Engineering students share experiences on national championship Husker debate team

Calendar Icon Apr 21, 2022      Person Bust Icon By Karl Vogel     RSS Feed  RSS Submit a Story

Nebraska's national champion debate team included College of Engineering students Amber Tannehill (second from left, front row), Zachary Wallenburg (second from left, back row) and Salman Djingueinabaye (third from right, back row).
Nebraska's national champion debate team included College of Engineering students Amber Tannehill (second from left, front row), Zachary Wallenburg (second from left, back row) and Salman Djingueinabaye (third from right, back row).

When the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Speech and Debate Team recently earned the first national championship in its 151-year history, three students from the College of Engineering were key contributors to the Lincoln Douglas Debate victory.

At the National Forensic Association's National Tournament, held April 15-18 in Normal, Illinois, Zachary Wallenburg, a freshman in software engineering who is from Lenexa, Kansas, was named the third overall speaker.

Salman Djingueinabaye, a senior in computer science (from Lincoln, Nebraska), and Amber Tannehill, a sophomore in mechanical engineering (from Bennet, Nebraska), were also among the six Huskers to post winning records and advance to the elimination rounds.

Djingeuinabaye, who was born in N'djamena, Chad (capital of the North African country) was captain of the debate team and Tannehill is the president of the Cornhusker Speech and Debate student organization.

Below, the students discuss their experiences:

When do you expect to graduate, and what are your career goals? Do you have an internship or job lined up for this summer?

Djingueinabaye: "I am excited to be graduating in May and heading to Houston to start exploring the tech world. I will be working full-time at Amazon Web Services."

Tannehill: "I expect to graduate in 2024 and after graduating I plan to either attend engineering graduate school or law school. My career goals are to either go into aerospace engineering and work for NASA or go into patent law."

Wallenburg: "I plan to graduate in May 2025. After college, I would like to go to law school in order to provide legal services to new tech startups. This summer I will work at Kiewit Corporation in Kansas City as a software engineer intern."

How did you become part of the Husker Debate Team?

Djingueinabaye: "Before I started college, I received great advice from a mentor who told me the most important skills I could hone during my four years would be critical thinking, writing, and speaking. I looked around for an activity that would allow me to develop all three in parallel, and debate became the obvious choice. Throughout my four years on the team, I've had the opportunity to do research at a graduate level and learn how to structure and present information effectively."

Tannehill: "I first started doing debate back in eighth grade, and I continued competing in Lincoln-Douglas debate throughout high school at Lincoln Southeast. When I applied to UNL, I was offered a scholarship to join the Husker Debate Team. I have been competing on the team for the last two years now and I am also currently president of the debate club. Debate is my favorite activity, and I'm incredibly proud of the work that everyone has put in this year, allowing us to win our first ever national championship."

Wallenburg: "I started debating in high school and wanted to carry forward with the activity in college. I ultimately came to UNL to study at the Jeffery S. Raikes School of Computer Science and Management. Justin (Kirk), our debate coach, reached out to me and we ironed out the details from there."

How is your engineering/computing background helping you succeed in debate?

Djingueinabaye: "Computer science, at its core, is learning how to break down large problems into manageable pieces. In my algorithms and data structures classes I learned the value of leveraging good design to create simple and elegant solutions. Debate is very similar in that it teaches how to break down large arguments and ideas using different frameworks. Over my debate career, I found myself constantly using language and ideas I learn in CS to think about arguments. Additionally, we've debated many topics related to technology, so my background definitely helped there."

Tannehill: "Having a background in engineering helps with debate because it teaches you how to think analytically and solve problems. It also helps with having a better understanding of technology-related topics, as well as being able to break down and explain complex concepts to a judge."

Wallenburg: "Debate requires a very technical mindset. In a debate round, you are constantly shifting your strategies and applying cost/benefit analysis to a variety of shifting situations. It's also important to have a broad knowledge base so that you can create arguments that utilize math, science, and innovation – many of which we learn in the school of engineering. The ability to type quickly also saves lots of valuable time in debates."

How is your debate background helping you succeed in your academic career?

Djingueinabaye: "Most of the debaters I have met aspire to become political scientists or lawyers; however, I think the portable skills that debate offers apply to every academic discipline. Debate has changed the way I think. It has given me a powerful critical lens to navigate new ideas. I've learned how to approach new concepts with healthy skepticism. Additionally, it has given me confidence and presentation skills."

Tannehill: "My debate background has helped me a lot throughout my academic career. I have learned how to do extensive research, write persuasively, speak in front of an audience, and think on my feet. Debate also teaches you how to think critically and allows you to view the world around you from different perspectives. My communication skills have improved a lot since joining the team, which has helped me both in my classes and in applying for jobs. Plus, the policy research we do has made me a more well-rounded engineer and allows me to apply the skills I've learned to multiple different disciplines."

Wallenburg: "Debate really focuses on building research, writing, and presentation skills, which translates quite well to the classroom. In debate, you also have to learn to build trust and develop strong communication with your teammates, mirroring the way teams of engineers solve problems in the real world."

How do you find the time to be both on the debate team and a student in a rigorous academic major?

Djingueinabaye: "It's been rough managing both debate and computer science. They are both time-intensive activities but recognizing the value they provide has made that easier."

Tannehill: "It's not easy to be an engineering major and also participate in debate, since both require a large time commitment. I have had to work on my time management skills and learn how to balance both time commitments alongside all the other activities I'm in. I don't exactly have a lot of free time, but it's worth it to be a member of one of the best debate teams in the nation."

Wallenburg: "While I've gotten used to juggling lots of responsibilities as a STEM major and a debater, there are certainly times when it gets very overwhelming. I think the most important thing to remember is that I have a strong network of friends, professors, and teammates that want me to succeed and are willing to go out of their way to provide any help I may need."

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