This morning started earlier than usual, but that was just fine because we were headed to Austin City Hall.
The inside of the building was just as beautiful as the outside! The modern architecture combined with the intricate art pieces made City Hall an enjoyable place to spend the day. As we began to shuffle inside the building we were led to a meeting room. Here we were served a light breakfast that consisted of breakfast tacos, fruit, and coffee. We ate quickly because the Women in Leadership panel was only a few minutes from starting. The panel began with the introductions of the panelists. Present was Austin’s Fire Chief, Rhoda Kerr; Law Department Division Chief, Deborah Thomas; Director of Small and Minority Business Resource Department, Veronica Lara; Elena Ball, VP for Power Production at Austin Energy; and lastly SHSU alumni Margo Fraiser, Austin Police Monitor. The panel spoke about dynamics of their careers, experiences that have shaped them, and gender inequalities (the latter dynamic was overly emphasized, we felt).
Following the panel was a tour of City Hall by Ms. Melodye Foust.
We learned interesting facts about the infrastructure and history. The building began its planning and renovation is 1999 and was completed in 2004. Austin City Hall is four stories high and was structure to capture nature. Each floor includes double-sided balconies that overlook the city, and on the fourth floor, Lady Bird Lake.
Ms. Foust also informed us about the partnership made with an art gallery that allowed them to house their art work. This makes City Hall not only community center, but a museum.
In conclusion of the tour, we loaded on the bus for lunch at Scholz Garten. Lunch was delicious and meaningful because this is a restaurant where “politicians” frequent!
The most exciting part of the day was the tour of the Capitol. Each time I go to the capitol I learn something new.
My favorite fact during this tour was that funds for the capitol building were raised by selling off 3,000,000 acres of land! After the wonderful tour, we gathered in the House Committee Room and awaited our guest speakers. They were an assortment of representatives, legislative directors, and policy analysts. We also gained insight of the work done at the capitol in and out of session for policy and legislation. Most policy work is done during the session and most constituent work is done immediately following session.
After a long day of learning and exploring we made our way back to our temporary residence. We jumped into comfy clothes and left for dinner. Dinner was quieter than usual because we were all exhausted from the long day of exploration.
To end the night, we made last minute touches to our HB5 presentations that we would deliver first thing the next morning in the mock hearing. I was anxious to hear everyone’s provisions of the bill!
Wednesday began with our normal quick, yet nutritious breakfast before our morning session of classes began. Our first speaker, Rebecca Sive, is a lecturer and academic director at the University of Chicago where she teaches Women in Public Leadership. Ms. Sive is also the author of Every Day is Election Day: A Women’s guide to Winning Any Office, from the PTA to the White House. During Ms. Sive’s lecture, she stressed turning on our own internal GPS and creating our own paths. Essential to her discussion, she reinforced the fact that everyone has their own path in life. For some, that may be to public office, but sometimes it isn’t.
Ms. Sive’s discussed her six “easy” steps to run and win for office which provided helpful guidelines for NLT participants to think about. In addition, Ms. Sive was nice enough to sign copies of her books for everyone. Personally I found the session extremely helpful because it laid out concrete steps to help candidates run for office.
After Ms. Sive’s presentation, we paused for lunch. Unsurprisingly, lunch time is everyone’s favorite time of the day because it gives us the opportunities to continue our discussions about controversial topics, our common experiences as college students, and about our career goals.
Following lunch, we had the opportunity to work our political action project and prepare for the HB5 panel of experts. The panel consisted of experts from various perspectives concerning HB5. The distinguished panel included the current High School Director from Austin Independent School District…
…an attorney previously in the Texas Legislature who assisted in writing the bill for various House Representatives, a Texas Tribune Education Reporter, and an Educational Administration Professor from UT. Each provided a unique perspective and helped prepare NLT participants for our mock committee hearing on Friday by answering questions and addressing concerns on the specific details of HB5.
The last presentation of the day focused on managing your message as a candidate. Marjorie Clifton, CEO of Clifton Consulting, provided extremely helpful advice on effective communication and how to achieve it. She provided us with three key components to address while speaking: who is your audience? What is your message? How are you going to deliver it? Ms. Clifton noted that personal experience helps make you more credible and gives the candidate the opportunity to connect with voters. Ms. Clifton’s presentation was engaging and an upbeat way to end our sessions for the day.
The evening was devoted to dinner and finishing up our political action project. Tomorrow is an exciting day because we get to tour the capitol and meet with influential women within the Texas Legislature. In preparation of an eventful day, and mentally drained from learning an extensive amount knowledge in such a short time, we headed up to our rooms to end the evening.
Breakfast started at 8 a.m. and there we chatted about the past day’s events and the one before us. It was interesting to exchange opinions about the presentations and workshops and how we were going to practice them in our communities.
Next, was a fundraising workshop, Go Fish: How to Catch (and keep) Contributors, by Ms. Nancy Bocskor. This was an interesting presentation where we learned many fascinating strategies on how to raise money. This was not only beneficial to those interested in politics, but also those who plan to work with non-profits organizations. We also learned the investor triangle and how to access low, mid, and big dollar donors. Fundraising goes hand-in-hand with relationship building and asking for what you want. Furthermore, without mastering the art of negotiation, it’s not possible to raise funds.
After a short break, Ms. Whitney Harp, introduced the Political Action Project that was assigned to us. For the next few days we will be studying House Bill 5 (HB5) and reenacting the committee hearing. This house bill changes graduation plans and introduces endorsements that will replace some of the previous required courses like algebra II. Everyone was assigned someone who played a significant role in respect to this bill. For example, some were arguing in favor of the bill, others against, and even some neutral. I was assigned Representative Alma Allen of District 131, who was in favor of HB5 with the exception that records be kept on the demographics of graduation plans selected by students. This amendment was added to ensure that HB5 was fair and did not serve as a hindrance or disadvantage for lower socioeconomic students. All were excited to see the future of this project. (editor’s note: the Governor signed this bill the day following this blog.)
Chicken wraps were served for lunch with a side of chips and fruit. We mingled and I conspired with others to help overcome those against HB5. After lunch there was also time reserved to work on our projects. I did some research on Honorable Alma Allen to get a feel of her character and moral integrity, both of which I plan to embody with grace and vigor. She is inspiring who has impacted policy in a positive way.
The afternoon was quite interesting and personal. The concept was to understand others and not be consumed by stereotypes. The theme was “The Danger of the Single Story.” We watched videos of women from Nigeria who have overcome the difficulties and are now represented in parliament. Their story was to defeat the stereotypes and overthrow corruption in Nigeria. This also segued into sharing cultural artifacts we were asked to bring.
We broke up into groups of eight and shared a little piece of our culture or background. This time was memorable and moving. I learned about victories, defeats, and most importantly, the growth that was developed through our experiences. I was inspired by Alyssa Davenport-Herbst. Alyssa struggles with a disability that has affected her speech. Despite all, she thrives in her academics and community involvement. She is a brilliant physicist who aspires to write science policy. She brought a book that tells the success story of many innovators and explained how this was where she draws inspiration to make a difference. Cultures are expansive.
We had dinner and after a brief discussion on Political Decision Making with Representative Mary E. Gonzales. She told us her story and the difficult situations that have affected her life. It was great insight on what to expect in and out of the political arena.
To end the night we gathered around the fire and made s’mores!
I thought it was pretty “sweet” to mingle with my new friends; people who began to unmask and be themselves. I am grateful for their diverse views and their representation across the political spectrum.
After an evening of rest, we awoke refreshed and ready for a full day of learning and adventure with our fellow NEW Texas Leadership participants.
Following a quick breakfast, our first session of the day taught us about our leadership style. Each participant took the True Colors assessment which proved to be mostly accurate for much of the group. The presenter of this session, Dr. Smita Ruzicka, Assistant Dean of Students at UT Austin, explained how each leadership style was represented by a color. My true color is gold which means I am dependable, hardworking, punctual, organized, and sensible (editor’s note: sounds exactly right!). Along with the rest of the description, this leadership style described me almost perfectly.
To prepare for the keynote address and networking reception, Nancy Bocskor, a democracy coach and President of the Nancy Bocskor Company, gave us some of her tips on networking. As an ever-evolving college student, the advice was a great reminder of things I already do to while networking but also of some new ideas to help establish my personal brand.
Participants stole a short break for lunch before walking across campus for the conference’s keynote address. This year, the NLT keynote address was given by Senator Judith Zaffirini from District 21. Senator Zaffirini was the first Latina senator in Texas and has now been serving for 28 years. Throughout her legislative career, Senator Zaffirini has passed an astounding 897 bills. Spending the majority of her presentation giving us power tools to help further our careers, Senator Zaffirini discussed how crucial understanding Bloom’s Taxonomy and the effective use of ethos, pathos, and logos have been to her success in the male-dominated world of politics.
Senator Zaffirini wanted the NLT participants to take away the importance of understanding that representatives are public servants and that politics isn’t about themselves. To be a successful public servant, you have to remember why you are in office; because of your constituents. This served as a refreshing reminder which inspired us to further our aspirations for the benefit of our communities. At the end participants had the opportunity to network with various guests, including Senator Zaffirini and her staff members which many participants enjoyed because it allowed us to learn about other possible career paths.
Our last panel discussion of the day prompted participants to consider why we should run for office. The panelists included Representative Carol Alvarado from District 145 and Judge Lora Livingston from Travis County among various other respectable, elected women. Not only did they discuss the challenges they have faced as women in political office, but also ways to overcome those obstacles. The panel consisted of persistent women with a passion for serving others which I personally connected with.
The end of the evening proved to be fun and relaxing while we enjoyed pizza and documentaries. True to the theme of the conference, we watched documentaries focused on women’s involvement in politics. With a full day of learning and networking behind us, we retired to our rooms enthusiastic about what tomorrow will bring!
Sunday morning, June 7, 2015, came extremely early and that meant it was time to hit the road and head to Austin, Texas. It was a nice drive, but nerve wrecking to say the least; mostly because we had no idea what to expect at NEW Leadership Texas (NLT) . We recited facts about the House Bill 5, practiced using our best smiles, and informed one another about all the interesting facts of the keynote speakers that would be speaking in the NLT program. New Leadership Texas is a summer institute that focuses on women in politics and the essential skills that produce success in public service.
We arrived at University of Texas just in time to unpack and head to lunch. Vegetable lasagna, salad, and breadsticks were served along with a selection of cold beverages. During this lunch period we introduced ourselves to our fellow participants. I learned the diverse ages, social classes, cultures, and areas that were being represented here at the summer institute. Although all of us were nervous, the energy that filled the room was great. There were non-stop laughs and conversation.
Directly following lunch we headed back to the Texas Rivers Room for an ice-breaker activity with Ms. Kathy Stanton, a PhD psychology student at the University of Texas. The activities were engaging and required everyone to depart from their comfort zones. This was definitely a time of fun and sentimental value. We opened up about issues we had and also laughed at some. Ms. Stanton did not let us conclude the arguments until we all reached a state of comfort with each other.
Next was the workshop of Effective Presentations and Communications by PhD student, Maegan Stephens, which was interesting because she also presented at our recent New Politics Forum Campaign Bootcamp. We learned about speeches of introduction and interview pointers. It was in this time that I learned an hour later I’d have to practice what I’ve learned about introductions and introduce Ms. Nancy Bocskor. I was anxious because I was one of the first presenters, but excited to practice what I had just learned. Moreover, it was exciting to me because I had spent significant time with Ms. Bocskor in the spring, when the LEAP Center had brought her to SHSU to speak to students. I followed up on my existing knowledge of her by briefly interviewing her about the fascinating coaching she’s done regarding women and politics, both, foreign and domestically. The introduction was great and I used everything I learned.
The latter part of the evening consisted of a presentation on Political Texas Women, small group discussions about political issues we face in our communities, and a discussion panel that included various successful women on the topic of leadership. In the discussion panel, one of my favorite quotes from Ms. Mavis Knight. She said, “Leadership is not a title I give to myself, it is given to me by others–which is more rewarding.” This reaffirmed the importance of impacting others, especially through public service.
The first day concluded with some ice cream and socializing. It was a “cool” way to end the night with amazing women leaders. It was also a time to reminisce and internalize all of the great tips and information we learned about.
I am excited to see what the coming days will bring and what I will learn.
For the eighth consecutive year, the LEAP Center (and its forerunner, the Junior Fellows) partnered with the Huntsville Public Library to lead a spring Citizenship class to immigrants. The class is five weeks long, one night a week, and it covers the major material on the Naturalization Exam.
This year, we had more than 30 people sign up, but scheduling difficulties reduced the number of immigrants who actually attended. With a core of about 10-15 immigrants per night, the LEAP Center students and volunteers (thank you Terry Stivers, Roberta Plant, and Carol Hayes) worked with these immigrants to help them learn American history and government. We had a fun kick-off, with the Mayor and council members stopping by on the first night (on their way to the parade):
To become a citizen, an immigrant must meet certain legal requirements. They have to be in the country for a specific length of time (which varies by whether you are married to a US citizen), have generally followed the law, and not have any egregious moral failings.
The test itself includes an oral section, where immigrants read statements; a written section, where immigrants write down sentences read to them; an oral interview, in which immigrants are asked about their past and behaviors (“are you often drunk?“, “have you ever been a prostitute?”); and they must answer correctly at least six out of ten questions pertaining to American government and history.
These questions range from naming one of the two longest rivers in the US to knowing three cabinet posts to knowing the name of the national anthem.
We covered these major topics over the course of the first four weeks. Karla Rosales, who took a leadership role in the program by virtue of her internship with the Huntsville Public Library, led off the proceedings with a bit of instructions…
Although most of the presentations were led by Professor Yawn, the students worked with small groups of immigrants throughout the program.
It was also nice to receive community support. On week four, for example, the Daughters of the American Revolution attended and provided American-themed gifts to the immigrants–flags, pocket constitutions, pencils, and other fun things.
This was a big hit, especially among some of the immigrants’ children:
On the final week of the immigration class, the immigrants and volunteers relive the first Thanksgiving, with all participants bringing dishes from their native country and joining in a celebratory feast. The food is great!
Another special feature of the final week is the presentation made by Audrey Biggar, a local immigration attorney. She graciously agrees to assist the immigrants and provide advice for navigating the process. (She is also President of the Walker County Bar Association, making her one of the more civic-minded of the local bar.) She also brings great Thai food to the dinner!
Finally, the immigrants receive a certificate of completion, a prelude, we hope, to citizenship.
And with one final group photo, the class is over.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before the students and immigrants got back together. The Huntsville City Council invited the immigrants to a City Council meeting to be recognized for their efforts.
For the immigrants and the students, it was their first-ever City Council meeting and, again, a big hit among the kids.
Over the past eight years, the LEAP Center has worked with about 150 immigrants from more than 20 countries. Approximately 40 have obtained their citizenship.
LEAP Students were eager to start our final day in Austin. After grabbing a quick breakfast at the hotel, we headed to the Capitol to meet up with the Austin Interns. For the interns and capitol staff, today was an exciting day because it marked the end of Texas’s 84th Legislative session. For LEAP Students, it was an exciting opportunity to see the Texas Legislature in action.
A Junior Fellow Alum and present Advance Aide for Governor Abbott, Blake Roach arranged a photo opportunity for the Sam Houston Interns and LEAP Students! It was such an exciting opportunity for us as we were invited to meet Governor Abbott.
As we entered the Governors Reception Room, many students were eager, with maybe a few jittery nerves as they admired the intricate detailing from the molding to the door hinges. Shortly after we arrived, Governor Abbott entered and asked about us our majors and goals and such, and then we took a photo:
Meeting Governor Abbott was the highlight of our weekend and made our trip unforgettable. Not only did Governor Abbott schedule time out of his busy day to take pictures with us, but he also was very personable and friendly. Many thanks to Governor Abbott for taking time out of his incredibly busy day and to Blake Roach for arranging this memorable meet and greet.
After meeting Governor Abbott, LEAP Students and the Austin Interns hurried over to the House Gallery to hear the resolution and recognition of the Sam Houston Interns by Representative John Otto. It was a memorable experience for the Austin Interns to be recognized for all their hard work during the session. For visiting LEAP students, the entire experience should provide much motivation to work hard and stay focused on the goal of interning during the next legislative session.
After watching all of the Austin Interns get recognized by Representative Otto, Sadie McLaughlin, one of the Interns, gave us a tour of Representative Otto’s Office.
While at Representative Otto’s office we met up with Melva Gomez who was a previous intern and is now serves as an administrative aid for Representative Otto. Melva shared her adventures as a staff member with all of us, while crediting the Austin Internship program and the Junior Fellows for all of her wonderful opportunities.
Invited by Alexis Gonzales, another Austin Intern from SHSU, to take a tour of Armando Martinez’s office, we left Representative Otto’s office on a mission. In Representative Martinez’s office, Scott Jenkines, the chief of staff for Armando Martinez, kindly greeted us. We were able to sit down with Mr. Jenkines while he answered any questions that we had and gave us insight about what occurs during the 140 days in session.
Jenkines also showed us his black Lucchese cowboy boots that were stitched with the House of Representatives logo, which I thought were pretty cool. Alexis was also there to give us information about her life as an Intern at the Capitol. She told us about her extremely rare experience of walking on the House floor without begin stopped and let us know that anyone wanting to be a future Austin Intern must be able to work with a flexible schedule. The tours of the offices allowed us to learn more about what happens in the capitol and gain great insight into the experiences of the current Austin Interns.
We left the Capitol overwhelmed by the awesome opportunities awaiting us in our future endeavors, although that did not stop us and our grumbling bellies in search for lunch. We made a quick stop at Whole Foods Market to eat, after windy through the huge amount of Austonians aiming to satisfy their hunger as well. Satisfied, we got back in the car and made our way home, whilst discussing the weekend and everything we had learned. Not many college students can say they understand the running of a campaign or have met the governor, but we can attest to both. Safely in Huntsville once again, we left each other ready for some good sleep and hopefully the next adventure LEAP throws at us.
LEAP students woke up to nerves this morning, looking ahead to a day of preparation and presentations. After roughly forty-eight hours of learning the ins and outs of campaign management, fundraising, budgeting, and direct voter contact, we finally had the chance to present our path to victory for our fictional candidates to an esteemed panel of expert judges, most of who had been lecturing us this weekend on the same topics.
We worked for the beginning hours of the day to practice and make finishing touches to our presentations, with jitters pervading most group sessions.
In the early morning, we made some last-minute revisions to our projects, working in groups or, occasionally, alone.
By 10:30 we had to turn in our finished products and hope that everything would go well. After getting a group picture with the whole Campaign Bootcamp group, we split up into three different groups of three different rotations: presenting, a session on getting your foot in the door in the workplace, and a workshop over civic reflection and engagement in young people.
After the group photos, all of the groups were separated into three rooms, one of which was meant for civic reflection. Deborah Wise, the director of educational outreach for the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life was there to guide the session and explained to us that civic engagement is how the community gets involved with politics.
Once in the room she separated us randomly into three different groups where we discussed the lack of civic engagement as well as solutions for it. The topics revolved around the age gap in voters, why people don’t go out to vote and the impact of the media. Once we had enough time to discuss the issues and possible solutions, all of the groups sat together as a whole and we went into a deep brain storming session. Everyone had their own opinions for targeting younger people to get involved in politics but the main ones were to target education, parents, and how politics are viewed. I shared my opinion about the lack of education over local politics in high schools and giving politics a “young face”. Others shared their opinions of targeting the parents and educating them in politics. Deborah Wise then separated us into groups of 2-3 to discuss plans to boost civic engagement for younger people in communities. Once we had time to discuss our plans in the small groups we went back to our whole group and discussed them with everyone. The group as a whole agreed that the reasons that young people do not participate in politics is because they believe their vote doesn’t matter, they are undereducated in regard to local government and they believe it is an old mans game and its out of their reach. Solutions for this were showing younger people that they CAN vote by setting an example and being civically engaged ourselves, local government having a bigger part in high school other than just federal government and targeting issues in politics that affect the 18-29 year olds.
The Civic Reflections section was a great session that provided a more hands-on learning environment that we really enjoyed. Everyone was vocal and loved sharing and hearing different opinion. It showed us that people could really come together to solve an issue.
Heading to the conference room to present between the two different sessions, each group was given just eight minutes for their presentation and an additional seven minutes to answer questions from the judges.
As a student, the presentation was intimidating because groups were given relatively little time to prepare and practice. Although daunting, presenting to our judges proved to be a useful learning tool and a valuable public speaking experience.
In addition, each group had the opportunity to observe various other groups present and learn from what they did well and ways they could improve. Stressed the whole weekend, the hard part did not end once the presentation was over, but instead the Q & A proved to be almost more strenuous, as the judges asked questions and probed for questions that could have been left out during the presentation. The group presentations may have been stressful, however; it was arguably the best hands on learning experience and preparation for a career within political campaigns.
Continuing with rotations we moved on to a presentation by Maegan Stephens, a communications lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin. We learned about the major steps for getting our feet in the door in political campaigns. We started with an interesting and fun activity of searching for the person sitting next to us on the internet and finding anything that could affect their possibility of getting hired. It was a fun way to learn about tactics professionals use to search job candidates and tips for us to remember when posting on social media. Next, we signed up for a LinkedIn account. Our trainer gave us tips for developing our account such as customizing our URL, and developing a strategic headline and summary. She also gave us great tips for building our endorsements and recommendations on our profile. After developing our LinkedIn accounts we moved on to interview tips. We learned that Interviews would be a very important part of an employer’s decision. We learned great ways to answer commonly asked questions in a strategic way and ideas about our goals to have clear in our mind before an interview. Clear goals will help us build a story and may brand our name. Interview delivery tips are also of great importance. We should be able to deliver effectively even if we might be nervous during an interview. Lastly, we discussed networking and the importance of making connections in political careers. Sometimes networking may be hard, but we learned excellent tips on how to approach it and overcome challenges. Networking should be the next step for getting our foot in the door.
After our rotations and regrouping in the main conference room, we were able to give some feedback as a large group about what was good and what could improve for next year. Following the opinion piece, we finally received the judge’s decisions on the different categorical winners for the campaign plans and also the overall winner. Representing Sam Houston State University, Constance Gabel and her group Democratic Team 4 won the “Get Out the Vote”/voter contact category over the other teams efforts in the same area. Needless to say after much networking techniques, knowledge, and tools for campaigning presented to us, we left the New Politics Forum Campaign Bootcamp completely different students.
We did some brief site-seeing around campus…
…and then headed back to the hotel.
At this point, Jazmin Perez and Mitchell Sanchez had to leave, going back to Huntsville to begin work the next day. The rest of us, however, stayed on in Austin for another day to watch the House and Senate in their final day of the session.
To finish the day, we ate dinner at The Clay Pit, a wonderful Indian restaurant in the heart of Austin’s downtown. Most of us not ever having tried Indian, it was such a blessing to have a waitress that clearly walked us through the menu and gave suggestions that turned out to be delicious. We tried many different kinds of dishes including Naan, a pita bread type of dish, a seafood grill, Tikki Masala, a red sauce, Khuroos-E-Tursh, a chicken dish stuffed with cheese and spinach in a sweet, almond sauce, and Lamb Roganjosh, a lamb dish in an onion sauce that might have been the table favorite. We finished with a dessert of Chai Spice Crème Bru Lee, rice pudding, and vanilla pudding with a side of grated carrot pudding. Stuffed, we left the restaurant to take a late night stroll through some of the older parts of UT’s campus.
We spotted some art and some strategically placed greenery, but the evening and the whole weekend culminated standing between the UT Tower and the Capitol, feeling the immensity of the city and our civic purpose as college students in a time full of political apathy. We also ended the weekend a much closer group, better prepared to tackle future challenges and opportunities.
We ended the evening exhausted and drove back to the hotel ready to tackle the last day of our weekend trip.
LEAP Center Students would like to thank Emily Einsohn, Drew Galloway, Luke Marchant, and Matt Glazer for leading such a great program!