Jessica Carpenter refuses to let her social anxiety stand in her way. The Saginaw Valley State University student not only has overcome that challenge and embraced public speaking; she has competed in forensics tournaments and established herself among the nation’s best.
Carpenter, communication major from Saginaw, and Dan Visnovsky, a political science major from Sparta, will become the first students ever to represent SVSU at the National Forensic Association Tournament April 18-22 in Santa Ana, California.
Both will travel outside the Midwest for the first time in their lives to compete against the nation's best collegiate public speakers.
Carpenter will be competing in the category of poetry. She has been a strong public speaker since first joining forensics in middle school, but she still faces struggles, despite her years of experience.
“I discuss the topic of anxiety through poetry because I actually suffer from really bad social anxiety,” Carpenter said. “Forensics has given me a way to write and be open about that issue.”
Visnovsky had very little experience in public speaking before joining the SVSU forensics team in January 2019. He first appeared on the forensic coaches' radar in November 2018 when he was awarded second place at the SVSU's Sims Public Speaking Competition for his speech on transgender rights. It was not until then that Vinosky fully grasped how his talent and passions could intertwine.
“I not only realized after the Sims Competition that I enjoyed public speaking, but that I was being given the chance to research and speak on things that I really cared about,” said Visnovsky.
Forensics events consist of a wide variety of speech-related and debate-related events that range anywhere from impromptu speeches to series of dramatic interpretations. Visnovsky will be participating in the category of informative speaking with his piece on the dangers in the current rise of white supremacy and also in the category of extemporaneous speaking. Extemporaneous speaking is a minimally-prepared speech which the speaker does not know their topic until minutes before their delivery to the judges.
Last year, the national tournament was hosted by the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, where 65 schools participated. It is predicted that this year's competition will be just as large with 100 to 200 students in each event. This tournament will consist of 11 events and a debate competition.
The SVSU Forensics Team was founded by its current coach, Amy Pierce, associate professor of communication, in 2000. SVSU students first began participating in competitions in 2001 through funding provided by an SVSU Foundation grant. Since its beginning, SVSU students have been finalists 28 times at the Michigan Intercollegiate Speech League State Forensics Tournament. In addition, its participants have been recognized 23 times as top novice competitors.
Pierce and her assistant director, Ryan Rigda, an SVSU lecturer of communications, both realize the competitiveness of this tournament but are confident in the abilities of Carpenter and Visnovsky.
“I have no doubt that Dan and Jessica will represent SVSU well.” Pierce said.
Rigda, who will be attending the tournament for his eleventh time – both as a student competitor and as a coach at different institutions – said that this is an incredible opportunity for students.
“What I appreciate most is that they are paving the way for future SVSU students to attend the national tournament,” Rigda said.