J. Chester Gibson headshot
The Gibson Public Speaking Contest is held annually in honor of Dr. Chester Gibson, who served in the Department of Mass Communications for about three decades, first as professor and then as chair of the department. Before arriving at the University of West Georgia, he coached debate at the University of Georgia, where former Georgia governor Roy Barnes was one of his top debaters. Under Dr. Gibson’s leadership, the UWG debate team qualified for the National Debate Tournament for 27 consecutive years and consistently ranked among the top teams in the nation. In 1995, Dr. Gibson was inducted into the Georgia Debate Coaches Hall of Fame.

Of the hundreds of students enrolled in Public Speaking, only five students are chosen to compete. Speakers are evaluated on overall content and quality of persuasiveness, use of sources, development of a well-reasoned argument, and general delivery.

The 17th Annual Gibson Public Speaking Contest
November 2020

The Gibson Public Speaking Contest is being held virtually this year so that we can still celebrate our outstanding student speakers even if it’s in a different format! Out of the hundreds of students currently enrolled in Public Speaking at West Georgia, four of the very best speakers, representing various instructors, were chosen to compete in this contest. They recorded their speeches from various locations and sent in their videos so that we can all participate as audience members in this contest. We thank these speakers for their efforts.

Official Judging. These student speeches will be ranked by distinguished judges (See biographies below), based on the quality of their speech, including structure, use of evidence, delivery, and overall persuasiveness. The judges’ results will be posted November 30th by 5:00 PM. We will have prizes for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place speeches. However, it should be acknowledged that all five speeches have already been determined to be among the very best. We are proud of these contestants’ hard work!

People’s Choice Award. In addition to the official judges’ winners, we will also have a People’s Choice winner selected by other students enrolled in Public Speaking. To participate in this selection, students should view the speeches listed below and then fill out the Google form which will be submitted electronically. (Specific instructions are found on the form.) Students should only vote once. The student with the most number of votes will be awarded the People’s Choice award. These results will also be posted on November 30th by 5:00 PM.



Advisory Committee

Thank Yous

Previous Winners

This Year's Speakers

The results of the judges voting as well as the People's Choice Award will posted here after noon on November 30.

The Gift of Life
     by: Rachel Caylor
Is it Worth Quitting the Puff?
     by: Zoe Giese
Time to Change Your Battery: Drive Electric

     by: Oran Hurst
Left To Our Own Devices: The Danger of Technology Dependence 
     by: Latrell Swanigan

Thank you to Our Judges

Kirk Burtwistle

Kirk Burtwistle headshotKirk Burtwistle has years of speech and forensic experience beginning in High School where he won an individual state championship before participating in college. During his college career, he was a two-time quarterfinalist at the National Forensic Association tournament and qualified six different events including persuasion. After graduating, Kirk helped coach forensics at a local university. Currently, he is the Director of Marketing for one of the ten largest financial firms in the United States. He consults with Wealth Advisors on their marketing including how to give presentations to their current and prospective clients.

Maureen Carruthers 

Maureen Carruthers headshotMaureen studied Speech and Theatre as an undergraduate, and went on to get an MFA in arts administration.  Since then she’s had a variety of nonprofit jobs ranging from house management to running a combat robotics program. She currently spends her days as a Happiness Engineer for Automattic, where she leads a technical support team dedicated to helping WordPress users make the most of the Jetpack Plugin.


Ruth Kay

Ruth Kay headshotRuth Kay has a BS and MA in Communication from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and is a former adjunct instructor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Wayne State University-Detroit. She has over thirty-five years as a secondary school teacher and debate and speech coach with the Lincoln Public Schools in Lincoln, Nebraska and Detroit Country Day School in Detroit, Michigan.



Dr. Tressa Kelly

Dr. Tressa Kelly headshotThe University of West Georgia’s First Lady, Dr. Tressa Kelly, is a champion of finding one’s truth. She is a proponent of empowering students to find their passion – and themselves – during their university experience. Dr. Kelly spent her childhood years in Michigan, living only a half-hour away from the hometown of Dr. Brendan Kelly, UWG’s eighth president. As the daughter of two educators, she always felt comfortable in the classroom, earning a Ph.D. in communication with a focus on rhetorical studies from Wayne State University and receiving her master’s degree in communication and a bachelor’s degree in communication and theatre arts from Eastern Michigan University. Dr. Kelly coached collegiate speech and debate for more than a decade. At the University of West Florida, she served as the director of speech and debate and basic course director for the course of public speaking. Having taught for 24 years at the collegiate level – in an array of undergraduate and graduate courses, including public speaking, advanced public speaking, research methods, gender communication, rhetorical criticism, social movements and intercultural communication – Dr. Kelly always felt like she belonged in higher education, what she calls the “gateway to success in society.” Being First Lady aligns well with that passion, as she enjoys bridging the university and its students, faculty, staff, and alumni with the West Georgia community. She is also deeply interested in community indicators as they relate to community health and wellness, education and literacy, and food and housing insecurity.
“A public university campus belongs to the community, and I love to remind people that they’re always welcome to visit our campus for the first time or to come back and find out what’s new. It’s a place for everyone to learn and grow – not just our students.”
Dr. Kelly is married to the University of West Georgia’s eighth president, Dr. Brendan B. Kelly. The Kellys have three children – Bree, Liam, and Kieran – and a Great Dane named Lucy. In addition to being a mother, Dr. Kelly has also trained as a doula through DONA International and is an avid reader and yoga lover. She enjoys spending time outside and watching sports – especially basketball.

J. J. Walker Seifert

J. J. Walker Seifert headshotJ. J. Walker Seifert is an attorney in Rome, GA where she owns her own law firm. She has a BA and Law degree from Mercer University. Prior to opening her firm, she served seven years as a public defender. Ms. Seifert is a member of the State Bar of Georgia and past president of the Rome Bar Association. She is a graduate of the 2011 State Bar YLD Leadership Academy and a 2015 graduate of Leadership Rome (LRXXXII).  She serves on the Board of Directors for the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce as well as being a board member for both The Free Clinic of Rome (now Faith & Deeds Community Healthcare) and Cancer Navigators, as she is a grateful cancer survivor herself. She is a sustaining member of the Junior Service League of Rome, and is involved in Scouting.

Communication Studies Advisory Committee

Dr. Melanie Conrad                          Dr. Tonia Phanor
Dr. Michael Hester                            Dr. Misty Wilson

A Special Thank You

We would like to extend a sincere thank you to our colleagues and university partners who continue to invest in our students through their support of this contest.

  • Dr. David Jenks, Interim Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs
  • Mrs. Mitzi Thompson, Departmental Assistant
  • Mrs. Teresa Yates, Office Manager
  • Dr. Brad Yates, Professor and Chair, Department of Mass Communications
  • Student Activity Fee Budget Allocations (SAFBA) Committee

Previous Gibson Public Speaking Contest winners:

  • Jim Martz, 2004 (Peggy Gauthier, Advisor)
  • Artisia Tinny, 2005 
  • Katherine England, 2006 
  • Cheryl Ann Frazier, 2007 
  • Jennifer Joiner, 2008 
  • Chelsie Wilson, 2009 (Bruce Daniel, Advisor)
  • Anthony Duffey 2010 (Gail Reid, Advisor)
  • Mandy Morris, 2011 (Gail Reid, Advisor)
  • Christina DeMartina, 2012 (Bruce Daniel, Advisor)
  • Daniel Garner, 2013 (Melanie Conrad, Advisor)
  • Sydney Rae West, 2014 (Gail Reid, Advisor)
  • Tim Bergquist, 2015 (Bruce Daniel, Advisor)
  • Bode Brooks, Lucas Brock and Andrea Daniel, 2016
  • Gershom Chan, 2017 (Michael Hester, Advisor)
  • Esteban Vallejo, 2018 (Misty Wilson, Advisor)
  • Jessica Friedl, 2019 (Bruce Daniel, Advisor)