Today@Sam Article

LEAP Ends Fall With 50 Events Under Belt

Dec. 21, 2015
SHSU Media Contact: Jennifer Gauntt

Story by Mike Yawn

They’ve jumped at the “Bean” in Millennium Park; toured a Frank Lloyd Wright structure in Wisconsin; attended “Noises Off” in Houston; chatted about leadership with Gen. Stanley McChrystal; posed in front of the “American Gothic” house in Iowa; toured TDCJ and its execution chamber; stood on the Skydeck in the Willis Tower; and explored photos of the National Park system with Ken Burns. 

It’s been a rewarding—if sometimes exhausting—semester for Sam Houston State University’s eight LEAP Center ambassadors.

student viewing last supper
The arts play a big part in the activities of SHSU's LEAP Center. Above, member Alex Galvan reads up on Leonardo da Vinci's "The Last Supper" during a pit stop through the exhibit. —All photos submitted

The LEAP Center’s mission is to provide rich educational and professional experiences across all disciplines—through programming, volunteerism, experiential learning, and travel.  The ambassadors help promote that mission, offering unique opportunities for other students, staff, faculty, and local residents.

“It’s sometimes difficult to describe our mission,” said Mike Yawn, LEAP Center director, “because it includes multiple disciplines and the planning involves a small, diverse group of students.” 

Despite their small number, the ambassadors participated in more than 50 events in the fall semester, many of which were sponsored by the LEAP Center for the university and local community. 

In September, for example, the LEAP ambassadors and 25 local residents participated in the first-ever “heART of Huntsville” program. 

“This was a great opportunity to learn by doing,” said LEAP ambassadors’ president Megan Chapa.  “We learned about local art and artists, but we also learned about the community and its history.” 

The LEAP Center, with the assistance of the SHSU art department, also brought muralist Richard Haas to Huntsville in November.  He spoke to SHSU students on campus and to local residents at the Huntsville Public Library. 

Although Haas has more than 200 works in cities world-wide, he has 14 in Huntsville, a set of works that warranted its own week of exploration in the “heART of Huntsville.”

The ambassadors also hosted several law-related events aimed at pre-law students, including SHSU’s first Moot Court team. Coached by Jean Loveall and consisting of six students, the team travelled to the University of North Texas Law School and Texas Tech Law School for tournaments.  At Texas Tech, one of SHSU’s teams made it to the “Sweet 16,” a rare feat for a first-year team.

For a literary and historical turn, best-selling author Jeff Guinn visited SHSU in November, speaking about topics on which he has written: Charles Manson, Santa Claus, Bonnie and Clyde, and the OK Corral. He also invited students to help do field research on his next topic—Pancho Villa—in Nogales, Arizona.  The students will join Guinn next year in retracing the path of the Mexican revolutionary.

While these programs benefit both SHSU’s student body and local residents, LEAP ambassadors also venture into the community to serve directly. 

“Our approach is a bit different than most other student organizations,” said ambassador Austin Campbell. “We do not have a quota of hours to compile; rather, we adopt good projects and stick with them until they are complete.”

LEAP at Hearts
The LEAP ambassadors work with the HEARTS Veterans Museum in both long semesters by handling the silent auction each fall for the Veterans Day gala and their Casino Night each spring.

For example, the ambassadors handle the silent auction each fall for the HEARTS Veterans Day Gala and perform similar tasks for the HEARTS Casino Night each spring. Kaitlyn Tyra, ambassadors vice president, is on the planning committee for the event.

“It is always a joy to work with the LEAP Ambassadors,” said Letty Clark, operations manager at the HEARTS Museum.  “They have been instrumental in our success over the past year, and their willingness to learn and work hard is inspiring.”

Additionally, the students engage in weekly volunteer work for the Wynne Home and City Hall, provide event support for Main Street Huntsville, and assist each fall for the Great Muddy Escape, an event that benefits the YMCA and the Huntsville Memorial Hospital Auxiliary. 

With only eight ambassadors, such a schedule requires close management, especially considering that most of the students have jobs or internships. 

Their jobs, internships, and volunteer work provide rich experiential learning opportunities for the students. 

Tyra, for example, works for the Smither Martin law firm, while Karla Rosales works for Park & Durham.  Constance Gabel, Campbell, and Chapa have done internships with the City of Huntsville, and new members Beatriz Martinez and Brian Aldaco will begin internships in the spring.

“It was a great experience for me,” said Chapa.  “I learned new skills, broadened my cultural knowledge, and have become much better at time management.”

Relying on time management and teamwork, the students work to make a difference in the community while still attending to their grades.  Their mean GPA is a 3.65, despite more than 60 percent of the students being first-generation college students.  Seven of the eight ambassadors are minority students.

“We don’t focus on what others may perceive as limitations,” said Chapa.  “Instead, our adviser encourages us to create opportunities for ourselves and for others and then to make the most of those opportunities.”

Students in St. Louis
Among the trips LEAP Center ambassadors took was St. Louis, where the students visited museums and saw the sites. 

They’ve certainly made the most of their travel opportunities, attending a conference each semester and planning road trips in a manner designed to make the most of their route. 

“We see things we’ve never seen before,” Alejandra Galvan said. “I visited my first art museum this fall, and it was the Art Institute of Chicago.”

The trips to disparate places help connect things in new and interesting ways; in Chicago, the students saw Grant Woods’s “American Gothic” at the Art Institute of Chicago. In Iowa, they toured the American Gothic home, the structure Wood used as a model for his painting.  Similarly, the students visited Frank Lloyd Wright homes in St. Louis, Chicago, and Madison, giving them the opportunity to see different styles of his work across time and region.

In Wichita, Kansas, they visited the Brown v. Board of Education Museum, housed in the school that initiated the nation’s landmark case on desegregation. In Little Rock, they visited Little Rock Central High, where they learned more about the battle over implementing the court’s decision.

On the same trip, the student toured the Lincoln and Clinton Presidential Libraries; toured the World War I Museum; explored a da Vinci exhibit; attended a law-school class at Loyola Law School; travelled to the top of the Gateway Arch; and visited the last surviving set of “Gone With the Wind.”

Even on shorter trips, the students strive to get the most of their travels.  On a recent trip to College Station to tour the Bush Library, for example, the students met with Ken Burns and learned more about the National Park Service.  Earlier this fall they met Gen. Stanley McChrystal in The Woodlands, where they attended a small-group session on leadership. 

Ken Burns
On a recent trip to College Station to tour the Bush Library, students met with filmmaker Ken Burns and learned more about the National Park Service.

Just this week—in between finals—the ambassadors travelled to Houston, where they were part of a group of 12 students who met in a small-group session with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham to discuss his recent book on George H. W. Bush. As it turns out, Bush was at this event, too, putting the students in the midst of a presidential entourage in back-to-back weeks.

While the Meacham event was one of the last of the semester, the students are in the midst of preparations for next semester, during which they will partner with the Huntsville Public Library for their 10th annual Citizenship Preparatory Class; bring in Pulitzer Prize-winning author Glenn Frankel to discuss the John Wayne movie “The Searchers;” and host the 10th Court of Appeals, along with approximately four dozen other activities and events.

“There’s a lot going on,” Chapa said, “but it makes us better students and better citizens. We hope it makes the university and the community richer places, too.”

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