Meet Our Staff
Karon Bowers - Digital Curriculum Portfolio Manager
A founding member of the UTNIF Extemp & Oratory programs, Karon was a UIL 3A State Champion in both Persuasive Extemp and Lincoln-Douglas Debate before going on to compete for Bradley University-- where she became the first junior and the first female to win both the Individual Sweepstakes championship at the American Forensic Association National Individual Events Tournament and Pentathalon at the National Forensic Association National Tournament in the same year. A seven-time collegiate national champion, Karon remains the only person in college forensics to have won a national championship in all four public address events (Informative, Persuasive, After Dinner, and Rhetorical Criticism). Karon went on to co-coach the University of Texas at Austin’s first National Championship team while in graduate school and has been a volunteer coach in various capacities ever since. When full-time forensics gave way to the corporate world, Karon spent over 25 years on the forefront of learning technology in public speaking. She’s led research and development initiatives for the world’s largest learning company. Her strategic vision has resulted in some of ed tech’s leading products and services. Over 2.5 million learners have used programs that Karon researched, helped to develop, and brought to market. She has developed face-to-face and virtual presentation skills training programs for sales and marketing teams and was the curriculum director for the Extemp Division in 2019.
Ryan Tinlin - Curriculum Co-Director for Oratory/Informative
Ryan is a graduate of Bradley University and a current assistant director of Texas Speech, where he recently completed his masters program in Communication at the University of Texas at Austin. As a competitor he competed in over a dozen national final rounds, winning a National Championship in Informative Speaking. He is the former Director of Individual Events at Lewis and Clack College and has been a member of Texas Speech since 2016. He has worked at various high school camps over the last decade, coaching multiple state and national champions. Now in his sixth year with UTNIF, he returns to co-direct the memorized speech portion of the camp with Robi Mahan.
Robi Mahan - Curriculum Co-Director for Oratory/Informative
Robi Mahan has spent the last few years as part of the coaching staff of Texas Speech, where she coaches several events, including After Dinner Speaking, Dramatic Interp, and Duo. Robi has coached/co-coached multiple national champions and finalists in all of these categories. 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 in After Dinner Speaking, Dramatic Interpretation, and Duo (with Mike Tristano.) Robi also coached at Harrisburg High School, and spent many summers working with the Summer Speech Institute at ISU where she headed the Original Comedy lab. This is her fifth summer at the UTNIF. In addition to her role at the University of Texas at Austin, Robi is concurrently completing her master's in Creative Writing at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Ben Gaddis - Curriculum Director for Extemp/Congress
Ben is a former assistant director of Texas Speech and and the incoming Director of Forensics at Trinity Preparatory School in Florida. A graduate of Bradley University and a finishing doctoral student in Communication at the University of Texas at Austin, he brings an extensive background and approach to coaching individual events. Ben has coached at numerous national high school camps and workshops over the years, and is excited to return to his role helping to Coordinate the Extemp curriculum and to serving the students of UTNIF. In his time with Texas Speech, he was part of a staff that helped to coach over 40 national titles, including three AFA national team titles.
Mike Tristano - Curriculum Co-Director for Interpretation
Mike Tristano is a current PhD candidate at Arizona State University and coach at Phoenix Country Day School in Arizona. He was recognized In 2019 as the NSDA Assistant Coach of the Year. 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 eighth year at UTNIF and he is looking forward to talkin’ speech and keeping Austin weird.
Abigail Onwunali - Curriculum Co-Director for Interpretation
Abigail is a recent graduate of The University of Texas at Austin majoring in Human Development and Family Sciences (Pre-Med). Having already completed a Master of Science degree in Nutrition at Texas A&M University, she is currently attending the Yale School of Drama, working toward her M.F.A. in acting. 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.
Randy Cox - Overall Curriculum Director
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 73 individual national titles at both the high school and collegiate levels, and have also been awarded multiple national team titles including the NFL/NSDA Bruno E. Jacob cumulative trophy, the NFA Founders Award, 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 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, and in 2020 was named one of the Texas 10 favorite professors by alumni of the University of Texas at Austin.
Extemp & Congress
Jordan Auzenne is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin with degrees in Radio-Television-Film and Political Communication. In 2019, she became the national champion in Impromptu Speaking at the NFA NIET and was recognized as a top 20 overall speaker at the AFA NIET. Over the last 4 years as a member of the Texas Speech Team, she’s seen several national out rounds in the LPs, Communication Analysis and Persuasive speaking, including finals in Persuasion, Rhetorical Criticism, and CA this year. Jordan is a native Austinite, competing in out rounds of UIL State, TFA State, Extemp and NIETOC, and NSDA for Pflugerville High School. After completing her coursework, Jordan attended the post-graduate UT Los Angeles Film Program. After over a decade of competing in forensics, she's excited to finish her speech career in the same place where it all began: with UTNIF.
A proud graduate of the University of Texas, Dyana Martinez competed for Texas Speech throughout her time on the Forty Acres, and led the team as LP Captain in her last two years. As a Longhorn, Dyana competed across the limited preparation and public address events, seeing multiple national outrounds. In her senior year, she was the runner up in Extemporaneous Speaking and Communication Analysis at the AFA-NIET, and the runner up in Sweepstakes, Impromptu Speaking, and Extemporaneous Speaking at the NFA national tournament. Additionally, Dyana was a finalist in Persuasive Speaking at AFA, and Informative Speaking at NFA. Prior to her time on the college speech circuit, Dyana competed for Saint Mary’s Hall as Extemp Captain, earning outrounds at the Extemporaneous Tournament of Champions and placing 3rd in Domestic Extemporaneous Speaking at TFA State her senior year. Now, Dyana serves in the 2019 Teach For America Houston Corps as a 1st grade teacher, while simultaneously pursuing her Master’s degree in Elementary Education through Johns Hopkins University’s Graduate School of Education. She is excited to bring her knowledge of extemporaneous speaking and distance learning back to this year’s UTNIF.
Spencer Schumacher is a rising Junior on the Texas Speech Team majoring in Government. During his time in High School Speech, Spencer was a finalist at NSDA, NCFL, the Extemp TOC, Glenbrooks, and won the Longhorn Classic along with three Kentucky High School State Championships. At the college level, he was an Extemp Finalist at the HFO Tournament, the largest college tournament outside of Nationals. In his Freshman year, he was also HFO Finalist and made national out rounds in Extemp at NFA Nationals. When he is not competing in speech, Spencer has worked on mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns, as well as in the Texas State Legislature and city council offices. As an UTNIF alum, Spencer is excited to come back and help students have as special a camp experience as he did.
Caleb enters his Senior year at the University of Texas at Austin as a government major and former Co-Captain of Texas Speech. Caleb has seen multiple out-rounds at AFA and NFA in Extemp, Impromptu, Persuasion, and Rhetorical Criticism, and in 2019 he was the national runner-up in Persuasive Speaking at the NFA national tournament. In high school, Caleb had numerous out-rounds in Congressional Debate at Glenbrooks, Churchill, and the TOC. He was a finalist in Congress at 2016 UIL State, 2016 & 2017 TFA State, and at 2017 NSDA Nationals. As an UTNIF alum himself, Caleb is excited to be able to be able to come back and help teach for the fourth time!
Dani Soibelman - Guest Lecturer
Dani R. Soibelman is a M.A. graduate in Communication Studies at UT Austin and outgoing assistant director for Texas Speech. Soibelman competed in limited preparation, interpretation, and public address and was a national outrounder in all three areas, including finishing as the 2018 National Runner-Up in Impromptu Speaking. This spring, she published research in the Journal of Argumentation and Advocacy about improving the experiences of disabled speech competitors. Dani currently works at Dell Medical School and actively participates in Austin community organizing. Soibelman begins her PhD at the University of Colorado at Boulder in August.
Evan Ortiz is an incoming Junior at the University of Texas at Austin, and a national elimination round competitor in multiple categories, including Extemporaneous Speaking. 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, some of Evan’s accolades include a semi final 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 6A Congressional Debate. Evan is ecstatic to work with students just as passionate as he is to become better speakers, but more importantly to find their voice.
René Otero is a rising Sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Cultural Anthropology. While regularly participating in Original Oratory, Congressional Debate and Informative Speaking, he specializes in Extemp. René received second place at the Harvard Invitational, 4th at the UK Tournament of Champions, 2nd, 3rd and eventually champion at the UT Longhorn Classic, and has seen multiple other national and state finals. More recently, he was the 2019 NSDA National Champion in International Extemp. René attended UTNIF in 2016 and is excited to return to the teaching end of such an impactful camp!
Meera is a rising Junior at UT majoring in government and sociology. She competes for the Texas Speech Team in Extemp, Informative, Persuasion, Impromptu, and ADS. She was the division coordinator for Informative Speaking and has seen national out-rounds in both Informative and Impromptu. In high school, Meera competed in Extemp and Public Forum Debate at the state and national levels. Meera is really excited to return to UTNIF and help students share their stories!
Danielle is graduate student in Latin American Studies and incoming assistant director for Texas Speech. Originally from the Houston circuit, Danielle has competed in forensics since high school where she reached national and state outrounds in Poetry and Dramatic Interpretation. During college, she appeared in national outrounds at AFA and NFA in DUO, Prose, Poetry, and DI, with national final round performances in Dramatic Interp at AFA (2019) and Prose at NFA (2019). Danielle is excited to create art with the students and help them continue to tell stories that have an impact on life, both inside and outside of forensic performance.
Elizabeth is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and two year Captain of the Texas Speech team, majoring in Public Relations. Originally from Grand Prairie, Texas, Elizabeth has been a forensic competitor since the seventh grade. During her time on the team, she was the state champion in After Dinner Speaking and Prose, competed at both AFA and NFA national tournaments, seeing out rounds in POE and PRO, as well as 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. Next Fall she will join the UTLA program in Film. She hopes to help campers utilize speech the same way she does, as a form of catharsis, and as a vehicle to spread meaningful messages.
Seis is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin majoring in Advertising and English. He is currently a graduate student at UCLA earning his Master of Fine Arts degree in screenwriting. As a two-year captain of Texas Speech, Seis was the 2018 AFA and NFA champion in After Dinner Speaking. He has multiple national finals in ADS, Prose and Program of Oral Interp, with additional national awards in Duo, Poetry, and Informative Speaking. 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. After nearly a decade in forensics, he looks forward to helping students develop themselves as competitors and artists.
Juan is an incoming senior at the University of Texas at Austin double majoring in Journalism and Mexican-American studies, with a minor in Women and Gender studies. Throughout a 10 year run in speech, Juan is a three-time national runner up and has participated in final rounds at the Glennbrooks, TFA state and NIETOC in the high school level as well as HFO, AFA-NIET and NFA at the college level in a variety of public speaking and interpretation events. Passionate about advocacy, performance and self-care through the activity, Juan is excited to once again help high schoolers prepare for the competitive season.
Dinah is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Journalism, Pre-law. She was a member of the Texas Speech team for two years. Originally from Houston, Texas, Dinah has been a forensic competitor since her junior year of High School. During her time on the team, she has been the state runner up in Poetry and POI, qualified events such as POE, POI, PRO, CA, and INFO to the AFA and NFA national tournament, reaching NFA out rounds in POE. Before attending UT, she competed for Cypress Falls High School and saw multiple semis as well as final rounds at TFA State and UIL State in events such as POE, POI, PRO and Public Forum Debate. This coming Fall, she will be working towards her law school admission. She hopes to help campers utilize speech as a tool for advocacy, change and as a creative outlet.
Jackson Reich is a rising sophomore on the Texas Speech team, studying in the film department and Plan II Honors program. During his high school speech career, Jackson competed in San Antonio, Texas, and saw outrounds on the state and national level in DI, Oratory, Duo, Prose, and POI. He has performed in final rounds at the Longhorn Classic, Glenbrooks, TFA State tournament, UC Berkeley, UKTOC, semi-finals at NSDA, and is the 2019 NIETOC champion in DI. As an UTNIF alumni, Jackson couldn’t be happier to be apart of the UTNIF staff for the first time, and looks forward to helping students craft and share their stories!
Dago is an incoming sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, double majoring in Theatre & Dance and Communication studies. He competes for the Texas Speech Team in all the Interpretation events and was the state champion in Poetry his first year. Before attending UT, he helped restart the Speech and Debate team at PSJA North High School and saw multiple out rounds at UIL State, NIETOC, TFA State (where he was the 2019 Dramatic interpretation champion), NSDA outrounds in Dramatic interpretation and an NSDA national final in Poetry. Dago is beyond thrilled to join UTNIF, and hopes he can teach and learn alongside other students who share the some passion and love for Speech.
Frank Smith is a television and film writer who has been passionate about Speech and Debate since he first joined his middle school team 17 years ago. Though he now lives in Los Angeles, Frank is originally from Boston, where he competed on the Milton Academy Speech and Debate Team under the legendary Debbie Simon, former Interp Curriculum Director for the UTNIF. While in high school, a two-time State Champion, a four-time National Qualifier, and a competitor in numerous outrounds at national-level tournaments. His proudest achievements were being named an NFL (now NSDA) Academic All-American; finishing in the Top 13 at CFL Nationals in Dramatic Performance; earning a spot in the Top 13 at NFL Nationals in Poetry. His Final Round Runner-up placement in Dramatic Performance at the University of Pennsylvania Liberty Bell Classic at the start of his senior year proved oddly prescient, as he ultimately majored in Neuroscience and minored in French at the University of Pennsylvania, graduating with Honors. Frank has coached numerous finalists at both National Tournaments, as well as numerous national-level tournaments in Oral Interpretation, Duo Interpretation, Original Oratory, and his first love, Humorous Interpretation. Frank currently works on Raven's Home for Disney Channel, but you can catch him on Netflix, in Episode 5 of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.
Oratory & Informative Speaking
Erin is a rising Junior on the Texas Speech team, majoring in Government. Attending both AFA and NFA her freshman year, she has seen national out-rounds in both Duo and Persuasive speaking. Before coming to UT Erin attended Jack C. Hays High school where she participated in Speech and debate, competing in Duo, Prose, and Dramatic interpretation at both the State and National level. She placed Second at TFA state her senior year in Prose Interpretation. She mostly participated in Musical theatre, however, earning a nomination for best actress in a musical two years in a row from the Greater Austin High School Musical Theater Awards. A multi-talented competitor, Erin has shown a passion for acting and individual performance, and can't wait to experience another year at UTNIF with students who share that same passion and is eager to learn alongside them.
Ryan is a rising senior and Team Captain for Texas Speech, studying Humanities and Entrepreneurship, with specific focus in performance studies and rhetorics of authenticity. He comes to the University of Texas at Austin as a community college transfer and considers collegiate forensics as one of the most formative experiences of his undergraduate career. Ryan competes for the Texas Speech Team in Communication Analysis, Dramatic Interpretation, Prose Interpretation, Impromptu, and ADS. This year, he was the ADS Champion at HFO, one of the largest collegiate tournaments outside of the 2020 displaced nationals. Prior to competing for Texas Speech, Ryan competed in forensics throughout his secondary education at Midland Christian School and was a multi-finalist at TAPPS State and TCSIT. He hopes to inspire students to embrace the unique path they are on with respect to speech, collegiate prospects, and life, and to reflect on how they can use what they have available to them to create meaningful work.