“There’s a saying that the top two fears are death and public speaking,” Amy Pierce said. “What would be worse is to die while delivering a speech.”
It’s a joke, but the associate professor of communication is aware of the trepidation students feel before enrolling in her public speaking course. Their initial apprehension is why it’s especially gratifying for Pierce to watch those same students persevere.
“It’s satisfying to see a student who can barely deliver their first presentation, and by the end of the semester, they’re confident and well organized,” she said.
Pierce has built a career on those success stories. Along with her classroom achievements, she founded a forensics competition program 15 years ago that since has traveled the nation to compete in tournaments as well as took on oversight of the annual Sims Public Speaking Competition, first offered in 1989. Success in both competitions demands strong public speaking skills, measured by clear articulation, critical thinking and confident argument.
She founded the forensics team in winter 2001. The program experienced success immediately when it earned second place at that year’s Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League’s Annual Novice Forensics Tournament.
The forensics team continues to experience success today. During the last academic year, the program saw more of its students qualify for a national tournament than ever in its history.
“Although winning is always exciting, I strongly believe that forensics is an academic activity that provides students with the confidence to succeed and the ability to develop a work ethic that demands excellence,” Pierce said.
The program also teaches students to cope with and appreciate diversity. Students develop personal character and values by leading and participating within the context of the team, social, academic and competitive environments, she said.
“This is what I love most about directing and coaching the forensics team,” Pierce said. “I get the opportunity to see students applying the material they learn in the classroom in a real world setting.”
She also is proud of her students’ work with the Sims Public Speaking Competition.
“Students tell me again and again that the day of competition is one of the most exhausting, meaningful and fun of their college careers,” she said.
Her two main goals as an educator are to teach students how to become more competent and responsible communicators, as well as instill in students an appreciation for the importance of communication in their daily lives.
“I want students to be confident in their abilities when they leave my classroom and know they possess the tools necessary to succeed in their lives,” Pierce said.