Today@Sam Article

LEAP Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Dec. 14, 2015
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

Article written by Stephanie Fors.

Among the many organizations on campus, the Center for Law, Engagement, and Politics stands out as a premier organization for students interested in excelling in not only academics but also civic engagement.

Led by political science clinical professor Mike Yawn, the organization started out loosely as “Journeys with Sam,” developed more structure as the Political Science Junior Fellows, and most recently leaped into its newest form as the LEAP Center. 

In mid-December, the LEAP Center ambassadors spearheaded a special celebration of the organization’s 10th anniversary as a surprise for Yawn.

“We wanted to celebrate this 10-year milestone with a special celebration, but anyone who knows Professor Yawn knows he does not like to be in the spotlight,” said LEAP ambassador president Megan Chapa.  “But that also made it easy for all who knew of our plans to help keep it a surprise.”

Taking the LEAP

Yawn and fellows with Ark. Rep
JF Sammy Winners
Yawn football
County U Participants
2013 inauguration
10th court
Since 2005, the LEAP Center has taken students all over the country to engage them in the political process and with the arts, among other things. That year (very top), Yawn (in blue on far left) introduced the group to Arkansas Gov. Miek Beebe. Since then (descending images), the group has won a Sammy Award, hosted a Republicans v. Democrats charity flag football game, hosted several citizenship preparatory classes, attended both inaugurations for President Barack Obama, hosted the 10th Court of Appeals, and met innumerous politicians, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. —Submitted photos

The celebration offered a number of commemorative surprises for Yawn, including the attendance of several alumni and local community members and leaders; a scrapbook compiled by current members and alumni; a major donation by the alumni to the Friends of the LEAP Center; a proclamation by outgoing Huntsville Mayor Mac Woodward; a letter of commendation from U.S. Congressman Kevin Brady; and a flag flown over the Texas Capitol. 

LEAP offers unique learning opportunities related to the fine arts, history, civil rights, literature, and, in particular, law, engagement and politics. Yet it isn’t all about politics, which some find hard to believe of an organization comprised mainly of political science junkies, according to Chapa.

The organization’s mission is to enrich students’ academic education through internships, volunteerism, educational field trips, and numerous other opportunities. 

Yawn ensures that all of these things are included through trip stopovers or destinations, including recent stops at Little Rock Central High in Little Rock; the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace in Madison; and the Kemper and Nelson Atkins art museums; and Union Station in Kansas City, Kansas. 

The common thread told by Yawn’s former students is one of servant leadership that could be sometimes tough and generally challenging—but always rewarding. 

“The thing that made JF so special was what it taught us—how to be an engaged and contributing member to the community and how to be a professional student,” said former Junior Fellows president Megan (Bryant) O’Flaherty. “I learned that being a political science major wasn’t about telling everyone your strong opinions about welfare and gun control—it was about being a servant.”

Current members, alumni, and community members agree that Yawn doesn’t just promote this type of leadership but espouses it daily, not just in leading the organization, but also in his own service to the community as a servant, mentor, leader, educator, and coach.

“Outside of my parents, no one has made a larger contribution to where I find myself today than Mike and my experience as a member of the Junior Fellows,” said former JF president Ademide Adedokun for the commemorative scrapbook. “I learned lessons about hard work, goal fulfillment, teamwork, and made lifelong friends.  I am deeply grateful for all of those experiences.” 

These sentiments were echoed numerous times throughout the content provided by other alumni. 

In addition to community service, the center runs the Austin Internship Program, oversees internships with the political science department, and offers pre-law advising and limited academic advising. 

LEAP also offers many other program opportunities, such as an annual visit by the 10th Court of Appeals, which travels to Huntsville to hear cases on SHSU’s campus; an annual Citizenship Preparatory Class, a collaborative effort with the Huntsville Public Library; informative and preparatory programs for future lawyers, such as mock law classes and mock LSAT testing; the newly formed SHSU Moot Court Team, which just completed a successful first year; and many, many more. 

The pace can sometimes be a challenge, given that the organization has consistently attended or supported approximately 100 events every year. 

Yet the students accept the challenge to expand their horizons willingly, and do so while maintaining high grade-point averages, and in many cases, also holding down jobs or fulfilling internships. 

“In a short year and a half, I have had more experiences than I anticipated I would have throughout my entire four years in college,” said Kaitlyn Tyra, LEAP ambassador co-vice president. “LEAP is my favorite part about Sam Houston and has given me a stronger start for my future. I am incredibly thankful for the many life lessons, experiences, and memories I’ve gained from LEAP.”

Yawn has guided students to consider and pursue various and atypical careers, opening eyes and doors to opportunities in addition to law school.  

From turning internships into lucrative jobs post-graduation; attending various law and graduate schools nationwide; securing careers in fields that range from the law, to politics, to the public sector, and in varied private sector industries, JFs and LEAP ambassadors are making their presence known nationwide.  

Sprinkled among the many lawyers are former members employed in the armed forces, in both military and civilian positions; in local, state and federal government administrative offices, as well as on elected officials’ staffs; at non-profits; as educators; and in various private sector roles. 

Most of his former students credit Yawn with not only their start—that elusive internship or conversion to a political science major or minor—but also that those early efforts truly landed them where they are today. 

Yawn has, over the years, dedicated countless personal hours and energy into maintaining the organization’s high standards, whether associated with civic engagement and meaningful volunteerism or the educational efforts of the members. 

“He opens doors that cover much more than law or politics and allows students to gain knowledge, propelling them into careers, ready to succeed,” said Constance Gabel, LEAP ambassador co-vice president.  “We wanted to surprise him with a show of thanks for all he’s done, although we will never match his efforts.” 

For information on the LEAP Center, visit

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