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Speakers and Topics

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  • Speakers and Topics



        ENGAGING              INTERACTIVE               PERSONAL


Topics change from year to year but are all unique and creative. Each year renowned guests are invited to attend LET'S TALK!™ to speak on a topic that they are an expert on.


To see the previous topics, click the links below:

2008  |  2009  |  2010  |  2011  |   2012 | 2013





1. "The Affordable Healthcare Act: What it Means to Texas"


Charles Schwertner

State Senator; District 5 and Orthopedic Surgeon

What does the Affordable Care Act mean to you, a citizen of the State of Texas? State Senator Charles Schwertner is a surgeon with an orthopedic practice that provides annual care to over 20,000 patients. His wife, Belinda is an OB/GYN.  With his real-world healthcare knowledge and legislative experience, Schwertner has taken a long, hard look at the Affordable Care Act and knows the good, the bad, and the ugly of this law. He offers a unique perspective look at the likely impact of the expansion of coverage offered under the ACA and why Texas has chosen to not participate in the expansion of Medicaid or the health insurance exchange provided under the law.

Dr. Schwertner's Website


2."The Game of My Life"


Dave Elmendorf

Los Angeles Rams, Retired All Pro Safety; 1980 Super Bowl XIV Team; TX A&M Sports Network, Color Commentator; Texas High School Hall of Fame; TX A&M Hall of Fame; College Hall of Fame; and NFL Hall of Fame

Sports fans, enjoy an evening with Dave Elmendorf, one of the most recognized professional players in the National Football League during his years with the Los Angeles Rams.  Although he was an award-winning center fielder for the Aggies and was drafted to play baseball for the New York Yankees, he chose to play football for the Rams after he was drafted in 1971.  Following his professional football career, Dave became a broadcaster on radio and television.  Today, in addition to his position as director of operations with a management consulting group, Dave is the color commentator for the Texas A&M football radio broadcasts.


3."The Real McCoy"


Neal McCoy


Get up-close and personal with award-winning country music singer Neal McCoy who got his start performing in local establishments in his home state of Texas before securing a spot as the opening act for Charley Pride.  Now, after three Platinum albums, five No. 1 singles and five Top 10 hits and such awards as “Entertainer of the Year” and “Video of the Year,” McCoy continues to wow his audiences with his live concerts featuring a celebration of music. McCoy is not only known for his singing and songwriting, he has also been honored with numerous humanitarian awards.  His East Texas Angel Network has raised over $5 million to provide financial assistance to families with children suffering from serious illnesses and he has performed in 15 USO tours since 2001.

Neal McCoy's Website

East Texas Angel Network


4. "Freedom From Testing"


Michael Williams

TEA; Commissioner of Education

Does testing make the grade? The results might be surprising. Michael Williams who serves as the Texas Commissioner of Education and heads the Texas Education Agency, can answer your questions. As a young attorney Williams caught the eye of President George H.W. Bush, who named him the assistant secretary of education for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Education in 1990. In that job, he led the charge to establish much of the DOE policy still in effect today.

Texas Education Agency Website


5. "Crime and Coffee"


Steven Wood `90, `93

Starbucks® Senior Manager of Corporate Investigations and Channel Development

After building a private security career in retail, insurance, cargo shipping, and the oil and gas industry, Steven Wood was recruited by Starbucks® Coffee Company, a $10.7 billion firm with 17,000 locations in more than 50 countries. As head of corporate investigations and analytics, his responsibilities have led him into the world of copyright infringement, cybercrime, embezzlement, and external fraud.  But not all his time is spent with the darker elements of society—he also works to protect employees and customers at Starbucks® sites throughout the world.

Starbucks Website


6.  "Beating Swords into Plowshares: Using Nuclear Energy for Positive and Peaceful Results"


Sam Dominey `52

President of General Nucleonics, Inc.

Most of us are familiar with the military and energy applications of nuclear technology but Sam Dominey can put a whole new “spin” on its other uses. A physics graduate, Sam, began his career in nuclear technology at the SM-1 Nuclear Power Plant in Ft. Belvoir, Va.  Because of his expertise in nuclear technology, he developed numerous patents that were utilized by military contractors for potential use in warfare.  Sam changed his focus from nuclear bombs to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes in 1980 when he purchased General Nucleonics.  He considers an in-flight blade indicator system for helicopter blade crack detection his most important patent. Required on all military aircraft today, the helicopter blade crack detection system has saved an untold number of lives and is considered so valuable, it has been installed in all of the helicopters utilized by the U.S. President.


7.  "Right to Bear Arms:  Preventing Violence or Crushing Constitutional Rights"


Bill Zedler `65, `67

State Representative District 96

Sandy Hook Elementary and other tragic shootings have fueled the gun control debate and passion runs high on both sides of the issue.  Bill Zedler, a Republican state representative, is a proponent of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. His path to politics coincided with his graduation from Sam Houston State University, service in the United States Army, and a long, successful career in the healthcare industry.  He became involved in grassroots politics as a young man and was first elected as a state representative for District 96 in 2003.  Zedler has served three terms in the Texas House of Representatives and been recognized for his work with numerous honors and awards, including The Chairman’s Award for Courage from the State Republican Party.

Bill Zedler's Website


8. "Tax Reform and the Economy"Kevin Brady





9.  "Chefs4Kids"


Eric Justice `92

Mexican Sugar; Managing Culinary Partner, Culinary Concepts Group; VP, Culinary Operations, Chefs4Kids; Founder and Former Executive Chef for Pei Wei Asian Diner and PF Chang’s China Bistro

Eric Justice can teach folks a few things about the power of bake sales. Eric has developed restaurants and menus all across the U.S., trained worldwide, and appeared on numerous regional television broadcasts.  Formerly the executive chef of Pei Wei Asian Diner and PF Chang’s China Bistro, he left the corporate world to pursue his dream of owning and creating new restaurant concepts. In 2009, a film shown at a fundraising event honoring the work of the Gladney Center for Adoption inspired Eric to travel to Ethiopia where he visited an orphanage. Back in the States, Eric and his friend, humanitarian Shawn Davidson, created a cookie to sell and raise money for the kids. In 2010, Chefs4Kids ran its first promotion, raising $25,000 for the orphanage in Ethiopia that Eric had visited six months before. Since that time Eric and Shawn have taken their work to China and Haiti. Creating a non-profit restaurant in Port au prince serving women's groups who take care of orphans.



10.  "All Things Culturally Texan"


Jake Silverstein

Texas Monthly; Editor and Author

While not a native Texan, Jake Silverstein, editor of Texas Monthly, fell in love with the wide-open spaces of the lone star state and the unique character of the people who proudly call themselves Texans.  He brings a different perspective of all things Texan to the iconic magazine, which has helped preserve Texas cultural heritage.

Texas Monthly Website


11.  "Keeping Texas on the Right Budgetary Track"



John Otto

State Representative; District 18

When the Legislature convened in January 2011, the state was beginning to make its way out of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Tough decisions had to be made in the face of one of the most significant budget challenges in our state’s history. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee,State Representative John Otto was tasked with helping engineer a state budget that fit within the means of Texas. Texas has a proven economic infrastructure making it the envy of the nation in economic development and job creation. People are coming to Texas in record numbers seeking better opportunities; how we manage the challenges of fast growth will determine our economic future. Rep. Otto will discuss plans for keeping Texas on the right budgetary tract.

John Otto's Website


12.  "American Violet:  When Justice is Not Just"


David Moore `98

David Moore Law Firm; Attorney

In 2003, former undercover narcotics agent David Moore had recently graduated from law school and just started his private practice when he was approached by Baylor Law School professor Mark Osler about assisting American Civil Liberties Union attorneys in a controversial case.  The case involved a young single mother in a rural Texas community who, along with more than 25 other residents, was wrongfully arrested on drug charges.  She had joined forces with the ACLU to sue the arresting officers and prosecutor involved in the case.  After examining the evidence and detecting flaws in the case, he agreed to serve as local counsel. The case was settled in mediation in Federal Court, and the convictions of those wrongfully accused were overturned.  David was the inspiration for a character in a fictionalized feature film about the case entitled “American Violet.” 

David Moore's Website


13.  "Conference Realignment:  Backyard Brawls to Cash Cows"


Christian Dennie `01

Barlow Garsek & Simon, LLP; Sports Attorney

We all know sports isn’t just about entertainment, its big business where top legal minds play to win. Christian Dennie, while playing baseball for SHSU, thought he would be a professional athlete.  However, an injury changed his focus from a bat to the “Bar.” After graduation from law school and getting a taste of various types of law, Christian pursued a career in sports law.  Today, he represents a diverse clientele, including recruiting services, sports-equipment retailers, pro sports franchises, NCAA conferences, and student athletes—for whom he has handled investigations, compliance matters and drug-test appeals.  Christian has also helped develop policies for handling accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct and written operating manuals and coaches’ contracts.  He has been named a “Texas Super Lawyer – Rising Star” by Texas Monthly and Law & Politics Magazine and is often asked to speak on topics relating to sports law throughout the country and in the media.

Christian Dennie's Website


14. "The Future of Offshore Oil and Gas"


Mark Burns `80

ENSCO, PLLC; COO and Executive Vice President

Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Ensco plc, Mark Burns, will address the current and future demand for offshore drilling assets and the offshore oil and gas market.  The offshore oil and gas market, both domestically and internationally, is operating in a period of unprecedented activity.  The search for oil and gas in both shallow and deepwater basins continues in all major production areas around the globe.  Ensco’s operations spans six continents and is a leading provider of offshore drilling assets to the global oil and gas industry.  Having successfully drilled some of the most complex wells in virtually every major offshore basin around the globe, Ensco has the expertise to address even the most complex and technical needs of the their customers. Mark will also discuss employment prospects and the opportunities for young people to join this exciting industry.

Ensco Website


15.  "Restoring Justice by Reducing Crime"


Terry Biehunko `73

FBI; Special Agent & iidon Associates; Former President


Danny Billingsley `72

Harris County Sheriff's Department; Former Chief Deputy Field Operations Commander

Terry Biehunko, a former United States Secret Service Agent with a current FBI “Top Secret Clearance” status as a Special Investigator, will discuss highlights of his career that have included assignments with former First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson, former U. S. Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, King Hussein of Jordan, and investigations in organized crime. Danny Billingsley was a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms prior to his 25 year tenure with Harris County from which he retired in 2008 as Chief Deputy, Field Operations Command.  Most of Billingsley’s investigative career was spent in criminal intelligence, organized crime, homicide and internal affairs.  Billingsley will share how advances in technology have enhanced cold case investigating.


16.  "Traveling the World With George W. Bush"


Laura Crawford

TaleGate; Founder, JDA Frontline, Inc.; Executive Vice President; and George W. Bush; Media Consultant, Director, Executive Producer and Ad Editor

Learn about the man behind the Office. Nationally recognized communications strategist Laura Crawford has been a creative force in successful political campaigns around the world for 20 years.  She created all television ads and films for then-Texas Gov. George Bush’s 1998 re-election campaign and inauguration and continued her work through his successful 2000 presidential campaign, serving as executive producer for all TV advertisements and films for “Bush for President,” “Bush-Cheney 2000,” and the 2001 Presidential Inaugural Committee.  Her experience also includes ad creation for The Republican National Committee and various senate, congressional and corporate clients.    A native of Texas, Laura also worked in Washington, D. C. for former Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson in the early 1990s.


17. "Fraud, Corruption and Government Waste"


Brian Collister `91

KTRK, Channel 13; Investigative Reporter

What’s it take to be an investigative reporter?  Well, for one thing, Brian Collister, an award-winning investigative reporter, is not afraid of stepping on toes when it comes to getting to the truth.  He grew up in The Woodlands and following his graduation from SHSU with a degree in broadcast journalism, Brian got his first breaks at Texas television stations in Bryan and Austin.  He also worked in Phoenix before returning to Texas where he specialized in investigative reporting at a television station in San Antonio.  During his time there, he earned seven Lone Star regional Emmys for his work in uncovering fraud, corruption and government waste.  Brian joined the “13 Undercover Team” with KTRK-TV in Houston in 2013.

KTRK Website


18.  "Messina Hof Uncorked:  The History, Success and Future"


Paul Bonarrigo

Messina Hof Winery & Resort; CEO

Wine lovers can learn the behind-the-scenes story of winemaking in Texas from Paul Bonarrigo, CEO of Messina Hof, one of the fastest growing, award-winning wineries and resorts in the state.  Messina Hof Winery and Resort was founded in 1977 on family values, romance and tradition, by Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo.  Starting off with just a vineyard, today Messina Hoff is home to the Vintage House Restaurant featuring vineyard cuisine, the Villa Bed & Breakfast, and the Winemaster’s Wine Bar, as well as the winery and resort. In 2012, the leadership torch was passed along to Paul when he was named CEO of the company.

Messina Hof Website


19.  "Meaty Musings:  Leona General Store Steakhouse"


Jerry and Cynthia House

Leona Country Store; Owners

Step back in time with Jerry and Cynthia House who will enlighten you with their secret to serving the best steaks in Texas along with a little East Texas hospitality! For the best steak and dessert between Houston and Dallas, the Houston Chronicle’s No. 1 vote is the general store in Leona, TX (population: 181).  Dr. Jerry F. House Sr., a “sometimes” retired Methodist minister, has owned and operated the Leona General Store Steakhouse since 1998. What started out to be a retirement hobby has turned into a thriving business serving as many as 400 steaks a night.

Leona General Store Website 


20.  "Discovering America's Hidden Treasures"


David Lackey

David Lackey Antiques and Arts; Owner

has appeared on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow®

That “old thing” sitting in your attic could be worth big bucks. Just ask David Lackey, Houston antiquarian and appraiser on the Emmy-nominated “Antiques Roadshow®,” who has a long-standing reputation as one of the region’s premier dealers in fine art and antiques. He grew up among collections of old and interesting objects and after graduating from college, Lackey worked as a buyer for Sanger Harris and Foley’s before embracing his passion for antiques as a full-time business. Today, he is a much sought-after authority on 18th- and 19th-century furniture, ceramics, silver, decorative arts and 20th-century regionalist art. He is often quoted in national magazines on the subjects of antiques and collecting.

David Lackey Arts and Antiques Website

Antiques Roadshow® Website


21.  "The Scout:  Searching for the Best in Baseball"


Mike Capps `73

Round Rock Express; Director of Broadcasting

Baseball fans will love talking with Mike Capps.  The 2014 season will be Mike’s 15th year as the Director of Broadcasting for the Round Rock Express. He has been a reporter, bureau chief and executive sports director, an assignments manager, and a weekend anchor. Mike authored a book with legendary scout Red Murff entitled, "The Scout: Searching for the Best in Baseball” and spent a year traveling to minor league venues to “learn the craft.” Mike  has found his niche and been rewarded for his work by winning Minor League News 2006 and 2009 Minor League Broadcaster of the Year awards.

Round Rock Express Website


22.  "Downton Abbey/Manor of Speaking"


Ernie Manouse

Houston PBS; Host 

If you like drama – Edwardian drama – you can’t miss this opportunity to get the “lowdown” on Downton Abbey! Ernie Manouse is the host of HoustonPBS’ Manor of Speaking, a local live program following each new episode of the popular television series with a studio audience and a rotating cast of local celebrity super fans and cultural experts. From English fashion, history and etiquette to British cuisine and entertainment, Manor of Speaking covers it all.  The success of the local program is due in part to Ernie’s intellect, natural curiosity, and ability to help people tell a story, which have been hallmarks of his many television projects including his nationally syndicated television series “InnerVIEWS with Ernie Manouse.

Houston PBS Website

InnerViews With Ernie Manouse Website

Downton Abbey Website


23.  "JFK Conspiracy:  The Lost Files"


Jim Bowles `74

Dallas Police Department; Retired Police Officer Assigned to the Kennedy Assassination

Although it’s been over 50 years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, debate, conjecture and controversy still surround his death. Jim Bowles was supervisor of Dallas police’s communication division on that tragic day  Tapping into his memories and experiences as a police officer and sheriff of Dallas County, Bowles has written a novel “JFK Conspiracy: The Missing File,” about what might have happened leading up to the events of Nov. 22, 1963. Although he himself believes the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, he decided to write a fictitious account about a complex conspiracy by a group of Dallas officers and federal agents to eliminate the President.


24.  "Can You Spot A Terrorist Before They Act?"


Phillip Lyons

Sam Houston State University;Professor and Executive Director of the Center for Policing Innovation

Before the bombing at the Boston Marathon, a common image in the United States of a terrorist was of a crazed individual, most likely a psychopath -- certainly not someone who, like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, liked hanging out with friends and was described as "jovial" and "a normal American kid." Phillip Lyons, a professor in the College of Criminal Justice and executive director for the Center for Policing Innovation, was recently featured in a Discovery News article on how to spot a terrorist before they act. Lyons will discuss the importance of community policing and the need for citizens to report suspicious activity to police.  "A lot of times, with 20/20 hindsight, people knew there was something suspicious," he says. "So the recommendation we would give ordinary folks is, if something looks out of the ordinary, if something is raising red flags for you, report it.

Phillip Lyons Website




“Wisdom begins in Wonder.” - Socrates


Elliott T. Bowers Honors College
Sam Houston State University
Box 2479
Huntsville, TX 77341-2479
(936) 294-1477

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