Alumni Spotlight: Shreya Chitoori

This past week, I had the pleasure of speaking to one of Orange County Debate League’s Alumni, Shreya Chitoori.  Shreya just graduated from Sage Hill High School and is currently a freshman at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is studying Molecular and Cellular Biology on the Pre-Med track. 

She started competing in OCDL during her seventh grade year and continued into her eighth as well. Over the course of the two years, she developed skills in public speaking and debate and earned six speaker awards and seven team awards in OCDL tournaments. In her 8th grade, she traveled to New Orleans with the OCDL and placed as 4th speaker. 

When asked why her passion for debate started, she responded, “OCDL got me out of my comfort zone. The format of POI’s helped me think on my feet and also elevated my general knowledge. I really like how helpful everyone is. [The] OCDL is a tight-knit community that helps each other.” 

In high school, Shreya helped OCDL’s board run tabulations during tournaments. She also started exploring new formats of debate. She found that she liked the World Schools debate format, which is a format that combines prepared topics with impromptu topics. Through this format, she earned over 25 speaker awards over four years and also won second place team at the highly reputable Harvard Westlake tournament. 

Shreya’s biggest achievement in debate was being the director of competition at her high school where she organized the first ever international tournament hosted by Sage Hill. 

When asked if she was always a public speaker, Shreya responded, “Definitely not. Actually, I was very shy before I joined OCDL. Debate really shaped my personality, and I really think everyone should join debate regardless if they are shy or not. They will just fall in love with it. OCDL really is a stepping stool for success in high school and even college. It really opened many doors for me, and I don’t think I would be the same without the skills I learned in the league.” She now is part of the debate club at Berkeley.

Outside of debate, she loves to golf and play piano, and she is also now a member of the Alpha Phi Sorority at Berkeley. Her biggest recommendation to all OCDL debaters and students is to “[j]ust do debate. Period. I promise you, you will love the sport, as well as the community, and the friends you make and the skills you learn will be carried on with you even after OCDL.”

Reflection: My experience teaching at the first virtual debate workshop

Saturday, September 19th marked the first-ever Orange County Debate League (OCDL) digital workshop. Students, teachers, and coaches came together for a day of fun and engaging classes. 

In addition to preparing students for the coming season, this yearly event helps raise funds for the OCDL program, its tournaments, and other league-related activities. 

However, this year, health concerns and COVID-19 guidelines forced the league to change to an online format using the Zoom Meetings application. Teachers like me were asked to make personal Zoom accounts and send the login information, ID, and passcode, to OCDL Treasurer Ben Hughes. 

The day consisted of three blocks, separated by quick breaks. Students were given the login information for all the classes they signed up for and could join during the corresponding block. 

As a junior in high school, I have attended three workshops as a student and have taught at the last four, so I am considerably familiar with the usual format. Nevertheless, this time things were very different. 

On the positive side, it was less nerve-racking since I was teaching from the comfort of my room and did not have to stand in front of a class full of students. 

On the other hand, the changes made me quite nervous because I did not know what to expect. I was worried that I would not be engaging enough or confusing the students because, as any student or teacher will tell you, distance learning is a whole other beast. There was also the concern over students keeping their mics and cameras off the entire time, making it nearly impossible to create a dialogue with the students. 

Usually, I would be able to gauge how well the students were understanding the material based on their facial expressions. This helped inform the speed at which I would deliver the information. But the limitations of online learning made this impossible. 

Thankfully, I predicted that such problems would occur and prepared accordingly. For example, I made it clear to the students at the beginning of class that they would need to turn their cameras and mics on if they want to get the most out of the class. I also gave the students my email so they could ask me any questions if they were too shy to ask me during class. Such strategies made the virtual learning environment a little more genuine for both my students and me. 

Ultimately, I would say that this experience taught me a lot about effectively communicating my ideas even when my audience is not physically in front of me. At least if we are still forced to be online for the next workshop, I will know how to better handle the situation.