To round out the academic year, we’re excited to highlight Patrick Ortiz in this month’s spotlight. Patrick competed in Stoa and NCFCA from 2007-2011 under the club Touché. He then took his talents into science by studying biology at Concordia University Irvine (CUI) and is now pursuing his PhD in Molecular Biology at Baylor University.
His first exposure to competitive speech and debate came from an unusual source – chores! Patrick explains, “I got started in NCFCA because my mom used to give her old National Forensics League trophies to my siblings and me when we would do an extra big chore around the house. We asked what they were for and she told us about speech and debate.” After a few years of NCFCA competition, Patrick made the switch to Stoa when the league was started in 2009.
Patrick described his love for good debate rounds where both sides identified the crux of the debate and narrowed in on that clash. He notes, “I remember debating Chase Harrington that first NITOC in 2010 which was a big deal because he won everything, and I remember feeling a little nervous. Then in college, we debated on the same team and I learned he’s actually a dork (and a good friend) so I don’t know what I was nervous about.” Patrick also recalled his Open Interp, saying, “I got one of the judges to gasp at a big plot twist, which was fun!”
Putting successes into context was important, as Patrick mentioned, “It’s really hard to remember 10 years afterward how I ranked specifically but it’s much easier to remember the actual event competitions and friends made.”
In his current life, Patrick is pursuing his PhD in Molecular Biology at Baylor University, hoping to work in the biotech field afterward. He works on developing antimicrobial peptides – small protein-like molecules that kill bacteria – as a new alternative to traditional antibiotics that are becoming less effective against the rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. He also works on the microbiome – a.k.a. all of the bacteria that reside in and on the body, especially in the gut. In the future, he hopes to work for a biotech company doing microbiome research.
Patrick always enjoyed science but didn’t realize biotech research was an option, saying, “In high school and college I thought studying biology meant going to become a doctor, but then the MCAT looked hard and I had a professor suggest that I might be more interested in research. I took a couple of gap years and worked before going to grad school. I wouldn’t have expected this turn, but now I can confirm research is very rewarding (and if you ask me, way more interesting than being a doctor).”
When asked how speech and debate influenced his education, he started by saying what many of us know: Stoa helped make public speaking an asset instead of a liability, which helped with class presentations and gave him leverage against some bad exam grades! But Stoa also had a much more unexpected impact on his education and future: “I applied to CUI because I thought ‘Oh what the heck, I’ll apply to that school we do debate tournaments at’ and then I ended up going there. Actually, I won the 2011 tournament at CUI, walked straight from the front of the room to Konrad Hack (CUI Director of Forensics), and let him know that I had applied. He gave one of his characteristic ‘interested’ looks and helped answer a bunch of questions about the university. So I went to college because of Stoa. Half of the debate team at CUI was made of Stoa alum, who all became even better friends through that experience. While hanging out with those people I got introduced to one of their friends in the history department and then I married her. So I guess you can say my education/career/overall life trajectory has been influenced a lot by speech and debate.”
Patrick and his wife, Sam, got married in 2019. In Patrick’s words, Sam “puts up with my stories about speech and debate from high school and college.” He continued “Fortunately, she was not a speech and debater, so she keeps me from getting too nerdy about all that stuff.”
Patrick finished with these words: “One of the biggest things I learned since leaving debate is that you don’t convince your opponents by debating them. You are trying to persuade an objective judge. So keep that in mind next time you want to get really mad at someone on the internet or you want to start an argument at thanksgiving. Debate is a really useful activity for honing critical thinking skills, but don’t think you’re going to get in a political argument with someone and change their mind. It’s just going to make people upset, most people aren’t actually persuadable.
“One of the hardest things to do after debate is to learn to stop being a debater. Incidentally, this tip is crucial if you ever want to get married! And I’m not just making a corny old marriage joke either, you can logic your way into being the rightest as much as you want but if you really love someone, that’s of secondary or tertiary importance. So all of that is to say speech and debate teach great skills, but my recommendation is to learn when not to be a debater. Also if you don’t learn that people in the real world will just think you’re a stubborn nerd. And who wants that?”