Alumni News

By Kristin Monroe '16
Alumni News Editor

2015-2016 Year Overview

The T.O.H. Karl Forensics Forum took home two first place titles from tournaments, won numerous speaker awards, and hosted an outstanding tournament of their own. “This has been a phenomenal year,” Justin Eckstein said, Director of the T.O.H. Karl Forensics Forum.

Tournament accomplishments

  • At the Steve Hunt Classic, PLU advanced more than 50 percent of its teams onto elimination rounds, won over a quarter of the speaker awards and won a coveted sweepstakes award.
  • At Linfield College’s 2015 Mahaffey Memorial tournament, Angie Tinker ’16 and Matt Aust ’17 received second place in the open division, while Jillian Stanphill ‘16 and Ticia Hackney ’17 took second place in the novice division. Additionally, more than 70 percent of the teams broke to elimination rounds. The team won three novice speaking awards and one open speaking award.
  • At the Seattle University debate tournament, Mariah Collier ‘17 and Ryley Tucker ’19 won first place in the novice division. Additionally, Austin Ballard ’16 won a speaker award.
  • At the Mark O. Hatfield Memorial, Austin Ballard ’16 and Angie Tinker ’16 received first place overall. This was a significant accomplishment since they competed against 52 teams comprised of students from all over the nation, as well as international teams from Vancouver, B.C. Ballard also received a speaker award at this tournament.
  • Teams from PLU took home first and second place at the University of Washington Bothell tournament. Austin Ballard ’16 and Brendan Stanton ’16 were the tournament champions, Matt Aust ’17 and Angie Tinker ’16 took home second place. Six PLU students took home individual speaker awards, including the top speaker award.
  • At the Pacific Cup tournament, Calvin Horne, the Assistant Director of T.O.H. Karl Forensics Forum, finished as a finalist and received an individual speaker award.
  • Six PLU debaters competed at the United States Universities Debating Championship. Calvin Horne, the Assistant Director of the T.O.H. Karl Forensics Forum competed in the one-day tournament called America’s Cup at the tournament. PLU competed against more than 180 teams from all over the country, including Harvard, Duke and Stanford.

Ruth Anderson Public Debate

  • Debaters from the T.O.H. Karl Forensics Forum engaged in a public dialogue on local initiative. The resolution was “This house would raise the wage to $15 an hour.” Angie Tinker ‘16 and Matt Aust ‘17 joined Tom Pierson, President and CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, and 15Now Activist, Vince Kueter to engage in this debate. More than 175 people attended the Ruth Anderson Public Debate.

PLU Tournaments

  • PLU hosted the second annual T.O.H. Karl Invitational for high school students. Debaters from 22 regional high schools in Washington state and British Columbia came together in an effort to bridge the divide between high school and college debate.
  • PLU Hosted the Betsy Karl Invitational with 36 teams from all over the Northwest. This was the first time PLU has hosted a collegiate debate tournament since 2011. Angie Tinker ‘16 and Matt Aust ‘17 finished as finalists at the tournament. Mariah Collier ‘17 and Ryley Tucker ’19 took second place in the novice division, Skylar Larson ’19 and Barbara Millward ’19 finished as finalists in the novice round as well.
  • The T.O.H. Karl Forensics Forum hosted a Women’s Round Robin with eight teams of women from the debate community.


  • The T.O.H. Karl Forensics Forum received a bronze medal sweepstakes award in recognition of them being one of the most successful forensics programs in the region this year. This is the second year in a row that the team won this prestigious award.

Ruth Anderson Public Debate

The T.O.H. Karl Forensics Forum hosted their third annual Ruth Anderson Public Debate this October. Each year, members of the team pair up with members of the community who specialize in the chosen topic. This year, Matt Aust ’17 and Angie Tinker ’16 represented PLU. The debate addressed current policy issues with the resolution: “This house would raise the wage to $15 an hour.” 15Now activist, Vince Kueter joined Tinker to debate in favor of the proposition. Tom Pierson, president and CEO of the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, joined Aust to oppose the wage increase.

The debate centered around whether more jobs at a lower wage were preferable to less jobs, paying more. Kueter argued that raising the wage would alleviate poverty by producing jobs that paid more. In contrast, Pierson asserted it would harm small businesses and ultimately cost jobs; they argued that even though the jobs would pay more there would be fewer of them. Aust and Pierson won the debate by swaying the 36 undecided votes to 15No.

More than 175 people attended the Ruth Anderson Public Debate, bringing awareness of local issues to the PLU campus. PLU President Tom Krise, and economics professors from PLU and other local universities, activists from 15Now, representatives for the Tacoma Chamber, community members, and numerous students had an opportunity to hear numerous view points and left with a broader understanding of both sides of the issue. The debate also allowed students from the T.O.H. Karl Forensics Forum to showcase their talent at debating to their peers.

15Now did not win the proposition vote mirroring the outcome of the Ruth Anderson Public Debate. In the beginning the audience was largely undecided, but in the end the opposition won, gathering 36 votes from undecided or 15Now to 15No. It’s a testament to the participants in the Ruth Anderson Public Debate that they were able to predict the outcome of the actual vote in the Tacoma community. This debate brought community members and PLU members together in a public forum to talk about a real issue in today’s world and reflect on the best way to combat this issue.

Debate's Lasting Impact

Matt Aust ‘17 first joined the T.O.H. Karl Forensics Forum in the spring of his first year at Pacific Lutheran University. Aust had tried a few clubs out at PLU and none of them had made him feel comfortable or at home. He wasn’t making connections with people and he wasn’t happy at PLU. Aust admitted that he “might not have stayed at PLU if it hadn’t been for the debate team because at the end of my freshman year I felt unsure about what I was doing and the debate team was a really good reason to stay in college, or at least stay at PLU.” When Aust joined the debate team he immediately knew that he’d found his niche. “I found my people,” Aust fondly explained.

Aust’s decision to stay at PLU and pursue debate ended up changing his life in ways that he had not predicted. In debate one of the main skills that you need is the ability to be able to look at a situation and determine why it’s problematic and then argue how you are able to fix it. This is a key skill Aust has found to be helpful in his academic writing, particularly in the communication program in which he is majoring. Debate has helped him outside of the classroom also. A skill that is unique to the British Parliament style of debate that Pacific Lutheran specializes in, is the ability to argue all sides of an issue at a moment’s notice. This means you might have to defend a position that you don’t agree with. Aust says that this skill has been invaluable in his day-to-day life. “I use that as a way to build empathy with other people who disagree with me, because I’ve been forced to put myself in their shoes,” Aust said.

Aust says that his biggest accomplishment with the debate team isn’t an award, in fact his biggest accomplishment isn’t even centered on him. Aust says that his biggest accomplishment is stepping into a leadership role on the team and using that role to create an inclusive community in which the debate team has been able to flourish.

“I want everyone to be able to come and feel welcomed by the debate team whether or not they like debate. I want debate practice to be like going into a new-agey church,” Aust said laughing.

<img class=” wp-image-1537 alignright” src=”×300.jpg” alt=”12670666_1252246751471405_3223243154607825187_n” width=”309″ height=”412″ />It’s clear that Aust’s leadership and advocacy for an inclusive environment has worked wonders on the debate members’ comfort levels. If you go to a tournament they are all sit with each other and feel free to laugh and joke. Team members fondly tease each other about everything from their debate style to their eating habits and new comers are warmly welcomed.

Aust’s favorite memory from his time on the debate team was taking second place at Linfield College, a very large and competitive annual tournament. Additionally, Aust was able to act as a student representative in the annual Ruth Anderson debates. “I argued that Tacoma should not raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour,” said Aust. With over 175 people in the crowd from the university and the community, Aust said that it was a very rewarding experience. Although only a Junior, Aust already has big plans for his time after college. “My future plans are to teach English abroad and God-willing, I will be able to bring debate education wherever I go. Because debate is an agent for change and advocacy and the most underprivileged people need those skills the most.”

All-age debate: Climb the Mountain and T.O.H. Karl support students at local schools through second-annual summer camp

The T.O.H. Karl debate season doesn’t stop at the end of spring semester—Pacific Lutheran University debaters and coaches continue their work in the speech and debate community throughout the summer.

Climb the Mountain Speech and Debate Foundation and the T.O.H. Karl Forensics Forum teamed to host and educate almost 50 middle and high school students through the Climb Speech and Debate Camp last summer and will offer a second-annual high school camp at PLU July 25-30, 2016.

Justin Eckstein, Director of Forensics, and Jim Hanson, Executive Director of Climb the Mountain, established the camp to promote and support forensics in the Pacific Northwest.

The camp uniquely offers an opportunity for current and former college debaters to provide individualized instruction to students early in their debating careers, creating connections in the community.

High school students can attend the five-day debate camp July 25-30, or 3-day congress and IE-Speech camps July 25-27 and 28-30, respectively. The camp offers programming specifically for beginning speakers; coaches; debaters in Policy-CX, LD, Public Forum and Congress; and students participating in diverse Individual Events.

More information about the camp and other programs offered by Climb the Mountain Speech and Debate Foundation is available at

Women's Round Robin

Whether it’s their (typically) deeper voices, or that statistically boys are taught to be more aggressive, the bottom line is that the debate world is male-dominated, and men are often more successful in debate situations. Melanie Nadon, an assistant debate coach and former debater, realized this saddening fact during her time debating at La Verne University. In an effort to create an environment in which women could develop and nurture mentorship opportunities, Nadon reached out to PLU Forensics Director Justin Eckstein, Angie Tinker, a senior debater on the T.O.H. Karl Forensics Forum, and Sarah Partlowe Lefvre, a member of the Women’s Debate Institute. Together, they created the inaugural Women’s Round Robin.

In a round robin-style debate everyone debates each other and whoever has the highest score at the end is the winner. The women’s round robin was hosted at PLU on March 11, 2016, the day before the Betsy Karl Invitational. Eight teams, comprised of two women each, debated current events. Some of those topics pertained specifically to women, but the focus was more about encouraging female participation in a community that teaches life skills.

“Debate is about talking; it’s about making connections with some of the smartest people you’ll ever meet. It’s all about finding a community, and we’re making sure that community has a place for women,” Tinker said, the student coordinator of this event.

Debate helps individuals gain confidence and learn how to communicate their thoughts. These skills give individuals a leg-up in the workforce, politics, or wherever life takes you. Much like the debate community, we live in a male-dominated society. The skills that these women learn while participating in competitive debate will help them make their voices heard in that society.