Public Speaking Competition Winner Argues Technology Is No Replacement for Human Interaction

The University of Connecticut’s Communication Society’s second annual Public Speaking Competition asked contestants to consider the implications of modern technology for education Monday night at the Student Union.

Jessica Kirchner, a 2nd-semester political science and economics major, took home the trophy for her impassioned commentary on human interaction as the basis for learning through three rounds of prepared speeches, short answers and a question and answer session.

While Kirchner acknowledged the many benefits of easy access to information, she argued handing children a smartphone in the place of one on one interaction is a mistake.

“In my life, I’ve had some great teachers who have made an impact on me as a person. Because of that, the material that they teach, I could recite to you right here,” she said. “Technology in education is an asset as long as it works with the human component instead of replacing it.”

Kirchner used her childhood relationship with her webkinz and her living guppy, America, in way of comparison.

“I remember when that guppy died, I wept for America the guppy,” she said. “I lived with that guppy, and I think that’s the thing we need to encourage in this generation. Yes, you have Buzzfeed, but you know what else is awesome? Trees.”

The competitions panels of three judges – Sally Reis, vice provost for Academic Affairs; Martin Horn, director of Research and Consumer Insight at SPM; and Peter Diplock, director of UConn’s Graduate Program in Human Resource Management – said Kirchner had a strong stage presence during her presentations and had a consistent theme throughout.

“The speech challenged what I would say is conventional thinking, and I loved that. The idea of human connection being the real key to education was very compelling,” Horn said. “It was a very textured response, very multilayered. It gave me something to think about, especially the line about what is most efficient is not always best.”

Kirchner, who participated in several public speaking events in high school, spent the last month preparing for her presentation.

“I had a little bit of a feel for it before I came,” she said. “There was a lot of panic in the beginning, a lot of getting up saying ‘I’m gonna write this, no I’m not,’ but in the end it’s just that you find an idea and you stick with it,”

Kirchner said she was deeply appreciative of the effort the Communication Society and its members put into the evening.

“This competition was lovely, all of the people who worked together and put it together were phenomenal,” she said. “There would be no public speaking if no one were to listen.”

Elizabeth Turner, a 2nd-semester business management major, took second place at the event for her vivid explanation of technology’s potential to spread the “touch of education.”

During her speech, Turner said the Internet allowed her to fall in love with a Venezuelan rebel and also to learn more about South Africa than would have ever been possible even a decade ago.

“When I went there I was able to have a deeper appreciation for everything they went through and what brought them to that point,” she said. “Technology has expanded our world far past what we could have imagined.”

Zachary Gershman, an 8th-semester political science major; Jacqueline Nappo, a 2nd-semester communications major; and Steven Reilly, a 4th-semester marketing major, also offered compelling perspectives on technology in modern education throughout the evening. Rory McGloin, a professor in UConn’s Department of Communication, and Erika Wachter, a reporter for UConn Athletics, hosted the event.

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