Communication Studies > Summer Camps > UTNIF Individual Events > Meet the Individual Events Staff

Meet the Individual Events Staff

Note: Staff information forom 2018. Updates & changes for 2019 will be added in late spring!

Extemp & Congress

Ben Gaddis - Curriculum Director for Extemp

Gaddis

Ben Gaddis is the graduate assistant director of Texas Speech and finishing his doctoral program at the University of Texas, where he coaches all three genres of competition. Ben’s students have performed in multiple national out rounds and finals at the collegiate level. As a high school coach his students have seen multiple state finals, national out rounds, and finals. Over the past seven years, Ben has worked at multiple forensics camps coaching high school students and thrives in teaching the creative process and the path to intellectual discovery. A native of the Chicago-land area, he has received training from some of the greatest minds in sketch and improv, which he actively uses in his instruction. Ben looks forward to collaborating once again with the students of UTNIF. A graduate of Bradley University with dual degrees in Political Science and Communication, Benjamin saw out rounds in all three genres of competition, was named an American Forensics Association All-American, and was part of a team that won 5 overall national team titles. In his time with Texas Speech, he has been a part of a staff helping to coach over 40 national titles over the last five years alone, including three AFA national team titles.

Andrew John - Curriculum Director for Congress

Andrew John is an UTNIF alumnus who attended Illinois State University. As an assistant coach for ISU, he worked with students who achieved national outrounds across all three genres, including two national championships. Andrew has twice directed Student Congress at Illinois State University's Summer Speech Institute, where in 2015 all students in Congress achieved outrounds at IHSA State, including a state champion. An Austin native, Andrew is thrilled to be coming back to UTNIF as a member of staff.

Kate Rich

Kate Rich is a recent graduate of Illinois State University majoring in Political Communication. As a collegiate forensicator, she competed in ten of the eleven events offered and advanced to numerous national elimination rounds. Kate holds national finals in Extemp, Impromptu, and Communication Analysis. She was also the national champion in Persuasive Speaking and recognized as one of the top three individual speakers in the nation at NFA in 2018. This fall, she will be joining the University of Texas at Austin as a graduate student and coach. Kate is eager to help UTNIF campers develop skills they can utilize in and outside of forensics.

Dani Soibelman

Soibelman

Dani Soibelman is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin in Communication. Majoring in Communication Studies, Dani competed in limited preparation, interpretation, and public address events. She served as the National Student Representative for the National Forensics Association, and was a national out-rounder in SEVEN different genres, including placing in the top 12 nationally in Extemp and being a part of a 1-2 national finish in Impromptu Speaking with her teammate Suchinder Kalyan. Dani is passionate about accessible rhetoric, powerful delivery, and finding humour in every extemp. Next year, she begins her masters program and joins the coaching staff at UT Austin.

Suchinder Kalyan

Suchinder Kalyan is a recent chemistry graduate from the University of Texas at Austin. During his speech career at UT, Suchinder was a national out rounder in all of the public address and limited preparation events. This past year, Suchinder was recognized as the 4th overall speaker at the American Forensics Association, and won national championships in impromptu and informative speaking, along with placing 4th in persuasion and reaching the semifinal rounds in extemp and after dinner speaking. Suchinder could not be more excited to return to UTNIF for the second time!  

Andrew Neylon

Andrew Neylon is an English Literature graduate of Ball State University and will be attending the University of Texas at Austin in the fall to pursue a graduate degree in Media Production. As a high school competitor, Andrew was an Indiana state finalist in Original Oratory and Dramatic Interpretation as well as achieving outrounds at the NFL (so ten years ago!) in OO. As a college competitor Andrew had outrounds across all genres and major tournaments, including winning four national titles in Communication Analysis / Rhetorical Criticism (AFA/NFA 2014) and Impromptu (NFA 2013 / AFA 2014), as well as being named the national runner-up in Extemp and top speaker at NFA 2014. Since graduating, Andrew has coached for alma-mater Fishers High School (2014-15, their first state championship team) and has coached with Northwestern University for the last three seasons, of which the most recent two included record breaking national tournament qualifying numbers and team-wide breaks. Andrew joins the UTNIF for the first time this year.

Cassidy Stefka

Cassidy Stefka is a 2018 graduate of Kansas State University's communication studies master's program. While at Kansas State, she was a graduate assistant coach for the forensics program where she was primarily responsible for the extemp squad and the 2018 national runner-up in Extemp at the AFA contest. Before Kansas State, Cassidy also coached for Doane University. As a collegiate competitor for Doane, Cassidy competed in nine of the eleven events including national outrounds in communication analysis. As a coach, Cassidy has had several students advance to national final rounds in informative, extemporaneous speaking, prose, communication analysis, and poetry. When the college forensics season is not in full swing, Cassidy's hobbies include writing, reading fiction novels, gardening, transforming her yard into completely edible vegetation and board games. 

Jason Warren

Jason Warren

Jason Warren (M.A.), also an UTNIF alum, graduated in 2004 from Northwestern University, where he won both the AFA and NFA National Championships in Extemporaneous Speaking. Among his many high school accolades, Jason was the TFA state champion in US Extemp, the UIL state champion in Informative Speaking, winner of the Emory Barkley Forum, winner of the Glenbrooks, and the first extemper to reach the final round of the MBA round robin twice. As a college coach for both the University of Texas-Austin and George Mason University, his students and former students have won a combined 11 national titles in extemporaneous speaking, including a close-out of the top four finishers at the AFA national tournament in 2010. Jason previously coached at the Parish Episcopal School of Dallas, where his students won four state championships, reached the final rounds of both the Congress and Extemp TOC, won team sweepstakes at the TOC Extemp hosted by Northwestern, and were recognized as the runner-up and final round presiding officer at NSDA in Congressional Debate. In his day job, he works for Edmentum, a national educational technology company and the makers of Study Island. 

Oratory

Ryan Tinlin - Curriculum Co-Director for Oratory

Tinlin's portrait

Ryan Tinlin is a graduate of Bradley University and is the former Director of Individual Events at Lewis and Clark College. As a competitor Ryan was in over a dozen national final rounds and won a national championship in Informative Speaking. He joined the Texas Speech coaching staff in 2016 and will be a graduate student at UT in the fall. Ryan has worked at various camps the last 8 years and has coached multiple national champions in various events. This is his fourth year working at UTNIF.

Robi Mahan - Curriculum Co-Director for Oratory

Robi Mahan's portrait

Robi Mahan has spent the last few years as part of the coaching staff of Texas Speech. Formerly the Assistant Director of Individual Events at Lewis and Clark College in Portland Oregon, she is a graduate of Illinois State University where she won three national championships, holding titles in After Dinner Speaking, Dramatic Interpretation, and Duo (with Mike Tristano.) Robi formerly coached at Harrisburg High School, and spent many summers working with the Summer Speech Institute at ISU where she heads the Original Comedy lab. This is her third summer at UTNIF and she couldn’t be more excited. Robi is currently perusing her master's in Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Cimmi Alvarez

Cimmi Alvarez's portrait

Cimmi is a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin majoring in Psychology with a minor in Communication Studies, where she was a two time national finalist in Persuasive Oratory. Competing in extemp, LD, and CX in high school, she was excited to continue her journey as a member of the UT Speech Team. She enjoys competing in Persuasive, Informative, After Dinner Speaking, and Rhetorical Criticism. Cimmi is excited to have the opportunity to coach again this summer at UTNIF, where she will be working primarily with Oratory, before beginning her masters program in Communication and joining the coaching staff at Illinois State University next Fall. 

Junior Ocasio

Junior Ocasio currently works as an assistant coach for his alma mater, Bradley University. He has coached at various camps over the past 8 years where he has had the pleasure to work with high school students who have gone on to final at NSDA and win CFL. He specializes in argumentation and delivery. As a competitor, Junior was a national champion in Persuasive Speaking, 4th overall speaker, runner up in Communication Analysis, and advanced to multiple national finals across genres. Junior has also coached multiple national champions in all three genres of competition and while this is his first year to UTNIF, is incredibly excited to work with students eager to get better in an activity he loves. 

Blake Bergeron

Blake Bergeron is a recent finance graduate from the UT-Austin! In high school, Blake achieved out-rounds at TFA state in Public Forum, Humorous Interpretation, and Original Oratory.  While in college, he’s competed in national out-rounds in Informative Speaking, Persuasive Speaking, Communication Analysis/Rhetorical Criticism and After Dinner Speaking. In 2017, Blake placed 6th at the NFA national tournament in Rhetorical Criticism. In 2017, Blake received third place in After Dinner Speaking at both the 2018 AFA and NFA national tournaments. This is Blake’s second UTNIF coaching and he can’t wait to help campers before he begins his next adventure as a management consultant for the Boston Consulting Group! 

Interpretation 

Mike Tristano - Curriculum Director for Interp

Mike Tristano's portrait

Mike Tristano is a current PhD Student at Arizona State University and coach at Phoenix Country Day School in Arizona. In PCDS’s young history, Mike has coached students who have finaled at The Glenbrooks, Berkeley, Harvard, Arizona State, and NSDA Nationals in all genres of competition. Before relocating to the desert, Mike was a graduate student at Illinois State University where he helped coach multiple collegiate competitors to quarterfinal, semifinal, and final rounds in both interpretation and public address events, including 2 national champions in DI and Duo. Mike was also a previous coach at University High School in Normal, IL, where he worked with dozens of Illinois state champions and NSDA qualifiers and outround participants. During his time as a collegiate competitor, he saw numerous outrounds in both public address and interpretation events. A multiple national finalist, Mike was the 2013 NFA national champion in Duo Interpretation (with Robi Mahan) and a top 15 national speaker. This will be Mike's sixth year at UTNIF and he is looking forward to talkin’ speech and keeping Austin weird. 

Abigail Onwunali - Asst. Curriculum Director for Interp

Abigail is a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin majoring in Human Development and Family Sciences (Pre-Med). She is one of the most accomplished performers in the history of forensics, having won 13 collegiate national titles across four different interpretation categories over her career. She was the 2016 AFA champion in Dramatic Interpretation and the 2016 NFA champion in Prose, Poetry and Dramatic Interpretation. In 2017 she was awarded a whopping 5 national titles covering four different performance genres in the same year (Prose, Poetry, Dramatic Interpretation, and Duo Interpretation with Bianca Montgomery). In 2018, she was the recipient of four more national titles, including recognition as the top speaker in the country by the National Forensic Association and 2nd speaker by the American Forensic Association. In high school, Abigail was the NSDA National Champion in Dramatic Interpretation and won many other national circuit tournaments including the 2014 Harvard Invitational, 2013 Patriot Games, and 2014 Emory Invitational. In Texas, Abigail was the 2014 TFA champion in Dramatic Interpretation, 2014 Poetry champion at U.I.L State and 2013 Prose finalist at U.I.L state. 

Adam Benoit

Adam Benoit is originally from Lafayette, Louisiana.  Adam has been involved in the speech and debate community for the past 20 years.  He is an UTNIF alumni and attended camp in 2002. He competed at Teurlings Catholic High School in numerous debate, acting, and speaking events.  Adam is a national runner up in Duo Interpretation with N.C.F.L. and the state champion in duet acting both in 2003.  He has also been in multiple out rounds at N.S.D.A. and the Louisiana State Tournament.  He was a competitor in college at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  Mr. Benoit is currently teaching in Houston, Texas.  He was a former speech and debate coach from Langham Creek High School and ran the team for 5 years.  While coaching he had students in final rounds at the National Individual Events Tournament of Champions and students that have qualified for N.S.D.A. Adam loves all acting events especially team events.  He believes that teamwork and collaboration is the best way to communicate successfully.  He also enjoys coaching Oratory and Public Forum Debate. This is his second year coaching at UTNIF.

Farah Habad

Farah Habad is an alumnus of James Logan High School in Union City, CA and competed at Wiley College in Marshall, TX as a member of “The Great Debaters”. In high school, Farah advanced to elimination rounds at various tournaments including The UC Berkeley invitational and the CHSSA state tournament. In college, Farah competed across all three genres of speech highlighted by reaching elimination rounds at NFA in Impromptu and Prose and placing in the top-6 in Poetry interpretation in 2017. Farah currently lives in Chicago and is preparing for the upcoming individual world poetry slam.

 

Additional Anticipated Staff 

Christine Vo (Congress)

Christine Vo is a rising junior at UT Austin, double majoring in Philosophy and Sustainability Studies. In high school, Christine was a three-time qualifier to NSDA Nationals, three-time outbound competitor at TFA State, Harvard semi-finalist, and a Capital City Round Robin invitee. Graduating from Spring Woods High School, she was a nominee for NSDA's Student of the Year as a senior. Being a former UTNIF camper and staff member, she's incredibly excited to return to help speakers refine their skills.

Seis Steves (Interp)

Steves Portrait

Seis is a rising senior at the University of Texas at Austin where he is studying Advertising and English. As a 2017 AFA national finalist in After Dinner Speaking, Seis went on to be the 2018 AFA and NFA National Champion in the event. Seis was also a 2018 NFA finalist in Prose and POI, placing in the top 5 speakers. In high school, Seis was the NSDA National runner-up in Duo Interpretation, winning the final round. Also, Seis participated in multiple final rounds at NIETOC and Harvard, including events such as Humorous, Duo, and Duet Interpretation. In Texas, Seis was the 2015 TFA champion in Humorous Interpretation, the 2014 TFA champion in Duo Interpretation, and the 2013 TFA runner-up in Dramatic Interpretation. He looks forward to helping students develop themselves as competitors and artists.

Bianca Montgomery (Interp)

Bianca Montgomery is a rising senior on the UT Speech Team, majoring in African American & African Diaspora Studies with a focus track in Performance, Music, Art and Literature. A former UTNIF camper herself, Bianca has gone on to be a 5 time collegiate national finalist, receiving a 2017 NFA Championship in Duo Interpretation with partner Abigail Onwunali and 2nd place at AFA in Program Oral Interpretation. She's also had the honor of competing in national out rounds of DI, Prose, Poetry and After Dinner Speaking. At the high school level, Bianca was the 2015 TFA State & NIETOC Champion in Dramatic Interpretation. She also had out rounds in DI at Harvard, Emory, The Patriot Games and finished 14th at NSDA. Her first experience coaching students at UTNIF 2016 fueled her dream to introduce forensics to young people across the country. She loves storytelling and believes in it’s power to transform lives.

Jordan Auzenne (Extemp)

Jordan Auzenne's portrait

Jordan Auzenne is a rising senior on the Texas Speech team double-majoring in Political Communication and Radio-Television-Film. In her time with UT Speech, she's seen several national final and elimination rounds, including finals in Extemp and CA at the L.E. Norton and HFO, and semi finals in both Impromptu and CA at the NFA NIET. She was a national finalist in 2018, placing 4th in Communication Analysis. In her career at Pflugerville High School, she competed in Extemp, Impromptu, Oratory, Congress, and Prose. She saw semi finals at Harvard, the NIETOC, and TFA State, and outrounds at the UK TOC and NSDA. As an UTNIF alumna herself, Jordan can't wait to return to camp for another summer!

Rachel Evans (Extemp & Congress)

Rachel Evans is a rising senior at UT Austin, double majoring in Audiology and Religious Studies with a minor in American Sign Language. During her time on the UT Speech Team, Rachel has advanced to multiple national outrounds in ADS, Extemp, Impromptu, CA, and Info at both AFA and NFA Nationals. Before she came to UT, Rachel competed for Salado High School. During her time at Salado, Rachel was a two time state champion in Congress and ended her senior year as a state champion in Extemp. As she enters her eighth, and final, year of speech—Rachel is excited to pour her heart into the activity for another summer. As a former UTNIF camper, Rachel is excited to be on the other side coaching and can’t wait to meet you all!

Spencer Schumacher (Extemp)

Spencer Schumacher is an incoming Freshman to the University of Texas, moving here from Louisville, Kentucky. During his time in High School forensics Spencer competed in Extemp, making semi-finals at NCFL and Glenbrooks, quarterfinals at NSDA and the Extemp TOC, and winning the Longhorn Classic. Spencer also competed in Informative, where he earned 2nd place at Glenbrook’s, and Impromptu, where he made NSDA finals. He also won three KHSSL state championships in his home state of Kentucky. As an UTNIF alum, Spencer is excited to come back and help students have as special a camp as he did.

Carlos Diaz (Interp)

Diaz Portrait

Carlos Diaz is a rising Junior on the Texas Speech team, double majoring in Political Communication. During his freshmen year, he competed in both AFA and NFA national tournaments, and as a sophomore was a national finalist in Dramatic Interpretation at the NFA national tournament. Graduating from Spring Woods High School, he was a three time TFA state outbound competitor. His senior year, Carlos was the 2016 TFA state and TOC champion in Duo Interporetation. He hopes to make camp for the students a life changing experience just like it was for him. 

Juan Nunez (Interp)

Juan is an upcoming sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin where he is majoring in Mexican American/Latinx Studies. In his first year on the team, he attended AFA and saw outrounds in DI, ADS, POI and DUO at NFA NIET. This will be his first time coaching at UTNIF but not his first time attending as he was a two time camper when he was in high school. UTNIF helped him achieve championships at the Glenbrooks, Longhorn and TFA state tournaments, final rounds at NIETOC and multiple outrounds at Harvard and NSDA nationals. Most of all, UTNIF taught him the importance speaking out as a Latinx competitor and cannot wait to help students find that passion as well.

Evan Lope (Extemp)

Evan is entering his senior year at UT, studying Government and History. In high school, Evan competed primarily in policy debate, extemp, and congress, seeing multiple state and national tournaments for all three. Starting his time in Texas Speech as a junior, he spent his first year competing in extemp, impromptu, after-dinner speaking, informative speaking, and dramatic interp. He is excited to work with this year's students at UTNIF and beginning his final year as a competitor!

Elizabeth Boone (Interp)

Elizabeth Boone is a rising Junior on the Texas Speech team, majoring in Public Relations. During her time on the team, she’s competed at both AFA and NFA national tournaments, seeing an outround in POE and multiple semi final rounds spanning POI, DUO, and ADS. Before attending UT, she competed for South Grand Prairie High School and saw multiple semis as well as finals rounds at TFA State, UIL State, and NIETOC, including events such as Duo, Poetry, Prose, Duet and an NSDA outround in POI. This is her first time attending and being an UTNIF staffer, but she is so excited. She hopes to help campers utilize speech the same way she does, to tell important stories that need to be heard.

Kat Khalilian (Extemp)

Kat Khalilian is an incoming Freshman to the University of Texas. While in high school forensics, Kat competed in a range of events from Congressional Debate to Public Forum Debate to Extemporaneous Speaking,  placing second at the UKTOC and ETOC, scoring a final at Harvard, and semi-finaling at the Glenbrooks in Extemp. She also was an NSDA national finalist in 2018, placing 5th. Being an UTNIF alumn, Kat looks forward to sharing her love for speech and the best event in the world (extemp)!

Durwan Green (Interp)

Durwan Green is a recent graduate from Western Kentucky University where he received his BA in International Business & Spanish. He is a former member of WKU’s forensics team where he has multiple interpretation finals along with starting his own production company. Durwan plans on pursing his masters at Florida International University after his return from Granada, Spain this upcoming fall.

Briana Mier (Interp)

Briana is a rising junior who is a Communication and Leadership major. Having concentrated in Theater Production, she did not participate in high school speech and yet, she has had a wonderful time on the Texas Speech team thus far. As a freshman she was a dramatic interpretation state finalist, attended both AFA and NFA national tournaments, and won Prose Novice National Champion at NFA. Her sophomore year consisted of qualifying DUO Interpretation, Dramatic Interpretation and Prose Interpretation to AFA. Additionally, she participated in out rounds at both AFA and NFA in dramatic interpretation and duo interpretation. Texas Speech has a special place in her heart and while it is her first time coaching UTNIF, she couldn’t be more excited to help students strengthen their voices and excel as performers.

Joel Melendez (Oratory)

Joel is a rising Sophomore at the University of Texas where he is majoring in Government/Advertising. Joel attended both the AFA & NFA national tournaments where he was exposed to different ideas and performance styles. In high school, Joel competed in Oratory and Info at TFA State, NSDA Nats, and across the Texas circuit. This will be Joel’s first UTNIF ever and he is excited to be apart of the coaching staff. 

Govinda Dass (Extemp)

Dass Portrait

Govinda is a recent graduate of the University of Texas where he studied English and Sociology. After getting his teaching certification, Govinda plans to coach High School Speech and Debate. Govinda reached out rounds at the NFA national tournament in After Dinner Speaking. Although specializing in ADS, he competed in Informative Speaking, Interpretation, and Limited Preparation events. In High School, he competed primarily in Original Oratory and Extemp. After working with multiple state and national finalists, Govinda hopes to pair his lighthearted personality and organizational skills to keep campers on track towards their final goals.

Mbayi Aben (Interp)

Mbayi Aben is a rising junior that attends the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Human Development and Family Sciences with a minor in African American and African Diaspora Studies. She started as a poet performing in nearby cities and campus events including Texas Revue, Culture Shock, Fest Africa, and many more. Now, she is a quarterfinalist in POI at 2018 NFA and is excited for the upcoming school year and helping coach UTNIF this year!

Caleb Newton (Extemp & Congress)

Caleb recently completed his freshman campaign at the University of Texas at Austin as a government major, where he was a national out-rounder in Extemp, Impromptu, and Rhetorical Criticism. Competing for James Bowie High School Caleb was the champion of Churchill and Capitol City Congress. On the state level he was a 2016 UIL state finalist and a two time TFA state finalist, placing 5th his senior year. On the national level he was a two time semi-finalist at the Glenbrooks tournament, a semi-finalist at the Tournament of Champions, and an NSDA finalist. As an UTNIF alum himself, Caleb is excited to be able to be able to come back and help teach for the second time!

Kishan Srikanth (Congress)

Kishan Srikanth is a UTNIF alum and currently attends the University of Houston. As a high school competitor for Plano Senior High School, Kishan was a 4 NSDA National Qualifier, a two-time National Finalist, runner-up in TFA state, St. Marks Congressional Debate Tournament champion, and a third-place finisher at the Harvard National Congressional Debate tournament. He also qualified for Nationals and was a state finalist in foreign extemp. Since graduating high school, Kishan has worked extensively as a private debate coach for individuals and schools. Kishan is passionate about teaching and helping kids get better and is thrilled to be back with the UTNIF team as an instructor! 

Evan Ortiz (Extemp)

Evan Ortiz is an incoming freshman to the University of Texas at Austin. During high school competition, Evan competed in a myriad of events, qualifying to TFA state in five events his junior year. Mainly focusing on extemporaneous speaking and congressional debate, Evan’s accolades include a semi finalist finish at TFA state in domestic extemp, a capital city round robin invitation, multiple ETOC and NSDA qualifications, and a 2nd place finish in UIL congressional debate 6A. Having never attended UTNIF, Evan is ecstatic to work with students just as passionate as he is to become better speakers, but more importantly to find their voice. 

Randy Cox

Curriculum Director for IE, Director of Texas Speech

MRC

Randy Cox is the Director of Texas Speech and one of the founders of the UT National Institute in Forensics. A Distinguished Service Award recipient for the American Forensic Association NIET and former national champion himself, his students have been graced with 70 individual national titles at both the high school and collegiate levels, and have also been awarded national team titles including the NFL/NSDA Bruno E. Jacob cumulative trophy, the NCFL Masterson and Founders awards, as well as six American Forensic Association NIET team titles, the most recent in 2018. As a former high school coach at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, his students appeared in NFL & NCFL national final rounds 22 times over a five year term, winning three national titles. He has been awarded both the prestigious University of Texas Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award (2013) and the Moody College of Communication Teaching Excellence Award (2013). He has been a part of every UTNIF summer since the institute began in 1994, having founded the Lincoln-Douglas Debate program and taught in every curriculum division of the individual events camp.