Note: Staff listings are updated on an ongoing basis and are subject to change until all University processing procedures are completed!

UTNIF-IE Summer Camps: Meet the Individual Events Staff

Staff listings being updated on a continuing basis!

Come work with some of the top coaches in forensics! Our staff represents the highest levels of competitive accomplishment and education. No matter your incoming level or your future competitive goals, we have the staff that can help you reach for your dreams, be they competitive, performative, or educational. Our staff includes not only former national finalists and champions at both the high school and collegiate levels, but coaches of multiple national champions.

Note: Staff listings are projected and subject to change. These listings do not include all staff. All staff are subject to final contractual approval by the University of Texas and passage of a criminal background check and can change without notice.

Meet Our Staff

Photo of Eva Margarita

Eva Margarita - Director of Individual Events

The 2023 recipient of the American Forensic Association's Outstanding Young Coach Award, Eva is the Director the UTNIF Speech camp and the Director for Texas Speech. Among her many coaching highlights Eva was the lead for the 2021, 2022, AND 2023 NFA Prose national champions, the 2024 AFA and NFA 2024 Duo national champions, as well as the NSDA 2023 Spoken Word Poetry national champion. She holds a PhD in Rhetoric from UT Austin and Master’s in Performance Studies from NYU. Having previously competed at Concordia University Irvine and Los Angeles City College, Eva has been in national out rounds for Rhetorical Criticism, Informative Speaking, and Drama, with national final round performances in Prose, Poetry, and Duo. She was a top 15 overall speaker for the National Forensic Association tournament and top 20 overall speaker for the American Forensic Association. As a multi-faceted performance artist herself, Eva cares deeply about building pieces with students that pierce imaginaries to create new worlds.

Photo of Terran Duhon

Terran Duhon - Curriculum Director for Oratory/Informative (2024)

Terran fell in love with speech in Mrs. Martin’s 6th grade theatre class. And as they say, the rest is history. He continued through high school, and at Reagan his senior year, he won the Perfect Performance award at the 2011 NIETOC. He continued speech in college at both San Antonio College and the University of Texas at Austin. He was a multi-national outrounder in interpretation and public address, as well as a national champion in Prose and Drama. He now coaches the awesome kids at Saint Mary’s Hall in San Antonio, Texas. Last year at NSDA Nationals, Terran coached 5 students into the national semifinal of Poetry, Extemp, Oratory, Humorous, and Dramatic. He lives by the Euripides quotation, “There is just one life for each of us: our own.”

I’ve been the head of PA at UTNIF for 4 years, but worked at UTNIF in various capacities all through college. I also was an UTNIFer for two years, majoring in OO and DI.

FUN FACT: I am pretty good at impressions from years of doing HI against my own will. I do a mean Jennifer Coolidge and a pretty good Kermit the Frog.

Photo of Ben Gaddis

Ben Gaddis - Curriculum Director for Extemp/Congress (2024)

Benjamin is a former Assistant Director of Texas Speech and the current Director of Forensics at Trinity Preparatory School in Florida. As a graduate of Bradley University and a doctoral student in communication at the University of Texas at Austin he brings a wealth of experience and approach to coaching individual events. Benjamin has coached at numerous national high school camps and workshops over the years, and he is excited to return to his role, helping coordinate the Extemp curriculum and serving the students of UTNIF. During his time with Texas Speech, he was part of a staff that helped coach over 40 national titles, including three AFA national team titles. In addition to his collegiate experience, the high school students he has coached have made numerous finals at national competitions and have gone deep into the rounds at the NSDA and the UK TOC.

Photo of Kevin Ahern

Kevin Ahern - Curriculum Co-Director for Interp (2024)

Recently graduating with a bachelor’s in Radio-Television-Film at UT Austin, Kevin Ahern was the 2024 NFA National Champions in Duo Interpretation with his partner Carli Hall. As co-captain of the Texas Speech team, he helped lead both the 2023 and 2024 squad to back-to-back AFA National Championships. During Kevin’s college career, he appeared in four final rounds across national tournaments and finished his career as a top ten speaker at AFA and top fifteen speaker at NFA. During his high school career Kevin was a 2019 NSDA National Champion in Duo Interpretation with his brother Kyle and appeared in final rounds at the Harvard National Forensics tournament, The Barkley Forum at Emory, Patriot Games at George Mason University, The Longhorn Classic at UT, and numerous other national contests. As an UTNIF alumni himself and an artist deeply committed to educating the next generation of interpers Kevin is so excited to serve as one of this summer’s curriculum directors.

Photo of Fernando Cereceres

Fernando Cereceres - Curriculum Co-Director for Interp (2024)

Recently graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Communications and Minor in History from UT Austin, Fernando Cereceres is proud to serve as one of UTNIF’s Interpretation Curriculum Directors. In high school, Fernando made several outrounds at TFA State in Duo Interpretation, Program Oral Interpretation, and Dramatic Interpretation, was an NSDA National Qualifier, and an NSDA All-American recipient. In college, Fernando had the privilege of serving as one of the captains for Texas Speech, leading the team into a National Team Championship at the 2024 American Forensic Association Tournament. Fernando is a 19-time National Finalist in Interpretation and Public Address events, a 6-time National Champion, including national titles in Prose Interpretation and Duo Interpretation and has been recognized as the Top-Speaker in the country at three different National Tournaments (AFA 2024, NFA 2024, NFA 2022). While also being recognized as an Academic All-American at the AFA 2024 National Tournament. Fernando is committed to facilitating academic growth right alongside competitive success.

Extemp & Congress

Photo of Eric Long

Eric Long (2024)

Eric is incredibly excited to return to UTNIF and has worked speech camps in 4 separate decades. A member of the National Forensics Association Hall of Fame, he became the NFA Pentathlon Champion by finaling all three genres (interp, public address, and limited prep) at the same national tournament. Eric is also a multiple-time AFA national finalist and After Dinner Speaking National Champion. A graduate of Bradley University, Northern Illinois University, and the University of Illinois, Eric is a Professor and Department Coordinator of Communication Studies at Elgin Community College. Eric also serves as the Associate Director of Forensics at the University of Illinois-Chicago helping the young program quickly ascend to being a top-5 program at NFA, AFA, and NSC. UIC extempers have reached a national final every year Eric has been on staff and won the program's first national titles. Eric believes speech, and UTNIF, changes lives. Communicate. Educate. Advocate.

Photo of Wes Barrett

Wes Barrett (2024)

Wes Barrett is an English and Government major at UT and a current member of the Texas Speech team. In college speech, Wes has competed in Limited Prep events such as impromptu and Extemporaneous Speaking, and as well as Platforms such as Informative and Communication Analysis, making to national out rounds in these categories. Currently, he serves as the Limited Prep Captain for UT Austin. In high school, he competed for Prosper Highschool and then Rock Hill Highschool. He was a state runner-up in UIL 5A Informative Speaking, and a participant in the CAP City Round Robin. After teaching at the camp for the first time last year, Wes is pumped to get to do it again this year!

Photo of Alex Lawson

Alex Lawson (2024)

Alex Lawson is entering their first year of law school at the University of Chicago after graduating from Northwestern University with majors in political science and legal studies. In high school, Alex competed in oratory, policy debate, and extemp. Alex was a three-time qualifier for the Extemp Tournament of Champions and two-time qualifier for the UK Tournament of Champions, and made out rounds in NSDA USX twice. In college, they have continued to compete in extemp, impromptu, and the platform events. They were a three-time Illinois State finalist in extemp, and the 2024 Illinois state champion, were a four-time national finalist in extemp, winning the 2023 National Speech Championship and placing runner-up in extemp at the 2023 American Forensic Association National Speech Tournament. Alex has coached several students to the NSDA stage, MBA round robin, and out rounds at the TOC and ETOC. Alex attended UTNIF as a high schooler in 2019 and can’t wait to be back!

Photo of Lishore Kumar

Lishore Kumar (2024)

Lishore is an extemporaneous speaker who will attend Yale in the fall. In 2023 Lishore championed the Glenbrooks and had final round appearances at the Longhorn Classic, Bronx, TFA State, and UIL State. Additionally, he was a semi-finalist at the 2023 NIETOC and NSDA Nationals where he was 1st and 2nd seed in the nation respectively. Lishore was also undefeated in Texas locals, championing 14 distinct tournaments. Taken together, his accomplishments have garnered him 84 TFA points, 13 NIETOC bids, 6 TOC bids, and an invite to the Montgomery Bell Academy Extemporaneous Round Robin--widely regarded as the most prestigious tournament in high school Speech and Debate. UTNIF was the first and only program Lishore attended and he's thrilled to now coach!

Photo of John Ory

John Ory (2024)

John Ory is a rising junior at the University of Texas at Austin studying Government and Economics. John competed in Congress and Informative Extemp on the UIL circuit for Terrell High School, qualifying for the state meet on several occasions and winning UIL State Informative Extemp in 2022. On the Texas Speech team, John specializes in Extemporaneous Speaking and has taken up Impromptu and Informative.

Photo of Nik Steinmetz

Nik Steinmetz (2024)

Nick began his speech career in South Florida and immediately fell in love with the activity. As a competitor on George Mason University Forensics, he reached national outrounds in Impromptu Speaking, Rhetorical Criticism, After Dinner Speaking, Persuasive Speaking and Extemporaneous Speaking, including a 7th place finish in Extemporaneous Speaking at the 2021 NFA national tournament. As a graduate assistant and later assistant coach at Illinois State University, he helped coach ISU to its 3rd place finish at the 2023 AFA national tournament. He has worked to revive ISU’s LP program and has coached several state and national finalists. As one of the nation’s premier college question writers, He has written questions for MAFL, AFA District 5, NSC and NFA. Nick has worked to push back against systemic bias that is often infused into extemp question language. He believes that speech can serve as an educational and liberatory tool for young people. He is super excited to work with some brilliant minds at UTNIF 2024!!!

Photo of Brian McAninch

Brian McAninch (2024)

Brian McAninch is the head of Speech at Lake Highland Preparatory School in Orlando, Florida, where he also teaches AP US Government and World History. Brian is a one-diamond NSDA coach and earned his distinguished service pin from the NSDA. Brian was named the NSDA Florida Panther District Coach of the Year in 2020 and the Florida Forensic League Region 2 Coach of the Year in 2023. He is the director of the North Florida Catholic Forensic League and the Vice President of communications for the Florida Forensic League. He holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Notre Dame and is finishing a second in history at Florida International University. Brian's competitors have made it to the late elimination rounds in all speech events and Congress, earning numerous TOC bids, including Yale, Bronx, Florida Blue Key, Glenbrooks, Princeton, Sunvite, Durham, Emory, and Harvard. At TOC, NCFL Grand Nationals, and NSDA Nationals Brian's students have broken the late and final rounds of Congress, DUO, POI, and WSD.

Photo of Ruta Rajpathak

Ruta Rajpathak (2024)

Ruta is a rising senior at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in Neuroscience. Originally from Seattle, WA, she competed in the Puget Sound circuit throughout high school in various events, primarily focused on Congressional Debate and Informative Speaking. She qualified for TOC and NIETOC, reaching out-rounds at state and NSDA nationals. Ruta is incredibly excited to see the talent UTNIF has to offer!

Photo of Jose Quinones

Jose Quinones (2024)

Recently graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Criminology at George Mason University, Jose Quinones is excited to be working with the Congress and Extemp students at UTNIF. With 8 years of speech experience Jose got his start in Congress and Extemp at Cypress Bay High School, going on to champion the 2019 Harvard National Tournament in Extemp and become the back to back 2018-19 State Champion of International Extemp in Florida as well as amass multiple final rounds at national level tournaments. In college Jose represented George Mason as one of its captains and appeared in 8 national final rounds across both limited preparation and platform events and was recognized as a top 10 speaker at the AFA National Speech Tournament. As a college coach Jose has helped his students reach multiple finals across the 2024 AFA and NFA national tournaments including the runner-up in Extemperaneous Speaking. As a high school coach, Jose has coached students to multiple final rounds at competitive tournaments including the Barkley Forum and New York City Invitational as well as championships at the Tournament of Champions and Florida Blue Key. Outside of his own speech career Jose has 3 years of camp coaching experience across several different camps and he is excited to bring that knowledge to UTNIF this summer.

Interp Staff

Photo of Kyle Ahern

Kyle Ahern (2024)

Kyle Ahern is a journalism student at UT and an alumnus of the Texas Speech team. While competing in collegiate forensics, he appeared in the 2022 AFA final round of POI and the 2023 AFA final round of prose. He was a top twenty speaker at the 2023 AFA national tournament and has amassed over 30 national out rounds across interpretation, platform speaking, and limited preparation events. In high school, he competed for the Dreyfoos School of the Arts. He was a two time Florida state champion in duo interpretation as well as the 2019 NSDA national champion in duo interpretation with his brother, Kevin. He made final round appearances at Emory, GMU, UT Longhorn, the Sunvitational, and TOC. In Kyle’s free time, he writes fiction, watches reality TV, and glorifies women in pop music.

Photo of Valeria Najera

Valeria Najera (2024)

Valeria Najera Zavala is a Texas Speech Alum and recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Theatre Education with a minor in Rhetoric and Writing. While competing at the collegiate level, Valeria has won national championships in Prose, Communication Analysis, and Duo Interpretations with her partner Fernando Cereceres. She has also seen finals at AFA and NFA in Dramatic Interpretation and Prose. Valeria competed in the Central Texas circuit during her high school career while attending Theodore Roosevelt High School where she gained experience in Interp and Oratory by participating in TFA, NIETOC, and UIL competitions. As a former UTNIF student, Valeria is delighted to join the coaching staff again this summer to share her passion for storytelling with our students and support them on their speech journeys.

Photo of Dara Adebanko

Dara Adebanjo (2024)

Oluwadara Adebanjo is a rising sophomore at New York University studying political rights and development with a double major in journalism. During her seven year speech and debate career she made final round appearances at tournaments such as Harvard, Yale, Emory, GMU, TFA, UIL and both middle and high school NSDA. As a graduate from Elsik High School, Dara finished out her competitive career by laying claim to the state champion title for Dramatic Interpretation in 2023, while also placing 17th in Dramatic Interpretation at NSDA nationals. Even now, she continues to serve our community by judging occasional tournaments and running her own non-profit speech and debate camp called “Space City.” Dara is so eager and excited to work with you all soon!

Photo of Alek Araguz

Alek Araguz (2024)

Alek Araguz is a rising sophomore at UT Austin and is studying Government with hopes to one day be a Lawyer. During his time in Speech and Debate, he has made final and semifinal round appearances at tournaments such as NSDA Nationals, NIETOC, Harvard, TOC, TFA State, and UIL Congress State. At Harlingen High School South, Alek finished out his Speech and Debate career with being a 3x NSDA National Finalist, 3x TFA State Finalist, and even was named the 2023 Gulf Coast Student of the Year. Although his high school career is done, he still continues to compete on the UT Speech team and now coaches! Alek is so excited to be able to help share the fun speech and debate has to offer, and is eager to work with you all soon!

Photo of Eleni Mercer

Eleni Mercer (2024)

Graduating from George Mason University Honors College with a degree in Government and International Politics and a minor in Queer Studies, Eleni Mercer has competed for the school’s forensics team and as their 2024 captain. While serving as the American Forensics Association’s National Student Representative, Eleni has been in nine national final rounds for events such as Poetry, Prose, Duo, and POI as well as national championships in Duo Interpretation at AFA 2022 and POI at NFA 2024. As a high schooler, he’s also achieved national outrounds in POI at Yale, Harvard and NSDA. Soon to join Texas Forensics as their graduate assistant studying Rhetoric, Eleni is ecstatic to leave our nation’s capital and spend some more time down South. Apart from their accomplishments inround, Eleni has spent his summers at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services working to connect victims of domestic violence with pro-Bono legal aid, and is especially proud of their ever-growing plant and poetry collections.

Oratory & Informative Speaking

Photo of Taylor Whitley

Taylor Whitley (2024)

Taylor Whitley is a rising sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin who is ecstatic to return to UTNIF. In high school, Taylor primarily competed in Informative Speaking with the occasional Interpretation event on the side, and was a two-time TFA finalist and 2023 runner up, an NSDA semifinalist, and a TOC finalist all in Informative Speaking. They continued their love for Informative Speaking in College on the UT Speech Team and also picked up Impromptu and Persuasive Speaking. After a busy spring of seeing out-rounds at AFA in Informative Speaking and finaling at the Interstate Oratorical Association in Persuasive Speaking, Taylor is ready to have an absolute blast at UTNIF this year and help others find the power in their voice.

Photo of David Cervantes

David Cervantes (2024)

David is a rising Junior at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in Journalism and Government. In high school, he competed in Houston, Texas, at Clear Springs High School in Informative Speaking. While at Clear Springs, he qualified for TFA, NIETOC and NSDA in his senior year, and reached semi-finals at TFA, the furthest anyone has gotten in Clear Springs Speech history. While on Texas Speech, he has expanded his participation and currently competes in Informative Speaking, After-Dinner Speaking, and, his favorite, Persuasive Speaking. Over the past two years on Texas Speech, he has seen national out-rounds in all three events. But most notably he was the Interstate Oratorical Association Runner-up in Persuasive Speaking back in 2023. He truly believes Speech gives back what you put in. And now, he is more than thrilled to give back to the community that got him where he is today. David is ready to have, yet again, another summer filled with Speech-galore at UTNIF!

Photo of Khanh Nguyen

Khanh Nguyen (2024)

Khanh Nguyen is a rising sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in Advertising and minoring in Business. In high school, she competed with Cypress Ranch High School in Original Oratory, Humorous Interpretation, and Prose Interpretation, in numerous tournaments including NSDA, and UIL tournaments. With Original Oratory, Khanh qualified for TFA state and was a Semi-finalist. At the collegiate level, she’s competed in After Dinner Speaking, Persuasive Speaking, and Impromptu Speaking and made it to the 2024 National Forensics Association national out-rounds in After Dinner Speaking and Persuasive Speaking. Khanh is ecstatic to be at UTNIF and can’t wait to see the talent and passion of our campers!