Advocate for Debate Spotlight: Erin Reichelt


Erin poses on the UMN lawn

Erin Reichelt is #UMNProud and an #AdvocateforDebate.

Erin Reichelt is a former Apple Valley High School debater and former policy coach at Edina High School. She’s now the Senior Career Counselor at the University of Minnesota. And she’s also an Advocate For Debate, committing a monthly gift to the MNUDL. 


In celebration of the first-ever virtual MSHSL State Debate Tournament, we’re blasting back to 1999, when Erin faced her fears as a junior debater in the spotlight…

#ThrowbackThursday: MSHSL State Debate, 90’s Style 


Graduation Collage

Erin poses with her partner, Joe, on a graduation collage.


The year: 1999. The resolution: That the United States should substantially change its foreign policy toward Russia. The place: Roseville Area High School’s auditorium.  


“I was so nervous that day, because the final round was televised,” Erin remembers. “I was not prepared – I didn’t even want my parents to come. I remember being extremely sweaty and not wanting to lift my arms,” she laughs. “It was very strange. I threw up. I was not excited.” 


Despite her nerves, Erin (then Kaufenberg) and her partner, Joe Sexton, were on a roll. After a killer first round, they faced challenging team after team and kept emerging victorious. They beat a team from The Blake School in Octofinals – 1st seed vs 16th – and that was a huge upset.


“We were perpetual underdogs at that tournament. We came out of nowhere. But once we were in the round, I knew we would win,” she remembers. Round by round, they advanced. Soon, they were about to face finals, and the dreaded TV cameras. 


She and Joe prepped, running through their speeches slowly to prepare for the cameras. And before they knew it, they were onstage in the auditorium. 


“I know we won. I don’t remember the details,” Erin laughs. “I just never thought we would win.” She never went back and watched the tape of her performance. “While it’s common for competitors to watch their debates now, it was a tough sell then,” she adds. 


Erin and her team attended Nationals that year. The next year, she and her partner attended the Tournament of Champions. She had attended tournaments across the country in the school year and debate institutes each summer. She was finished with competing – maybe even burned out – but that wasn’t the end of Erin’s debate story. 


From Competitor, to Coach, to Counselor

Edina team with Erin

Erin (center) posing with students on the Edina High School debate team.


“To be honest, the things I liked most in debate were the relationships versus the content and the research,” says Erin. She brought that sense of camaraderie and mentorship to her role as a Junior Varsity coach at Edina High School during college. “There were really strong women debaters at Edina at the time,” she recalls. “All my coaches had been men. It was nice to be a woman coaching a lot of really strong women.” 


This experience influenced her life after college, too. 


“What I liked helping the debaters I got to know with their other  main life decisions – why do they want to go to college? It was the first inkling that this is something I wanted to do, to help them learn how to make decisions.” 


Now, Erin is a Career Counselor at the University of Minnesota. She’s worked in higher education for the past decade, particularly with pre-law students. “Coaching was something that really showed me the things I liked and help me find my future career,” says Erin. “I was 5-8 years away from doing it, but it’s something I looked back on and learned a lot from.” 


As a career counselor and former debater, Erin sees connections between the activity and career preparedness. 


“Debate skills translate no matter what career you choose, whether it’s something obviously related like being a lawyer or not. I certainly use the skills I learned in debate. I learned how to formulate arguments, find a form of connection with someone, how to do research, and how to write. It helps you become a better writer and communicator in general, becoming comfortable with speaking in public… That’s valuable in any career, in corporate, law, healthcare, nonprofits – communicating with others is the most vital skill that there is!” 


Why She’s An Advocate for Debate 


Erin was formerly a member of the MNUDL Young Professionals Board and has judged middle school debate tournaments. She sees her role as an Advocate for Debate as the most important way she can support debate with a busy schedule. 


Erin concludes,

“I choose to give to MNUDL monthly because I know it’s an ongoing need. It’s important that I sustain an activity that gave so much to me. I want that opportunity to be there for a wider swath of individuals. Debate definitely changed the course of my life and has made me a better friend, professional, and communicator. The more people that can be involved, the better.”


Give a budget friendly gift you can set-and-forget by joining Erin as an Advocate for Debate. You’ll help more students speak up and gain skills that can set them up for success wherever their path goes.