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In honor of NITOC 2021 later this month, this spotlight features Audrie Ford, a former NITOC Tournament Champion who competed in Stoa from 2009 to 2014 splitting time with two clubs, Paradigm and Mars Hill. She is about to graduate with her Master’s in Literature from the University of Arizona and plans to pursue a PhD thereafter.

Audrie had an auspicious start to her homeschooling experience – she and her siblings were pulled out of public school when their reading skills outpaced the classroom’s pace. The move ended up being important for a sense of stability, since their family moved regularly for work.

During their stint in San Diego, Audrie and her family attended an open demo night held by their future club, Paradigm. She watched current students perform a Duo and a DI that made her, a self-described ‘baby theater lover’, want to participate.

Audrie wound up participating in every single event throughout her time in Stoa but was most enamoured with extemporaneous speaking and team policy. Her coaches for those two events, Sharon Nagatani and Van Schalin, were exemplary instructors who connected with their students in a way Audrie still tries to model to this day.

She fondly remembers many moments from her Stoa experience – particularly the ‘printing parties’ Paradigm would hold before Extemp rules were changed allowing competitors to use computers. Audrie described the scene: “We would cram into a tiny office and print off hundreds of articles and try to file them by topic as best we could. I got a lot of papercuts and a lot of laughs out of those nights!”

Audrie’s senior year saw her competing at the infamous 2014 NITOC, when the wildfires around San Diego forced the tournament to adapt quickly and rotate through several locations during the week. Her favorite memory was the chance to honor her former coach at the awards ceremony: “The memorable part was not hearing my name, but getting to take a trophy from a former coach…and getting to tell him, ‘This is because of you[r teaching].’”

After graduation, Audrie went on to get her BA in English and Communications from the University of Arizona and continued on to grad school for a Masters in Literature. She described discovering a spark to study literature in a high school English class that she says, “set me on fire for stories and the ways in which they (and the way they’re taught) can change students’ lives.”

Where the class sparked her passion, speech and debate had a huge role in inspiring her to dig deeper through study and communication. Audrie pointed out, “I’m convinced that storytelling is one of the most effective methods of ‘touching’ an audience, but I want to learn the hows and whys of that!”

Audrie also credits speech and debate with giving her the tools to speak and argue well which, as she said, “comes in handy in male dominated fields that have certain expectations of what ‘professionalism’ looks like.” She elaborated, “Since I’ve been speaking in front of people since I was in middle school, conferences in front of my colleagues don’t look as scary.”

Eventually, Audrie plans to be an instructor in either a community college or four year institution who shapes policy and conducts research that improves the classroom experience, particularly in English and writing courses, for students of all backgrounds.

She encouraged alumni of all ages to appreciate the progress they’ve made during this last difficult year. “If you’re reading this, you’ve made it through one year of a global pandemic, not to mention all the other turmoil happening in the world around us. That alone is something you should be proud of, even if you aren’t able to write down all of the accolades you want on your CV, resume, what-have-you. That piece of paper doesn’t define you, and ‘productivity’ shouldn’t burden you. There’s no appropriate timeline for life! Good things are still to come!”


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