Forensics Team Prepares Students for Any Future

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

Are you aware that there is a forensics team near you? And that it has nothing to do with the forensics you might be watching on CSI, Bones, or NCIS?

With the tagline “We're UTEP Forensics — The Talk of Texas!”, the forensics (also known as speech and debate) team is proud of both the opportunities it offers students and its track record of successful competition.UTEP Forensics team members have fun at the 2013 AFA-NIET year-end tournament in April, held at the Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutcheson, Kan. From left to right: Star Martinez, Cera Mena, Michelle Blanks, Fabiola Moreno Olivas, and Irving Martinez. Photo courtesy of UTEP Forensics.UTEP Forensics team members have fun at the 2013 AFA-NIET year-end tournament in April, held at the Cosmosphere and Space Center in Hutcheson, Kan. From left to right: Star Martinez, Cera Mena, Michelle Blanks, Fabiola Moreno Olivas, and Irving Martinez. Photo courtesy of UTEP Forensics.

The team is diverse when it comes to students’ majors, welcoming anyone with an interest regardless of their academic and professional focus.

“We are open to any student at UTEP,” said Communications Lecturer Michael Brooks. “Last year, we had students majoring in linguistics, advertising, dance/education, business, and communication majors focusing on multimedia journalism. We also had two science majors: one working on a dual physics/math degree and one student working toward a degree in biochemistry and chemistry.”

Director of Forensics Mary Trejo, Ph.D., noted, “Forensics is often a route to better grades, increased motivation for success, and ambition to continue in college. We have a fascinating and diverse group of students each semester. Basically, we're a mini melting pot of the University.”

Brooks, who coaches forensics team members, enthusiastically promotes speech and debate as a means of becoming a stronger, more confident communicator in any field.

“Personally, joining an organized team helped me overcome my own speaking anxiety,” he said. “You learn how to channel your anxiety in a positive manner. Public speaking gives you the opportunity to express yourself.”

Cera Mena, a freshman communication major, is excited about her second year on the team and serving as UTEP’s District IX student representative for the American Forensics Association’s National Individual Events Tournament (AFA-NIET) for the coming academic year.

“We are looking forward to some great competition starting in mid-September, and I think we're going to have an amazing year,” she said. In her AFA-NIET position, Mena will attend national student meetings and vote on matters of policy and competition issues. She is the first UTEP student to be elected to such a high honor in the AFA-NIET. “Normally, only graduating seniors are elected to this post,” Trejo said.

UTEP Debate Captain Robert Garza – fresh off a 10-day debate camp he attended with his teammates in Bellingham, Wash. – said the team experience was a way to develop his own argumentation skills, explore interesting topics and meet new people.

“I joined UTEP forensics to develop my own rhetorical style and also to build a stronger, more finessed awareness of the role of argumentation in everyday life,” he said. “This mission has led me to explore an unpredictably broad range of politically and philosophically charged topic areas involved in collegiate forensics. Plus, we spend weekends hosted at other institutions meeting people and engaging ideas we could not have encountered otherwise.”

UTEP Forensics teaches that speaking and debate skills can be learned; one is not necessarily a born speaker or debater.

“In general, the more you speak, the better you become at crafting messages,” Brooks said. Through a variety of competitions and events that the team participates in, its individual members exercise important muscles both mental (verbal expression, research strategies, analytical thought) and physical (enunciation and proper breathing so as to better project one’s voice).

Trejo doesn’t have to be humble when she speaks about the productive postgraduate goals that forensics team members have attained.

“Many of our team members have gone on to advanced graduate work at highly noted universities and have gotten master's degrees, Ph.D.s, law degrees, and medical degrees,” she said. “Many are educators in the local community and across the country at all levels of instruction, including college professors. One of our former competitors was chosen for a prestigious and high-paying fellowship, one of 22 in the nation, by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund for Minority Scholars. He is now a public school principal.”

UTEP graduate Carlos Tarin is proof of how speech and debate training can transform lives.

"Forensics was, in short, a life changing experience for me,” he said. “When I started competing during my first year of high school, I was a shy, quiet student with little idea about where my life was going to take me. Forensics gave me the confidence to follow my passions and express myself in ways that I would have never dreamed possible. The activity started me on a trajectory that has now landed me at two of the most prestigious communication graduate programs in the country (the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Utah).”

Individuals who made a name for themselves as debaters include human rights activist Malcolm X, anti-apartheid leader and former South African President Nelson Mandela, former Texas Governor Ann Richards, Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, actor Brad Pitt, musician Harry Connick, Jr., Oprah Winfrey, and U.S. Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, and John F. Kennedy.

So what do you need to do to become part of such a significant legacy, both at UTEP and around the world? Visit the UTEP Forensics website and contact Trejo to find out more.

“Forensics training at UTEP is an outstanding educational experience that benefits the student, the University, and the community,” Trejo said, encouraging students to be in touch soon as competition season begins in earnest in September when the team participates in tournaments in Austin, San Marcos, and Colorado Springs.

Later this semester the team will travel to Phoenix and San Diego, with the possibility of adding trips to San Francisco and Houston. She points out that the team usually attends no more than two tournaments per month in fall and spring semesters.