New WDI @ Cal Workshop Takes the Women’s Debate Institue on the Road


The Women’s Debate Institute is turning advocacy into action! Through a new partnership with the Cal National Speech and Debate Institute, the WDI is going on the road.

WDI @ Cal is a breakthrough series of workshops that will be hosted by the Cal National Speech and Debate Institute and will take place on June 18th. This program marks the first time that the WDI has partnered in an official capacity with an external institution.

The program was developed to both partner with high school debate institutes to create a more inclusive culture at debate camp and to allow debaters who weren’t able to make it to the WDI this August the opportunity to access the inclusive community building strategies that the WDI provides. As Leah Castella, Board Chair and Executive Director of the WDI, explains: “The WDI @ Cal is designed to expand the reach of the WDI, and to make the WDI community accessible for more students.”

WDI @ Cal was only made possible through the KIND grant program that the WDI participated in and won. Online activism through sharing of the KIND voting site has allowed the WDI to branch out and continue to make positive change within the debate community. “The WDI @ Cal is a pilot program, and the WDI hopes to expand the program to other camps in future years,” notes Castella.

Attendees will be able to get to know other individuals with marginalized gender identities in a non-competitive atmosphere and establish strong networks of support that they can turn to when they encounter difficult situations in debate or otherwise.

WDI @ Cal will feature a variety of workshops centering on the creation of inclusive communities within debate. Topics include “Using Debate as a Home,” “Community Building,” as well as many other areas of critical thought. A social worker specializing in LGBTQ+ health will also be available throughout the duration of the program.

Kassandra Colón, board member and former WDI attendee, hopes that they can bring the message of inclusivity to the camp as one of the facilitators of the WDI at Cal Initiative.

Colón is excited to be bringing the WDI to Cal because “programs like the WDI @ Cal can allow debaters to create ties within the community that opens them to people they relate to. I met some of my closest friends at the WDI and it really impacted who I am today. At the end of the day, there’s always negativity, but what if this program helped ignite someone’s passion?”

The WDI hopes that its influence achieves policy changes at partner debate institutes to facilitate a more inclusive experience for future years. The WDI has been instrumental in Cal’s recent move to address the issue of gender-segregated facilities, and Jonah Feldman, Director of the Cal National Speech and Debate Institute, believes, “WDI folks have been very helpful in assisting with establishment of those policies.”

The nature of the workshops aim to facilitate a more inclusive experience for students at Cal. Feldman is “hopeful that the WDI experience will contribute to a more gender inclusive environment at our camp.  If participation in the program by our students and staff can prevent gender discrimination and violence that would be a huge success.”

The email to register for WDI @ Cal was sent to attendees of the Cal National Speech and Debate Camp on May 1st. Register as soon as possible because space is limited. We welcome people of all genders, so if you believe that the WDI @ Cal is the right program for you, it probably is!

Laurel Eddins (WDI, 2015) Named South Oregon’s NSDA/NFL Student of the Year

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Laurel Eddins, a WDI alumna from the Summer 2015 session, was selected as the South Oregon NSDA/NFL district’s ‘Student of the Year’.  Her nomination included the following paragraph:  “Laurel has attended workshops at Kansas and Whitman, and was selected for the 2015 Women’s Debate Institute, which cultivates in young women “the skills to be successful debaters, effective advocates, exceptional public speakers, and educated professionals with the ability to transform our world.”  She called her week there “the best experience of my life” and has applied to return as a counselor.  And she has aggressively recruited other Oregon debaters to apply, as she has become committed to addressing gender-based inequities in speech and debate.” Congratulations Laurel!

Corinne Sugino Leads Prison Workshop About Debate

Corrine Sugino


While the WDI has a lot to be proud of with the competitive successes of our past campers and collegiate scholars, it is important to recognize the real-world application of the skills learned at the WDI. Corinne Sugino, former WDI Collegiate Scholar and college policy debater for Wake Forest University, is demonstrating the connection between debate and activism. As a leader and participant of the Alexander Literary Organization at Wake Forest, Corinne has been volunteering at Alexander Correctional Institute for the past few months.

Once a month, the Alexander Literary Organization introduces a new workshop topic to the group of inmates. Initially started by Wake Forest senior Alex Gibson, the organization is led and run by the students at Wake Forest who believe that everyone should have the opportunity to engage in discussions on liberation.

The leadership and topics of each workshop is rotational, so each student gets the opportunity to present and discuss their own subjects. Sugino chose to present about debate. Sending the inmates the information in advance, Sugino was met with attentive inmates who had compiled pages of notes in preparation for her workshop. The goal of Sugino’s workshop was to teach advocacy skills to the inmates so they could empower themselves and work toward rehabilitation back into mainstream society.

Sugino believes that she’s gaining as much as the inmates: “it definitely gave me some perspective,” she explains, “it’s easy at Wake to just exist in this bubble where you don’t interact with the larger community. Going to Alexander allowed me to meet people with completely different experiences and perspectives.”

It is often the case that debaters and scholars discuss and debate liberation from systems of oppression in their ivy towers without ever interacting with the people that they are theorizing about. “It’s unhealthy to just theorize in academic spaces. It’s easy to let that be all that you do. Talking with the inmates helped to discuss the theories in more concrete terms that you can apply in your own life.” Connecting theory to practice is where Sugino sees the most positive influence of the program for both the inmates and the instructors.

Corinne Sugino initially heard about the program through her former debate partner, Joe Leduc, who had been heavily involved with the Alexander Literary Organization. “I got involved because I feel like a lot of people don’t deserve to be in prison, and they especially don’t deserve in injustices and lack of resources in the prisons.” Sugino believes that her work at the prison has more of an impact than organizing a rally on campus because it meets the inmates where they are. “The inmates genuinely want us to be there and I have learned a great deal from the other members.”

This month, the group is discussing the book Between the World and Me, by Ta Nehisi Coates with a guest professor from Wake Forest University.

Rhian Williams is a WDI 2015 Alumn and a Member of the WDI Board of Directors.  If you have alumni news, please let us know.  We’d love to hear from you!

WDI Alumni Lock Out Texas Finals



The WDI locked out the finals at the Texas Open tournament hosted by the University of Texas at Austin in February. Board member Nicole Nave and 2015 Collegiate Scholar, Corinne Sugino, faced each other in the finals of the Texas Open. In a 2-1 for the negative, Sugino’s Wake Forest team took home the championship.

Charles-Anthony Athanasopoulos and Corinne Sugino
Charles-Anthony Athanasopoulos and Corinne Sugino

Both Sugino and Nave’s teams went 6-2 in prelims. Sugino’s team was the 19th seed overall at the tournament; Nave’s team was eighth seed.

In her sixth round, Nicole Nave received thirty speaker points- a perfect score. Overall, Nave earned 12th place speaker.

In the finals round, Rutgers NM (Nave’s team) read their Beloved aff, which “involves a performance of hauntology based on Beloved by Toni Morrison that focuses on black women in history, and in the US military, that are erased in the status quo,” according to Nave’s affirmative cites.

As the negative, Wake Forest AS (Sugino’s team) went for criticisms of their call for subjectivity and indicts on the discussion of gender within the 1AC.

Sugino believes that the reason for the split decision was clear: “Rutgers debated really well. Especially Nicole, her 2AR was bomb and had us super nervous for the decision.”

Both Nave and Sugino fully embody their arguments. “What I say in debate is important to me,” Sugino explains. “I don’t see it as a game the way many people do. Something that forever influenced the way I think about choosing which arguments to make was when Joe Leduc (my partner last year) used to say, ‘there’s only so many speeches you are going to give before you graduate. So what are you going to say in them?’”Nicole Nave

While there may be nuances in a critical argument that never get addressed, Sugino believes that “there’s value in debate that I don’t think you get in a classroom discussion; for example, you have to be ready to defend what you say in front of people who, by the nature of competition, have to disagree with you.” The platform of debate provides a uniquely beneficial point of contestation and deliberation for critical debaters, one that is essential to exploring all the angles of the theory.”

For both Nicole Nave and Corinne Sugino, success in a debate isn’t simply a win, it’s the education of their judges, their competitors and themselves.

Rhian Williams is a WDI 2015 Alumn and a Member of the WDI Board of Directors.  If you have alumni news, please let us know.  We’d love to hear from you!

Meet WDI’s Collegiate Scholars: Pauline Esman, Ava Vargason, Meg Young


“My summer at the WDI was an amazing experience. The meaningful discussions and community building activities we had impacted my perception of belonging and community within debate. Through my time there, I developed closer relationships with fellow debaters which is so invaluable given the demanding nature of debating we all face. It was also especially rewarding to meet debaters from all different kinds of backgrounds — younger and older and who did different kinds of debate– which let me think critically about both our similarities and differences. Finally, the methods we engaged in through the scholars program were unique and very cool. Overall, an incredible time full of rigorous thought and building relationships with wonderful people!” -Pauline


Ava Vargason

“Being a scholar at the WDI was an amazing experience. The friendships I made at the WDI was one of the biggest reasons why I continued debating this year. I come from a team that emphasizes competitive success, so the WDI gave me a unique opportunity to build relationships outside of my team. I really wish I had applied to the Scholars program earlier in my college debate career. Having the connections I have now during my first and second years would have made debate more enjoyable and motivating.” -Ava



Meg Young

“My name is Meg Young, and I’m a rising freshman at Northwestern. The WDI College Scholars program combined lab-style readings and lessons with critical discussions about issues facing the debate community and strategies for coalition-building. The highlight of the WDI for me was the conversation about the important of rhetoric and its implications for activism and community-building, because the analysis was not only interesting but also provided me with a more nuanced understanding of issues in debate and the varying perspectives. I encourage people to apply for the chance to both work with Kate and Shanara and also to build close friendships with passionate and engaging people.” – Meg

WDI Alum & Board Member Kassandra Colon Recognized For Promoting Social Justice In Their Community


Kassandra (Kassie) Colón (Public Relations Intern & WDI Board Member) was recently named a finalist for the Melissa Maxcy Social Justice Award. A senior and varsity debater for Fort Lauderdale High School, Kassie is certain to leave their mark on their community.

Kassie Picture
Kassie with teammates at the Barkley Forum opening ceremony.

The Melissa Maxcy Social Justice Award is given each year to one student who attends Emory’s Barkley Forum for High Schools who uses portable skills towards the greater good of their community. Emory University forensics has a long history of encouraging students to use their forensics skills to improve society and promote social justice. While the Barkley Forum rewards competitive success, it also values service to others and recognizes students competing in its tournament who have a passion for
social justice work and a desire to continue their gifts and skills to serve others in the their community.

Kassie has exemplified the spirit of the Melissa Maxcy Social Justice Award through their work in and out of debate. Kassie spends their time working at an elementary school inspiring fourth graders to continue the fight for social justice. “Outside my classroom there’s a huge banner we put together that says, ‘Never forget #weremember’ with pictures of important black folk and trans women of color who have been murdered by authorities.”

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Kassie also provides after-school SAT and ACT tutoring for Latin children. They’re currently serving as an interpreter for a student who just immigrated from Puerto Rico. Their activism outside of debate is focused on helping individuals find resources when dealing with homelessness, sexual violence, and other structural barriers to inequality.

In addition to their activism outside of the debate space, Kassie advocates for inclusion within debate. Coached by Hex Larsen and Nicole Danielle Nave (WDI Board Member), Kassie has run arguments that have centered around their own identity and how it relates to institutions. Through this method, Kassie has been able to challenge the oppressive structures within debate. They have introduced underprivileged kids to debate as an outlet for pressures like poverty and discrimination and believes that “a lot of the times that’s debate, because debate helped me.”

Although Kassie Colón is the Florida State Champion, they’re focused on more than just winning ballots. By providing a comforting and encouraging presence at tournaments, Kassie has created a warm and inclusive environment. Kassie is always there to offer a hug or a word of encouragement to anyone who might need it.

While Kassie didn’t win the award, their designation as a finalist is certainly something to be proud of. The debate community is better for having Kassie in it.

Rhian Williams is a WDI 2015 Alumn and a Member of the WDI Board of Directors.  If you have alumni news, please let us know.  We’d love to hear from you!

WDI Alumni Monica Medeiros and Ellen Baker Place Third in Consecutive Competitions


Seniors at Lincoln College Prep Academy in Kansas City, Monica Medeiros (WDI, 2014) and Ellen Baker (WDI; 2014, 2015) recently debated at the University of Oklahoma Round Robin (RR) and the Heritage Hall tournament. The team had great success at the round robin, placing 3rd and finishing as semi-finalists at the Heritage Hall tournament. They accomplished this despite facing administrative difficulty and lack of school support for their debate participation. Their recent success is more impressive because they only attended two prior 2015-2016 tournaments where they lost a bid round (Dowling) and dropped in octos (KCKCC).

Baker and Medeiros debate at Dowling.

“We did well at this round robin and tournament last year, but I’m confident that we are in a much better position this year,” said Monica, who earned 4th speaker at the RR and 3rd speaker at Heritage Hall. Their record at the round robin was 6-2 including wins against impressive teams from Union, Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Jenks.

“Every round was different, and competitive,” said Ellen. “I appreciate the round robin not only because it was a unique opportunity to be showcased at a school I’m thinking of attending, but it was also a good forum for critical debate, which is lacking in the Midwest in particular. Debating two of the bid leaders was a really good way to try and step it up, so that we would be ready for the tournament and warmed up.”

At the end of the two day tournament, Lincoln Prep came in 3rd, Law Magnet placed 2nd, and Little Rock Central won. These three teams also swept the top 6 speaker places. It is notable that Monica and Ellen, who have only two tournaments under their belts, finished third to two teams with a combined total of 14 TOC bids.

At Heritage Hall, the focused work continued. Monica and Ellen finished preliminary debates with a 6-0 win-loss record and were the first seed. Because they were high in the bracket, the team advanced through doubles without debating. During the remainder of elimination debates they participated in many close debates with lengthy decision times. In octos, they picked up against Moore CM on a 3-0 decision. With the finals bid on the line, Monica and Ellen debated in their second bid round of the year against Liberal Arts and Sciences’ top team. A disappointing 3-0 loss, however, left the bid just slightly out of their grasp.

“It’s disappointing, but I won’t discredit the work we did up to that point. I’m happy with our showing, and we are looking ahead, and getting ready be even better at Berkeley,” said Ellen.

The WDI would like to congratulate the team on a good run despite facing challenges both in and outside of debates.

Kassandra Colon is a WDI 2014 & 2015 Alumn and a Member of the WDI Board of Directors.  If you have alumni news, please let us know.  We’d love to hear from you!

WDI Alumni Had a Fantastic Start to the New Year at the California Swing

Mary Marcum
Mary Marcum

As the first tournament after winter break, WDI alumni had no problem getting back into the swing of things. Maggie Solice (Collegiate Scholar, 2015), Hunter Callahan McFarland (Collegiate Scholar, 2015), Mary Marcum (Collegiate Scholar, 2015), Pauline Esman (Collegiate Scholar, 2015), Nicole Nave (Board Member), Corrine Sugino (Collegiate Scholar, 2015), and Ava Vargason (Board Member and Collegiate Scholar, 2015) all competed at tops levels after the holiday break. Apparently, while the rest of us were lounging around at home, WDI alumni were hard at work prepping for the Cal Swings.

Among the numerous successes, Maggie Solice (Trinity RS) posted a prelim record of 5-1 and made it to octo-finals at both Cal Swing tournaments. Hunter Callahan Mcfarland and Mary Marcum (Wyoming MM) grew as a team. Pauline Esman (Northwestern CE) went 4-2, were 20th seed and made it to double octo-finals at the second tournament. Nicole Nave (Rutgers NM) beat the second-highest nationally ranked team (Michigan KM), made it to semis at the first tournament and octo-finals at the second tournament. She also was awarded 6th speaker at the second tournament. Corrine Sugino (Wake

Hunter Callahan McFarland
Hunter Callahan McFarland

Forest AS) had 5-1 preliminary win-loss record and made it to octo-finals at both halves of the tournament. Ava Vargason finished as a double octo-finalist at both halves of the tournament.  At the first tournament, Ava earned the 8th speaker award.

At the year’s Cal Swing, there were many wins for WDI alumni. With so many alumni in one place, they were able to reconnect and share in their mutual successes. Pauline Esman thought that, “it was really cool to be able to debate so many fellow WDI people and that I think it made me debate my best because I was around people I cared about and who I had made connections to this summer!”

The alumni also enjoyed debating each other. Pauline Esman debated Ava Vargason round 3, Maggie Solice round 6 and Nicole Nave in doubles. “All were awesome debates,” remarked Esman.

Hunter Callahan McFarland and Mary Marcum debated Harvard HS, the top team in the country, an experience that proved to be very informative for Callahan, who remarked, “that was a very challenging but enjoyable debate. I learned a lot about Middle Eastern policy from that one debate.” Along with her successes, Callahan also enhanced her knowledge of the topic.

Nicole Nave
Nicole Nave

Aside from beating the second best team in the nation, Nicole Nave felt that the most memorable moment for her was when she debated in the double octo round

Pauline Esman
Pauline Esman

against Pauline Esman at the second half of the Swings, running a negative argument called ‘the dozens,’ which is an argument about black comedy and its transformative powers. Nicole said, “Black comedy produces community in one of the most transformative ways and it’s simply by our ability to smile in a world that was built in opposition to us. It is my favorite argument to run. It gives me so much energy and life after debate competitions suck it away.” Nicole Nave is winning rounds and breaking records all while spreading an important message. Not only did Nave impact her opponents in the round, but she also inspired the younger generation of high school debaters who sat in her rounds. “I enjoyed the kids from BAUDL (Bay Area Urban Debate League) that came and watched my rounds. They truly motivated me even when things got hard.”

Ava Vargason
Ava Vargason

Ava Vargason’s most memorable round was against Rutgers MN, Nicole Nave’s team. “It was great debating Nicole because I hadn’t seen her since the WDI. They’re a great team and I loved debating them because they’re a team that you can just hang out with after the tournament is over.” Ava Vargason, a chemical engineering major, got her first speaker award at a major tournament during the first half of the Swings. “They played ‘Blinded by Science’ for my song, which was very fitting.” Vargason believes that relationships are absolutely essential to participation in debate. “Having a network of people that are there to support you and care more about how you’re feeling than if you’re winning is so important in this activity,” Vargason says. “It gives you motivation to keep going and being at the WDI this past summer definitely helped me make the decision to keep debating.”

Corrine Sugino also experienced her fair share of success at the Swings. Sugino’s most memorable round was during the double octos at the second half of the Swings.  Corrine said, “we debated Kinsee and Misty

Corrine Sugino
Corrine Sugino

who I used to travel with in high school (our coaches were married) and that was a fun round because I felt like Charles and I had a lot of cohesion and we got to debate people I knew and like had grown up debating.” Sugino, like the other alums, valued the atmosphere of comradery over her individual successes. Sugino summed up the tournament perfectly: “Debating at the Cal Swings was really fun. The tournaments are tough and take a lot of work but it’s great to come back after winter break and be able to see friends and get back into debating!”

Maggie Solice
Maggie Solice

Maggie Solice believes that this tournament reconnected her to her friends at the WDI. “Attending the Cal tournament was great not just because we experienced some success, but because I also got to watch so many of my friends from the WDI do well also. I got to cheer for Ava when she won her speaking award. When I was out of the tournament, I went to support Nicole from Rutgers, and when I was still debating, Pauline was in the back of my room. It really reminded me why I love the community.”

All in all, WDI alumni are killing it on the college circuit. Keep up the great work!





Rhian Williams is a WDI 2015 Alumn and a Member of the WDI Board of Directors.  If you have alumni news, please let us know.  We’d love to hear from you!

Pushing the Limits in Debate: Abbie Booker Wins Second Tournament of the Season


Abbie Booker (WDI 2014), a senior at East Kentwood, took home the first place trophy from the Michigan State University high school tournament this weekend. Booker and her partner Michael Obuchi have been consistently demolishing the high school circuit, making MSU their second tournament win of the season. Booker took third place speaker at the Michigan State tournament and her team didn’t

Abbie Booker (WDI 2014) and her partner Michael Obuchi.
Abbie Booker (WDI 2014) and her partner Michael Obuchi.

drop a single ballot in the process.

For Booker, debate is more than just a competitive activity- it’s a way to formulate and implement strategies to challenge the most oppressive structures prevalent in today’s society. In her debates, Booker challenges white cis male domination by running an aff that, as she puts it, “has an emotional appeal to it that fills the room with the power of blackness and black emotion” which “helps us to remember the lives lost to antiblack violence.”

Her team’s negative strategy is a one-off argument that centers black trans women. Booker explains her team’s decision to center the black trans woman as the focal point of her debates: “We feel that black trans women are always at the forefront of movements for other groups, but never have their movements focused on.”

Booker feels that her team’s method of black rage can spill over into other aspects of debater’s lives, allowing a route to challenge the oppressive norms of both debate and the real world. “Black rage can be utilized in the real world for us, it give us the courage to speak out against all oppression, helps us recognize its okay to embrace the extreme emotions of rage to have psychological cleansing, and allows us to challenge cis privilege and center other identities.”

Abbie Booker hopes to leave a lasting impression on the debate community. “I want people to remember the ways that my partners and I pushed the limits of debate in the hopes of making the space more accessible not just for our bodies, but for others as well.”

Speaking on solidarity, Booker explains, “it would be great if other identity debaters practiced this too, stepping outside of their social location, even if it is one of oppression, to bring in other movements as well.”

“People in debate who really know me know that I have come to love my identity, I am proud of my sexuality, race, and gender, and WDI helped my find that love. I just want others to find it for themselves too.”

Congratulations, Abbie!

Rhian Williams is a WDI 2015 Alumn and a Member of the WDI Board of Directors.  If you have alumni news, please let us know.  We’d love to hear from you!

A Winning Combination: WDI Alumni Zoe Wynne and Sophia Skalski-Fouts Finished as Semi Finalists at the 2015 Blue Key Tournament


Top-ranked students Zoe Wynne (WDI, 2015) and Sophia Skalski-Fouts (WDI, 2015), sophomore debaters for Fort Lauderdale High school, finished as semi-finalists after a tough fight at the University of Florida’s Blue Key tournament this past weekend.

Zoe Wynne (WDI, 2015) and Sophia Skalski-Fouts (WDI, 2015) prepare for a debate at the 2015 Blue Key debate tournament.
Sophia Skalski-Fouts (WDI, 2015) and Zoe Wynne (WDI, 2015) prepare for a debate at the 2015 Blue Key debate tournament.

Despite winning their previous tournament, the sophomore team went into the weekend feeling that their chances were being underestimated. Zoe and Sophia proved their doubters wrong by earning the first seed in elimination debates after emerging victorious in five preliminary debates.  The team also appeared as semi-finalists.  Zoe and Sophia were recognized as outstanding speakers earning 3rd (Wynne) and 5th (Skalski-Fouts) place speaker awards.

This is the first time a sophomore team of two women team has made it as far as the semifinal round and the they were ecstatic. Throughout the whole tournament, the only dropped two ballots in semifinals against a team from Cypress Bay, a sister school to Fort Lauderdale. In fact, the team has only dropped five ballots this season.

Grey Alfonso, Zoe Wynne, Peyton Carpen, and Sophia Salski-Fouts at the Blue Key debate tournament.
Grey Alfonso, Zoe Wynne, Peyton Carpen, and Sophia Salski-Fouts at the Blue Key.

Wynne wrote, “I want to say thank you to all my friends and family for supporting me! I cannot believe it has been a year since my first debate and the opportunity to start friendships with some of the most amazing people.”

Along with their achievements, Wynne and Skalski-Fouts kept the motivation going for other members in the pool and rooted on Cypress debater Melanie Xia, when she became the first woman of color to receive top speaker at the Blue Key tournament.

“I’m just really happy she got it [top speaker] and no one else did. It makes me happy to see people who are not cis white boys winning speaker awards,” they added. Wynne and Skalski-Fouts support inclusion in the debate community and believe that everyone should be able to access a community where they can advocate for something they believe.

Grey Alfonso, Zoe Wynne, Peyton Carpen, and Sophia Salski-Fouts at the Blue Key debate tournament.
Grey Alfonso, Zoe Wynne, Peyton Carpen, and Sophia Salski-Fouts at the Blue Key debate tournament.

The two would like to thank Hex Larsen and Kassandra Colon (WDI, 2014, 2015; Member WDI Board of Directors) for coaching them along the way. “We couldn’t have done it without their help!!”

This team also looks out for younger students and tries to make debate a welcoming environment for them.  They coached the novice team of Peyton Carpen and Greyson Alfonso from Fort Lauderdale to win the tournament’s novice division for the first time in 5 years.

Kassandra Colon is a WDI 2014 & 2015 Alumn and a Member of the WDI Board of Directors.  If you have alumni news, please let us know.  We’d love to hear from you!