Student debate brings critical thinking to engaged college audience

From the stage in the Viola George Auditorium, members of the Political Science Club met for an evening of dialogue at the club’s fall debate on November 25.

“I am impressed with this group of students,” said political science assistant professor Mark Hibben, who is also the club’s faculty advisor. “They are earnest and obviously concerned about our world."

Debate topics included the legalization of marijuana; whether the cost of college is worth the education; lowering the minimum drinking age to 18; and a surprise question on whether or not social media has a positive or negative impact in our lives.

Team One included students Shelby Casey, Matt Dunn, Haley Nason and Ethan Rettew. Team Two was composed of students Andrew Caron, Garrett Forss, Forrest Genthner and Amanda Porter. Judging the debate were Saint Joseph’s professors Dr. Michael Connolly and Mark Hibben, and House of Maine Representatives Heather Sirocki (R-Scarborough) and Mike Shaw (D-Standish) also attended and judged the teams.

As the club’s advisor, “Professor Hibben was extremely helpful in offering input and advice,” said Sara Poirier, president of the Political Science Club. “He also came up with the criteria to judge the debate teams.” But Hibben, who joined the college in 2012, credits Poirier and the club members with hosting and running this successful event. “These ‘outside the classroom’ experiences are a critical and fun component of one’s college education,” he said.

That’s another important part of the evening: The debate was an opportunity for the students to gain firsthand experience with addressing relevant issues before a captivated, discerning audience. “They all agreed that the most important part of this for them was getting experience in public speaking,” said Hibben. “They said this process built self-confidence.”

Poirier agrees and offers further insight to what the club members gained. “We improved our public speaking and critical thinking skills,” she said, “and our overall knowledge of controversial topics.”

Looking back on the event, Poirier also sees that the debate audience was treated to an opportunity to learn something. “We hope the event encourages students to think about both sides of issues,” she said, “to encourage critical thinking.”

There is no doubt this debate was a win-win for the participants and audience. Looking forward, the club anticipates holding another debate in April 2014. Based on the success of their first debate of the academic year, it is sure to be a great experience for the entire college community.

December 6, 2013
Contact: David Svenson at 207-893-7723 ·

Debate group

From left to right: Political Science Club President Sara Poirier speaks to the debates judges — House of Maine Representatives Heather Sirocki (R-Scarborough) and Mike Shaw (D-Standish), and Saint Joseph's faculty Dr. Michael Connolly and Mark Hibben.

Amanda Porter and Haley Nason

Amanda Porter (left) and Haley Nason (right) engage in a debate about the legalization of marijuana.

Garrett Forss and Shelby Casey

Garrett Forss (left) and Shelby Casey (right) discuss the whether the minimum wage should be raised to reflect a living wage.