UAA alumna joins Cornell Debate staff

As college students return to the grind and the semester begins in full tilt, UAA alumna Johanna Richter is embarking on a new journey as part of Cornell’s debate team coaching staff.

Debate partners Jonathon Taylor and Johanna Richter at the World Universities Debating Championships in Thessaloniki, Greece in 2016. Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Johanna Richter

“I’m really excited to go see another part of the world a do something else… I’ve always been super passionate about debate,” Richter said, who debated for four years in high school before joining the UAA debate team.

Richter, who just turned 24 years old, grew up in Anchorage before attending UAA. She initially wanted to go out of state for college, but ultimately chose to stay in Anchorage largely for debate.

“It just made the most sense, economically, to stay here,” she said.

Richter, who served as president of UAA’s Economics Club and Vice President of USUAA, debated for UAA throughout her collegiate career. Richter first heard about the coaching position through various debate-related Facebook groups, prompting her to submit an application.

About a month after applying, Richter first realized that she was up for real consideration when UAA Debate coach, Steve Johnson, informed her that Cornell had reached out to him, inquiring about her. Shortly after, Richter found herself on the phone with Cornell accepting the position.

“Johanna is a rare individual driven, intelligent, compassionate and humble beyond what her talents would permit… I’m not surprised that she was hired by Cornell. Their program is consistently ranked among the top in the world and they understand the contributions that Johanna will make to that success. I both look forward to and, to be honest, am a bit worried about how much better they’ll become with her influence,” Johnson said in an email.

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At Cornell, Richter will be responsible for coaching students in World Schools Debate, also known a British Paramilitary debate. It is an extemporaneous style of debate where competitors get their debate topic only 15 minutes before the round begins. The topics range from international relations to human rights to policy issues.

Richter enjoys the pressure of World Schools Debate.

“I always kind of got what debaters will describe as a flow experience [from World Schools Debate] even if other things in my life were not super great… When I was in a debate round, all of that would be blocked out because I had to focus so intensely,” Richter said.

During her time on the Seawolf Debate team, Richter made it to elimination rounds at World Universities Debating Championships, the largest and most competitive debate tournament in the world, finishing within the top 8 percent as the only American team from a public university to do so.

Jonathon Taylor, Richter’s longtime debate partner, says he will “never forget” his accomplishments with her.

“I’m forever grateful for the time spent studying with her, learning from her, and growing as individuals together throughout our time at UAA. Debating with her and breaking to elimination rounds at the World Universities’ Debating Championships are moments etched in my mind that I’ll never forget,” Taylor said.

Richter and Taylor finished as “octa finalists” at the United States Universities Debating Championship tournament in 2016. Taylor is currently the Communications Director for the Alaska Department of Public Safety.

Richter applied for many jobs before landing another internship for Northern Air Cargo for eight months before finding a position with the State of Alaska. Along with her new excitement and success, Richter has words of encouragement for other recent graduates struggling to find work in the tough job market.

“Getting rejected can feel really discouraging… but you can set yourself a goal of getting rejected twenty or thirty times to get yourself out there… Just keep putting yourself out there because even the experience of interviewing is valuable,” Richter said.