College of LAS « Illinois

Anonymous gifts add energy to an introductory course

Department of Communication offers scholarships to winners of debate and PechaKucha events

Winners and finalists of a PechaKucha competition offered by the Department of Communication pose for a photo last fall. An anonymous gift increased student interest and participation in the annual event by offering scholarships for winners. (Image courtesy of the Department of Communication.)
Winners and finalists of a PechaKucha competition offered by the Department of Communication pose for a photo last fall. An anonymous gift increased student interest and participation in the annual event by offering scholarships for winners. (Image courtesy of the Department of Communication.)
Since the 1940s, an introductory course sequence in oral and written communication has taught skills in critical thinking and argumentation to generations of Illinois students. Now, support from anonymous donors—along with the spirit of competition—has encouraged students to delve into the material even more enthusiastically by offering scholarships for exceptional performance beyond the classroom.

A gift to CMN 111/112, a general education course sequence offered by the Department of Communication that enrolls about 400 students per year, revived the Lincoln Hall Debate Series, an extracurricular competition which had been dormant for a number of years but was able to restart this past spring.

Also, a separate gift to the Wenzel Fund, named in honor of Joe Wenzel, professor emeritus of communication and a former debate coach, enabled course organizers to offer scholarships to winners of an annual PechaKucha competition at the conclusion of CMN 111 in the fall.

The PechaKucha competition—named for a public speaking concept that originated in Japan in the early 2000s—was in addition to a CMN 111 class requirement in which all students presented their research topics PechaKucha-style (16 timed slides on a research topic, with each slide lasting roughly 20 seconds).

The presentations weren’t only for grades; students in each class section selected the best presentation, and the winning presenters competed against winners in other class sections. In the final round, held in a packed classroom in Lincoln Hall, a student audience voted on the winners and the top three vote-getters won scholarships of $500, $300, and $200 respectively.

A crowd of students attends the annual PechaKucha presentation contest in Lincoln Hall. (Image courtesy of the Department of Communication.)
A crowd of students attends the annual PechaKucha presentation contest in Lincoln Hall. (Image courtesy of the Department of Communication.)
Lauren Stroner, a freshman in food and nutrition science, won the PechaKucha competition and said it helped her gain confidence.

“Winning the competition truly validated all of the time and effort I not only put into the PechaKucha speech, but throughout the entire semester of CMN 111,” she said. “It was more rigorous than I had anticipated, but it was absolutely worth it. I feel very much supported by the communication department.”

John Caughlin, head of the Department of Communication, said it was inspiring to see students become so engaged in activities that will empower them to be thoughtful and influential members of society.

“The support provided to the Wenzel Fund has helped generate considerable excitement, taking an already excellent course and adding exceptional, potentially transformative experiences,” he said.

 The success of CMN 111 carried over to CMN 112 in the spring, when the Department of Communication was—with additional support from a separate gift—able to revive the Lincoln Hall Debate Series. Instructors in CMN 112 selected the best debate teams in each class to compete before a large crowd in Lincoln Hall near the end of the school year.

The winners of the Lincoln Hall Debate Series received a $1,000 scholarship which was split among the team members.

“Through PechaKucha, students witness the power of narrative, of visuals, and of audience,” said Grace Giorgio, course director for CMN 111/112. “Through the Lincoln Hall Debate Series, students experience live debate of significant policy questions as ethically and rigorously argued by their peers.”

Click here to learn more about the Wenzel Fund in the Department of Communication.

Taylor Hoffman
7/11/2018

Related Topics

  • Communication
  • Donor stories
  • Student Life
  • Social and behavioral science