Nearly thirty faculty, staff, and students turned out to support the three finalists participating in this year’s “Speaking Science to the Public Contest” on Monday, April 17 in McGriff Alumni House. Our superb judging panel included Adam Hawkins, Associate Director of Informational Literacy and Instructional Technology; Dr. Andrew Maginn, Senior Research Associate and Program Coordinator for the Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation; and Dr. Betsy Sandlin, Professor of Spanish and Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Inclusion.

Per the contest description, the finalists addressed a scientific and/or mathematical concept, theory, or problem to an audience of educated non-scientists. Speakers should explain the significance of the concept, theory, or problem; accurately convey scientific knowledge; adapt material to an educated but non-expert audience; and do so without misrepresenting, diluting, or over-generalizing. In his welcome, Co-Director of the Festival Dr. Sean O’Rourke (Rhetoric and American Studies) emphasized the importance of the work these student researchers are doing at Sewanee: “We are very good at educating scientists, but we haven’t done a very good job of communicating scientific knowledge to the public.” Judges, therefore, considered several related factors in assessing the presenters, including 1) Knowledge of scientific material and related literature; Establishment of significance of the research to the field and to the audience; Accuracy of the presentation coupled with demonstrated ability to speak to an educated but lay (non-scientific) audience; Clarity and eloquence of the presentation (well organized, with appropriate use of language, voice, action, and audio/visual aids); and Adherence to the rules of the contest, high ethical standards of speaking, and fair and accurate representation of scientific literature. 

Seif Selim, a senior Neuroscience major and double-minor in Biology and Psychology, took first place with his presentation “Towards a Promising and Reliable Model for Traumatic Brain Injuries.” Junior Matthew Schaublin, a junior studying Psychology and Classical Languages, took second place with “Authentic Narrative Agency: Choose Your Own Life Story.” And Sophomore Morgan Boylan, who is studying Environmental Sustainability and double-minoring in Business and Rhetoric, took third place with “Climate Change and Its Impact on Human Health and Safety.” “All of the speakers were fabulous and it was really difficult to choose one winner,” Dean Sandlin remarked. Dr. Maginn similarly expressed, “I am in awe of the students and their eloquence. They really took their research into their own hands. As a researcher for the Roberson Project, I greatly appreciate that.”

The Public Speaking Contest followed on Thursday, April 20 in the Torian Room. 

Our terrific judging panel included Dr. Terry Papillon (Dean of the College and Professor of Classics and Rhetoric); Dr. Lydia Reining (Director of Dialogue Across Difference Program); and Sloan Rogers (the winner of the 2022 Public Speaking Contest and a sophomore studying Psychology, Rhetoric, and Women’s and Gender Studies). 

Nearly thirty members of the campus community came out to hear speeches by five finalists, selected by peer vote from sections of RHET 101: Public Speaking taught in Advent 2022 and Easter 2023. All five speakers represent diverse programs of study and persuasive speeches about a controversial topic. Mary Webster Burke, a first- year student studying American Studies and Rhetoric, presented “School Shootings: A Big Problem for Small Towns.” Sophomore George Caldwell, who is studying Economics and Rhetoric, presented “Sewanee’s Social Host Policy Reform.” Annalise Eiffert, a sophomore Politics major, presented “Ineffective, Immoral, and Incorrect: How the Death Penalty Fails Us.” Vienna Marcus, also a sophomore majoring in Politics and minoring in Rhetoric, presented “Should Greek Life Have a Place at Sewanee?” Finally, Sarah Mehany, a sophomore studying International and Global Studies, presented “Transgender Athletes Competing in the NCAA.” 

After the judges deliberated, Festival Co-Directors Dr. Sean O’Rourke and Dr. Melody Lehn announced Marcus as the 1st place winner, Mehaney as the 2nd place winner, and Eiffert as the third place winner. Audience member Dixon Cline (C '23 in Politics and Rhetoric) had this to say about the contest: “Many of the speeches were on positions I am fervently against and yet with all the speeches, I was disarmed or persuaded to take their position. This is the greatest measure of success for a public speaker.” Congratulations to all the finalists! 

Information about the 2024 Festival will be available in late Advent 2023.