James Surls, the American Modern artist and SHSU alum, opened a show at the Wynne Home Arts Center on Saturday, November 5, 2016. The event attracted more than 100 visitors, with the opening reception sponsored by the Friends of the Wynne and staffed by the LEAP Ambassadors.
“Wynne Home exhibit openings are always fun,” noted LEAP President Alejandra Galvan, “but this one, involving James Surls, was a special honor.”
It was a sentiment shared by many of those who attended the opening reception.
James Surls graduated from SHSU in 1965 with his Bachelors in Arts, and from Cranbrook Academy of Art with his MFA in 1968. His distinctive style, often marked by wooden or bronze flower petals, is often described as “organic.”
Included in the Wynne Home exhibit was a combination of Surls’ sculptures and sketches, both of which elicited praise from the opening night’s visitors.
“We have seen Surls’ work at many museums,” noted LEAP Ambassador Megan Chapa, “but we haven’t seen his smaller pieces, and we have never had the chance to meet him, so this was nice!”
Surls was personable, speaking for about 15 minutes and explaining some of the pieces in the show. He divided them into feminine and masculine pieces, with the feminine pieces being more curved; the masculine pieces being more angular. He also spoke of his love for his wife, and how it has impacted his art.
Following his discussion, Mr. Surls was nice enough to sign some photos of his work that we brought to the show. He graciously did so, while chatting comfortably with us.
The exhibit will stay up for six months, twice the usual length of a show. In the past, the Wynne Home has had exhibits featuring David Adickes, Jesus Moroles, Ken Zonker, and Stanley Lea.
The Wynne Home also offers art classes to the public in the Fall, Spring, and Summer. The classes include topics as diverse as classic film, salsa dancing, oil painting, and cooking. The Wynne Home is open Tuesday through Saturday, and admission is free.
The LEAP Ambassadors would like to thank Wynne Home Director Linda Pease, Friends of the Wynne President Nancy Gaertner, Friends of the Wynne Vice President Genevive Brown, and the entire Friends of the Wynne board for the opportunity to assist. And, of course, we’d like to thank Mr. James Surls for his art and for his appearance in Huntsville, Texas.
The cadence began and we, the SHSU ROTC, stepped with our left foot first, beginning to march. Gripping the flag as tight as I could, I remembered all those who once fought for those colors. The Texas flag lowered, and the National Anthem began. The audience proudly sang along. As we posted the flags, I looked up to make sure the Texas star was facing the silent audience. I quickly took a left turn, faced the American flag, and saluted. I was honored to represent ROTC and the LEAP Center at the HEARTS Museum’s Annual Veteran’s Day Gala.
As we marched away Col Dennis Beal (ret) began to introduce the Huntsville Men’s choir. They sang “America the Beautiful” and the “Armed Forces Medley”. It was a breathtaking site to see the veterans stand up and honor their branch.
For attendants of the Gala, the Men’s Choir is always a highlight of the evening. When the Army song played, I stood up at attention, and listened. I couldn’t help but sing along and this time I tried really hard to listen to each word: “Count the brave; count the true, who have fought to victory.” These words repeated themselves in my mind all evening resonating as the reason we honor veterans every year. After the medley was sung, LTCOL Bill Miller gave the invocation and Executive Director of the HEARTS Museum, Command Sergeant Major (ret), Mark Robinson welcomed guests signaling the start of dinner.
As a member of ROTC and a LEAP Ambassador, I had dual duties. With the colors presented, I transitioned to my role as a LEAP Ambassador. The Ambassadors volunteered to run the silent auction throughout the evening. We were responsible for the auction by monitoring the bidding, and collecting the money and donations at the end of the evening.
This year, the silent auction proceeds supported the ROTC Martinez Scholarship. The Martinez Scholarship is awarded to an ROTC cadet each year and honors a pioneer family–Sam and Maria Martinez. The LEAP Ambassadors were grateful to be a small part of such a worthy cause.
The silent auction consisted of many delicious desserts, patriotic gifts, paintings, and jewelry.
The auction closed following dinner, signaling the Ambassadors to collect the bid sheets, notify winners, and prepare the items for pickup. This was undoubtedly the most challenging aspect of our job because we only had a short window of time to prepare before the program ended.
U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady was present at the Gala to thank veterans and show his support. We were fortunate enough to speak with Congressman Brady and thank him for his Congressional service. It is always rewarding for LEAP Ambassadors to visit with our elected officials and learn from them.
C.F. Hazelwood then gave a benediction to end the Veterans Day Gala. The auction winners were instructed to pay and receive their items as they walked out. Some bought one item, while others took home more than four.
We ended the event with Mrs. Clark (the HEARTS Museum Officer Manger) by discussing the event in After Action Review (AAR) format. Overall, the event was successful, and we are excited for the next HEARTS Veterans Museum event! Thank you to the HEARTS Museum for allowing the Ambassadors to volunteer each year in support of our local veterans.
On Saturday, the LEAPsters had to finally bid farewell to the endless flat land and lustrous skies of Oklahoma City, but not before a few last adventures. Like the tumbleweed in a dust storm, we drifted through the city and down to Dallas, in search of great art, food, and little bit of history.
Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum (Ashley)
After driving through the city and getting a feel for what 1995 would have been like in that quiet city, we reached the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum. Never had we visited an institution dedicated to a single tragedy, being able to capture and include poignant details of the Oklahoma City Bombing. The museum was structured in an interesting way. We started from the second floor and then worked our way down to the first. The facts were presented in chronological order, beginning with the events, down to the minutes, leading up to the bombing. It was this introduction that set the exposition of this heart-wrenching story.
It can be difficult to relate to an event (such as domestic terrorism) after being born years removed from it. But when you see how other people were impacted by it, the tragedy becomes more relatable. As we looked through the pre-bombing news articles and artifacts, we were amazed how Timothy McVeigh was actually interviewed by a journalist two years before, while professing anti-government propaganda related to the 1993 Branch Davidian Compound attack in Waco, Texas. Apparently these views were what compelled him to attack the Murrah Federal Building two years later. Perhaps the most gripping part of the museum was when we entered the model of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board room.
There we listened to a recording of the board’s minutes the day of the bombing. In the middle of the recording, the voices die, the recording crackles, and the explosion roars in the background. With the flickering of the lights, and the sounds of panicked screaming and confusion, some of us were close to tears.
We explored the rest of the museum, reading about the destruction…
…rescue, investigation, and miraculous rebuilding of the city.
After we witnessed the destruction of the bombing through the exhibits…
…we stepped outside onto the memorial and found the survivor tree. The area was really a place of brilliance as it was full of beauty and somberness.
There were large gates on each side of a pool with the time a minute before (9:01) and after the detonation (9:03) of the bomb.
Perhaps most gripping from the memorial was the 168 chairs engraved with names representing the people who died during the explosion, with 19 small chairs honoring the deceased children. The museum at first emits a certain mournfulness, but because of the survivor tree and the resilience it shine with its green, resurrected branches, we left with a sense of hope. This memorial deeply touched us, and was definitely one of our favorite places we visited on this trip. With this sense of vitality, we reached the end of the gate and made to get some lunch.
Iron Star Urban BBQ (Kaitlyn Tyra)
Before departing from Oklahoma City, we stopped to fill our growling stomachs at Iron Star Urban BBQ. LEAPster, Ashley Allen immediately described the restaurant as “hipster BBQ.” Rightfully so perhaps, as the atmosphere of the restaurant was very trendy. Regardless of it being hipster, it proved to have tasty food. To experience the restaurant as much as possible, we ordered bacon wrapped quail breast and jalapeño cornbread to sample. Both were surprisingly tasty! For our main entrees, we tried the pulled pork sandwich, the pimento cheese burger, and the smoked prime rib sandwich. Although the Oklahoma BBQ was different from our traditional Texas BBQ, we enjoyed trying Okie cousins’ delicious bbq!
Our dessert, like a sweet coup-de-grace, finished our meal consisting of a peach crisp, Drunken Turtle Cheesecake, and Double Chocolate Bread Pudding.
Everyone had their own favorites but we enjoyed sampling them all. Iron Star BBQ was a fantastic final meal for our time in Oklahoma City!
With that we piled back into the car and settled in for our drive to Dallas.
Nasher Sculpture Center (Mitchell Sanchez)
At the midpoint between Oklahoma City and Huntsville, we decided to take a breather near downtown Dallas. We took this opportunity to visit the Nasher Sculpture Center. Raymond and Pasty Nasher began the art collection dating back to the 50’s. Together this couple has built one of the finest collections of 20th century sculptures in the entire world. The students had the privilege and honor to walk among some truly amazing pieces, from the quirky Claes Oldenburg…
…to a couple of Pablo Picasso’s sculptures. One of them was inside one of the three galleries on the interior of the center, where other virtuosos of art were housed. While the second, much larger, Picasso was outside in the 1.4-acre sculpture garden.
The garden contains more than 90 trees, including oaks, elms and crepe myrtles. In the midst of this urban forest were pieces by Henry Moore…
…George Segal, and Barbara Hepworth, just to name a few. A particularly striking theme to the garden was how the nature and sharp cut stone and walk ways complemented each other in a way that demonstrated the ability of artists to enhance nature’s peace and beauty. The Nasher Sculpture Center gave us a wonderful vibe of elegance and peace. Peace much needed after a very momentous weekend.
With a last stroll through Klyde Warren Park, among a thong of lively children and mirthful adults, we boarded our van and made the last stretch to Huntsville. With the moon behind the clouds, and an air of tranquility, we ended our trip with a restful chat of all the wonderful adventures we had during the trip. From tripping through the ice, to trying out buffalo burgers, we reminisced on the happy memories of our Texoma LEAP Trip.
Our second day in OKC was a busy one, but that didn’t prevent us from enjoying some food and fun in this Southern/Midwestern city. In fact, we had a chance to explore Bricktown, Guatemalan food, and even ice skate!
Café Kacao (Ashley Allen)
For lunch we decided to try out some authentic Guatemalan food at Café Kacao. Before being seated, however, we waited outside the restaurant chatting, a result of the eatery’s popularity. This wait, a bit lengthy, was worth it. The music was upbeat and the interior was very colorful.
Looking at the menu, we were mystified by the many options we had before us. Drinks alone were provided by lot of different choices, from juices, to Mexican sodas, and specialty drinks like the Horchata latte ( a sweet mixture of rice milk, vanilla, cinnamon and coffee). In the end, we ordered Migallas, cochinito pibil, adobada, and even crab pupusas.
Ashely’s favorite dish, the Migallas, was a breakfast dish composed of scrambled eggs, various vegetables, Pico Del Gallo and crushed tortilla chips mixed together, accompanied by a small fruit cup and black beans. The plate was so delicious that she practically wiped it clean, a feat that has eluded many of us during this feast-filled-trip.
Bricktown Brewery (Ashley)
For dinner, we ventured into the city’s river walk. Following the foot steps of the Sooners, or at least the direction of Paul Moor’s sculptures, we began our trek to the Land Run Monument. With friendly chatter and a shining skyline, we followed the soft, rippling river, and before we knew it, we had reached the city’s Bricktown District.
The historically industrial district turned social district, with it’s bright lights, quirky sights, and lively music, was eye candy so as to make us hungry. After walking a lap around the square, where we saw a Mickey Mantle statue…
…and even a statue of Sisyphus…
…we stopped by a restaurant called the Bricktown Brewery. It was different from the other places that we had eaten during the trip, strictly because it wasn’t an authentic, ethnic-based restaurant. The majority of the group ordered different pizza pies to share amongst ourselves. Ryan’s favorite was the combination pizza which had morning sausage, pepperoni, and ham, topped with additional mushrooms, onions, and bell peppers. The experience here was excellent and if ever in Bricktown again we would definitely go straight to this great establishment. As Ashley commented “every place we’ve eaten in Oklahoma has been such a great experience, and I really appreciate the exposure to the different cultures and the food that goes with them!”
Slipping Through the Ice Rink (Ryan)
After our meal, we walked the few blocks to the Myriad Botanical Gardens, where we took advantage of their skating rink. With Professor Yawn’s instructions all of the LEAPsters and Ryan laced up and took to the ice.
Although it was a small rink, it seemed to take some of us forever to make a full lap, whether it be because we were holding onto the rails or we couldn’t seem to get any momentum.
Some us, however, performed our very best skating abilities. For example, Brian accidentally did his best impression of Charlie Chaplin while sliding and slipping through the ice.
He would seem to fall for about ten seconds and then catch himself on the railing in a cool and relaxed position as if nothing had happened. We only stayed for a little while, as the air grew colder and our feet began to ache. It was unclear as to the professor’s motivation to bring us to the rink, whether it was to expose us to a sport we seldom have a chance to practice or for his own amusement to look at us fall and tumble.
Perhaps his absence at the rink was indication to the latter hypothesis.
Ashley, Ryan, and Kaitlyn proved the best skaters…
…and Ashley and Ryan even raced, with Ryan’s longer legs providing the edge.
No matter the falls on the ice, we all had ice-loads of fun. With iced backs (from those that had fallen on the ring), we walked back to the car and headed back to the hotel. As a day well spent in learning, exploration, and vigorous sport, we welcomed our bed with a tired, melancholy sigh, for tomorrow would be our last day of our Texoma Adventure.
With the conference part of the trip over, we embraced the more relaxed portion of the trip by learning of Oklahoma, strolling through luscious gardens, and venturing into the icy realms of ice skating. First however, we drove a few miles off of downtown looking for the capitol building.
Oklahoma State Capitol (Kaitlyn)
As we reached the domed structure, we admired the artwork surrounding the capitol building…
…and then wandered inside the massive structure to find a large construction zone. Unfortunately, the visitor’s center was closed because it was Veteran’s Day, so we proceeded through the capitol exploring on our own. We started on the first floor admiring the rotunda and the State Seal of Oklahoma. The state motto of Oklahoma: “Labor Omnia Vincit” (Labor Conquers All Things) was beautifully showcased within the seal and the dome was impressive as well.
Although we did not think the Oklahoma State Capitol was as grand as Texas’s State Capitol, we did consider it more artistic than ours. Notably, we saw many paintings of Wilson Hurley, a native Oklahoman, depicting the different landscapes of the state. We learned about native Oklahomans such as, Will Rogers, Jim Thorpe, and Sequoyah, whose portraits hung on an upper level of the State Capitol, and even Mickey Mantle, whose portrait was on the ground floor.
A short distance away, we visited the Senate Chamber. The House of Representatives was closed today, but we still learned about the organization of the legislature. We made the best without a tour guide and enjoyed our morning of exploration!
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum (Brian Aldaco)
Embracing the Okie spirit, we continued our Oklahoma City tour by visiting the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. As we crossed the front entrance, our sight was instantly drawn to the end of the hall. Against a magnificent window wall, filtering a warm sunny glow, stood a colossal Indian mounted on a horse both carved from white stone which embraced the outside light. With a look of defeat and a horse at mid-stop, James Earl Fraser was able to sculpt his subject’s vanquished spirit in “The End of the Trail.”
We posed for a photo with Fraser’s work…
We actually got a second photo with the sculpture as well. Our trip-themed t-shirts feature the Fraser piece, so we have our backs to the camera to make that connection….
Fraser’s talent was also evident in his Lincoln sculpture which stands overlooking the main hall from his east wing repose.
Following the scope of his solemn gaze pointing westward, we trailed down the west wing of the museum as searchers of the Western Performers Gallery.
Upon entrance to the gallery, we were greeted by the awe-striking statue of none other than President Ronald Reagan (a former western movie actor).
As we ventured into the exhibit, a distinct jolly smile caught our attention. Nearing this Norman Rockwell portrait, we rejoiced as we had found the gallery portion dedicated to the acclaimed Walter Brennan.
Along with him, other great western actors were commemorated such as Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Harry Carey Jr, and of course, the immortal, John Wayne.
But from western inspired performers to true performers of western legend, demonstrated by exhibits on taming conquering of the west, Native Americans, and even a small scale Old Western town (akin to a film set), the museum was filled with inspiring artifacts of the west. Our only regret was that we had not much time to look through the entire museum, but our expedition had to move on as the Myriad Botanical Gardens awaited us…
Myriad Gardens (Sadie)
It’s not every day that we get to experience a mini-tropical paradise in the middle of Downtown Oklahoma City, but the Myriad Botanical Gardens gave us just that opportunity. Entering the greenhouse, we were greeted with a large variety of foliage…
…and the sound of a rushing waterfall, much like an oasis in the middle of the city.
Like explores trailing through the jungle, we discovered many new plants and even encountered plants that smelled like goods such as root beer and cinnamon!
For some, true delight came in discovering the wildlife inside the greenhouse and around the Garden property. Inside we discovered butterflies, finches, a parakeet, and even a very friendly, talkative parrot.
After going through the inside garden and walking across an interior bridge…
…we stepped outside onto the grounds where we had the opportunity to watch swimming koi and a variety of waterfowl, including some of our neighbors (Canadian geese), as well as pose near the foliage.
We were so grateful to take a few moments to enjoy the beauty and peace of nature in the midst of our busy day.
But after the botanical stroll, we synchronized our watches and bid Mitchel, Sadie, and Ashley goodbye, as they would go their own way and tour the Oklahoma City University School of Law.
Oklahoma City University School of Law (Mitchell)
Before we began our tour, we first had to be dropped off on the Oklahoma City University campus. On our way into Sarkey Building, we discovered that our tour would be held in another part of town where the law school was located. Fortunately we ran into Dr. Farmer, the chair of the Oklahoma Political Science Association conference, who was generous enough to drive us downtown to the School.
Upon the completion of our short trip we were greeted by Lisa Lee, Administrative Assistant for Admissions, as she took us to the admissions center where the tour began. Billy Thomas and Zac Morgan, L3’s (3rd year law students), led the LEAP group (composed of Ashley, Sadie and Mitchell) on the informative tour across campus.
Along with Dr. Farmer, other professors that had attended the conference also joined our tour group. As we learned, the building was built in 1910 and was one of the first high schools in the state of Oklahoma. Walking through the grand rooms and halls was a treat, especially when every step was filled with the state of Oklahoma’s rich history.
The historic importance of the building was put into perspective when Mr. Thomas informed us of the building’s role after the Oklahoma bombings. The FBI used the building to head all rescue operations for the disaster. It is impressive to note that the building was undamaged after the bombing but for a few windows that were shattered. Mr. Morgan and Mr. Thomas then took us by the headquarter for the Innocence project. It was a pleasure to actually see the inter-mechanisms of the project, observing the busy law students studying papers and files. We toured the library along with an overview of the research tools available for students.
We also had the privilege to visit the J. William Conger Courtroom.
To finally wrap up the tour we viewed a couple of class rooms which were from 25 seat to about 70 seats. The classroom size was very similar to the rooms at Sam. We made our way back to the admissions center where we had final discussions with Lisa, Billy and Zac about the school and Oklahoma City itself. The tour gave us great insight to the law school, university, students and Oklahoma City.
Oklahoma History Center (Kaitlyn)
With some ambassadors touring the Law School, others headed over to the Oklahoma History Center to learn about the diverse subject matter relating to the state of Oklahoma. Upon entering, the gleam of Wiley Post’s airplane (which hung from the ceiling) greeted us better than any friendly smile.
Wiley Post, an Oklahoman, was one of the first pilots to experiment with flight, but ultimately crashed near Alaska where him and acclaimed Will Rogers died. Due to Post’s contributions to space travel, developing a pressurized suit that would serve as the prototype for those worn by astronauts, part of the first floor was dedicated to Oklahoma’s connection to the Space Program. After glancing at the interstellar artifacts, the LEAP Ambassadors transitioned to the first exhibit covering the different Native American Tribes. The exhibit taught us of their culture, homes, careers, languages, and traditional clothing. We were thankful that the museum provided a unique way for us to learn about Native American culture.
Upstairs, we were greeted with a beautiful Allan Houser sculpture of an Indian woman. Earlier this morning, we saw his work outside the Oklahoma State Capitol. His works are prominent across the state for their beautiful depiction of Native Americans. It was neat to see his artwork in two places within the same day!
The next exhibit walked visitors through the history of Oklahoma starting with the era of the Sooners and ending with a then and now comparison of various qualities of everyday life such as life expectancy, income, and population.
The exhibit was comprehensive because it covered the political and cultural history of Oklahoma. Observing the various artifacts of the state’s history, we found ourselves running out of time as we were in need of picking up our fellow LEAP comrades. After a short trip to the bookstore, we traveled back to regroup with our fellow LEAPsters and continue on with our afternoon. Although our tour was short, we enjoyed learning more about the history of Oklahoma!
Following our fun and informational day at the Oklahoma Political Science Association’s Annual Conference, we looked forward to a sugary snack. As soon as we walked into Pinkitzel, we knew we had come to the perfect place of much welcome relaxation. The bold, eclectic sweets shop was fully decked out with giant cupcake décor, a hot pink horse, and suits of (pink) armor, along with other various and unique decorations. Most importantly, there was a large display of all kinds of gourmet cupcakes and other sweets.
We enjoyed unique cupcake flavors such as pink lemonade, cookies and cream, and double chocolate truffle, complemented with coffee and even specialty hot chocolate! Additionally, we also had the opportunity to try macarons. Not only did some of us get to try this delicious snack for the first time, but we also learned the difference between a macaron and a macaroon. A macaron is in essence a French meringue cookie, while a macaroon is a Southern sweet made of shredded coconut and condensed milk.
While some of us are still debating the macaroon v. macaron enigma, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and the perfect fuel to hold us through our pre-dinner adventure at the Oklahoma Museum of Art.
By the time we had finished our delicious desserts, we found the sun setting atmosphere bearing on us as became more lighthearted and relaxed. To me, visiting the museum was the perfect way to spend the evening after hearing speeches and presentations from the panels. Furthermore, I was extremely excited to finally visit the largest and most revered exhibit at the museum, the Dale Chihuly exhibit.
Chihuly’s specialty is glass blowing—an art from that I was familiar with before the trip, but never thought that it was possible to create such a variety of sculptures.
No two pieces were identical, not even when Chihuly was following the classic style of his Persian sculptures. On this note, one display that really caught my attention was the “Oklahoma Persian Ceiling.” It is almost impossible to describe due to the fact that I have never seen anything like it! We walked along a white corridor and above our heads were many different glass pieces fitted together in disarray, different shapes, loud colors, and intricate designs. A lot of his pieces seemed other worldly, belonging in a place of dreams and imagination. Chihuly’s style is so enchanting that the fifty-five feet tall “Eleanor Blake Kirkpatrick Tower” at the entrence created a general feel for his talented and daring glassmanship.
There were other paintings and sculptures we browsed through. As we toured the rest of the museum, we saw works by well-known artists like Georgia O’Keeffe, John James Audubon, Andy Warhol…
…and many more. We learned a lot of history behind different displays and their significance.
One story I found interesting was about the painting “The Laughing Indian” by Fritz Scholder. Scholder fought against the stereotypical Americanized version of Indians, who were stoic and romanticized, and placed them in a light of humanized nature. He did this by exaggerating certain characteristics forcing his subjects to look more awkward and out of place, which subliminally correlates to Native Americans’ history in America.
Overall the Oklahoma City Museum of Art taught us many things and exposed me to a lot of different styles of art. My only regret is that we didn’t have more time to examine each display to compare and contrast them. It was a wonderful opportunity to attend such a beautifully diverse accumulation of paintings and sculptures.
Evening Fun, by Sadie McLaughlin
As we finished up our tour of glass heaven, we decided that it was time for dinner. Our final culinary adventure for the day took us to Norman, Oklahoma. Here we arrived at the Greek House where we were treated with abundant plates of delicious Greek food across the street from the University of Oklahoma. We all greatly enjoyed generous servings of gyro meat, pita bread, and tzatziki.
Just when we thought we could not possibly eat more, we managed to fit in a few bites of baklava, a rich layered pastry filled with honey and nuts. With happy hearts and full stomachs, we attempted to walk off our calories with an expedition through OU campus.
As we neared campus, the dramatic architecture of OU campus instantly grasped our interest. The majestic gargoyles embedded at the buildings’ facade, lighting that accentuated the lines and curves of this historic buildings, and sculptures scattered around the campus took hold of us and enticed us to immerse ourselves deeper into the campus.
Speaking of immersing ourselves, we tried our hand at telephone stuffing, a 1950s fad that we wanted to revive…
OU has six telephone booths, brought in as an homage to the booths across London when OU’s President, David Boren, spent time at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. They provide a bit of nostalgia, class–and fun–to the OU campus.
Eventually we found ourselves inside the library, a dichotomous building indeed, as part of the facility was modernized (with imacs, cutting edge study rooms, cutting edge vending machines, etc.), while the other part was the historic library. This latter part of the building was what interested us the most, as the massive scholarly study rooms, bountiful amount of antique books, and luxurious design was unlike anything we had ever seen.
After going through the fields of OU, finding sculptures by James Surls…
…Jesus Moroles, and Robert Indiana…
…along the way, the clock tower struck its 10 pm chimes. With this solemn ring filling the campus, its echo had a near melancholy tone as if it were sad to see us go.
But by that time we were more than ready to hit the hay after a near overstimulating day of political science panels, amazing food and art, and our improvised expedition of the beautiful OU campus. Now it was time to go to sleep and get ready for tomorrow’s adventure in the Capital of Oklahoma City.
With eager spirits, the LEAP Center took to the road to visit Oklahoma City. With the end of the semester ever so close, travels involving art, history, and food was a lift to the spirit. Our first objective, however, was to attend the Oklahoma Political Science Association Conference, where Brian and Professor Yawn were presenting separate papers.
Following a stop at Cuppie and Joe’s for some morning coffee, we headed to the conference for the morning session, in which Brian was scheduled to present his paper on economic development in Mexico.
Morning Session, by Brian Aldaco
United as a team of proud Bearkats, we walked into the Starkey Building on Oklahoma City University’s campus. With a stomach full of nerves and delicious Chi-Latte, I looked for room 100. My panel was composed of students from East Central University, University of Central Oklahoma, and University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, and we were all eager to begin.
As the first research projects were presented, focusing on the use of social media by Oklahoma legislators (Lauren Stafford and others)…
…the morality of athletic programs in universities (Allyson Wilcox)…
…gender as defined by the supreme court, and public opinion concerning the raise in teacher’s wages, I revised by notes in last-minute preparation of my presentaiton. With twelve minutes allocated to each presentation (some composed of groups), my turn soon came to step up to the podium and present the research I had conducted on economic policy throughout Mexico’s history.
With a palpitating heart, I began, occasionally stumbling, but nonetheless detailing the various economic periods of Mexico and how industries are currently affected by globalism.
After a short Q&A session from the audience…
we retired to the audience seats where my encouraging LEAPsters congratulated me on a well delivered presentation, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Innocence Project, by Kaitlyn Tyra
After the interesting and informative student panel, the conference recessed briefly to gather lunch and reconvene in the conference room for keynote speaker Vicki Behenna. Executive Director of the Oklahoma Innocence Project at the Oklahoma City University School of Law, Ms. Behenna discussed the project’s objectives, the factors contributing to wrongful convictions, the opportunities provided for law students in connection with the project, and Oklahoma’s latest exoneration. The Oklahoma Innocence Project aims to help exonerate wrongly convicted individuals and to provide a unique educational experience for law students.
During her discussion, we learned that there are many reasons citizens can be convicted for crimes they did not commit such as inaccurate eyewitness testimony, procedural errors, evidence misinterpretation, and false confessions. We were surprised to learn that it takes 6 to 10 years for an inmate to be exonerated from the time the Innocence Project receives the case. Although this time period seems lengthy, the Innocence Project stays busy with more than 100 cases on their current case load.
Proudly, Ms. Behenna described Oklahoma’s most recent exoneration of Malcolm Scott and De’Marchoe Carpenter in July 2016. The crime involved a drive-by shooting which killed one women at a party in 1994, where the young men were convicted of the murder at age 18. The then young boys would serve 22 years in prison for a crime they had not committed before the innocence project was able to successfully exonerate them. Ms. Behenna discussed the specific case and the continuous amount of work they have to do on current cases. For LEAP Ambassadors, after meeting Michael Morton last year (who was wrongfully convicted in Texas), the keynote address carried extra meaning and an emotional connection with us.
American Topics Panel, by Mitchell Sanchez
After Ms. Behenna’s eye-opening presentation, we decided to split up to have a chance to listen from various discussion panels. With our plan set in motion, Brian Aldaco, Sadie McLaughlin, and I decided to attend an American Topics Panel in which SHSU’s very own Mike Yawn would present his paper. This panel, led by Dr. Bob Darcy, covered many different aspects of political science making it a thought-provoking session. It kicked off with Oklahoma City University professor Dr. Darcy and Dr. Mark Payton’s, “A Fresh Look at Fair Apportionment”, which dove into how the number of representatives for each state is actually decided.
Dr. Brett Sharp from University of Central Oklahoma then discussed his research on political history through editorial cartoons and how they paint a colorful picture of many key political times throughout the US and world history. The third presentation was given by Dr. Aaron Mason, professor from Northwestern Oklahoma State University and covered constitutional theory of American Indian Tribes. Native American Tribes were a particularly interesting aspect to Oklahoma political scene, which Dr. Mason so wonderfully presented to us Texans. Thomas Taylor from Redlands Community College looked at the decline and possible demise of Democrats in Oklahoma, a very timely piece with the recent election results.
Transitioning from topic to topic finally led us to our very own Professor Yawn. Professor Yawn presented his research on, “City and County Use of Social Media” where he discussed how advancements in technology and growth in social media could prove very beneficial for county use.
Criminal Justice Discussion Panel, by Kaitlyn Tyra
After the rest left to the neighboring conference room, Ashely Allen and I stayed in room 100 to listen to the very interesting conversation about recent reform in Oklahoma’s Criminal Justice System. The panel discussant was Former State Speaker of the House, Kris Steele, along with a team of specialized individuals who headed the campaign on the state propositions. Each provided their insight and background making the panel lively and personal. The speakers were passionate, citing a number of statistics showing the issue of the Oklahoma Criminal Justice System. The panel discussed solutions and how to improve the system. It was an engaging way to learn about one of Oklahoma’s major issues!
Views on Class and Support for Right Wing Policies Panel, by Mitchell Sanchez
Deciding that it was better to divide and conquer the conference’s discussion panels, we again split up where Sadie, Ashely, and I went into the Views on Class and Support for Right Wing Policies Panel. With recent election results, this panel was particularly interesting. Dr. Woo Jin Kang from the Kyung Pook National University presented his research on, “Income and voting Behavior in Korean Politics: Why Do the Poor Support Conservative Political Parties?” Looking into the politics of another country helped give some perspective to the occurrences of our own country. Following Dr. Kang, Dr. Bob Darcy delivered a passionate presentation and discussion of support for Donald Trump. This relevant topic was intensely, and at times contentiously, discussed.
Pubic Administration Panel, by Brian Aldaco
While Mitch and his group analyzed the elections more in depth, Kaitlyn and I learned of public administration policies dear to Oklahomans. With discussion on the diversification of revenue sources for the state budget, the preferred paradigms of public officials, and policy regarding gambling revenue from Indian Territory, we were exposed to the differences of public policy needs as compared to those of Texas.
The day brought forth an exchange of many interesting ideas. For most of us, this was our first conference, and our major takeaways were as follows:
Presenting papers is difficult, with much research going into a topic. But the result is an exchange of ideas that can be beneficial to the presenter and his/her audience;
The election of Donald Trump is likely to remain controversial;
The presence of Indian tribes in Oklahoma poses interesting challenges and opportunities that are not really on the public agenda in Texas.
For us, the conference presented many opportunities to learn and to embark on professional growth, and together we look forward to learning more about Oklahoma City.
Amidst the political commotion of the current Presidential Election, LEAP Ambassadors participated in educational civic engagement by hosting Mock Elections for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade students at Estella Stewart Elementary School. We arrived as the school bells signaled the start of the school day. To prepare for our students, we set up our polling stations inside the library, relying on colorful voting stations and patriotically designed ballot boxes.
Our goal was to teach the elementary students about the election process and to habituate them to the act of voting.
When the first group of students arrived, they were promptly seated for their first lesson aimed at teaching them about local government. LEAP Ambassadors acted as teachers, educating students about who our government leaders are, how those leaders get elected, and how to participate in the electoral process.
From group to group, the conversations with students varied depending on their questions, but each lesson ended with excited students lining up to cast their votes.
First and second graders were given ballots with pictures to help them identify their choice for president, while fourth graders were given regular ballots with only the candidates’ names on them. The rules for voting were enforced to ensure that our mock elections were as realistic as possible. Talking and looking at others ballots were prohibited. The children were so used to this routine that some, after casting their votes, were worried that they had not written their name on their ballots. We calmed them down by explaining the anonymity of the voting process.
As each student slipped their vote into the ballot box, it was rewarding to see the smiling students excited about voting in their first election! Wearing their “I Voted” stickers with great pride, each student left the room ready to turn 18 and cast their real votes.
Although though the true results will come to light next week, for these mock elections the ballots were counted with Hillary Clinton winning with 64% of the vote.
We suspect that the actual election will be much closer, although we suspect the end result will be the same.
With the jolly goodbyes from a group of happy little voters…
…we left the elementary excited by the children’s excitement in civic engagement. Thank you to Estella Stewart Elementary School for allowing us to visit and contribute to the success of a future generation of voters!