Proceedings of the

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


Emory University

Atlanta, GA

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.