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Debate Team POLS Success

Neeckaun Irani
The Debate Team in Hawaii. (Left to right) Minnal Kunnan, Bryan Pride, Ryan Curtin and Andre Fontana. | Photo: Neeckaun Irani

by Neeckaun Irani

The activity of collegiate debate has been providing Cal Poly students with skills in communication and critical thinking since the university won its first debate trophy in 1906. Although this activity is based in the Communication Studies Department, some of the Debate Team’s greatest successes have come from political science students. 

At debate tournaments, participants don’t know the topics in advance. They can be on any subject and, this year, ranged from whether or not DMX and George Zimmerman should compete in a boxing match to whether or not Mexico should join the Mercosur trade bloc. After debaters are told the topic, they have 15 minutes to prepare before their seven-minute speech. 

Currently one-third of the team consists of political science scholars. Last year MPP student Bryan Pride was on the first team to ever win both the America’s Cup Debating Championship and the United States Universities Debating Championship in the same year. 

This interdisciplinary activity has been extremely important in facilitating the educational growth of political science students due to the overlap between debate research and classwork. When asked about the competitive advantage political science students have, debate team member and political science senior Andre Fontana said, “We learn advanced theories, historical trends, and the status of current events in our courses. Political science students have the knowledge, but knowing how to convey that message is another thing. That’s what the communications aspect of debate teaches us.”  

All of the political science debate team members also volunteer their specific skill sets to community programs. One such project included debate demonstrations at Paulding Middle School in Arroyo Grande. “Debate has created a close-knit network of peers and coaches that are all invested in our success,” said Emilio Horner, who won a third-place speaker award in competition this fall. “It’s also created new opportunities for us to spark interest in a new generation of debaters.” 


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