Arkansas PSA: Little Rock and Monticello

The first two days of exploring Little Rock were filled with adventure and knowledge. However, our adventures were not yet complete. Even after a fully loaded two days in the state, we continued on to the Arkansas Political Science Association Conference in Monticello, setting out at about 6am to make the 1.5 hour trip.

At the conference our very own Professor Yawn served as a discussant for the Undergraduate Research on Public Policy panel and later presented his own research. We were also excited to be there to support our fellow LEAP Ambassador Megan Chapa, who would later present her research paper on “Maquiladoras, NAFTA and their Consequences.” Upon our arrival we were graciously welcomed by Dr. Strong and the staff of the University of Arkansas at Monticello, then made our way quickly to the room where Professor Yawn’s panel discussion would be. The panel room was a cozy fit, much like any classroom you would find on campus at Sam Houston.  This made the presentations of the research  engaging and a personal. Subjects of the research ranged from the cyber security in the United States by Shannon Abbott…


…to the study of multi-lateral agreements by Nicolaas Harrington…


…to the development of Spanish democracy by Sarah Phillips…


to the study of game theory by William O’Brachta…


…to an examination of indigenous autonomy by Emily Mendiola…


Watching other students in the political science field present research encouraged and energized the students of LEAP to one-day present research at future conferences nationwide.

After sitting in on an undergraduate discussion panel on public policy, chaired by Professor Yawn, we waited for Megan to present her research on the impact of NAFTA on the social and economic status of Mexican “maquiladora” laborers. As part of an American Politics panel, Megan presented research alongside four other passionate undergraduate students.

The panel was chaired by Karen Sebold, a professor of public policy at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, whose responsibility during the session was to direct the presentation of everyone’s research papers and lead the discussion in regards to the papers after the presentation of every student.

The session began with a presentation on the Tea Party’s influence on the current Republican Party. With a most timely topic in regards to our political atmosphere, Tyler Harrison of the University of Arkansas at Monticello offered an in depth analysis of the Tea Party’s freedomworks rating system.


Followed thereafter Robert Fletcher, also a University of Arkansas at Monticello undergraduate student, presented his paper on the benefits of promoting bicycle friendly road policy that could stimulate the economic and social prosperity of a small community’s transportation system.


As the third student to present, Jolyon Larson of Hendrix University provided his thesis on the best way for waste plants to cut down on harmful emissions.


Lastly, Leslie Beard of the University of Arkansas at Monticello expressed her fears regarding our nation’s political structure in her paper “Who’s really in control at the top.”


With Megan as the fourth presenter in the panel, we attentively clung to every word of her research on Mexican social issues presented by NAFTA. She focused on the exploitation and harassment of women maquiladora workers, the environmental violations of these industries, and the widespread human trafficking encouraged by these multinational agreements.


It was clear that her, and all the other panelists, were passionate about public policy and a more successful government structure. The conducted research in each presentation was further example of what passion for a noble cause can yield.

We also got feedback from Megan, who presented at her first conference:

I was nervous, but nonetheless confident and excited to represent SHSU and the LEAP Center at the conference. Before our panel began, our discussant informed us that another student had joined our Undergraduate Research Panel and that our presentation time would be cut short by about 5 minutes. I was more nervous about going over my allotted time because I had prepared my presentation to be 15 minutes. I was scurrying through my paper trying to take out 5 minutes of information that wouldn’t take too much away from my research. What I enjoyed most was the constructive criticism I received from my discussant, Dr. Sebold of University of Arkansas-Fayetteville. She was helpful in providing suggestions that will improve the research I am working on. I am thankful for the opportunity to expand my horizons outside of home (Texas) and meet students who are striving to make a difference in the political arena.” -Megan Chapa

We all agreed that this chance to support our fellow LEAP ambassador’s passionate delivery was worth the limited sleep.

The ArkPSA topped off the conference with a lunch and presentation by John Kyle Day, who presented his work on Civil Rights in Arkansas, particularizing on the Southern Manifesto.


It was interesting research and, although we didn’t know it at the time, we would hear echoes of his research the next day, when we visited the Little Rock Central High Museum (see tomorrow’s blog!).

Following the conference in Monticello, we drove back to Little Rock to do some shopping before our adventurous Segway tour. We took the opportunity to explore some of the quaint shops near the River Market and downtown area.


Visiting the local shops, we wandered through shops such as The Freckled Frog, Discovery Museum Gift Shop, and 4Square Café and Gifts. We enjoyed browsing through the shops, but eventually ended up at one of our favorite places, the River Market!


The group refueled with a small snack before heading off to our Segway tour of Little Rock!

We were excited to continue touring more of downtown Little Rock, but this time we were on a Segway! Most of the group have had some experience with riding segways – actually, all except me (Bella Abril), and the others were quick to get with the program…


As clumsy as I am even with just walking, however, I was a bit hesitant on trying it out at first. I was scared I would embarrass myself by falling on my face. However, our Turkish tour guide, Nez Erkman, trained us in such a detailed manner with much emphasis on safety that I found myself easing up. Plus, seeing everybody ride it so calmly gave me confidence that maybe I could do the same. Thankfully, I did! The first step was the scariest part, but the rest was exhilarating. Throughout the tour, we were able to segway through The Clinton Bridge…


…which held a nice view of the sunset…


The Clinton Presidential Library…


and Heifer International. Also, we passed through the Riverfront Park, where we were able to take pictures on the rock that Little Rock derives its name from…


as well as observe interesting historic markers and creative sculptures. From a total newbie segwayer to part of the veteran segwayers of LEAP, the tour definitely deepened both my interest in Arkansan culture and the graceful art of segwaying.

The segway tour not only fueled our desire to learn about Little rock, but also fueled our appetites!  We walked a couple of blocks to get to the well-known Sonny Williams’ Steak Room. We started with a turtle soup and a wild game sausage and cheese plate as appetizers. The wild game sausage and cheese plate consisted of rabbit, elk, and boar sausage. Some of us were particularly hesitant to try the turtle soup and rabbit sausage because it was something completely new for most of us, but we chose to go with our adventurous side and taste each appetizer. For our entrees we all chose a type of steak. We ordered a 12 oz. Filet to a Bone-in Cowboy Ribeye and a New York Strip. As soon as we each took the first bite of our steaks, we all agreed that these were the best steaks we have ever tried. It was clear to us why Sonny Williams is so well known for its steaks. After being extremely satisfied with both the appetizers and the entrees, we tried a couple of deserts. The Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce and the Chocolate Orange Cake were rich enough, but also light enough to kept our satisfaction rating high.

On our way back to the car, we squeezed in a bit more adventure by taking a short detour to an old telephone booth that is now used as a community book exchange. Professor Yawn challenged us to see if we could all fit in the telephone booth, and of course we accepted his challenge.


It was a tight squeeze, especially right after our filling dinner, but we all fit (more or less)!


And, after a bit of a detour to walk off some of dinner…


…called it a night and made our way back to the hotel for a much-needed night of rest.


Midwest, Day One: Big Time in Little Rock

Our Saturday morning began as a cold, rainy day, but we did not let that put a damper on our morning. We ventured into River Market for breakfast to kick start our day. I had the meaty melt omelet from Sweet Soul that quickly satisfied my hunger, Constance had the southwest omelet, and Professor Yawn had grits. Fueled by calories, we made our way to Little Rock Central High School and the nearby Little Rock Central High Museum, where we experienced history and learned more about the civil rights movement.

Little Rock Central High

Little Rock Central High School was once known as “America’s most beautiful high school” because of its blend of art deco and gothic revival architecture.

LRCH_Constance_Alex_WebWe were impressed with the message that the school sent to its students in the architecture itself.  In addition to the beauty of the structure, the front of the building is adorned with four relief statues, each corresponding to a different quality.  The qualities are: Ambition, Personality, Opportunity, and Preparation.


After admiring the architecture and taking additional photos of us on the steps tread by the Little Rock Nine…


…and making use of the beautiful colors around us…


…we made our way to the visitors center where The Little Rock Central High School Museum is located. The museum highlights The Little Rock Nine, who were the nine African-American students chosen to be the first to integrate Little Rock Central High School. The museum had plenty of information on the crisis of 57’ that was shown in different ways.   As with most museums nowadays, it offers interactive experiences, with an entrance showing three screens, each with different information.

LRCH_Entrance_Screens_WebAmidst a discussion of the constitutional background of integration and the equal protection clause, we were reintroduced to the four qualities emphasized by Little Rock Central High: Ambition, Personality, Opportunity, Preparation.


My favorite section of the museum was a station with a telephone receiver and a small video screen that showed the events that happened during the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School, as told by the Little Rock Nine themselves.


The videos went into detail of what the first day, September 4th was really like, and how they felt that day and every day after. The first person perspective from the museum gave plenty of insight as to how chaotic and difficult it was to desegregate the high school in 1957. The Little Rock Nine described everything they went through which included: having rocks thrown at them, begin beaten up, the verbal abuse, the threatening phone calls to their homes, and the white people who wanted to be their friends but were too scared.

The Old Mill

After leaving Little Rock Central High, we headed to “The Old Mill,” the last surviving set from Gone With the Wind.


The Old Mill is known for being the last surviving piece of the 1939 film, Gone With the Wind. The Old Mill at T.R. Memorial Park was truly breathtaking, and definitely a site to see. We were welcomed by the trees that were changing colors due to the season, which made The Old Mill look even more picturesque than expected. The park is decorated with tree-entwined bridges that at first glance look like real trees, but were really constructed out of concrete by Senor Dionico Rodriguez. We were able to climb the tree-entwined bridge that crossed over the water and walk into The Old Mill.


It’s difficult to describe the beauty of the Old Mill.  In addition to the Mill itself…

Old_Mill_Constance_2_Web…there is the stone cabin with open windows, perfect for photographs…

Old_Mill_Constance_Alex_Web…and the concrete, faux wooden bridge was a perfect prop for photographs, such as this one…

Old_Mill_Constance_Alex_Bridge_Web…or this one…

Old_Mill_Alex_Constance_Bridge_Closer_Web… or this one…


There are also some interesting some side areas in the park.  We were able, for example, to climb up…


and into a well.


Which, as our professor noted, is one of the reasons we sign waivers before going on trips.


After taking advantage of the picturesque environment we made our way to Whole Hog Cafe for a delicious lunch.

IMG_0928One of the best things about Whole Hog Cafe is that they have six different types of BBQ sauce on the table.   This allows guests to sample the flavors and then go with their favorite choice.  For our table, # 5, “Sweet, Dark, And Bold Molasses Flavor,” was the favorite.

Arkansas Arts Center

Following lunch, we made our way to a fine jewel in Arkansas culture, the Arkansas Arts Center.

Arkansas_Arts_Center_Constance_WebHome to more than 600 years of art, the Arkansas Arts Center proved compelling from Our America, the Latino exhibit on loan from the Smithsonian, to its permanent collection.

We had the pleasure of being escorted through the Latino exhibit by a museum docent who pointed out the intricacies in the portraits of the exhibit. Our tour began with a viewing of two side-by-side portraits by Scherezade Garcia, named The Dominican York, and Santo Trujillo is Dead.

Garcia_Art…which our tour guide believed were distinguished largely by tone…


Inspired by the struggle and aspirations of immigrants traveling to the states from their homelands, Garcia’s work mixed a compelling use of sequins, charcoal, ink, and acrylic to portray the hardships and opportunities immigrants encountered on their journeys. Next, we stopped at a painting by Juan Sanchez titled Para Don Pedro.


The collage paid homage to Pedro Albizu Campos, a politician and leader in the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. Although beautiful in its own right, we found the work to be a bit too abstract and overwhelming to enjoy, comparatively, but were interested in the concepts.  Moving on, we viewed two pieces by New Yorker, Elia Alba called Larry Levan (snake) and Larry Levan (three is better than one).



Ms. Alba sought to display the incongruity between the third culture of immigrants and Hispanics in the United States with the American culture, seen in the awkward joining of faces to mismatched bodies. For the viewer, the works evoked discomfort due to lack of aesthetic beauty, much like the discomfort felt by those of different cultural backgrounds during the Civil Rights Movement. After viewing a few more works, notably a sculpture by Luis Jimenez,


Man on Fire, who taught notable Huntsville artist Jesus Moroles, and being surprised by a sculpture by Mr. Moroles himself, Georgia Stele

We bid adieu to our docent and set off to spend a few quick minutes exploring the permanent collection. Considering anything in Arkansas to be a “jewel” would be hard to those not knowing what the state has to offer. That said, the Arts Center happens to be home to many world-renowned artists, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, and Rembrandt to name a few. We particularly enjoyed Monet’s Effet de soleil couchant, Port-Villez (Effect of the Sun Setting, the Seine at Port-Villez)…


….full of dark purples and greens to catch the eye, and Picasso’s Aureau ailé contemple par quatre enfants (Winged Bull Gazing on Four Children), depicting children being frightened by an almost dragon-like bull.


Needing to make it to our next destination on time, we hurried out of the Arkansas Art Center after only spending very little time in their exhibit halls. Impressed by the collection in a state that does not get much cultural street cred, we left intrigued and hopeful to discover more famous artists at our upcoming art destinations.


Bill Clinton Presidential Library and Museum

Full from our saucy lunch at Whole Hog Café, we drove back into Little Rock proper to explore, quickly I might add, the Bill Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. The 42nd President of the United States, and 42nd Governor of Arkansas, President Clinton was long-time resident of Little Rock, having grow up here and also served as Attorney General and Governor of the state.  As President, Clinton promised to be a “bridge into the 21st century, and the Clinton Museum reflects that metaphor, standing almost suspended over the ground and toward the Arkansas River.

Armed with a little less than an hour, Alex and I took off up the escalator to explore as much as possible in such a short time. Confronted with columns on each side of both floors and exhibits interspersed between, we learned that the museum was modeled to copy The Long Room at the Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.


We were surprised to also find a Dale Chihuly piece, Crystal Tree of Light, inside. It was one of two that was made for the White House Millennium celebration held on New Years Eve in 1999. After being hung in the White House, one of the pieces was donated to the Clinton Presidential Foundation in 2004 and resides permanently in the library now.

With less time available, we read about Clinton’s accomplishments as president, his work in Foreign Service, including the many State dinners he held, and the First Lady’s work alongside her husband. Inspired by the power President Clinton held, even Alex was caught day dreaming about one day being a cabinet member to influence great change in our country.


We ran out of time in the library to really grasp all that President Clinton’s time in office is known for but were impressed by the vast information made available by the museum and the organized nature of it all. Exhilarated by the change enacted between 1993 and 2001, we made our way back into the rainy weather to, hopefully, tour Little Rock by Segway.

Little Rock Segway Tour

We’ve segwayed quite a few cities: Dallas, Austin, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and, now, Little Rock, AR.  It’s hard to pick a favorite from among these, but Little Rock ranks high on this list because it’s such a picturesque city.  The views were complemented by our knowledgeable and laid-back tour guide, Henry Barker.

Barker took us to the Clinton Presidential Library, along the Bill Clark wetlands preserve, to Heifer International and, even though we had seen many of these areas, he filled in details we didn’t know.  Heifer, for example, won a Platinum rating from LEED for using mostly recyclable materials and because the materials came from within 500 miles of Little Rock.

Segway_Heifer_WebAnd when segwaying along the Bill Clark wetlands area, we saw an egret.


The most fun, however, came when we glided along the river market area.  We saw the many sculptures along the riverway…

Segway_Alex_Constance_Stephanie_Web…stopped for a bit to play on Little Rock’s amazing playground, which has a high-speed slide…

Slide_galvan_Webb…a tunnel system, which Alex took to like an enthusiastic groundhog, and a spider-web jungle gym…


Spider_Web_Alex_WebWe also spent some time at the H. U. Lee International Gate and Garden, which honors H. U. Lee, the founder of the American Taekwondo Association.  Strangely, Mr. Lee decided to settle in Little Rock because it reminded him of South Korea.


We also stopped to let our friends and fellow members of LEAP that we wished they were here with us.  So, Austin, Karla, Kaitlyn, Jazmin, Beatriz, Caitlin, Bella, Brian, Jamaus, and Megan, we wish you were along with us!


Dinner and Moving On

After a day of touring the city, we had worked up a hunger, and there’s no better place to eat in the River Market area than Sonny Williams.  We began our meal with an appetizer of Elk and Alligator, and followed it with Lamb Chops and Creole Seafood.

And with all that food in us, we decided to take one last walk along the river market area.

Junction_Bridge_Sculpture_Night_WebThe bridges were washed in orange colors, in honor of Halloween.

Junction_Bridge_Night_WebAnd the beautiful view of Little Rock from one of its seven bridges made for a memorable way to end a memorable day.



LEAP Center Midwestern Tour (Day 7): Crystal Bridges

The last day of our Midwestern Tour arrived, and we were able to visit the beautiful Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The beautiful museum was designed by Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, and the funds for the museum were provided by Alice Walton, the Walmart heiress. Although open for fewer than ten years, the Museum is one of the most ten visited museum in the United States—despite being location off a major highway, and hours from a major airport.

But it is worth the effort to get there. The Museum grounds are beautiful…

Girls_Museum_Grounds..and the art was amazing.

Among the favorites were political works, such as Charles Wilson Peale’s famous portrait of George Washington…


..and a piece by an artist who is becoming a favorite of ours, Georgia O’Keefe:

Radiator Building, O'Keefe
Radiator Building, O’Keefe

Not only is there no entrance fee to the Museum, but the Museum offers free audio guides, which highlight hundreds of works of art, providing background and instruction for those of us who are not already art connoisseurs.  In the piece above, for example, we were able to see connections in the white crown of the Radiator Building with many of O’Keefe’s work focusing on the southwest, particularly animal skulls, which take on a similar color and shape.

Similarly, in Thomas Hart Benton’s work, “Plowing it Under”


We learned how Benton used similar contour lines depict the sky, human/animal life, and the ground to make a connection between life and its environment, a connection hat would have been particularly salient in the 1930s in the midwest.

The Museum also allowed us the opportunity to engage in some “performance art”…


…and pose next to (and in) Robert Indiana’s famous “LOVE” sculpture.


It was sad as we ended the trip, with a final look at the Museum…

Crystal Bridge Art Museum
Crystal Bridge Art Museum

The end of the trip, however, also offered a time of reflection on what we learned and experienced.  Accordingly, we voted on our favorites, with the following results:

In general, our favorite cities were (1) Madison, WI, (2) Kansas City, and (3) a tie among Chicago, Bentonville, Little Rock, and Spring Green.  Madison was the big surprise, impressing us all with its beauty and many shops and amenites.


Identifying our favorite sites was more difficult.  The Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park was a favorite…

Millennium Park
Millennium Park

…as was the Art Institute of Chicago


…with Talieisin, the World War I Museum, and Union Station receiving votes.

Union Station, KC
Union Station, KC

The many art museums allowed us to develop an appreciation for art in general and specific artists.  Our group favorite was Georgia O’Keefe…

Cow Skull, O'Keefe
Cow Skull, O’Keefe

But we also enjoyed seeing original art works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Monet, Rockwell, Rembrandt, and Rodin.  A favorite of ours was the work of Dale Chihuly, who kept popping up in all sorts of places.

Chihuly Exhibit, Clinton Library
Chihuly Exhibit, Clinton Library

One of our favorite parts of the trip was the food.  The one restaurant everyone included on their favorite list was Grunauer, an Austrian restaurant in Kansas City.

Sausage Sampler, Grunauers
Sausage Sampler, Grunauer

Other favorites included DLUX in Madison, and Sonny Williams Steakhouse in Little Rock, AR.

So it was with expanded tummies and horizons that we returned to Texas, ready to return to school work and looking forward to the next LEAP Center trip.DSC_1306