Evangel professors, students present at international conference in Doha, Qatar
February 4, 2013 | Ian Richardson
One brisk January morning, three Evangel University Communication Department faculty and four students boarded a small plane in the Springfield, Missouri, airport for a weeklong adventure that took them nearly halfway across the world. They returned with sunburns, souvenirs and — most importantly — a greater understanding of cultural differences and a desire to bridge the gap through communication.
The idea for the trip began last summer when Dr. Mark Kelton, associate professor of communication, received an email notifying him of the opportunity to submit paper abstracts for selection at the 4th International Conference on Argumentation, Rhetoric, Debate and the Pedagogy of Empowerment, which was to be held in Doha, Qatar.
Kelton contacted fellow associate professor Dr. Joy Qualls, and they decided to submit two paper ideas in hope that one would be selected.
“I thought it sounded like a great opportunity,” says Qualls, “So we put together the initial proposals with [assistant professor Melinda] Booze just before the fall semester.”
Much to their surprise, the conference selected both ideas to be presented at the conference. Qualls, Kelton and Booze then began selecting and notifying a team of Communication students to help with the research and presentation.
Early in the fall semester, juniors Erin-Rae Donaldson and Ian Richardson and seniors Brena Swanson and Christine Temple were selected for the team.
“When I first heard that I was being considered to attend this conference and to take part in the research process with the professors, I was deeply touched and honored.” Donaldson says.
Dr. Cameron Pace, Communication Department chair, also joined the team as a backpack journalist.
As the fall semester progressed, the team met to develop ideas for the paper and to learn more about the conference and trip overseas.
Finally, on January 9, Kelton, Qualls, Pace and the students began the long trip to the Middle East.
The conference held its opening ceremony the day after the team arrived. The ceremony featured a performance in sand art drawing and an address by the Sheikha Mozah, wife of the Qatari emir.
“One of the most memorable moments for me was attending the opening ceremony of the conference,” Donaldson says. “Listening to the Royal Highness Sheikha Mozah speak and experiencing the overall power of uniting as one to bring about change in our world was truly memorable and profound in my mind.”
Breakout conference sessions then continued throughout the week. On the first day of the conference, Kelton, Richardson and Swanson presented their project on debate styles. On the final day of the conference, Qualls, Donaldson and Temple presented on the impact of visual rhetoric as seen in the posters of the A21 Campaign, which is an organization that fights human trafficking.
Qualls says that Evangel was the only team to use undergraduate students as presenters.
“I seriously cannot brag enough about how the four students conducted themselves and with such professionalism presented the work,” says Qualls. “I am beyond pleased with the way they represented Evangel, Christianity and the academics.”
The students and faculty alike found observing the other presentations, listening to panel discussions and interacting with other communicators stimulating and inspiring.
“The opportunity to speak with great minds from across the world was unforgettable,” Temple says. “The conference reminded me how important it is to have open lines and communication and debate with people from all walks of life and nationality.”
“The firsthand experience of the intercultural nature of communication study stood out to me,” Qualls says. “I have taught and read on cultural communication for years, but some of our discussions helped me really see just how similar we are to one another.”
Between conference sessions, the team had the opportunity to see many of the sights around Doha. They enjoyed walking the city streets amid the towering skyscrapers, touring the Museum of Islamic Art, shopping in the Souq Waqif market, eating traditional Arabic cuisine at local restaurants and sailing across the Persian Gulf with some local boaters.
“Sightseeing around Doha was incredible. The city is marvelous. The architecture is so unique,” Temple says, adding that she especially enjoyed walking through the lively Souq Waqif and interacting with the locals.
The day following the conference’s conclusion, the team began the long journey home. They returned to U.S. soil with memories and revelations that will stick with them forever.
“This trip was an incredibly eye-opening experience overall,” says Donaldson. “Whether we were being challenged academically through the exposure of new ideas, taking a boat ride to the Islamic Art Museum or simply walking along the shoreline of the Persian Gulf, we felt incredibly blessed to be in Doha, Qatar.”