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Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics and Economics Hosts Data-Driven Debates

April 18, 2018

The Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics, and Economics recently hosted the final round of the Data Driven Debates, a new student competition aimed to encourage research-based conversations between students on major current issues. 

Over the course of six months, students researched three topics – climate change, mass incarceration, and affordable health care. In the final round, six finalists debated against one another in front of expert judges and an audience of their peers.  

The grand prize of $5,000 was awarded to sophomore Joel Erickson for his arguments against mass incarceration according to a cost-benefit analysis.  Senior JD Carpenter and sophomore Tyler Waaler were awarded $4,000 each for their debates and essays on affordable health care and climate change arguments, respectively.  Runners-up Adam Eaton, Hailey Kramer, and Tyler Long were each awarded for $2,000 for their performance in the essay and debate.

The Data Driven Debates were initiated by George Speake ’65, who wanted to encourage students to formulate arguments on public policy that were backed by data and critical analysis.

Captain David Iglesias, J.D., Director of the Center for Faith, Politics, and Economics, worked with Speake to create a three-tiered competition for Wheaton College students involving writing, presentation, and debate.  Anita and George Speake generously donated monetary awards for all six finalists to encourage and reward all the hard work students put into reaching the final stage of competition.

“As a lobbyist for Raytheon in Washington, George Speake observed that politicians often took positions on policy without considering the data that drives it and potential repercussions of proposed solutions,” Capt. Iglesias explained.  “He wanted to encourage students to look at data and engage in debates with one another on important policy issues.” 

Students first entered a fifteen-page essay, taking an affirmative or negative position on one of the three propositions.  Then, semi-finalists of the essays were chosen to present a speech to a panel of judges, summarizing their research and arguing their position.  

The final debates were judged by three experts.  Rachel Lamb ’12, a PhD student and Flagship Fellow at University of Maryland, researches improvements for climate change governance. John McKay, Esq. is a former US Attorney for the Western District of Washington and currently works for Davis Wright Tremaine LLP as chair of government investigations and crisis management. Essie Kueberuwa Yates, M.D. is a plastic surgeon at Atlantic Center, Florida with experience in the effects and application of the Affordable Care Act within her practice.

Philosophy major and grand prize winner Joel Erickson wanted to engage in academic debate, a skill he cultivates as a high school debate team coach.  He loved the opportunity to “have a forum to articulate great ideas on the intersection between justice and efficacy.”  He believes that the Data Driven Debates prepared him for a potential future career in law.

Political science and economics major Tyler Waaler won the essay and debate on the efficacy of current government policy on climate change policy, arguing that current policy should be changed and improved.

“I want to get the free market involved in government issues,” Waaler explained. “Because of the Data Driven Debate, I delved deeply into a topic I might not have otherwise.”  

Waaler’s research for the climate change debate inspired him to launch a project on government infrastructure and water in the United States.  

History major and political science minor JD Carpenter won the Affordable Care Act debate and essay, arguing that maintenance of the Act is far less costly than repealing it.

“This debate gave me opportunity to cultivate skills in data analytics that I had largely neglected,” Carpenter says. “My success in gathering and interpreting the data has given me a degree of confidence in that area of study.”

Carpenter plans to pursue a law degree after obtaining work experience in the legal field.

The Data Driven Debates were hosted by the Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics, and Economics.  For more information on the Center's events and student programs, visit wheaton.edu/fpe.