First Diversity Recruitment and
Retention in Debate Ideafest
Edited by Gordon R. Mitchell
University of Pittsburgh
Published by Office of the Dean
University of Pittsburgh
Ideafest convened at
June 10-11, 1997
Daniel Webster Project (CA)
Laura Heider, Chris Lundberg, Rob Tucker
Rob Tucker: I view the Daniel Webster project as a classic case of re-inventing the wheel. After I put out a post describing the Webster project in the listserv, I found out about the Urban Debate League in Atlanta and was surprised that we were engaged in very similar projects. The idea of a foundation is to create a site for the money. The prototype for the Webster project was started at Fullerton. We started with Santa Ana High School, a school with a dropout rate of 66%. We gave a 1/2 hour presentation, and asked students one question on an application form: Why do you want to be a Webster scholar? We selected 10 scholars out of 41 applicants. Each Thursday, we picked up the students for an intensive program. The object was to create a "debate lab"-type atmosphere, and we also fed them. At the end of the evening, we dropped them of at their doors. The entire program runs from about 3:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. There is also a class at Fullerton called "Communication in the Community." That helps with fundraising. We had a banquet at the end of the year, and we wanted to design it as a fundraising banquet; we raised over $9,000.
Laura Heider: So far, we've only had one missed session; the kids are amazingly committed. I've been flying out from Utah to help with the project.
Rob Tucker: Because of limited participation, we've tried to build camaraderie; try to convince the students that it means something fantastic to be a Webster scholar.
Chris Lundberg: One of the advantages of the Webster format is the institutional support. You don't have to worry about whether or not the [high school] teachers are excited. We take the infrastructure of the debate team and class and apply it to the project. I think it's in the long-term interest of college teams to do this.
Rob Tucker: We've tried to reconceptualize Webster as a novice program for Fullerton, making it an eight year program for the students, starting in high school.
George Ziegelmueller: Is there no coach at [Santa Ana high school]?
Rob Tucker: Right. We recruit new students each year. Our goal is to provide exactly the skills needed to compete at top-level NDT/CEDA competition by the time they reach college.
Beth Breger: Do you provide any support or outreach for the kids who didn't apply? How do you try to build on the momentum of the ten students who were selected?
Chris Lundberg: Ultimately, what we'd like to see is students going back to their high school programs.
Rob Tucker: Next year, we plan to include teacher opinion in the selection process. We need to do a better job of getting to the grass roots. We pride ourselves on the intensity of the program. The students can call us if there's any problems; all of the senior staff has pagers. This is a theme mentoring program; they [the Santa Ana students] have reconceptualized themselves as college students.
George Ziegelmueller: Are the students ready for college-level competition?
Laura Heider: Not yet. They've just been selected. We will start competition next year.
Les Lynn: What will be the number of tournaments, and who will judge and coach?
Laura Heider: The Fullerton debaters (Demetrius Lambrinos and myself) will be doing the primary coaching and traveling.
Rob Tucker: Laura Heider and Demetrius Lambrinos will be empowered; most of the hands-on coaching will be done by undergraduates, but there will be mentoring at all levels.
Tuna Snider: Was screening the applicants a tough process?
Rob Tucker: It was excruciatingly difficult. One of the problems was that we picked 10. That's five teams, not an even number for practice rounds--nice job Tucker!
Tuna Snider: What about fellowships for high school teachers?
Rob Tucker: Yes. we are definitely interested in that idea. That's one thing that we will consider.
George Ziegelmueller: Did you consider grades in the selection process?
Rob Tucker: No, we didn't actively consider it, but there was a definite self-selection in effect; the average GPA for Webster scholars is 3.7.
Audience question: Is the program not for some students?
Rob Tucker: We have no problem with retention. The big problem is with local coaching.
Laura Heider: We don't want to make them feel like the only real goal is to win the Tournament of Champions. We want them to get out of debate what they want.
Linda Collier: If you had to articulate a goal for your program, what would it be?
Rob Tucker: Change the face of intercollegiate debate. Reconfigure what it means to be a college team. We have a different emphasis from Larry Moss and Betty Maddox, but it's the same goal.