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SE alum Gerber wins Distinguished Service Award from American Forensics Association

November 16, 2023

Dr. Matthew Gerber – a 1997 graduate of Southeastern Oklahoma State University and associate professor at Baylor University – has been selected as a recipient of the American Forensics Association’s Distinguished Service Award.

The AFA Distinguished Service Award recognizes long-term service to the American forensics communities that has positive impact on the field in terms of current research practices, educational practices, community development, and consideration of career as a model for AFA professionals.

Dr. Gerber was an accomplished debater at Southeastern from 1993-97 under the tutelage of Drs. Terry Garrett and Shannon McCraw. During his final year, he and his soon to be wife, Heather Thibodeaux Gerber, competed in the National Debate Tournament held at Wake Forest. That tournament was the 50th anniversary of the tournament where Southeastern beat Southern Cal at the first national debate tournament in 1947 at West Point.

“My years at Southeastern were the formative years of my academic and professional life, and I was so blessed to be surrounded by such supportive faculty and mentors, not just in debate, but across the University,” Gerber said. “Some of my fondest memories are of traveling across the country and competing with the Southeastern debate team, but also just those times of hanging around in the Communication department offices, talking to the Professors, absorbing their stories, which always felt more like home than just classrooms and office space.

“At Baylor University, I directed my own my own college debate program for twenty years, and I always tried to re-create the type of balance that I experienced at Southeastern Oklahoma; the balance between the drive for competitive success and academic rigor, but also a supportive family-type atmosphere where you could compete and learn among friends.”

At Baylor, Gerber previously served as the Glenn R. Capp Chair of Forensics and Director of the Glenn R. Capp Debate Forum. He helped lead Baylor’s highly successful debate program from 2003-22 and is still active behind-the-scenes with the AFA, NDT, and CEDA organizations.

Gerber is the third Southeastern alum to win the AFA Distinguished Service Award, joining Gerald Sanders and Scott Nobles, who were the SE debaters who beat USC for the very first NDT (National Debate Tournament Championship) in 1947. After graduating from Southeastern, both went on to long and successful careers as debate coaches and scholars of rhetoric. Sanders won the AFA Distinguished Service award in 1991, and Nobles won it in 1993.

A nomination letter for Dr. Gerber described his level of service to the AFA and community as “[having] provided an abundance of long-term service to the American forensics community and considering his decades of contributions to the forensics community (in service, coaching, teaching, mentoring, and research), it is clear to me that his career has been a model for AFA professionals. In each and every capacity in which I have worked with Dr. Gerber, for more than 20 years, I have found him to be an exemplary and caring scholar, mentor, professor, and coach. As someone whose own professional career has been shaped by the forensics community, I believe represents the highest ideals toward which the AFA strives.”