Outside in Minneapolis the heat of summer was just past its peak, but inside in the basement of the Foss Lobeck Miles Center at Augsburg the temperature was pleasantly cool and the humidity mercifully low. The MNUDL office, tucked in a corner by the stairs, stayed quiet during Augsburg’s summer break. But the morning of August eighth saw it suddenly transformed: lights were switched on, the coffee maker was set to brewing, and the whole office became a bustling hub of activity.
The debate season hasn’t gotten going yet, but our office sure has. Debate materials are being finalized by Travis Ormsby, the Program Director, and Jake Swede, the Program Associate. They’re busy making sure that the best debate material has been gathered. “Best means most likely to help kids understand the topic, most likely to help them understand how debate works, and most likely to lead to a balanced debate,” Travis says. “I tend to think of [finding the right material] like a puzzle to be solved.”
It’s a difficult job, since MNUDL serves more than 750 students at 38 high schools and middle schools around the Twin Cities. Finding the right stuff means doing lots of research to get past the wrong stuff, like Jake’s work in the spring researching international land-leasing as a potential aspect of the China topic. That angle didn’t make it into the packets he’s crafting, but Jake says that doing the research, “especially if it’s a topic you don’t really know about,” is still his favorite part.
For the most part the office stays quiet as we work separately to get the season started. Occasionally a meeting will pop up–maybe Jake has wandered into Travis’ office with a problem balancing the arguments available in debate materials. They’ll go back and forth, showing their history as practiced debaters by examining both sides of the issue and trying to figure out the best path forwards. When every angle has been explored and every scenario played out, they make a decision and return to their desks.
Sometimes conversations expand to include the whole office; that happens easily in such a small space. Work related or not, these conversations bring out the debaters in all of us and no matter the topic everybody’s got a position to stake out. No one’s keeping score, though–there’s no judge to keep track of dropped arguments or flawed reasoning. We’re just doing what we love.