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Julie Walker Receives Distinguished Service Award

Published Friday, March 31, 2023

Julie Walker
Julie Walker

SMSU Professor Julie Walker, who is an assistant professor of Communication Studies and assistant director of forensics, was recently named the winner of the Larry Schnoor District IV Distinguished Service Award for contributions to the American Forensics Association. 

This award was created to acknowledge the spirit and service of forensics coaches within the district who have shown a dedication to the health, vitality, and progress of the district, its students, and its schools. The award is not given for competitive success but for the individual's impact on the district's coaches and students through their leadership, interaction, and service to the American Forensics Association. 

Julie is the second SMSU professor to earn this honor; Prof. Mark Fokken also won this award in 2005. Julie was given this honor by her peers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Nebraska, due to her willingness to go the extra mile, her kind treatment of students from all schools, and her groundbreaking work during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Julie’s development of a sustainable asynchronous tournament model has helped change the landscape of intercollegiate speech competition and provided greater accessibility and inclusivity to students. 

The asynchronous championship model allows students to participate virtually in a forensics competition by pre-recording their presentations and having them reviewed and scored by tournament judges over four days in three initial rounds, with selections moving on to quarterfinals, semifinals, and final rounds. 

Julie launched the Online Asynchronous Tournament Series (OATS) in response to the restrictions on in-person activities during the pandemic. Last year, to end the 2021-22 season, they held the first culminating Asynchronous Speech Championship (ASC) which consisted of 41 entries. This spring, the second year, they had over 300 entries. Julie is proud of the growth and being able to provide equity to access. Programs and teams across the country are seeing budgets slashed, and many students are limited in their ability to travel for tournaments. The asynchronous model breaks those barriers.

“We hosted the tournament series and Ben encouraged me to consider a national culminating championship tournament,” Julie said. “Ben is a big part of the work; he has the vision. I’m the boots-on-the-ground part of the team.” Julie is the assistant director of forensics at SMSU. Her spouse, Ben, is the director and a fellow professor in the communication studies program.

The ASC tournament is now operated under a newly minted non-profit called Outspoken Culture started by Walker. The organization’s vision is to empower changemakers, serve the community, and develop a speaker’s bureau to promote social justice.

“We see this as bigger than forensics,” said Julie. “It’s also about speaking out, trying to make a difference, and advocating for a more socially just world.”

The distinguished service award is named for Larry Schnoor, a professor emeritus of communication studies at Minnesota State-Mankato, in honor of his lifelong contributions to Intercollegiate Forensics and the role he has played in the growth and success of national individual events tournaments as well as the mentoring he has provided to forensics coaches and their programs over the course of his career.

“I am honored and humbled by this award. Larry Schnoor is the founder of the forensics activity as we know it today,” said Walker. “To establish this sustainable asynchronous model has been work, but it’s meaningful work. The coaches and judges reach out about how presentations have impacted them. The students who participate in forensics are passionate, world changers. It’s an honor to celebrate and lift up the voices of everyone and to grow the equity and inclusion of forensics.”

For more information on the SMSU Forensics Team and the Communication Studies Program, visit

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