Staff for MDAW 2015

2015 Minnesota Debate and Advocacy Workshop Faculty and Administrators

Dr. David Cram Helwich, Camp Director: Dave is the Director of Debate at the University of Minnesota. He has been actively involved in debate for over 20 years, including the last 15 as a full-time college coach, where he has cleared teams at almost every major intercollegiate tournament, including the NDT. He also has considerable high school and collegiate institute experience, including founding two high school debate workshops (MDAW and the Wyoming Forensics Institute) and serving as a lab leader for the past 15 summers.

Thorn Chen: Thorn (Hongwei) Chen previously coached for Humboldt High School in Saint Paul and at Stuyvesant High School in New York where he led teams to elimination rounds at the New York State Tournament and NFL Nationals. He also worked as a lab leader at The New York Urban Debate League’s Coalition Institute and Training Initiative (CITI). In high school, Thorn was a New York State Finalist and reached elimination rounds at national tournaments such as Emory. He continued to debate for Dartmouth College was in the elimination rounds of several tournaments including CEDA Nationals and Cap Cities. Thorn is currently working on his PhD in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota.

Mike Steffan: Mike will be returning for his 5th summer at MDAW. While in college, he debated for the University of Minnesota’s new debate team. He has coached debate for seven years, four at Wayzata High School and three at Patrick Henry High School. While at Wayzata, he helped coach teams to TOC bid rounds and out rounds at several national tournaments. As head coach of Washburn High School, his debaters qualified to the National Urban Debate League championship this April 2015.

Rohit Asirvatham: Rohit is from Rochester Minnesota. He is a third year debater at the University of Minnesota. He currently coaches debate at Como Park High School.

Natalie Woodward Dwyer: Natalie is the Assistant Director of Debate at the University of Minnesota.  She has been actively involved in debate for over fifteen years as a competitor, college coach and high school coach.  As a college coach, she has coached teams to the elimination rounds of every major intercollegiate tournament, including the NDT.  She has considerable experience at several high school institutes as a lab leader.  Natalie has a J.D. and M.A. in Political Science from the University of Minnesota.  

Matt Struth: Matt currently coaches at the University of Minnesota. As a debater for the University of Mary Washington he was an NDT quarter-finalist and won the ADA national championship. In college, Matt has coached teams in the late elims of the NDT, CEDA, and ADA, including a top 5 ranked team and three ADA national championships. In high school, he has coached multiple state championships and multiple teams to the elims of the TOC.

Middle School Camp

Travis Ormsby, Camp Director: Travis is the Program Director of the Minnesota Urban Debate League.  Previously, he was a social studies teacher at Johnson High School and Central High School in St. Paul for 9 years.  He debated as a high school student and coached Central’s debate team last year, where he won the MNUDL’s Teacher-Coach of the Year award.  Travis’ major area of interest is how competitive policy debate can increase students’ engagement with school and build relationships between young people and caring adults.

Residential and Community Life

Alix Dahl,Head of Residential Life, Alix is an ESL-Education and Political Science major entering her Senior year at Hamline University. She debated for Roseville High School and has served as their Varsity coach over the past three years. Alix is also an alumni of MDAW and is excited to join the staff for her third year.

Blaize DePass, Junior Residential Assistant: 2014 graduate of Wayzata High School

Administrative Staff

Amy Cram Helwich, Executive Director: Amy is the Executive Director of the Minnesota Urban Debate League, and the administrative director for camp. Amy is the person to talk to about scholarships, registration, and general questions about camp. During camp, Amy is the person to talk to you if you are having trouble reaching your child or if you want to take your child off campus for a dinner out or other appointment. This will be her sixth MDAW. Amy has over 13 years in non-profit management and youth development, prior experience including: Women’s Foundation of MN, Children’s Safety Centers, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She holds a Master’s in Public Administration, a B.S. in Political Science, and debated in both high school and college.

Genesia Williams, Administrative & Program Assistant: Genesia, will be the main contact for questions and concerns about camp. She can be reached at 612-330-1730 or at


Art of Persuasion

This unit will not be offered this year.