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November 22, 2022

Determination leads student to victory at SVSU public speaking contest

By : Zoey Schwab contributed to this story

six students posing with award plaques

In 2021, Nimnan Wuyep prepared intensely to compete in the Sims Public Speaking Competition at Saginaw Valley State University, but days before the annual event, illness derailed his plans. When the SVSU international studies and communication major from Nigeria fell ill a few weeks before this year’s competition, he refused to let it keep him down. Despite a lingering cough that forced him from the auditorium a few times, Wuyep came out on top with a speech about the mental health of nursing students. 

“This year, I was sick two weeks before the competition, but I wasn’t going to let it stop me,” Wuyep said. “After the first round, I felt pretty confident, but I got more nervous as the competition progressed.”  

About his win, Wuyep said, “I was ecstatic. I wasn’t expecting it. My goal was to get to the final round.” 

Wuyep was one of 33 SVSU students who entered in this year’s contest, coincidentally, the 33rd event. After two preliminary rounds, six finalists presented their five- to eight-minute persuasive speeches to a panel of five judges.  

For his first-place win, Wuyep received a $400 cash prize. Ella Yantz, of Bay City, earned second-place honors and $250 for her presentation, “Sink or Swim: Michigan Water Safety Crisis.” Third place, and a $150 prize, went to Emily Bruce, a psychology major from Trenton, who presented “Childhood Cancer and the Funding Crisis.”  

The other three finalists each received a $75 cash prize: 

  • Josie Koenigsknecht, a communications major from Fowler, presented “Career Readiness Course Before Graduation.” 
  • Harold Rodriguez, a pre-health professions major from Havana, Cuba, presented “Impact of the Latino Community in the State of Michigan.” 
  • Nikki Rooseboom, a teacher education major from Plainwell, presented “Disappearing Daycares.” 

All six finalists were also presented with a plaque.  

Wuyep’s speech, which addressed the stress and depression of nursing students, was not the only presentation focused on mental health. He said he chose the topic because he has friends in SVSU’s nursing program.  

“I had a lot of nursing friends that joke about depression,” Wuyep said. “I had always wanted to talk about college mental health but found that focusing on the nursing department would give me more leverage.”  

Judges for the competition’s final round were:  

  • Donald Bachand, president of SVSU. 
  • Deborah Huntley, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at SVSU. 
  • Betsey Diegel, special assistant to the provost at SVSU. 
  • Marcia Moore, associate professor of communication at Delta College. 
  • Angela Pohl, interim athletic director at SVSU. 
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Linda Sims, who established the competition with her husband, Larry, moderated the program.  

“In its 33-year history, it was refreshing to see 33 students compete this year, back to pre-pandemic levels,” said Sims. “We continue to be impressed by the diversity of students and topics they address.” 

Amy Pierce, SVSU associate professor of communication, and Ryan Rigda, SVSU lecturer of communication, coordinated the event. 

“I am proud to be a part of this longstanding and well-respected tradition at SVSU,” Pierce said. “While the generous prize money is a motivating factor for some students, what excites me the most about this competition is that students compete to be agents for change. Each year, after the final round, I am energized and hopeful knowing these students will be our future leaders, and for this reason I am honored to be a part of this valuable opportunity.” 

The Sims Public Speaking Competition was established in 1981. It is co-sponsored by SVSU’s Department of Communication and is open to all SVSU students. The competition is endowed by Larry and Linda Sims, longtime supporters of the university.