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Ryan Woolsey

Tyler, TX

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.”

Nicholas Kjeldgaard

San Diego, CA

Our alumni update this month features Nicholas Kjeldgaard, who grew up in Oakdale, CA in California’s Central Valley and competed with Modesto Debate and Covenant clubs from the 2009–2011 seasons. Nicholas attended the inaugural 2010 Stoa NITOC and NITOC 2011 after competing in the NCFCA for one year prior to Stoa’s formation as a league. He channeled his speech and debate skills into his college experience at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) where he continued his debate career for another four successful years. Nicholas graduated from PLNU in 2017 with a BA in Broadcast Journalism and currently works as a Producer at NBC San Diego where he enjoys being part of an Emmy award-winning news team.During his Stoa career, Nicholas competed in Team Policy debate and a variety of limited-prep speeches, including Extemporaneous, Impromptu, and Apologetics. One of his favorite memories of Stoa was an early tournament of his where the prompts for an Extemp final round were rife with unknown acronyms for various international political groups and were asking if there was “renewed hope for peace”. After delivering a speech on World Peace in general — and finding out that the question was referring to a specific political party in Turkey — Nicholas learned an important lesson and now has a story to laugh at. On the debate side, Nicholas enjoyed getting to showcase one of the very first example rounds for introducing Parliamentary debate to the Stoa community at an early tournament in Southern California.Nicholas took a gap year after high school to do a video journalism program that was based in Hawaii before heading to the field in Jordan and Israel. At that point in time in 2013, the Syrian crisis was starting to garner some worldwide attention but the crisis had not been noticed by most Americans yet. He describes a pivotal moment on that trip, “I remember sitting on the steps of a market in Tel Aviv and decided that if people in the U.S. couldn’t see the faces of the refugees I was working with, they would never know what was going on around the world. That’s how I made my decision to become a journalist.”In his current position as a Producer at NBC San Diego, Nicholas produces the morning news shows as well as gearing up technical and behind-the-scenes work for local, State, and Federal elections in 2020 as the station’s pre-election producer. Starting next year, he will become the producer for the NBC 7 Responds team where he will work to report individual stories of people in the San Diego area bringing issues with local companies or government agencies to the attention of the community at large.Looking ahead, Nicholas is hoping to continue educating others about local communities and telling stories that people otherwise may not have known. He points out, “In recent years, I have seen a growing distrust of journalists, which I feel is not usually based on fact. I hope to continue to tell the stories of our communities well and in a way that everyone can learn from.”

Nicholas describes Stoa’s impact on his life as incredibly helpful in training him to think on his feet and hold up well under pressure. He notes, “I’m so grateful to my parents for finding speech and debate, and to have had incredible teachers in the Winthers and other parents and alumni. I would not be where I am today without the skills I learned in speech and debate.”

Isabella Chow

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.”

Matthew Mittelberg

Atlanta, GA

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.”

Chase Harrington

Washington, DC

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.”

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