UNLV, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), and the Clark County School District (CCSD) presented the winner of the 2016 Presidential Debate Essay Contest with a $1,000 scholarship to UNLV during a surprise classroom visit Nov. 1.
Chaparral High School senior Sydney Tresvant, 17, gasped as CCSD and UNLV officials showed up to teacher Kathleen Fick’s AP English class with balloons and a large ceremonial check.
The contest — a partnership between UNLV, CCSD, and LVCVA — challenged local public and district-sponsored charter school students in grades nine through 12 to submit essays answering: “Are Presidential Debates necessary: Why or why not?” Students were encouraged to explore the election process prior to the 2016 election cycle’s third and final presidential debate held Oct. 19 at UNLV and were asked to consider: how debates affect public opinion, how presidential debates have influenced past elections, and how changes in the way people communicate have altered the dynamics of the debate process.
One essay winner was selected for each grade level, with the additional grand prize of a scholarship going to a UNLV-bound junior or senior.
"Seeing that the debate was in Nevada made me more interested and encouraged me to get involved," said Sydney, an aspiring defense attorney who "love(s) UNLV" and plans to enroll in the university's pre-law program. Sydney's essay explored the history of debates, and compared and contrasted candidates' verbal and body language during them. "Politics has the ability to change the world and it inspires me to do so as well."
UNLV/CCSD Debate Programming
The contest was among a smorgasbord of debate-related activities CCSD, UNLV, and LVCVA unveiled in June, to provide hands-on learning opportunities for local K-12 and college students that aligned with election-themed educational initiatives. Lesson plans were created for K-12 students, including an online "Join the Debates" curriculum through the Commission on Presidential Debates. On Sept. 26, more than 150 CCSD middle and high school debate team members gathered at UNLV to watch the first presidential debate alongside the university's debate team. Additionally, voter education activities and debate watch events were held at various CCSD school sites throughout the debate season, UNLV professors created a dozen election-themed courses, and the university partnered with College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College to host watch parties.
"Social awareness and social justice play a big part when I teach. I try to raise consciousness on issues," said Fick, whose encouragement after discussion about the first debate prompted the largest turnout of student participation in the essay contest. "I knew it was an election year and the timing was perfect."
The essay contest attracted 114 entries — 80 percent of them from 11th- and 12th-graders bound for UNLV. Entrants represented 25 CCSD schools spread across the Las Vegas valley, with 30 teachers participating.
All winners, their parents, and teachers will be honored at a luncheon hosted by UNLV President Len Jessup on Nov. 17. Grade-level winners will receive bookstore gift certificates and tickets to UNLV Performing Arts Center events. Winning students’ teachers will also be awarded prizes.
- Grade 9: Genesis Mobley, Canyon Springs High School (Teacher: Sarah Hamilton)
- Grade 10: Jordan Wilke, Sierra Vista High School (Teacher: Jessica Hall)
- Grade 11: Nicholas Falsey, Cheyenne High School (Teacher: Katherine Russo)
- Grade 12: Ambika Verma, West Career and Technical Academy (Teacher: Adriane Casolari)
Essays were judged blindly by a panel of UNLV faculty, honors and graduate students, and community volunteers as part of a three-step evaluation process.