Gender, Power, and Leadership
Our first stop of the day was The Omni Hotel to attend the “Gender, Power and Leadership” panel with Former State Senator Wendy Davis, Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, Baylor University President Linda Livingstone, and State Representative Senfronia Thompson.
The panel was held in a cool room called the Capital Factory filled with colorful sculptures and a few giant bean bag chairs in one corner! The crowd applauded as the four prestigious women walked out and were seated.
Although the panel was moderated, Wendy Davis got the lion’s share of the speaking time, at times seeming to recreate her famous 2013 filibuster on the Senate floor. Representative Thompson was also outspoken, although less voluble, and Justice Guzman and President Livingstone were more reserved.
The four panelists were very engaging. They discussed various topics such as sexual harassment, the treatment of women in the workplace, and other hot topics (such as the Kavanaugh hearings).
The audience had the opportunity to ask the panelists a few questions, and then after the panel was finished we had the pleasure of a very brief meeting with Representative Thompson.
Two of our students even had the opportunity to meet Justice Eva Guzman, which was a special treat, since many of our students had a chance to meet her when she came to SHSU in 2017.
Lunch with Emily Johnson – Ilexus Williams
After being empowered by the phenomenal women at the Gender, Power, and Leadership panel, the LEAP students headed to The Clay Pit, which is a contemporary Indian restaurant located in downtown Austin. For many of the students, it was our first encounter with Indian food.
When we arrived, Emily Johnson, a former LEAP Ambassador joined us for lunch. Mrs. Johnson currently works for the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission as a Policy Analyst. The Texas Sunset Advisory Commission works to assess the extent to which an agency is needed, is working effectively, and is efficiently utilizing its resources.
Mrs. Johnson expressed that the biggest challenge of her job is working with the legislature. As a policy analyst, it is not Mrs. Johnson’s job to take a side of a position. She must be nonpartisan and be an honest broker.
As we enjoyed chatting with her, we also enjoyed Naan, a traditional Indian flatbread which the restaurant had stuffed with different fillings. These fillings included garlic and herb, three cheese, and jalapeno and cream cheese.
It was common consensus that the jalapeno cream cheese was the favorite at the table. Most of us decided to grab our food from the lunch buffet, but a few opted to order dishes from the menu.
While we sat enjoying our Indian cuisine, the prospective Austin interns were able to receive valuable advice from Mrs. Johnson about the lessons that she learned during her time as an intern in the Sam Houston Austin Internship Program. She encouraged students who are selected as interns to use every opportunity available in their office to learn because “knowledge is power.” She urged us to use any free time to attend committee meetings, and she stressed the importance of asking questions. After saying farewell to Mrs. Johnson we parted ways and headed out to a suite of art galleries in East Austin.
Daniel Arredondo’s Art Studio – Jezel Luna
Full of delicious Indian food, we made our way to one of Austin’s many local art studios where we had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Arredondo, a passionate, cheerful, and talented local artist.
His small studio is housed in the same building as the Flatbed Gallery. He introduced himself and thoroughly explained many of the techniques he uses and how they create different effects that really make his paintings come alive.
Personally, one of my favorites was a painting that was made in loving memory of his father-in-law who recently passed away. I could feel the passion and love being expressed in the work, and I was able to make my own connection with it. He believes that the picture should have two names, the one that the artist gives it and the other for the client to give it. Before we left, Mr Arredondo gave us each a heartfelt gift to remember him by, and our professor bought several of his pieces.
We thanked him profusely and meandered around the rest of the galleries seeing the work of many other different artists.
Their works, like Mr. Arredondos’ left us captivated and with a higher level of respect for their talent in making something special from nothing.
Education Reform That Makes the Grade – Elena Castillo
As the panel started we could sense the tension building as the education reform discussion progressed, and we soon realized we had the front row for the cat show! The laughter of the crowd, the different opinions of the panel, and the catty comments added to the intensity of the panel.
Each panelist was given the opportunity to express their opinion on why they believe public schools are or are not working. Disagreements were made on public schools versus charter schools, and quality and equality for all children’s education was questioned and debated. The biggest point that was brought up was that families do not have the ability to pick the “right school” for their children, and what our education system might look like if they did.
Flash back to “White only days,” the days when schools were segregated by the color of your skin. This is a reality that was thought to have been left behind, but today we heard different from Robert Enlow, President and CEO of EdChoice. In the panel for Education Reform we heard his thoughts on how public schools still seem to be segregated, if not by law, then at least by fact. We heard about the different early college programs in high schools in Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex from panelist Todd Williams. In this panel, tensions were high between State Representative Gina Hinojosa and Co-founder of Steinhouser Strategies, Randan Steinauser. They disagreed on whether charter schools should be allowed to disqualify certain students to attend their schools and whether or not that made them a “public” school. The stakes for better education are high, but whether education reformers will ever begin to make strides forward for better education is the question we are left asking.
Affairs of State: The US And its World Relations
One of most timely and intriguing panels involved three ambassadors: Ryan Crocker (who was Ambassador to six different countries, and who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his service); Wendy Sherman (a social worker, founding director of Fannie Mae, and high-ranking official in the Department of State under President Obama); and Bill Richardson (former Governor of New Mexico, Secretary of Energy, and Ambassador to the UN).
Sherman proved the most partisan of the bunch, but all of the diplomats expressed concern over the State Department under President Trump. Crocker was the most balanced and insightful, although not without his own zingers. When asked whether President Trump “pulled the rug out from under Secretary Tillerson,” for example, he said: “Yes. We all cheered when it happened. We only wished he would have pulled it out from under him when he was at the top of the stairs.”
Sherman, who sometimes drifted into comments about Brett Kavanaugh, was also critical of Tillerson, noting that his engineering background did not help him with his diplomatic mission: “He thought he could check boxes to achieve a desired end, without putting in the necessary personal relationships.”
Richardson, whose experience is broader than the other two panelists, had the least to say, but he did share an amusing if alarming story of how he got his job as Secretary of Energy. President Clinton called him and said, “Bill, I need you to be Secretary of Energy.” Richardson replied, “But I don’t know much about Energy policy,” to which Clinton replied, “That’s okay. You’re Hispanic, and I need another Hispanic in the Cabinet.”
Ambassador Crocker ended on a wise but depressing note, suggesting that while nothing the Trump team has done is “irrevocable,” “it will take a long time to get back to where we should be.” Crocker mentioned the huge personnel cuts in State Department, which largely slashed the non-political career diplomats who serve both parties. He also pointed out that some of the negative changes, morale problems, and weakening of the State Department began under the Obama administration, when little or no action was taken to developments in the Middle East (particularly in Syria and Pakistan)–a point also mentioned in Bob Woodward’s “Fear.”
As might be expected, the panel prompted many audience members to ask questions, no doubt spurred by the importance of the US’s changing role in the world.
Austin Segway Tour
After a full day at Texas Tribune Festival panels and Daniel Arredondo’s art gallery, we found ourselves at Nation Tours right in front of the capitol building. It was 5pm, and time for some fun of the two-wheeled kind!
After signing liability waivers and receiving a rather brief tutorial which covered how to turn, stop, and park, we all hopped on our Segways…
…and were zooming around the city. Our tour guide Robbie took us through the capitol grounds and the surrounding downtown area.
We found out that Segways are street legal when Robbie nonchalantly took off into traffic and then motioned for us to follow.
We managed to avoid any collisions with cars, and had a lot of fun…
…although at least one Ambassador had a fall and another had a Segway with a mind of its own!
We also learned a few things from our tour guide Robbie along the way. The capitol building wasn’t always the enormous building that it was.
The first was originally about the size of a corner store! We also passed the statue of Angelina Eberly, and learned that without her, Austin might not be our state capital today. In 1842 when Sam Houston sent troops to remove Texas’s archives so that a new state capital could be established elsewhere, Eberly fired a cannonball and alerted the town that the theft was occurring. Robbie also took us by the Austin City Library, which looks nothing like a library at all. We learned from him that it even has a coffee shop and a bar inside.
Our last stop of the tour was right in front of the governor’s mansion, which we learned was partially destroyed in an arson fire in 2008 when a hooded man walked up to the front door and threw a Molotov cocktail at it.
We also made a quick stop by the Texas Main Street Office. As fans of (and regular volunteers for) Huntsville Main Street, we were happy to see where the program began.
The nice weather that had held up for us during our tour began to falter, and we parked our borrowed Segways and headed home after learning more about our state’s capital.