Categories:  Students

Speech team finds success in first year

Left to right: Brittany Neloms, Meghna Peesapati, Sunil Dommaraju, Jacob Krol, Damon Horn, Michael Martinez, Nidhi Khare, Kristen Tranda

Left to right: Brittany Neloms, Meghna Peesapati, Sunil Dommaraju, Jacob Krol, Damon Horn, Michael Martinez, Nidhi Khare and Kristen Trandai. UIC’s Speech and Forensics team is making a name for itself during its first year on campus. “I feel like our team has a new sense of confidence because of how we’ve done this season,” says Dommaraju.

Great collegiate programs aren’t built overnight. But the inaugural year for UIC’s Speech and Forensics team can be characterized as a step in the right direction.

With only 10 undergraduate students and limited funding, the team placed 22nd out of 80 universities at the National Forensic Association’s National Tournament last month in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

It was a pleasant surprise, even for the club’s founders.

“When this first started, I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into,” said Michael Martinez, president of the team and a sophomore in finance and biological sciences. “I just wanted to compete. Now, this has turned into 10 individuals that almost consider each other family.

“When we stepped on to that national stage, I never imagined that this could happen.”

Although it may seem cut and dried, speech competitions are much more complex than standing up and talking in front of judges. There are three different genres of speech: public address, interpretation and limited preparation. Individuals must be ready to perform one of the forms on contemporary topics that affect society.

With all these nuances, UIC achieved its first-year success through intensive preparation.

For the entire school year, the team met weekly to draft new speeches, evaluate past performances and discuss upcoming tournaments. Each opportunity for competitive exposure was vital, given that the team consisted of individuals ranging from zero to a lot of experience.

“I’ve never done speech before,” said Sunil Dommaraju, a sophomore in bioengineering.

“It’s a learning process. Just by watching competitors and picking up the subtle techniques, you grow a lot.”

The team wouldn’t have formed if it wasn’t for Martinez taking to social media to
question why there wasn’t already the infrastructure to compete.

“I was upset and I tweeted at UIC asking, ‘Why are we the only college in Illinois pretty much that doesn’t have a speech team?’” Martinez said. “They tweeted back at me, ‘Well, start one.’ My complaint ended up turning into something where UIC almost challenged us to start a team.”

Martinez and fellow undergrads answered the call in a clear way.

Now, they are looking to grow the program into one of the nation’s best. Team members are recruiting Chicago high school students using a pitch centered on leaving a legacy.

“If high school students come to our program, they will get the chance to shape this program into something that is going to be incredibly competitive on the national scale,” Martinez said. “You’re not going to be able to have ownership of such success like that if you go to an already established program because all that infrastructure is already built out. We’re building it as we go.”

Next season is dedicated to taking another competitive step.

“I feel like our team has a new sense of confidence because of how we’ve done this season,” Dommaraju said.

“We entered not knowing what we were doing, and now that we’ve placed at this national tournament, I feel like next year we just want to show up at tournaments and be known as a recognizable force.”