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!
Upon arrival this morning, boot campers were greeted with warm breakfast tacos, fruit, homemade granola, yogurt, and coffee to start the second day of NPF’s Campaign Bootcamp. It was a great start to a fourteen-hour day, filled with learning about all manner of campaign topics.
Chris Perkins & Polling
The first presentation of the day was centered on polling and how to use it to your advantage within a campaign. The speaker, Chris Perkins, partner at Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research and an expert on quantitative and qualitative analysis, presented helpful guidelines to think about when managing a real campaign.
One of his main points throughout the presentation was the importance of targeting: “targeting the right persuadable voters is key to victory, especially if you cannot afford to reach out to everyone.” His close created a seamless intro for the next session, how to craft a campaign message.
They gave us strategies for effective message delivery and great ways to build a campaign message. We learned the four key rules:
visualize the message,
tell the story,
and keep it short.
We were also reminded “it’s not what you say, but who you are.” A great way to promote a successful message is by frequency and repetition because it takes the human brain five or more repetitions before it recognizes an important message. After ten repetitions, the human brain has absorbed the message, which is especially applicable for voter contact via mail. All these great tips and strategies will be very useful when strategizing for our campaign presentations tomorrow afternoon.
Vincent Harris & Social Media
We were then introduced to “The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet,” Vincent Harris. His presentation was filled to the brim with energy and strong delivery.
Harris, CEO of Harris Media, discussed the power of the digital media and the leverage this medium can bring to a party. Facebook, a large part of the digital media, plays a vital role, as do other smaller social media outlets. Currently working on Rand Paul’s bid for President, Harris believes digital media will be one of the deciding factors of the election. The direction and the ever-changing political climate have indicated that the Internet along with digital media will become king in political campaigns. The capabilities with rapid response will make it especially crucial in the end game parts of elections. Sticking to one or two messages makes getting the word out simple and effective, and it worked for us–as we remained engaged in the midst of a long Saturday.
Of course, crafting the message is part of the battle—implementing that message is another part.
“The great thing about the NPF, is that you learn so much, from so many people, in such a short time.”–Constance Gabel, LEAP Center VP
Matthew Brownfield, Colleen Loper, and Voter Targeting
This session focused on teaching us the essentials of targeting, voter contact and voter files, and how to get the most from knocking on doors. Essential information resources for the campaign manager, according to Brownfield and Loper, include the district’s electoral history district census data, and on-the-ground reports. Each mentor then went into specific tools that their party utilizes to narrow their voter targets as quickly and accurately as possible. Loper spoke about the main Democratic tools, which include the Voter Association Network (VAN), DCCC, DND, TDP, Blue Labs and the Analyst’s Institute for research. Brownfield admitted that the Republicans are lacking in this field by only having the GOP data center, but he still gave general research methods such as the state party databases, county party databases and voter files.
The two presenters then explained how important door-to-door campaigning is and how it is much more effective when trying to get out the vote (GOTV), but can be much more time consuming than phone calls. We learned that “knocking on doors” drives turnout and can be an effective method when trying to target moderate voters. Knocking on doors also insulates the campaigns from any change in opinion that the targeted voter might have had. Brownfield also mentioned that block walks during door-to-door campaigning can provide intelligence on the electoral situation of the opposing campaign. The two presenters agreed that the most appealing aspect of door-to-door campaigning is all of the positive media attention that can be earned. We learned that a good strategy when knocking on doors for a campaign is to have the candidate himself or herself knocking on doors as well. The presenters ended by mentioning that the candidate should always show that they are willing to put in work even in the smallest aspects of the campaign and that they can change a targeted voter’s mind easily, especially face-to-face.
Maegan Stephens and Communication
Finishing up the day of informative sessions, the energetic communication specialist, Maegan Stephens, focused on political pitches and presentations.
She began by engaging the students in a quick icebreaker, allowing them to move around and tune in.
Throughout this session, Ms. Stephens covered the content, delivery, slide deck, and questions and answers section of a successful presentation as well as the tools to create a political pitch. More specifically, she discussed the three parts of the content: the introduction, strategy, and the conclusion. She also emphasized the importance of delivering a presentation, being conscious of the presenter’s non-verbal and vocal communication. With her help we gained knowledge and confidence beneficial to our upcoming presentations.
Luke Marchant, Matt Glazer, Drew Gallaway, Coda
Luke Merchant and Matt Glazer, boot camp mentors, wrapped up the day with last-minute details and Q&A regarding the project and presentation…
…followed by a brief overview of tomorrow’s agenda by Drew Galloway who, prior to working for the Annette Strauss Institute, worked for the White House.
While listening and learning occupied students through most of the day, the evening hours were spent creating mock campaigns…
…from real data and hypothetical candidates from House District 117 in San Antonio.
We once again practiced the “working dinner” concept and vigorously tried to get as much as possible done in our teams, with the help of our mentors, Mr. Merchant, Mr. Glazer, Ms. Holden, and Ms. Moore.
Balancing different topics such as budgeting and polling, LEAP Center students tried to recall as much as possible from the previous sessions to create campaigns that would make the mentors proud.
Finally, with work still left to do, we left the campus for the hotel around 10:00pm, for an evening of blogging, research, and presentation practice. Hopefully, some sleep will follow this evening while we look forward to a packed day of presentations tomorrow.
The LEAP Center Student Advisory Board (and some fellows SHSU students) embarked to Austin this week to attend the New Politics Forum’s “Campaign Bootcamp.” But in the true multi-disciplinary spirit of the organization, we had a few other things to tackle first…
To begin of our first full day in Austin, LEAP students headed to Salado, TX to explore a tiny, tourist town full of southern hospitality. Upon our arrival, we visited Salado Creek with hopes to see Tabletop Rock, where wagons crossed the creek bed during the nineteenth century. The group took the opportunity to take selfies with the overflowing creek.
In the nineteenth century, Salado was also home to Salado College, which had 300 students at peak registration. Unfortunately, in 1901 the college burned down leaving ruins which have since been converted into a public park. The ruins made for an exciting photo opportunity!
Following our visit to the Salado College ruins, LEAP students eagerly enjoyed browsing about in local shops. We encountered many different types of art, jewelry, and homemade goods. Helping to boost our energy, the group stopped at Salado Mercantile, a gift shop, which offered a variety of unique bottled sodas and their specially seasoned crackers.
The Legend of Sirena
Regaining a bit of jump in our step, the LEAP Center students headed to the statue of Sirena, by Troy Kelley. According to mythology, Sirena, an Indian woman, wished to marry a brave man who did not feel the same passion for her. Drawn by her pain of unrequited love, a magic wielding catfish found her and promised her marriage with the warrior if she swam as a mermaid with him each full moon for a year. She married her brave man, knowing that no human could see her in her mermaid state, lest she be mermaid forever. The last full moon of her penance, Sirena’s husband saw her swimming in the river, sealing her mermaid fate. She now lives as a bronze sculpture, forever in anguish on the bank of Salado Creek.
To suppress our mid-morning sweet tooth, we made our way to a special treat that included sampling a delicious assortment of fudge at Salado’s Mud Pies Pottery. In the end, the group favorites were the crème brûlée, red velvet, and salted caramel fudge. Inside, we also eyed with want the wonderful ceramics masterpieces by local artist, Titia Arledge.
Salado’s Sculpture Garden
One of the unique parts of Salado proved to be the Salado Sculpture Walk. Consisting of a single pathway and a small creek, the sculpture walk was an unexpected surprise. Students enjoyed observing the unique pieces of art such as Troy Kelley’s “Handicapped Mask” and another by La Paso named Starburst for its kinetic motion.
Bringing the adventure of Salado to an end, LEAP students had the opportunity to watch one of Salado’s glass blowing artists, Aaron Gist, in action as he created hand blown pieces for a Chihully-like chandelier masterpiece. Watching in amazement, LEAP students observed the art of making glasswork in one of the many local shops that exhibits the importance of art to Salado’s community.
Georgetown’s Monument Cafe
On the way back to Austin, LEAP students made a speedy stop for lunch at the Monument Café in Georgetown.
The Cafe specializes in breakfasts (served all day) and lunches. We opted for the lunch fare, with our group enjoying home cooked biscuits, club sandwiches, burgers, and delightful fried blueberry pies with frozen custard. The food was good, the service was friendly and quick, and we left satisfied and in a hurry to get to the New Politics Forum Campaign Bootcamp.
New Politics Forum
Our Salado adventures were so intriguing that we arrived late to the University of Texas campus and managed to walk straight into the beginning presentation. Luke Marchant, the director at Mammoth Marketing Group, who has successfully managed state and federal political campaigns for people such as U.S Senator Marco Rubio, was our first Republican mentor along with Democrat Matt Glazer. Matt Glazer is currently the executive director of the Austin Young Chamber of Commerce and is also a seasoned NPF democratic mentor. The two mentors opened up by discussing the types of campaigns and highlighted the different areas of them. We learned that using previous polling data would help us decide to simply mobilize the voters or persuade new voters. Marchant and Glazer also spoke to us about the elements of a campaign and some of those elements include knowing the reason why are you running, the issues that matter, the goal and the message that you want your campaign to portray. Asking yourself why you are running is one of the most important questions of campaigning.
After a short break, we were introduced to Rob Johnson and J.D. Gins. Rob Johnson is the former campaign manager for Rick Perry for President and J.D. Gins is the executive director of Travis County Democratic Party. Like the first two speakers, Gins and Johnson are men of opposing parties to fulfill the nonpartisanship ideals of the program. Both speakers agreed that running a campaign involves “blocking and tackling”, meaning that following the steps to create a successful campaign is key. Rob Johnson pointed out that the Digital Director is one of the most important persons in a campaign and that adapting to society is crucial to produce a win.
When Gins and Johnson are determining if they want to run the campaign of a candidate, they ask a few important questions, including whether they have enough money, whether there’s an open position, and most importantly whether a candidate WANTS to run and put in the effort that it takes to win. As Gins said, “When you walk in, do the work in front of you” meaning that not even the candidate is above the smallest job that needs to be done. Before closing their presentation and going to a break, the two men let the students know that they look for people who take direction well, work hard, are willing to challenge the senior staff, while being humble enough to ask for help.
When we returned from our break, Pasha Moore spoke to us about fundraising. She informed us of the reasons individuals give to campaigns and the components of a finance plan. There are many reasons that people give, such as friendships, habit, to change or affect policy, but Moore let us know that the main reason that people give to campaigns is simply because they are asked. She also emphasized “the ask”. There are different ways of asking and you should always be confident and straight forward when asking people to donate money. Finally, she closed by reminding us to always thank the donors.
Seeing as the afternoon was turning into evening, we finished the last session to emulate a real campaign scenario with a “working dinner” of pizza and salad, while being able to meet and interact with our teams for the first time.
The weekend of campaign bootcamp consists of long days of training, finishing with presentations from each team on Sunday. Ironically enough, most of the LEAP Center students, Republicans at heart, were placed on Democratic teams. This might stem some interesting debate among peers.
Our first task as a team was to pick a name. This proved to be a great way to interact with our team for the first time and share ideas. After so much brainstorming we finally came up with our team names and began planning for our presentations. We shared our ideas on different political views, which should prove helpful in order to strategize for our campaign plans.
After our “working dinner” it was time to get back to our next presentation on volunteering. Executive director of the Dallas County Democratic Party, Taylor Holden, presented how volunteers are the building blocks to a campaign. We learned about recruiting, training, and rewarding volunteers. Volunteers will authenticate and build momentum for a political campaign. We learned the cardinal sins and commandments of volunteering such as never lie or skip training and building relationships with volunteers. Seen by most as the most important building block of a campaign, we sat with bated breath while taking in all of the complexities that volunteering entails.
Exhausted, we ended our first day of campaign bootcamp and headed back to the hotel. On our way back to the hotel we made a quick stop at the Capitol building for a goodnight selfie.
Excited about our day tomorrow full of training, we headed to bed ready to learn and soak up all that boot camp has to offer.
Six LEAP Center students started preparation for the New Politics Forum Bootcamp in the last twenty-four hours. Preparation included the drive to Austin, a fine meal at Shiraz Shish Kabob, and a morning of site-seeing around the Austin Area.
The meal at Shiraz Shish Kabob was entertaining, primarily because half of the students had actually never eaten Mediterranean food! After some Hummus, Tzatziki, Chicken Kabob, Lamb Kabob, Gyros, and Baklava, at least two of those three will probably go back for more.
After plans to kayak on Lady Bird Lake fell through because of the potential for bad weather and unsafe lake conditions, we decided to head north to Salado, a small tourist community that offered a morning full of fun! This included Salado Mercantile, Salado Glassworks, the Salado Sculpture Walk, the Salado’s Mud Pies Pottery and, of course, Salado Creek–which was quite full.
More to come following our first day at the Bootcamp!
LEAP Center students were privileged to meet with Morton’s prior to his general speech.
It was a great chance to ask questions and get some insight into his nightmare. In this small group discussion, Morton stressed the importance of his faith and how everyone experiences difficult trials throughout their life. One of Morton’s main points conveyed to students that we are stronger than we think we are and that we will come out of the hard times. Looking back, we will realize we needed trial to shape who we are supposed become.
Morton’s humility and gratitude for (almost) everyone who has been a part of his journey is inspiring. Students were thankful for the opportunity to converse with Michael Morton on a variety of topics relevant to both Michael Morton’s experiences and students’ lives. Ending the student small group session, Morton signed copies of his book, Getting Life, for those in attendance.
More than 300 students and community members then attended Morton’s presentation, making this the largest event LEAP has hosted thus far this year.
Especially interesting to Huntsville residents, Morton spent more than 11 years at the Wynne Unit where he received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Sam Houston. Indeed, Morton was taught by Jerry Bruce, whom he had a chance to visit with prior to his presentation.
Morton also got to meet Walter Bennett, Jr., whose father did more than anyone else in the past 35 years to ensure inmates had access to University education. Dr. Bennett also taught Morton in the 1990s.
Later, Morton transferred to the Ramsey Unit in Houston where he earned his master’s degree in English from the University of Houston.
Morton’s story of tragedy is unimaginable and heartbreaking. Morton was imprisoned for nearly 25 years before DNA testing provided by the Innocence Project proved his innocence. One of the most surprising parts of Morton’s story is his forgiveness towards the prosecution who withheld evidence that would have originally proved Morton’s innocence. Overall, Michael Morton’s story is incredible, heart breaking, unimaginable, and inspiring.
Following the presentation, Morton signed books. Approximately 65 people bought books, making this the largest book sale Barnes and Noble has had in four years.
After the lengthy book signing, the LEAP Center had a reception in the Holcombe Room, where lawyers and LEAP Center Advisory students, and others congregated and snacked…
…and discussed law…
and, of course, took more photographs!
The LEAP Center is thankful to the College of Criminal Justice, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Political Science Department, the Student Legal & Mediation Services, and most importantly Michael Morton for sharing his story with the community. We are saddened that such a tragedy occurred, thankful for the opportunity to learn from Mr. Morton, and hopeful that because of Michael Morton’s hard work and SB 1611 the unthinkable will never happen to another in Texas.
The LEAP Center would also like to thank Paul Olle and Ashley Norwood for the great photographs they took!
To learn more about Michael Morton’s story, “An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story” is available on Netflix and his book Getting Life is available through Barnes and Noble Bookstore.
The LEAP Center has had many opportunities to travel, volunteer in the community, and attend events showcasing world leaders from across the globe. This past week, though, the advisory board had the chance to share the LEAP Center’s mission and accomplishments with the Walker County Republican Women at their monthly meeting. Although the LEAP Center is non-partisan, we were so fortunate to be invited by the WCRW President (Madilene Loosier) and Vice President (Terry Stivers) to present the goings on of our organization, and we look forward to the opportunity to make similar presentations around the community.
Attending the meeting and presenting were two completely different accomplishments for the LEAP advisory board. In order to be prepared, we started working about a month and a half out. It proved a great researching opportunity as we had the chance to look back and learn about the Junior Fellows and the legacy we strive to continue. Old blogs, pictures, and even scrapbooks gave us plenty of information to create a well-thought out and organized presentation. Once we had the research finalized, we moved on to practicing our speaking skills. We met multiple times to work on delivery and succinctly relaying our message as a Center focused on cultural programs, travels, internships, and volunteer work.
After much research and practice, the day of the meeting arrived and along with it, a few nerves. Although we were a bit anxious about speaking to a large group, the Walker County Republican Women welcomed us with such hospitality that those nerves were quickly quieted. President Loosier and Vice-President Terry Stivers made sure we were taken care of and introduced us to the women, making us feel comfortable.
We had the chance to mingle with various members of the community and even talk to SREC District 5 Representative Nita Davidson, and Senator Schwertner’s District Representative, Hayden Paul.
Finally, after a few unexpected technological challenges, we began our twenty-minute presentation on the LEAP Program and all that it entails. Nerves aside, we became impassioned by our goal to represent the LEAP Center appropriately and eloquently described the mission to enrich academic education through volunteerism, internships, travel, and cultural programs. Finishing up, we had the chance to answer some great questions from those in attendance as well.
It was an eye-opening experience to be able to present to leaders in the political spectrum of Walker County and see what skills are needed to prepare a speech, as we have seen so often in the past. Following our mission to enrich academic education, we were able to learn something valuable outside of the classroom and gain life experience while doing it. We would like to thank President Loosier, Vice-President Stivers, WCRP Chair Linda McKenzie and all of the Walker County Republican Women who welcomed us so graciously and are such wonderful examples of women in politics today.
The LEAP Center is non-partisan, consisting of members of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents.