Dan and ShelbyLive Locally, Think Globally

People may tell you not to fight with your professors in college (and they’re right), but what about a friendly debate?

RMC’s Shelby Jo Long-Hammond isn’t looking for a fight, but she’s happy to engage in a pleasant – or maybe even a heated – debate with her students.

As assistant professor of communication studies and director of forensics, Shelby has been changing the nature of RMC debate during her tenure – pushing her students toward British Parliamentary Debate and consequently, a more global way of thinking. 

Shelby believes that using ‘world style’ debate will help broaden a student’s perspective, and “the exposure RMC’s forensics program provides, whether traveling internationally or attending international events domestically, is invaluable to these students as they move on in their lives.”

She put that belief into action while attending a camp in Slovenia with debate students last November.

“Meeting people from other countries and discussing issues outside of the U.S. aids in the development of students' critical thinking and public speaking skills,” she says.

And Shelby’s focus on world-style debate has changed the team’s status against competitors, too.

“We are one of a few programs currently pursuing the world-style of debate,” Dan Johnson, who attended the Slovenia trip with Shelby, says. “[RMC] offers a program a little more unique in terms of the region.”

Dan, a literary studies and English education major, is taking the unique approached learned in RMC debate and passing it on as a debate coach at his former high school, Billings West High. After volunteering with the program for two years, Dan was offered a paid position and has been coaching on payroll for the past three seasons. 

“My experiences with debate have made me a better writer and developed my critical thinking ability,” he says. “The public speaking and communication skills I have developed are invaluable to me.”

Those are skills that Dan, a fifth year senior, will take with him as he begins his student teaching this spring. Besides gaining significant professional skills, however, Dan has found community within the debate program.

“My team members became a second family to me, which adds to the personal touch of RMC,” he says. “I was painfully shy and one thing that helped me was that RMC is much more personal in nature. As a team, we know each other exceptionally well."

The connections Dan has created through debate reach well beyond the team and into the classroom. 

“I don’t believe I would have done as well academically or socially had I been one of 300 students in a class with a professor that most likely wouldn’t know my name,” Dan says. “All my professors have known me by name.”

Dan’s appreciation for the RMC community, where he feels so at home, is now woven into his teaching philosophy.

In Dan’s final year at RMC, he’s got plenty of opportunities to debate and deliberate with the team – competing at the Air Force Academy and in Wyoming and Oregon – but fighting with coach Shelby? Not on the agenda.