Disucssion Meet: More Than Just Another Competition

natalieBy Natalie Oelsner, Sophomore, Agriculture Education

When people asked me what I was competing in, they usually got a bit confused. Discussion meet? Is it a debate? A series of speeches? A presentation?

It’s actually something much more.

Discussion meet is an open-table discussion where competitors tackle questions that the Farm Bureau asks about topics such as immigration reform, education, and membership. The contestants are scored on content knowledge, effective conversation, facilitation, and being polite and congenial towards each other—the complete opposite of a hard-core debate

As I am someone who is super competitive, I didn’t think that this would be my strong suit.

I had heard of the contest through friends who had competed the year before, when a close friend of mine, Tino Rossi, dm3had won the National Collegiate contest in Michigan. I figured I should get involved and try it out. What was the harm in learning something new or improving my speaking skills?

I was thrilled to win the California State Collegiate Discussion Meet in Pasadena this past December! I was so thankful for my supportive College of Agriculture Discussion Meet teammates; our coaches and supporters Professor Mollie Aschenbrener, Development Director Sarah DeForest, and Dean Jennifer Ryder Fox; and the chance to compete at a national level.

I was also a bit hesitant. I wouldn’t know many people at the national conference, or what the skill level of the other competitors. Would I get knocked out the first round?

When it came to the competition at the National Young Farmers and Ranchers Contest in Phoenix, Arizona, I was prepared. I had studied my material, practiced opening statements, and talked to people in the industry. And once there, I realized that my competitors were college students just like me, and most importantly, they were nervous just like me.

dm2The competition consists of open-table discussion rounds. There are four to five people to a room and 20 minutes of discussion about one question presented. We are required to give opening and closing statements to the audience. Judges use a scorecard to judge attitude, content, and presentation.

I made it to the final round. After discussing our topic of agricultural education programs in public schools, I was relieved. No longer did I have to memorize facts or prepare. It was a weight lifted off my shoulders!

Even though I didn’t end up winning, I was so grateful for the experience. Coming from a non-ag background (not being involved in food production of any kind), I would have never thought I would get to walk across the stage with the other three top competitors.

But the experience was about more than being a competitor. I got to interact with farmers and ranchers from around the nation. I met woman from Louisiana who farmed rice, and we talked for an hour about issues and people. I met a group final4of women from Nevada who were the same age as me and were there to experience and grow and take ideas back to their farms. We also became Facebook friends that same day. I got to hang out with our dean and found we had so much in common. Being included with a community of people who lived for farming and feeding America was so amazing.

Most importantly, I had the most incredible person in the world with me who came to every round, with complete and utter support—my mom. We had a great trip together.

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