Sometimes prospective students who contact Shelby Jo Long Hammond are surprised to learn that her specialty at Rocky Mountain College is speech and debate, not DNA samples and fingerprints.
Many young people have become curious about forensic science, which is related to crime scene investigation, thanks to popular TV shows. Hammond sometimes has to explain that forensics also means the study and practice of formal debate. Her specialty has been around at least since Roman times.
Hammond became interested in speech and debate during high school.
“It brought me to Carroll College. They had a fantastic program, and we were national champions during my senior year,” she said.
“It teaches more about discussion than anything else,” Hammond said. “It teaches organization skills and is very useful for many professions.” Lawyers and educators especially benefit from a background in speech and debate.
“A lot of my colleagues from my undergraduate years are lawyers. It’s a very natural transition,” Hammond said.
One of her students, Dan Johnson, is now coaching debate at West High. He’s one example of a student who used his skills in debate to overcome shyness.
“When you’re on a debate team, you have 15 immediate friends,” she said. “You’re around the same people and you get to know each other very well.”
How did you get where you are in your business?
I have followed my passion. Debate has been central to my education, my career and my social network. I love debate because of the public speaking, critical thinking and discussion of current events. I began debate competition in high school and continued competing as an undergraduate student at Carroll College. As a “Talking Saint” I had the opportunity to travel and create a network around the U.S., competing and even winning a team National Championship. Later I studied abroad at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, and participated in debate societies, developing networks overseas.
After I graduated, I wanted to give back to the activity that had been so central to my education, so I moved to Portland, Ore., to coach Parliamentary Debate at Lewis and Clark College. Soon after earning my master’s degree in communication studies at the University of Montana, debate brought me to Rocky Mountain College. Directing the debate program is part of my academic teaching responsibilities in the Communication Studies Department.
What’s the toughest challenge you face in your job?
As an educator, I feel my toughest challenge is connecting with every student. There are many different learning styles to adapt to in higher education. I strive to create a classroom environment that is conducive for all types of students to learn and apply the concepts in Communication Studies.
If you could make one positive change for Billings, what would it be?
I’d develop more dog parks.
Aside from profit and loss, how do you measure success in your job?
Success in higher education is indicated by our students’ achievements. If students are accepted to graduate school or develop successful businesses, we are successful teachers. I feel success in higher education is also achieved by awareness and influence. It is amazing to see students become excited about learning.
Which living person do you most admire?
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I consider each day an achievement. When I was 17, I was in a coma for 2 ½ weeks after a car accident. The brain injury I suffered required extensive recovery and rehab, but I worked hard to get back what I had as quickly as possible. Debate was a large part of that. Since then, every accomplishment has been important for me, but realizing the opportunity to teach in higher education is my greatest. Debate and education were instrumental in my recovery, and I am very fortunate that I can still be involved with such an influential activity. My achievement is the ability to educate others.
I’m happiest when...
I’m following my passions. I love debate, current events, teaching, traveling and good conversation.