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This month’s profile features Branden Yeates, from Lakewood, CO. Branden graduated high school in 2014 and currently works in public accounting. He competed in Stoa from 2010 to2014 with the club SALT, attending NITOC each year and participating in a total of nine different events.
Before participating in Stoa’s inaugural competition season in 2010, Branden was already in love with speech and debate. His older brother, Callan, started competing when Branden was old enough to volunteer as a timer (and as a sidekick, he pointed out) at tournaments. Branden grew to love competitive forensics through those experiences and started competing in Duo and Team Policy with Callan in 2008.
Branden fondly recalls the warm welcome he received from Stoa the first year, saying “My memories are of a fourteen-year-old debater from a different state and league being welcomed in like a favored guest. My dad and I had a wonderful time: I had my cases eaten for lunch by the Californian talent, and I met several debaters there that are still my friends today.”
His favorite moment was a memorable awards ceremony with a teammate living (and competing) in a wheelchair: “One of my teammates, Josiah, had broken to finals in several of his events. At the awards ceremony, four of the SALT guys put on sunglasses, acted like his security detail, and lifted him in his wheelchair on and off the stage each time he crossed it. The audience shook the auditorium with their cheers for Josiah – it was simply incredible.” Branden still serves the Stoa community in various ways, having been involved for over a decade now. He does freelance speech and debate coaching and is a member of Stoa’s Debate Committee, focusing on Lincoln Douglas debate.
Branden now works in public accounting as an auditor. He has a heart for public policy, and, after several years of exploring potential options, landed on accounting, appreciating its foundational appeal when pursuing public policy. He currently focuses on opportunities in business and education.
Speech and debate had a huge impact on his career and education. First, it gave him an urgent sense of mission: “I can still hear Scott York’s ringing senior charge that we’re on a God-given mission to be Kingdom communicators, and I try to orient my life towards that Kingdom mission every day.” Second, he points out that speech and debate gave him a toolbox of career skills like public speaking, professional dress, analysis and critical thinking, case writing, and strong listening skills, saying, “Of all the activities I could have done during my middle and high school years I cannot think of any activity that would have prepared me for my career better than speech and debate in general and Stoa in particular.”
Branden is currently pursuing his license as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and is hoping to gain more experience as an auditor. As for the long term, he is looking into several options, including law school or graduate school. But for now, his mind is on the present. As he said: “I’m looking forward to finishing the CPA exam this year, and then never thinking about the CPA exam ever again.”
Appreciation for Stoa and the Stoa community is evident in Branden’s story. He sees Stoa as a solution to one of the most pressing educational challenges today, saying, “I would love to see Stoa step into the educational gap that is being created by coronavirus: the statistics I’ve been reading indicate that the homeschooling population in America (and the world) will jump by several orders of magnitude in the coming years, and these new homeschooling families need the help of the existing homeschooling community in this time of global crisis. If we can seize this moment to serve these new families and train new students, Stoa’s Kingdom impact could be multiplied exponentially for many years to come. Carpe diem, right?”
Branden urges alumni to live in light of Stoa’s mission to speak boldly and change the world for Christ and notes, “Stoa has a critical role to play in the lives of Christian homeschooling students, and we can help ensure that role is carried out by investing in the next generation of Stoa competitors.”
Fountain Springs, AZ
This month’s alumni profile features Isabelle Clausen, who grew up in Fountain Hills, Arizona, and competed with Mars Hill from 2014 to 2017. She graduated from Grand Canyon University in 2020 with a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Economics with a minor in Entrepreneurial Studies.
Isabelle was “accidentally homeschooled.” She explained, “When I was four years old, my family and I lived in Idaho, and we lived out in the country, about thirty minutes from school. Instead of traveling far to go to school each day, my mom and dad thought they could teach my brother and I shapes, colors, etc. The next year, when it came to reading and math, my dad asked my mom, ‘Well, we can probably teach them letters and numbers too, right?’ After that, the rest was history. I was homeschooled from preschool through 12th grade!”
Her introduction to Stoa was through a speech and debate class taught at her co-op. She loved it and joined Mars Hill in her sophomore year. Isabelle says she was nervous to step out of her comfort zone but the experience taught her that God is looking out for her and will give her courage and strength when she starts new experiences. Furthermore, because she was able to step out of her comfort zone in high school, she now has more courage in other parts of her life, such as starting her career and living on her own.
As Isabelle gained more Stoa experience, the surrounding sense of community profoundly impacted her. She remembers making speech and debate jokes around a table, winning her first checkmark at the same time as a friend, and practicing swing dancing on the grass while discussing debate applications at NITOC. The community that Isabelle found in Stoa was exactly what she needed to build her confidence and create lifelong friendships. Because of this experience, she reminds herself often that in the new chapters of life, God will bless us more than we can fathom if we trust Him and ask for His help.
Isabelle is currently studying to become a financial advisor and eventually a Certified Financial Planner. She is partnering with her dad in the family investment business and hoping to take over the business in the next 10 years when her dad retires. The business has an office in Idaho and opened a second office in Arizona this October.
Stoa profoundly blessed her in her career endeavors. As she explained: “In speech and debate, you learn how to explain complex topics to people in a way that makes sense and is simple to understand. Finance is very complex and can be intimidating to most people. Speech and debate taught me skills on how I can articulate facts and statistics in a compelling and simplified way.” Isabelle also pointed out that speech and debate teaches you how to empathize with your audience and build a personal connection. She has carried this forward in her finance career, finding common ground with her clients by sharing personal stories and life lessons.
Finally, she encouraged Stoa alumni to find the balance between spending time with Christian friends and branching out to engage others. “Young adults need the love of Jesus. As young Christians, it’s our job to help other young adults find the love of Jesus. As we step out into the world and meet new people, one of the best ways to evangelize is by sharing kindness and love with others. This can be as simple as listening to someone’s struggles, inviting someone over to dinner, or inviting someone to church. As John 13:34-35 states, ‘A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’.”
Colorado Springs, CO
This month’s Alumni Spotlight features Taryn Enos, who competed out of Colorado with Resolve from 2010 to 2016. She competed at NITOC in eleven different events during her competition years, including all three styles of debate. She now works full-time as a Relations Specialist with Compassion International, a child sponsorship and Christian humanitarian aid organization headquartered in Colorado Springs.
Taryn expressed deep gratitude to her parents for homeschooling all eight of their children, saying, “I personally believe I never would have finished high school if they did not homeschool us.” She described how it was because of her siblings that she got involved in Stoa. By the time her eldest brother was 14, her parents knew he was a debater and the family joined their local club.
Taryn saw speech and debate as a huge part of her life and had stories from throughout her six years of competition. Her misadventures included cleaning up broken glass from an ill-fated expository prop to uncontrollable laughing outside of a competition room for ten minutes straight.
It was her interps, namely Dramatic and Humorous, that she remembers most fondly. She did a DI every year she competed, and the one year she also did HI she made it to finals. Both events made a huge impact on her ability to express herself. “Growing up, I had a hard time learning to express emotion in front of people or on my own. I remember that Humorous and Dramatic Interps were the first time that me expressing emotion was accepted by my peers. In a way, those events helped me learn how to express emotion in a safe way through a creative hobby.”
Passing down her knowledge to others has remained dear to her. On top of being a full-time Relations Specialist with Compassion International, Taryn also runs her own teaching platform through Outschool.com where she teaches speaking and social skills to young children.
She was drawn to Compassion International because of the impact it has: “I believe in doing what works. The reason I chose to work with Compassion was because they impact children all over the world in an ethical and tangible way. Personally, I do not care what I do for work as long as I can reach the type of impact and life that I am looking for.”
Taryn credits Stoa with many of the skills that brought her to where she is today. “The reason every person in my department was hired is for our skills with people. Our ability to speak and relate gives Compassion the ability to have a totally unscripted format for every medium they communicate through. My speech experience was actually something that I have been asked about in every interview and that speaks volumes.”
Her love for passing on the gifts we have been given penetrated Taryn’s outlook. She wants to see alumni step up to mentor and teach the next generation. “If you have never experienced beginning the year with a student and watching them grow and gain confidence, then you are missing out”, she explained. “People grow and change exponentially over a year. There is nothing better than watching the process of learning that accompanies any student learning something new. You have value to add to this amazing community!”
Mitch competed with Invictus Fides from 2011 to 2015 in Team Policy, Parli, Extemp, and Impromptu. Mitch’s family chose homeschooling after he briefly attended a private school and discovered that it did not meet all of his needs – he needed the flexibility that homeschooling provided to play baseball at a high level. Friends from a local homeschool co-op encouraged the Mason family to try Stoa speech and debate and the Masons visited a local tournament to watch and time rounds. Mitch was instantly hooked. Speech and debate seemed like the ideal extracurricular activity because it would develop the skills that Mitch would need to pursue his true passions.
Dreams of future career plans pre-dated Mitch’s years in Stoa. Mitch knew he wanted to work in sports broadcasting from the time he was little. He says that he started his broadcasting journey at a young age, “I would fall asleep listening to Texas Rangers games on the radio and knew that I wanted to be like Eric Nadel (the Baseball Hall of Fame radio broadcaster) one day.”
But it is speech and debate that Mitch credits for giving him the communications skills necessary for the job. As he explains, “Before speech and debate, I was just another kid grinding away at my game. I was playing baseball every day and trying to get good enough to play in college. I couldn’t hold a conversation with anyone I did not know and certainly did not have much knowledge on any topic outside of sports. Speech and debate taught me how to think and gave me a verbal eloquence that my career is based on today. I truly would not be in the position that I am without my time in Stoa.”
After competing in Stoa, Mitch attended Texas A&M University, where he received his B.A. in Communications with a minor in Business in 2019. At A&M, Mitch gained experience in sports broadcasting. He is now pursuing an M.S. in Sports Management at Dallas Baptist University and expects to graduate in 2021.
Currently, Mitch works as the Head Graduate Assistant at Dallas Baptist University in the Athletics Department. Specifically, he works in Media Relations as an author and a play-by-play broadcaster for soccer, basketball, and baseball. He also serves as the head writer for Golf and Tennis. Mitch comments, “Working in NCAA athletics is a dream come true.” He hopes to get his start at a major D1 university when his contract with Dallas Baptist University expires and dreams of being a head play by-play broadcaster in the future.
Mitch urges the Stoa community to continue to engage those students who, like him, might pursue speech and debate less strongly than other activities like athletics: “It changed my life, and I know there are and will be more with stories like mine.”
Some debaters instinctively know they want to compete. Others remain oblivious until their parents provide hints by signing them up. Josiah McGee fell into the latter category. Once Josiah experienced tournament competition, however, he immediately loved debating. He found camaraderie amongst his Stoa peers and connected with them on matters both serious and hilarious. He remembers, “I was shocked when my little brother and I won a duo impromptu tournament. I’m absolutely terrible at it, but, in finals, he pretended to be an alien and carried us to victory.” His Stoa experience provided much more than just a good time though. Debate not only became a passion that continued through college, but it also initiated friendships that last to this day and opened his ears to hear the Lord’s calling.
Josiah grew up in Kansas City, MO, and competed for KC Animi primarily in Extemporaneous Speaking, Apologetics, Lincoln-Douglas Debate, and Parliamentary Debate from 2011 to 2015. In the Lord’s timing, the Arab Spring started only a year before Josiah joined Stoa. More than a coincidence, this event served as a divine catalyst. Studying political topics, including the Middle East and conflict resolution, softened his heart to a God-given passion for the region. In 2019, he graduated from Union University with a B.S. in International Relations and a minor in Economics.
In college, Josiah traveled to Israel with Passages, a non-profit that takes Christian college students to Israel to explore the roots of their faith and the modern dynamics of the region. This experience left a deep impression and Josiah felt drawn toward the diverse people, history, and landscapes of Israel. In a strange way, returning to the U.S. made him homesick, so he keeps visiting the Middle East. Since 2016, Josiah has returned to Israel eight times and made additional trips to Jordan and Poland.
Initially, Josiah believed he would work for the foreign service. God must have a sense of humor because Josiah felt led to the nonprofit sector instead and now serves as the Associate Director of Alumni Education for Passages. He leads the development of content for more than 7,000 alumni on topics including faith, Jewish-Christian relations, leadership, Middle Eastern politics, and more. Josiah says, “The best part of my job is talking with students who are truly discovering their faith for the first time. It makes my job more than a job, knowing that I help equip students to make a difference for the Kingdom of God wherever they go.”
Josiah credits Stoa with introducing to him many skills necessary to thrive in this role. He has a wide range of responsibilities—from project management and partner relations to customer service—which require excellent organizational, communication, and coalition-building skills. He especially enjoys working on two video projects—a leadership devotional collection and a biblical site series. Thankfully, in Apologetics, Josiah learned to study Scripture both on a thematic and a detailed level. Stoa equipped him to develop theological applications intended for a broad audience. Additionally, his passion for making the issues of the Middle East accessible to young Christians is rooted in the Extemporaneous speeches he gave in high school.
Recently, Josiah’s most important project has been a Digital Speaker Series. He coordinates live, public webinars with high profile individuals and executives, including author Yossi Halevi, Senator Marco Rubio, and former Ambassador Nikki Haley. This opportunity challenges Josiah professionally and provides space for new growth.
Looking forward, Josiah trusts the Lord to continue working through the Stoa community in these uncertain times. He mentions, “The Lord continues to use Stoa friendships around the country to broaden my horizons and encourage empathy. These are challenging times, and we need both critical thinking and compassion to represent Christ well in polarized, suffering communities.” In the short term, Josiah is thrilled to marry his best friend, Rebecah, in July 2020. In the long term, God’s plans will continue to reveal themselves. No matter what Josiah’s future holds, it will likely involve the Middle East as he continues to follow the path that the Lord sets before him.
*Thanks to Laura Williamson (CO) for serving as a contributing editor for this Spotlight.*
This month, we are featuring Ryan Woolsey! Ryan grew up in Tyler, TX, and competed with Venture and Invictus Fides for four years, from 2011 to 2016, and competed at NITOC in each of his competition years. Immediately after Stoa, he attended Texas A&M where he completed a BS in Finance in 2019. He currently works in the US Treasury Department as an Associate National Bank Examiner of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) where he helps regulate national banks for the federal government.
Ryan’s first exposure to the world of speech and debate was through a debate camp run by Suzanne Nasser. He attended, despite the fact he didn’t know anyone involved, and got completely hooked. Afterward, Ryan and his friend Philip Baker, with the help and guidance of Jennifer Woolsey, Wendy Baker, and Dawn Sarna, created a 2-person club named Venture. That same year they started competing in Lincoln-Douglas debate at tournaments.
He admits that the whole thing was pretty overwhelming at first. “I was super deer-in-the-headlights,” he says, “I knew my room number and case I had learned at camp, and that was it. It was a humbling experience.” But, he continues, “I had a lot of fun, seeing people who I saw as peers and hung out with, winning trophies. I felt like I could do this.”
The next year, they had 16 total competitors in Venture and Ryan took on a coaching role. Ryan loves LD, saying: “I am a debate guy through and through. I loved LD, it was my competition, and the one I put a lot of time in…I learned values are everywhere. It even helped with conflict resolution. When coworkers did things in ways I disagreed with, I asked myself “what are their values?” It helped me to empathize with others by recognizing someone else’s value, but still being able to argue for your own values while acknowledging and respecting their values.”
He recalls the most meaningful thing he did during his debate career was when his club started the Go Light Your World speech and debate tournament. They used it as a way to share the story of Jimmy Brazell, a Godly young man who died young but left a huge imprint of the lives of everyone he met as he showed the love of Christ from home to his mission work in China. Jimmy Brazell was a friend of Ryan’s, and seeing his legacy encouraging hundreds of kids through the tournament stuck with him.
Ryan decided to pursue banking as a career because it brought together the passions he had fostered through debate with purpose. He says, “With debate we are big-picture, and I really like that. Then I fell in love with banking and seeing how it equips communities, works with charities, and gives my work meaning. With OCC, I’m looking from a bank management angle but seeing everyone’s different values and how they overlap. I value safety and soundness. I basically get to run the bank for a couple of weeks to make sure everything is run smoothly.”
That is not to say this job has been easy for Ryan. At 22, he is the youngest employee in his office. And because his job involves finding ways for banks to better manage themselves and then presenting his conclusions, he says it requires a lot of confidence to speak as an expert to such intelligent groups. Ryan notes that “speaking effectively sets you apart from others.” The skills he honed in speech and debate did wonders for his ability to speak boldly.
Ryan encourages fellow alumni to share what they’ve learned with others. “As alumni, we’ve been through a lot. There are a lot of unknowns as homeschoolers and we are now on the other end. We have gone through all those questions and are able to see how our lives have been changed. I think it is important to be there as a resource, source of encouragement, and a contact.”
San Francisco, CA
April brings a new alumna to the spotlight! This month we are featuring Isabella Chow, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and competed with Legacy speech club and Clash debate club from 2012 to 2016.While in middle school, Isabella attended her first speech and debate camp and decided to try forensics in ninth grade. She was nervous initially, but ended up falling in love with speech and debate and competed at NITOC in four out of her five years in Stoa. She even showed up ready for her first NITOC debate round after fighting off the stomach flu just the day before! Isabella remembers the priceless look of relief on her debate partner’s face and reminds us, “Ain’t nothing gonna stop a pumped debater!”After graduating high school, Isabella attended UC Berkeley, where she graduated with her B.A. in Music and B.S. in Business Administration in 2019. She now works in management consulting in San Francisco. “Management consulting is a popular first job for business students,” she says. “Personally, I really enjoy the fast-paced nature of work as well as the broad exposure to different clients and types of projects.” Her experience in speech and debate has been a tremendous asset in her academic and professional endeavors. Both her school and her work frequently require public communication and spontaneous thinking, from presenting slides to brainstorming ideas with project partners.As for where her job might take her? “Not sure, to be honest,” she answers. “Maybe I’ll be a tech CEO, elected official, partner at a consulting firm, homeschool mom…” — depending on how well-behaved her kids are, she jokingly clarifies — “…or all of the above!”Isabella says she’s looking forward to living in the Bay Area for the next couple of years. She loves the celebration of Asian culture, the endless sunny days, and, most of all, the prospect of more time spent with her family.
Isabella stays involved with Stoa by driving her younger sister to tournaments and judging when she’s able to. She’s grateful for Stoa’s influence, training that taught her about influencing society for Christ. Now in her post-college career, she carries lessons from competition with her. “As we move away from the shelter of homeschooling to the real world, it’s pretty safe to expect seasons where life is difficult and where questions of faith seem unanswered. Remember that God is big enough to handle your doubts and strong enough to calm your fears. Run to Him with your questions, not away from Him. He’ll always be there.”
Our alumni profile this month features Matthew Mittelberg, who grew up in Southern California and competed with Apollos and Resolve from 2007 to 2011 before competing at NITOC 2011.Matthew was first exposed to speech and debate through a debate camp in summer 2007 and remembers being paired with a partner and having no idea what to do. But they got hooked after their first round and started running practice rounds in the stairwell! The road to success was long and difficult though—Matthew says he always wanted to go to nationals but was never successful in any events until his senior year. That year, he switched from Team Policy to Lincoln Douglas and entered the previously unfamiliar events of Persuasive and Extemp. He went from never breaking in 2010 to being ranked #1 in both LD and Persuasive on Speechranks in 2011. Matthew took home a NITOC championship with his Persuasive speech on the impact of propaganda messaging in the abortion debate. He saw his hard work in previous years pay off as he found himself prepared to speak to a divisive issue with clear reasoning and a level-headed attitude and says that experience “lit a fire in me for speaking to people about the issues that really matter in life.”After competing in Stoa, Matthew enrolled at Grand Canyon University (GCU) where he graduated with a BS in Entrepreneurial Studies in 2016. He then took his talents abroad by completing a Certificate of Theology at Oxford University in England. Through his involvement in Stoa and subsequent studies, he found a calling as an apologist. Matthew explains, “I saw the need—people have real questions that require thoughtful answers. Christians doubt their faith because they’re often not given the answers they need to resolve their questions. And non-Christians are sometimes told to ‘just have more faith,’ instead of helping them to understand that both reason and evidence powerfully support belief in Jesus.”
Through his focus in apologetics, Matthew began working with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries where he is now a speaking Fellow. He speaks on apologetics topics at universities, schools, churches, and organizations around the world where he faces questions about faith that echo his old apologetics competition prompts such as, “Why would God allow evil and suffering?”, “Can faith and science coexist?”, and “Is faith irrational?” He enjoys opportunities to show evidence that supports faith in God such as the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, the reasons we can be confident in the Bible, and the philosophical and scientific support for God’s existence. His recent speaking engagements include the Reboot Tampa youth conference in January of this year where he addressed several hundred students ages 12-18. He was also involved with a week-long series of events at the University of Florida in February.
Such engagement was incubated in the environment provided by Stoa’s presence as a ministry to students and families. Matthew encourages fellow Stoa alumni to continue honing their skills to engage the world around them. He points out, “The skills gained in Stoa are broadly applicable to many fields of life, but students are trained to use them in a highly artificial environment with very specific rulesets. How do you persuade someone in the real world when it’s not an academic setting and people are easily offended? How do you respect someone’s opinion and be open-minded to new information while still holding on to your convictions and the things you know to be true? We can trust in Jesus and in his words, not based on blind faith, but because of the evidence. But until you decide to engage with this information yourself, you’re on the shaky ground of inherited faith. My advice: seek, and you will find.”
Our first alumni profile features Chase Harrington, who grew up in Laguna Hills, CA, and competed with SCARLET from 2006 to 2010. Before Stoa was founded in his senior year, Chase competed in tournaments organized under NCFCA dating back to his first tournament at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA, in January 2007. Chase was a competitor at the first-ever Stoa tournament in January 2010, the Concordia Challenge, where he remembers preparing novices for their first debates in the new world of Stoa.
Chase primarily competed in Lincoln Douglas and Extemporaneous speaking and qualified for both events for Stoa’s first NITOC in 2010. He describes his love for Lincoln Douglas Debate, “A one-on-one discussion of competing values is a uniquely American form of debate — one that is lamentably gone from our political scene. Debates illuminate both sides of a complex issue. That alone would do immense good to unwind tribal attitudes and bruising campaign seasons.”
Once his Stoa competition career wrapped up with a 2010 NITOC Championship in Lincoln Douglas, Chase enrolled at Concordia University Irvine where he graduated in 2014 with a BA in International Studies. He then decided to pursue a career in law and completed his JD at Duke University’s School of Law in 2017. After passing the bar, he became an attorney at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — a firm dedicated to protecting religious liberty for people of all faiths. In his role, he helped defend the rights of an order of nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor as well as representing the Klickitat and Cascade Tribes of Yakama Nation in Washington state and Buddhist capital defendant, Patrick Murphy, in Texas. Chase describes the impact of religious liberty, “Religious liberty matters to me because it is a tangible way I can treat others — even those with whom I have sincere and passionate disagreements — as people made in God’s image.” Currently, Chase practices law in the executive branch of the United States federal government in Washington, DC.
Over the years, Chase has been involved with Stoa in various ways, first as a Coach for VALOR throughout his time in Southern California for college and then later serving on the Stoa Lincoln Douglas committee for four years. One of his favorite Stoa memories was when Chase was coaching VALOR students at a NITOC. On the final morning, two of his students were in the final round of Parliamentary Debate, but his morning alarm didn’t go off. Chase was abruptly awakened by a phone call and an anxious debater shouting at him to get to the prep room because topics were being announced in minutes. He leaped from his bed, dressed in the elevator, brushed his teeth in the car, sprinted to the prep room — and made it! He says, “Everyone had a good laugh at my bedhead and half-tucked shirt, but I think it quieted nerves in the few moments we had before the topic was announced.”
For his fellow alumni, Chase has these words to say: “Alumni should appreciate the enormous privilege it was to compete in Stoa and give back. Hundreds of adults sacrificed their hobbies and free time to do menial tasks like check timer batteries, print schedules, make nametags, or tabulate a 300-competitor tournament so you would learn to think clearly and speak confidently. That is an immense gift. The best thank you alumni can give is come back — not to relive your glory days — but to judge graciously and serve.”