With the primary run-off elections around the corner, the Walker County Republican Party hosted a Candidate Forum for residents on May 10th at the H.E.A.R.T.S. Veteran Museum of Texas, allowing the residents of Walker County to hear from the candidates one last time. And, if residents weren’t able to attend in person, the Huntsville Item lived streamed it so that almost everyone could be informed.
LEAP Ambassadors Morgan, Heather Erin, and I helped with check-in, while candidates also manned tables highlighting their candidacies. Ms. Mckenzie introduced things.
Despite being the quietest of the group–or, in fact, any group–I was asked by Ms. Mckenzie to say the pledges.
The questions for the forum were submitted by members of the community, out of which only seven were selected by a committee for each office: County Judge and District 12 State Representative.
Judge Tracy Sorensen was the moderator for both, which was nice, because we always enjoy the opportunity to see and spend time with her. In fact, she recently spoke at our Pre-Law Society and hooded our graduating members.
In this forum, each candidate had two minutes to respond to the questions. These questions varied from state and county-specific issues, depending on the race, to why they thought they were the best candidate for the position they were running for which they had three minutes to answer.
Morgan assisted in keeping time and informing the candidates how much time they had left.
The first to go were the candidates for state representative of District 12, Kyle Kacal and Ben Bius, followed by Colt Christian and a representative for Mr. Frank Olivares (Olivares was ill not able to attend personally)
Election day is on May 24th, however, why wait? Early voting opened yesterday, May 16th, and closes on Friday, May 20th. Be sure to get your vote in!
Good things happen when people work together. With that spirit in mind, the LEAP Center partnered with the Department of Population Health to attend the World Affairs Council’s panel on health, fittingly, on World Health Day, April 7, 2022, in Houston, Texas. The panel, featuring heavy health hitters such as Dr. Deborah Birx (Former White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator); Dr. Brett Giroir (16th US Assistant Secretary of Health), Michael Mizwa (CEO Baylor College of Medicine International Pediatrics AIDS Initiative), and Dr. Patricia Brock (Founder, Medical Bridges).
With majors from population health, political science, criminal justice, and history, the students were able to learn not only from the panelists, but also from each other.
According to Yvette Mendoza, a LEAP Ambassador and a veteran of many World Affairs Council panels, “getting other students’ perspectives, especially from those students who study health, allows us to see larger parts of the puzzle. It was interesting to see how all of our majors, in their own way, share the goal of making their communities healthier and stronger.”
Such service has long been a part of SHSU, central to the institution’s mission and its motto. Events like these, observes Mike Yawn, Director of the Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics , “are integral to providing students professional contacts, role models, and education outside the classroom.” For their part, the students seemed to agree: “It was incredible,” noted Mendoza, “to see so many highly-educated public officials collaborating to make the world better.”
According to the panelists, much of the progress that has occurred in medicine in the past four decades has been the result of research, development, and collaboration. Their stories—combining outreach and innovation—were alternately touching, inspirational, and sobering. Dr. Brock spoke glowingly of American medicine, but also described going to far-flung areas of the world to train in hospitals so short of resources they were forced to reuse gloves and sutures.
Dr. Birx—who, in addition to her work on COVID-19, also served as the White House’s global AIDS coordinator for both Presidents Obama and Trump—emphasized the importance of data-driven decision making. Such analysis, she argued, should allow agencies to work together rather than devolving into political squabbles. And by “talking with one another” and working together, “we can save lives and make the world healthier.”
“It was an enlightening panel.” noted Yawn. “The panelists’ message of collaborative service translates very well to education, and I think it resonated deeply with our multi-disciplinary group.”
If you have 30 promising freshmen together in one place, it’s a good bet that the Freshmen Leadership Program (FLP) is involved. If those freshmen are involved in a civic engagement exercise, the LEAP Center may be part of the proceedings. The collaboration of these two offices, under the stewardship of Lindsay Lauher and Mike Yawn, led to a Mock City Council in Council Chambers on a Wednesday afternoon late in the spring semester.
“We are always looking to push students’ leadership skills,” noted Lauher, “and civic leadership is a key component of our program.”
The Council meeting involved students adopting various roles: angry citizens, media officials, city council, and city staff—all of which involved a deep dive into public policy. In particular, the council members of Mockville, Texas, explored the possibility of “legalizing cannabis” and “implementing an extensive wellness program” for City staff. Both, as one might imagine, were controversial.
In addressing the legalization of cannabis, for example, students had to assess the health ramifications (Public Health Director), the impact such a policy would have on crime (Chief Public Safety Officer), the legality of a city moving against a state law (City Attorney) as well as the political implications (Council members) of the ordinance.
Students initially thought that a wellness program might be less controversial, but questions of privacy slowed down the proceedings. The ordinance involved “free” Fitbits provided to all City of Mockville employees, with the hope that this recourse might offer helpful reminders to stay healthy. But devices such as Fitbits also collect a lot of information about the wearer: exercise habits, sleep habits, location, and, in some cases, both dietary routines and sexual health. Putting that information in the hands of employers met with resistance among the council members.
Apart from the policy issues, however, perhaps what most impressed the students was the difference between their perceptions and the reality of a council-manager form of government. Tristen Anderson, a freshman Criminal Justice major and “Mayor” during the proceedings, was surprised at how little power the mayor had: “On television, you see these super powerful mayors, but that’s just not the case in most cities.” This realization, he noted, “changed my entire perspective on that type of politics, perhaps even to the point of seeking out such an office later in life.”
Jared Scott, a freshman Accounting major, agreed. “I enjoyed the whole experience, and although I am an Accounting major, I hope to run for City Council in whichever city I settle down in.” For one of the sessions, Scott did serve as a “Council member,” while serving as “City Manager” in the other session. Both impressed him, and, in fact, Scott was so struck by the experience, he actually attended the next City of Huntsville Council meeting, just to compare it to his experience. “All in all,” he continued, “I learned a lot from this activity, and I’m glad that both the LEAP Center and FLP are open to students of all majors.”
“It’s a pleasure to work with high-achieving students,” said Yawn, “and I think good things happen when offices on the academic side of things (LEAP) collaborate with offices on the student affairs side of things (FLP). We all have the same broad mission.”
The FLP offers rich learning opportunities to test, refine, and further develop the leadership abilities of first-year students. For information, contact Lindsay Lauher at email@example.com or 294-2347. The Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics offers students unique activities that promote the public good. For information, contact Mike Yawn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 294-1456.
For our last meeting of the semester, we had a guest speaker, Judge Tracy Sorensen from Walker County Court at Law. In addition to presenting, Judge Sorensen also provided all of our graduating students with their stoles, and was our official lottery master for various prizes.
To start the conversation, Judge Sorensen spoke about the 10th court of appeals trials that were held here at Sam Houston last week. People were able to ask her questions about the cases and her thoughts on them, and she gave her honest, thoughtful opinion.
Judge Tracy went to South Texas College of Law, and she talked of when she began her practice. She knew she wanted to come back to Huntsville after law school. She was particularly interested in family law, so that is what she focused on. Her first contested hearing, which was in family law, made her pretty nervous, primarily because her opposing counsel was a veteran attorney who was about 6’6″, more than a foot taller than Judge Sorensen! That attorney, Don Kramer, however, ended up mentoring her and being a great friend and, later, a District Judge.
Professor Yawn served as moderator asked, “How do you have the conversation with your clients on how to dress in court?”
She tells her clients to wear their “Sunday Best,” but that does not always work… She told a story about how in a jury trial her client wore a Houston Rockets outfit and said that was what he wears to church. The court coordinator continued the case because he just could not be seen before the judge in shorts. She started telling her clients to bring what they are going to wear a week before the trial to combat this issue.
Professor Yawn then inquired, “Tell us about the times when your client has lied to you and how you dealt with it.”
This is a major problem for defense attorneys, and she has dealt with it on matters of child custody, divorce, as well as criminal matters. In some cases, you just have to have a backup plan to prepare for the worst in case they aren’t fully honest.
Richard Tran, following up on Judge Sorensen’s admission that she hadn’t been the best student, asked: “How did you move from ‘not the greatest student’ to a judge”?
Her response was a lesson in not digging a hole for yourself. She had a poor first semester, got some bad advising, and then spent the rest of her time in education digging herself out. Despite this rough start, she was offered a great job with an energy company when she graduated, but then the energy market collapsed (following the Enron debacle), and the job offer was withdrawn. And this, as it turns out, was what led her to law school.
Following her wonderful presentation, Judge Sorensen did something we’ve never done before: she “hooded” our graduates.
And this included our President, Heather Barodi, who very successfully led the organization her final year.
Another thing we haven’t done–at least not recently–is take a group photo. So, we did, and got our first photo since 2016!
Although we had spent a day in the nation’s capital, this was our first day of the conference, and we were a bit unsure of what would follow. But we were greeted by friendly Colonial figures, putting us in a light mood.
NLC Opening General Session
The National League of Cities Conference (NLC) exists to educate and inform the public about the work of cities, but it also serves as an in-house informational resource for the cities across the country. And no gathering is larger than the Congressional City Conference in Washington, DC, where hundreds of local officials gather to learn, educate, and cooperate. A theme of this conference is the Biden Administration’s “American Rescue Plan” (ARP) and how cities can use it to make their localities better.
We were greeted by numerous officials from some of the largest cities in the United States. Mayor Victoria Woodards of Takoma, Washington, as NLC’s first vice president, set the stage by emphasizing the importance of local officials–which, as interns for the City of Huntsville, we were aware of!
The introductory speakers, many from the Executive Branch, described how hard the White House had worked to ensure ARP funds made it to the cities directly. Julia Chavez Rodriguez, for example, went even further, noting that rescue acts under the previous administration didn’t go as far as ARP, but with the distribution of ARP funds, more cities would be benefitting.
Gene Sperling, Senior Advisor to the President, also extolled the virtues of ARP, noting that unemployment had declined to 3.8%, but he took a more assertive tone with some in the media and to states giving tax breaks–“which were only possible because of the funds coming in from ARP”.
The conference did a good job of making one and half-hour time slots go quickly–different panels were moved quickly in and out to provide diversity in topics, intro and outro music greeted each speaker, and the sessions were punchy and direct, sometimes reverting to soundbites.
The caliber of speakers, however, was top notch. One brief panel, for example, included Andy Berke (US Department of Commerce; former Mayor of Chattanooga), Carlton Waterhouse (Deputy Administrator of the EPA), Samantha Silverberg (Deputy of Infrastructure Implementation with the White House), and Victoria Woodards (Mayor of Tacoma, WA and VP of NLC). In fact, we enjoyed being in one of the world’s largest selfies with Mayor Woodards!
Homelessness in Focus: Local Government Roles in Intervention and Prevention
Some of the ambassadors chose to attend a session led by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Senior Advisor Richard Cho, Case Manager Jeff Olivet, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness CEO Nan Roman. They spoke on homelessness and the roles of local government following the opening session.
Homelessness has always been an issue, but the amount of homeless people has increased greatly following COVID. Cities such as Boston that had little to no homelessness cases are now seeing alarming rates of them and are currently grappling with this issue.
The funding in a city’s budget to address homelessness is limited and some are struggling with providing them the help and resources needed. Many organizations, programs, and funds have been created during the pandemic and this may help. The intention of newly established programs are designed to help fill in the gap of the missing funds, including the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).
These resources have allowed the community to work together to provide aid and shelters. Also, many governments enacted temporary moratoria on evictions, and governments may also have alleviated pressure through child tax credits.
All three of these insightful speakers came to agree that the key element in reducing homelessness is housing. And once housing is available, cities, according to the speakers, should focus on providing the newly-housed with the resources they need, such as health care, to aid them in being able to sustain their new home.
This has been implemented in cities of which have been or bought motels and hotels to remove the homeless of the streets. By offering them a safe space, these cities have seen a reduction in the number of homeless. Of course, this costs a lot of money, which goes back to resources…
Closing the Digital Divide
Professor Yawn and I chose to attend Closing the Digital Divide: Leveraging Federal Resources for Broadband, Digital Equity. The topic was heavily based on the importance of providing broadband for the underserved and underdeveloped.
The panel included five experts who are making great strides within this area: Julia Pulidindi, Kirk Burgee, Van Johnson, Christopher Mitchell, and Olivia Wein.
The first to speak was Julia Pulidindi from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Pulidindi presented an overview of the Infrastructure Act that allowed $65 billion for broadband funding intended to be administered in four different avenues: Bead, Digital Equity, Tribal, and the Middle Mile.
The Chief of Staff for The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Kirk Burgee, split his speech into two parts: digital mapping and data flow. The update on the progress of broadband and how it has developed was very insightful for my understanding of the topic. The data flow is split into groups, for instance, the FCC receives data from providers, tribal data, and local data which is beneficial because of the specificity involved.
Christopher Mitchell is a Director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and much like his company’s name suggests, his primary goal is for everyone to have reliable and affordable internet. Mitchell spoke on the importance of the use of partnerships particularly for small cities.
The last panelist to speak was Olivia Wein, a Staff Attorney with National Consumer Law Center (NCLC).
Wein emphasized on the importance of broadband, why it is a necessity, and went into more detail regarding the Eligibility Criteria for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). There are a few of different benefits that households can receive through ACP, but they are limited to one of each kind. One ACP service, one ACP connected device and one lifeline benefit.
The topic got pretty detailed, but the key message was clear: in a rapidly advancing technological society, the gap between the digital haves and digital have nots grows, and it grows fast. Implementing programs, especially in rural areas for those who don’t have, is key to reducing inequality in the nation.
President Joe Biden
One speaker during the day wasn’t like other speakers. When President Biden was scheduled to speak, things changed considerably. Everyone was ordered out of the Marquis Salon, the room was swept, and then all the attendees lined up to go through security, allowing them to re-enter the room.
The conference hall was electric with excitement as the crowd was anxious to see President Biden. He entered the room to a standing ovation and a loud chorus of cheering as he took the podium to address the audience.
He touched on current ongoing issues, such as the rising cost of gasoline, as well as some of his goals for the United States including a $35-per-month health-care plan for all Americans, and reducing–or even eliminating–taxes for those who make less than $400,000 a year. The President indicated he had reduced the budget by 360 billion, while also overseeing a dramatic reduction in the unemployment rate.
President Biden left on inspirational notes, calling on the city leaders to assist him, and specifically noting that the young are key to his administration’s–and the country’s–success.
It was an absolute honor to have “met” and been within a few feet of President Biden!
Moving Forward with Affordable Housing
Later in the evening, I attended Moving Forward with Affordable Housing: Strategies for Developing and Preservation. The session was led by three panelist who all had slightly different approaches, but all great ideas on ways to combat the issue.
Tony Pickett, the CEO of Grounded Solutions Network, introduced a couple of different ways to help homeowners maintain equity in their property. The first of which was a Community Land Trust. This nonprofit organization is governed by community residents and public representatives to help maintain equity opportunities and community assets. The main idea was centered around offering more mobility opportunities when buying and reselling houses.
Jason Jordan is the Policy & Public Affairs Director for the American Planning Association for Transport, (APA). Jordan presented many different examples on zoning reform that included feedback from the public. With very new statistics from March 2022, Jordan advised to take the newness into account, but also to understand how citizens and the public view zoning reforms.
Amy King is the founder and CEO of Pallet which provides rapid response shelter villages to reduce the number of homeless people on the streets. King’s company acts as a pathway for homeless people to establish a physical address, and after three to six months helps relocate them to permeant housing. This solution has made a major impact along the west coast, but as King stressed, it still has a lot more work to do.
The issue of the lack of affordable housing is not one that has an easy answer. However the work being done by these individuals and their companies and agencies are great strides towards helping resolve this issue.
Once the last session of the day was finalized, the ambassadors took to the streets of Washington D.C. to a nearby restaurant, Pi Pizzeria. Upon entering we noticed it was a nice, cute little restaurant.
We began with an order of Garlic Knots with marinara sauce as an appetizer and had their delicious Delmar Deep Dish and their thin crust Pi’Napple Pizza, basically Hawaiian with jalapenos.
Today was also their 14th birthday and Pi Day (3.14)!
As we walked back to our hotel, we went through a mini shopping mall area and wandered into Dolcezza Gelato and Coffee for Dessert.
They offered many kinds of Gelato and Sorbet flavors that we had difficulty choosing. After sampling a few flavors, we collectively ordered their Coffee and Cookies, Dark Chocolate, Champagne Mango, Pineapple Honey Lime Sorbet, and Lemon Ricotta Cardamom.
We enjoyed our delightful and flavorful gelato and sorbets that satisfied our sweet tooth as we made our way back to our hotel.
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.
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.