KU Debate Wins Major National Tournament at Gonzaga

KU debate turned in a dominating performance at a tournament hosted by Gonzaga University October 28-31. The KU team of sophomores Jacob Hegna and Henry Walter won first place at the tournament while top ranked Harvard University finished 2nd. Two other KU teams finished in the top 5 teams. The KU duo of seniors Chris Birzer and Mac Cook took 3rd place and sophomore Sion Bell and junior Quaram Robinson finished in 5th place. Quaram Robinson was the 2nd place individual speaker at the tournament. A fourth KU team of freshman Saif Bajwa and senior Amit Bhatla qualified for the elimination rounds at the tournament.

KU’s performance was particularly impressive given the depth of the national field competing at the tournament. Other schools debating at the tournament included Arizona State, Baylor, California State-Berkeley, California State-Fullerton, Dartmouth, Emory, George Mason, Georgetown, Gonzaga, Harvard, Indiana, Kentucky, Mary Washington, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Oklahoma, Puget Sound, Rutgers, Southern California, Texas, Texas-Dallas, UNLV, Washington, Wyoming, Wake Forest, Weber State and West Georgia. There were 79 total teams competing at the tournament. Eighteen of the top 20 teams in the country were in the tournament and every team ranked in the top 10.

After two days of competition involving all 79 teams, the top 32 teams qualified for single elimination competition on the final day. Entering elimination rounds Bell/Robinson were the 5th seed, Hegna/Walter the 10th seed, Birzer/Cook the 11th seed and Bajwa/Bhatla the 29th seed. In the round of 32 Bell/Robinson defeated Michigan State, Hegna/Walter defeated Oklahoma, and Birzer/Cook defeated Central Oklahoma. Bajwa/Bhatla were knocked out of the tournament by Harvard. In the round of 16 Bell/Robinson defeated Weber State, Hegna/Walter defeated Baylor, and Birzer/Cook defeated Southern California. In the quarterfinals Hegna/Walter defeated Berkeley and Birzer/Cook defeated Michigan while Bell Robinson were knocked out by Harvard. Hegna/Walter and Birzer/Cook met each other in the semifinals and Hegna/Walter advanced to the finals as the higher seeded team based on one tenth of a speaker point difference in the preliminary debates. Hegna/Walter met Harvard in the final round and Kansas took home the championship trophy. KU assistant coach Brendon Bankey said, “We are thrilled with the performance of all of the debaters. This was the first time in more than 25 years that KU has had three teams in the final eight of a major national tournament.”

KU took home some other awards as well. KU coaches Brett Bricker and Scott Harris received the top coaching award and KU assistant coach Brendon Bankey won the Halloween costume contest for his portrayal of Kenneth Bone.

The latest College Debate Rankings http://collegedebateratings.weebly.com/2016-17.html have three KU teams ranked in the top 20 teams in the country.  Bell/Robinson rank 6th, Hegna/Walter 9th and Birzer/Cook 12th. Two other KU teams rank in the top 35 with Katz/Fry ranked 30th and Bajwa/Bhatla ranked 34th.


Front row:
Quaram Robinson, Sion Bell, Chris Birzer, Jacob Hegna, Henry Walter, Jacob Justice
Second row:
Chris Fry, Saif Bajwa, Amit Bhatla, Will Katz, Mac Cook, Brendon Bankey, Scott Harris, Brett Bricker

Dr. Mitchell McKinney


The Jayhawk Family wants to share some exciting news about one of our PhD alums, Dr. Mitchell McKinney.

As you might know, Mitchell has had an extraordinarily busy few years. For the past two years he has been the Chair of the Department of Communication at Missouri and for three years prior to that he was the Director of Graduate Studies. This fall he has been named the Provost’s Faculty Fellow for Academic Personnel at Missouri. Mitchell has been an extraordinary chair for the department at Missouri, and with a calm and steady hand guided their department through the very public challenges they faced last year. For those of you who know Mitchell, you know he did so with compassion, integrity, and with an ability to keep his department focused on working together as a system and providing an inclusive education.

Through it all Mitchell has remained focused on his scholarship with another book coming out soon, and a continued list of journal articles, and book chapters. He has recently been highlighted in the spring/summer issue of Illumination, a showcase of MU scholarship sponsored by the Office of Research at MU, for his research on political debates (see link below). And his expertise was highlighted at a recent Dole Institute of Politics evening program highlighting the 10 Greatest Moments in Televised Presidential Debate History, along with Dr. Mary Banwart. The Dole Institute has a video of the event if you would like to hear Dr. McKinney in action.

The Institute for Leadership Studies Continues to Grow


The Institute for Leadership Studies (ILS) was created at KU in the fall of 2015 with the purpose of expanding the academic and research foci on leadership studies, and to provide a collective for drawing together the related research across the KU campus.

It is the mission of the ILS to create capacity for thriving in the face of challenge, conflict, and change. The ILS seeks to do that through innovative curricular and research-based programming. Tasked with expanding the curriculum at KU in leadership studies, the ILS currently offers the Leadership Studies Minor, formerly housed in the Department of Communication Studies. The transition of the Leadership Studies Minor courses from COMS to the ILS — which was effective in the fall 2016 semester — has been a smooth process due to the support of Suzanne Grachek and Dr. Tom Beisecker in COMS, and Dr. Amy Leyerzapf in the ILS. Forthcoming academic programs include an online certificate in Leadership Strategies & Applications, the creation of cross-disciplinary graduate certificates in partnership with other units on campus, and a peer-based mentoring program to support KU’s retention goals. Dr. Amy Leyerzapf in the ILS is also organizing an initiative to showcase research in leadership studies at the statehouse. She has commitments from faculty at other colleges and universities across the state to join together at the capitol in the spring and showcase the importance of higher education across Kansas and to illustrate ways in which Kansans benefit from our research.

ILS engages students across campus and from all disciplines in learning to do the work of leadership by developing a core set of leadership habits and a core set of leadership competencies. Academic programming in the ILS is intentionally designed for students to have opportunities to develop the habits of self-awareness, connecting to purpose, contribution, active reflection, and lifelong learning. And, while the curriculum is closely grounded in the theory of Adaptive Leadership (Heifetz, 1994; Heifetz, Glashow & Linsky, 2009), it is further designed to help students develop the capacities of managing self, diagnosing the situation, skillfully intervening, and energizing others.

In addition to the development of leadership studies at KU in general, the ILS is expanding its women and leadership initiative. The ILS Women’s Initiative builds on the Kansas Women’s Leadership Institute (KWLI), which brings together each year 20 international women and 6 Kansas women from small/rural communities for a year-long leadership education and development program. The KWLI is funded through grant dollars and support from visionary KU Endowment donors. In addition to the KWLI, the Women’s Initiative is partnering with KU undergraduate students to create a statewide women’s leadership conference to be held at KU in the spring of 2017, developing a women’s leadership graduate certificate, and building a research collective on women’s leadership. As part of that effort, Drs. Banwart and Woszidlo will present outcomes based on longitudinal data collected with the KWLI at NCA in November, and earlier this fall Dr. Banwart was invited to the Harvard Kennedy School’s conference on Adaptive Leadership to present preliminary results of the study.


KU Representation at OCMC

“This conference experience was unlike any other I’ve attended. I loved the focus on graduate work. I think this conference is a great way to get to know established and upcoming scholars in the field, and to know where the discipline’s research is going.”
– Abigail Kingsford, Communication Studies Masters Student

The Organizational Communication Mini Conference (OCMC) is a small
sub-disciplinary conference run by graduate students for graduate students. The purpose of the OCMC is to feature and support graduate students pursuing research about organizational communication. The two-day event provides burgeoning scholars in the field with the opportunity to present their dissertations, theses, and other research projects.  All presenters receive feedback, and socialize with peers and established Organizational Communication faculty across the nation.

KU Communication Studies graduate students Abigail Kingsford and Chris Melvin with Dr. Angela Gist attended this year’s OCMC hosted in Evanston, IL by Northwestern University.

At the conference, Abigail presented her thesis prospectus about how millennials are socialized into working. She found the conference really useful in directing the scope of her project. After numerous conversations during the poster session, she decided to switch her focus to include blue-collar workers as well as
white-collar workers to investigate the differences in assumptions about work between the two groups and how organizations helped to prepare them for their first full-time jobs. At first she was unsure about a few aspects of her project’s value before the conference, but she now credits the conversations with other professors and graduate students from other universities for building her confidence and invigorated her to be excited to keep going forward.

Though not presenting this year, Chris attended to see the presentations and network with other people in the discipline, and activity not to be undervalued!

OCMC was lasted hosted at the University of Kansas in 1998. We are proud to be part of this disciplinary tradition! Next year’s conference will be held at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio.

Click here to find out more about OCMC 2016: http://ocmc2016.soc.northwestern.edu/

Below: Abigail Kingsford’s poster outlining her research


KU Debate Opens Season in Impressive Fashion

The KU debate squad opened the season September 17-20 with teams competing at two national tournaments, in Kansas City and in Atlanta, and the teams performed extremely well at both tournaments. The KU duo of Sion Bell and Quaram Robinson took first place at a tournament hosted by the University of Missouri- Kansas City and the KU team of Jacob Hegna and Henry Walter took 3rd place at a tournament hosted by Georgia State University.

Quaram Robinson, a junior from Round Rock Texas, and Sion Bell, a sophomore from Baltimore MD, began the season where they left off last year. They ended the season last year finishing as the National Runner Up to Harvard at the National Debate Tournament and began this season by winning the season opener at UMKC. They defeated the University of Southern California in the final round to win the first major tournament of the year. They rolled through the tournament undefeated finishing with a 12-0 record. They defeated teams from Baylor University, the University of Iowa, the University of Oklahoma, Binghamton University, Georgia Mason University, the University of Central Oklahoma, Weber State University and USC. Robinson won the first place individual speaker award and Bell was the 6th place speaker.  The KU team of Brandon Boyce and Alondra Garcia-Arevalo, freshmen from Emporia KS, advanced to the quarterfinals in the Junior Varsity division to begin their college careers.

Meanwhile other KU teams were competing in Atlanta.  The team of Jacob Hegna, and Henry Walter, both sophomores from Overland Park KS, advanced to the semifinals of the tournament before losing a 2-1 split decision to the University of California at Berkeley. In their run to the semifinals they defeated teams from Northwestern University, Georgetown University, the University of Pittsburgh, Emory University, George Mason University and two teams from Wake Forest University. A second KU team, Chris Fry, a sophomore from Overland Park, and Will Katz, a junior from Topeka, advanced to the final 16 of the tournament. They pulled a major upset over the 3rd seeded team in the tournament from Emory University to reach the final 16 but were matched up against Hegna and Walter who advanced over them. A third KU pair, Chris Birzer, a senior from Leawood KS, and Mac Cook, a senior from Shawnee KS, advanced to the elimination rounds before losing a 2-1 split decision to Northwestern. A fourth KU team, Amit Bhatla, a senior from Shawnee, and Saif Bajwa, a freshman from Overland Park, won five of eight debates but just missed qualifying for the single elimination rounds. Chris Birzer was the 20th individual speaker at the tournament.

                Scott Harris, the David B. Pittaway Director of Debate at KU said, “We are thrilled at the excellent start to the season. We have a number of talented and hardworking debaters and we have hopes for an outstanding season.” The debate team will travel to 20 tournaments around the country between now and the National Debate Tournament in March. KU will be hosting the National Debate Tournament at the end of the 2016-17 season at the Edwards Campus in Overland Park, KS March 23-27. KU has qualified to the National Debate Tournament for 49 consecutive years.​
banner team brett


KU Debate Team National Runner Up

– From Coach Scott Harris –

The KU debate team of Sion Bell, a freshman from Laurel Maryland, and Quaram Robinson, a sophomore from Round Rock Texas, finished 2nd at the 70th National Debate Tournament in Binghamton New York.  KU lost in the Championship Debate to Harvard University. The final round took place at the same time as the Men’s NCAA Basketball championship game. They are the 15th KU team to advance to the Final Four of the NDT and the 6th KU team to reach the championship debate.

The final round was the culmination of four days of competition in which the field of 78 teams was narrowed to Kansas and Harvard.  Each team in the tournament debated in eight preliminary debates and the top 31 teams Debate Team 2016

qualified for single elimination debates. Bell and Robinson began the tournament with 5 consecutive wins over the University of Southern California, George Mason University, the University of California-Berkeley, Wake Forest University, and Trinity University. They then lost back to back debates to a 2nd team from the University of California-Berkeley and the University of Kentucky before bouncing back with a win over Northwestern University in the final preliminary debate. They advanced to the elimination rounds with a 6-2 record as the 13th seed. In the first elimination round they defeated a team from Emory University to advance to the Sweet 16 and the final day of competition.

In the sweet 16 they met the 4th seeded team from the University of California-Berkeley in a rematch and defeated them for the second time in the tournament.  In the Elite Eight they had a rematch with the 5th seeded team from Berkeley that had defeated them in the preliminary rounds and this time KU emerged victorious to advance to the Final Four. In the semifinals they defeated the University of Michigan, the top seed at the tournament and the team that had entered the tournament as the 2nd ranked team in the country.  In the championship debate KU lost to the Harvard team that was the top ranked team in the country. Bell and Robinson had entered the NDT as the 17th ranked team in the country.

A second KU team composed of Chris Carey, a senior from Westwood Hills Kansas, and Amit Bhatla, a junior from Lenexa, went 5-3 in the preliminary rounds and qualified for the single elimination debates. In the preliminary rounds they defeated the University of Texas, Indiana University, the University of Wyoming, Central Oklahoma University, and the University of West Georgia. They lost in the first elimination round to the Berkeley team that Bell-Robinson would later defeat in the Elite Eight.

Quaram Robinson was recognized as the sixth best individual speaker at the tournament. Scott Harris, the David B. Pittaway Director of Debate at KU said, “We are incredibly proud of the performance of the debaters at the NDT. Quaram and Sion had an amazing tournament with 6 wins over teams ranked in the top 10. Making it to the final round was a testament to their talent and hard work. I am very grateful to the hard work of all the assistant coaches who helped them on this remarkable run.” According to Assistant Coach Sean Kennedy their performance included some historic achievements. Sean claimed, “They are the first team not ranked in the top 16 going into the tournament to make it to the final round since rankings began in 1973; they are only the 2nd team of two non-males to debate in the final round and Quaram is the first black woman to ever compete in the final round.”

It was announced during the tournament that the University of Kansas will be the host for next year’s National Debate Tournament to be held March 23-27, 2017. Coach Brett Bricker stated, “We are very excited at the prospect of bringing the NDT to the University of Kansas for the first time.”

KU teams also performed well at other national tournaments.  The team of Jacob Hegna, a freshman from Austin Minnesota, and Henry Walter, a freshman from Overland Park Kansas won the National Junior Division Debate Tournament, a national championship for debaters in their first two years of college competition. It is the third consecutive year that KU has won the NJDDT Championship. The team of Chris Fry, a freshman from Overland Park Kansas, and Will Katz, a sophomore from Topeka Kansas took 3rd place at the tournament.  The team of Lainey Schrag, a freshman from Overland Park, and Tyler Woodcock, a freshman from Leavenworth finished in 5th place. At the Cross Examination Debate Association national tournament the team of Hegna-Walter finished in 9th place.

COMS 342 Raises Money For Great Cause


This semester, $627 was raised for The Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center in Lawrence by graduate student Haley Vellinga’s COMS 342: Problem Solving in Teams and Groups class.

The class was split into 4 teams and each team raised the money through four different fundraising events. “Team Grade A” held a dodgeball tournament at the Union. “Team Jayhawk” held a percentage night at Buffalo Wild Wings. “Team Impact” partnered with Premier Martial Arts in Lawrence and held a Self Defense workshop. “Team J-ELM” partnered with the Lawrence Community Center and held a swimming event.

This is the first semester Haley Vellinga has taught this class. A previous instructor, Phil Wagner, had similarly partnered with The Sexual Trauma and Abuse Care Center in the past, and Haley decided to continue the tradition of focusing and advocating for this cause.

In the upcoming Spring semester, she and her class of COMS 342 students will have a chance to double their efforts when she will teach two separate sections of the class. That’s eight teams of undergraduate students all working towards the same cause. That’s the power of Problem Solving in Teams and Groups, the COMS 342 class. The real-world solutions that these students are learning is of great value for the here and now as well as the future.

The names of the COMS 342 students that participated are:
Meredith Brownell, Brooke Buckner, Maddie Dobyns, Kagen Fell, Joey Hurley, Mercedes Jellison, Megan Lindemann, Uzzie Martinez, Amy Melby, Spencer Painton, Lindsey Peterson, Cathy Readman, Jared Singer, Cameron Smith, Michael Stigler, Madisyn Warinner, Jessica Washington, and Ezekiel Welch


Langston Hughes Visiting Professor Dr. Alcides Velasquez


This semester, Communication Studies welcomes Langston Hughes Visiting Professor Dr. Alcides Velasquez. Dr. Velasquez holds a Ph.D. in Media and Information Studies from Michigan State University and is currently an Assistant Professor at Universidad Javeriana in Bogota, Colombia. His research concentrates on how social media affordances and social and cognitive factors influence social media activism.

During his visit, he is teaching COMS 320, Communication on the Internet, as well as a COMS 560 seminar Minority Representation in the Media.

He finds great interest from KU Faculty in engaging in cross and inter disciplinary research, especially in topics related with digital media. He values the efforts the University is making to create appropriate spaces to facilitate these new projects and ideas related with digital media, and he is looking forward to making connections campus-wide with departments and professors already engaged in research projects relating to his research.

This has already yielded results. He is collaborating on a project with two faculty members,  Dr. Joseph Erba and Dr. Hyunin Seo, from Journalism and Mass Communication about the portrayal of immigrants by users of online news websites. The goal of this research project is better understand how users of news websites are discussing the issue of immigration, given the importance it has acquired for the primary elections.

For Communication Studies collaborations, he is working with two members of faculty, Dr. Andrew Quenette and Dr. Ashley Muddiman, on a project about social media and political participation. This research project is aimed at examining whether social media acts as a gateway for traditional forms of political participation among Latino youth and will compare Latino youth with non-Latinos.  Secondly, he is collecting data with a Communication Studies Ph.D. student, Jennifer Schon that looks at mediated communication patterns between parents and their teenage children. More specifically, the study examines factors that play a role in whether and how parents utilize information communication technologies, such as learning source, learning efficacy, and mobile communication competence.

He finds the pace of life in Lawrence much different than that of Bogota, Colombia—a city of 8 million people. His wife Diana and his two sons Tomas (3 years old) and Benjamin (4 months old) have joined him, and he enjoys the family-oriented atmosphere of the University and the town.

“Lawrence has many places to take small kids to play and have fun. For someone with small children, that is very valuable. Besides, the weather has been great for outdoors activities, which is great for kids.  Life in general seems easy in Lawrence.”

When he isn’t teaching or working with other faculty and students, he enjoys watching films and listening to music, and loves playing and watching soccer.

New COMS Faculty: Dr. Ashley Muddiman

Dr. Ashley Muddiman is the most recent addition to our Communication Studies faculty. She earned her M.A. in communication from Wake Forest University, and Ph.D. in communication studies from the University of Texas at Austin. After spending two years as an Assistant Professor at the University of Wyoming, she was offered an Assistant Professorship with the Communication Studies department at the University of Kansas, and we are glad to welcome her for the 2015 Fall semester!

Dr. Muddiman’s research centers on political communication and media effects, specifically political incivility and digital news. She uses social scientific methods in her research, but she also enjoys working in departments with faculty and students who use a variety of methodological approaches to communication studies.

She is teaching two undergraduate courses for her first semester with the department. The first, COMS 335: Rhetoric, Politics, and Mass Media, focuses on the content and effects of political media. The second, COMS 560: Politics, Technology, and New Media, covers digital technology and how it influences citizens, campaigns, governance, and news.

For the upcoming spring 2016 semester, she will teach COMS 607: Political Communication, which gives students the opportunity to conduct a mock political campaign through the semester. She is especially excited about her upcoming COMS 930: New Media and Politics, which is an advanced version of her current undergraduate course for COMS 560.

For this year’s NCA, she is presenting two papers. The first, titled “What’s in a Frame? Using Political Incivility to Model News Frame Validation,” is on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 2pm. The second, scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 21 at 9:30am, is part of a paper panel titled “Embracing the Dark Side of Politics: Distrust, Avoidance, Incivility, and Difference in Contemporary Political Discourse.” During this presentation, she will discuss research about how people interact with politically uncivil news online.

When she isn’t teaching, she enjoys her two favorite hobbies: Traveling and art. In her recent travels to San Francisco, Chicago, Puerto Rico, and London to present her research, she tries to find time for sightseeing. When she can find the time, She enjoys painting, and she is looking forward to visiting the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

She had trouble deciding what her favorite thing about Lawrence and KU has been so far.

“At KU, everyone has been so welcoming and the job fits so well. It is great to be in a place where many people, faculty and students alike, are interested in politics, digital technology, or both.”

She is enjoying Lawrence very much, and finds the variety of downtown shops and restaurants in Lawrence to be great. She adds, “I am a huge fan of the television show Parks and Recreation, so I love that the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department is fabulous and has so many free fitness centers!​”