Honoring mentors and inspiring futures

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Professor Bob Withycombe and rhetoric students plan an argument.

The Neilen-Anderson Professorship in Rhetoric

The study of rhetoric and practice of debate have a distinguished history at Whitman College. The College's early commitment was expressed in 1918 with the creation of the Dovell-Gose Prizes in Oratory, established by members of the Board of Overseers in memory of William Thomas Dovell, Class of 1888, and Christopher Columbus Gose, Class of 1886 - Whitman alumni who went on to distinguished careers in law. Decades later, when Megan Salzman won the women's division of the Dovell-Gose contest, it was the culmination of the most impactful experience she had at Whitman College.

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Professor Bob Withycombe with Megan and John Medica at the November 2011 campaign launch in Seattle.
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Megan Salzman at graduation in 1981 with her proud parents, Robert Salzman and Ethel Neilen Salzman.

Although she was active in her political science major and wrote for The Pioneer on occasion, effectively expressing an argument in the debate program became her primary passion while Megan was a student here. In 1981, she attended the national forensics honor society (Pi Kappa Delta) national honorary speech tournament and took second among 96 speakers in group discussion and received an excellent rating in informative speaking. Her coach that year, in his first year at Whitman College, was Professor Bob Withycombe.

The confidence in oral and written communication that Megan developed at Whitman propelled her forward. She completed a Master of Arts degree in Speech Communication with an emphasis in Organizational Communication at Wake Forest University, became a writer and a communications manager, and served as president of the Salzman-Medica Foundation, supporting animal rescue efforts and higher education.

While at Wake Forest, she met her future husband, John Medica, a student in the Master of Business Administration program. John's career in business management took them to California, Texas, and eventually to Virginia, where they now reside. Over the years, Whitman College remained a top philanthropic priority for the couple; they kept in close contact with Professor Withycombe and Professor Jim Hanson and enjoyed watching the debate program and rhetoric department grow, change, and adapt to students' educational needs and advances in technology. In 2001, they established the Salzman-Medica Debate Endowment to provide long-term support for the program and scholarships for promising debaters.

Among its many other achievements, Whitman's debate team captured its third straight national championship in parliamentary debate.

In 2009, Megan was elected to Whitman's Board of Trustees and joined in the efforts to design and launch the Now Is the Time Campaign. The Medicas wanted to make a gift to the campaign that would help transform the Whitman experience for current and future students and also honor their mentors. With the Salzman, Medica, Withycombe, and Hanson names well-known in Whitman debate, they realized that the names of two of their most influential supporters had not yet been mentioned - those of their earliest mentors, their mothers. Megan and John decided to establish the Neilen-Anderson Professorship in Rhetoric to further strengthen Whitman's program and to acknowledge the important influence their mothers had on their life passions and educations. Megan and John remind us all, "Families have two sides!"

Megan's mother, Ethel Ann Neilen (1924-2007), was a first-generation American of Irish descent, born and raised in New York. After graduating from high school with honors, Miss Neilen entered the workforce and later relocated to the San Francisco Bay area, a place where she had no family or friends. There she met and married Megan's father, Robert W. Salzman, and continued to work outside the home until adopting a baby and becoming a full-time homemaker, raising three children. An avid reader, opera buff and enthusiast, and a firm believer in the benefits of education, Ethel Neilen Salzman helped inspire Megan to become the first member of her family to graduate from both college and graduate school. 
John Medica's mother, Helen Kathryn Anderson (1935-2009), was also born and raised in New York. Educated in Catholic parochial schools, Miss Anderson was a gifted student who also did not find college an option. In Helen's early teens, her mother passed away. She then took care of her father and the household while finishing high school. After graduating with honors, Helen modeled professionally, continued to take care of her father, and eventually met and married John's dad.

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Throughout her life, Helen Anderson Medica was a proponent of education and volunteerism.

A voracious reader and always up to date on domestic and foreign politics, Helen was committed to instilling the value of higher education in her two sons - as evidenced by her son, John, who earned both a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Business Administration. Helen Anderson Medica was a pioneer in recognizing the value of helping out others in need; she routinely and continuously volunteered in a variety of capacities and organizations for more than 50 years.

The Neilen-Anderson Professorship in Rhetoric honors mentors, like these two mothers, and creates a professorship in the program that inspired Megan's intellectual aspirations. The Medicas hope that the Neilen-Anderson Professor will have a life-changing impact on future generations of Whitman students, just as their mentors influenced them. Megan Salzman Medica explains, "Oral and written communications skills are integral to a liberal arts education. This tenure-track faculty member will help cultivate these important skills across the curriculum and will serve as a mentor, attracting students with a wide range of interests in debate, speech, politics, social activism, and the use of persuasion. Each generation of Whitman graduates has stories that describe the inspiration and influence that the College had on their lives. We hope this professorship will help inspire new stories."