S. Veterans Museum Vietnam Memorial Day. Mayor Brauninger expressed his gratitude for the H.E.A.R.T.S. Veterans Museum and their work to honor the veterans in the City.
Walker County Judge, Danny Pierce, read a declaration from the Commissioners Court thanking the museum for honoring those that served in the War.
Congressman Kevin Brady first addressed the men and women who served in the Vietnam War by thanking them for their service. He then read a prepared commendation highlighting the importance of the H.E.A.R.T.S. Veterans Museum and the work they’ve done for the community. Perhaps most notably, Congressman Brady stated that in all his time in office he has never met a county or city that honors and loves its Veterans more than Walker County.
Tara Burnett thanked the donors and partners responsible for the Wall with plaques to show the Museum’s appreciation. To conclude the ceremony, “Taps” was played following a 21-gun salute.
It was a beautiful, memorable, and moving ceremony, and on behalf of the LEAP Center, many thanks to the H.E.A.R.T.S. Veterans Museum for honoring those who preserve our freedoms.