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UC San Diego Speech and Debate Team Shines on National Stage

Speech and debate team
Jubilant members of the Triton Speech and Debate team after their impressive performance in the 2024 Biennial Tournament in Glendale, Ariz. Photo credit: Genevieve Dietz

The UC San Diego Speech and Debate Team won three national championship titles at the 2024 Biennial Tournament hosted by Pi Kappa Delta, one of the oldest forensic organizations in the country. Held at Glendale Community College, Ariz. March 7-11, the tournament drew more than 50 teams from colleges and universities across the country.

The UC San Diego team, sponsored by the Department of Communication in the School of Social Sciences, captured first place in two debate formats. Debate team captain Jared Hoffart and Felip Gerdes won in the National Parliamentary Debate Association format that pits teams of two against each other. Both are fourth-year students majoring in political science in the School of Social Sciences. Kiran Kumar, a fourth-year student and bioengineering major at the Jacobs School of Engineering, won the individual event in the International Public Debate Association format. Carter Castillo, a second-year political science major in the School of Social Sciences, won the Spanish original speech competition.

Overall, the Triton team won third place in the combined speech and debate competition and finished in the top 20% of competing teams.

Speech and debate team head coach, and Rady School lecturer, Robert Campbell

“The tournament was a marathon for our best and finest,” said Robert Campbell, head coach of the UC San Diego team and a continuing lecturer in the Rady School of Management. “The results were spectacular on the national stage. For a program only six years old, I am simply amazed by the talent on this team. To win so many awards at the prestigious Pi Kappa Delta national tournament clearly places UC San Diego as one of the top speech and debate teams in the country.”

Established six years ago, the team also made an impressive showing at the Pacific Southwest Collegiate Forensics Association’s regional championship tournament held in February at Moorpark College by capturing the championship for the fourth consecutive year and won a national championship in the online Public Forum National Championship Tournament held in May.

The team’s 100 members come from diverse disciplines across UC San Diego. They meet weekly in a speech and debate class taught by Campbell in the Department of Communication, where they hone speaking and research skills and build their expertise in various debate formats.

Campbell was a champion debater in his high school years in Topeka, Kan., and during college at the University of Kansas. He held a variety of senior leadership positions in private industry before he began teaching at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management a dozen years ago.

“I wanted to give the students of UC San Diego and the university a gift in return for the most enjoyable job of my life,” Campbell said. “I had no idea at the time of the team’s formation in the fall of 2018 that it would grow to its current extent and become dominant as a competitor – it’s the largest speech and debate team in the country. I am pleased and honored.”

For students, participation in the team has been an enriching experience that has helped them build on their skills in speech and debate.

“As a team member, I learned how to rapidly synthesize argumentation and the ability to use my voice in front of an audience,” said team captain Hoffart. “It was incredibly rewarding to have years of hard work recognized at the national level. I think winning multiple national titles within six years of the program’s creation also symbolizes how far our program has come.”

Teammate Castillo echoed the sentiments.

“I would not have been able to be so successful without the help of the team,” he said. “The UC San Diego speech and debate community is so strong, welcoming and supportive and a special shoutout goes to head coach Campbell, who has been an inspiration and mentor. All this made our performance at the national level possible.”

To learn more about the Speech and Debate team and the class, check out the UC San Diego Today story and visit the team’s website.

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