UMW Debate Student Wins National Award

University of Mary Washington student Benjamin Richard Saunders of Blacksburg, Va., was recognized with the Julia Burke Award for Character and Excellence in American Debate Association Policy Debate at the association’s national championship tournament in March.

The annual award recognizes the association’s college policy debater who best exemplifies excellence in and passion for debate, a commitment to helping others, love and respect for the debate community and dedication to maintaining friendships despite the pressures of competition.

“Ben is a very deserving recipient of this prestigious award who has achieved much during his career at UMW as a student, debater and person who serves causes greater than himself,” said Timothy M. O’Donnell, director of debate and associate professor of communication.

The Burke award includes a $2,000 donation to a nonprofit organization. Saunders will donate his award to La Ceiba, a microfinance organization founded by UMW students that provides economic, social and educational support to communities in El Progreso, Honduras.

A senior anthropology and international affairs double major, Saunders has been a member of the university’s debate program for four years. An intercollegiate policy debater, Saunders placed second at the American Debate Association Novice Nationals in 2008, was named champion and top junior varsity speaker at the U. S. Naval Academy Policy Debate Tournament in 2009 and was a National Debate Tournament qualifier in 2010.

A 2006 graduate of Blacksburg High School, he is the son of William Saunders and Connie Fitzsimmons.

The Julia Burke award was last won by a UMW student in 2004 when Carly Woods, now a professor of communication at the University of Nebraska, was named the recipient.

For more information about the UMW debate program, contact O’Donnell at For more information about La Ceiba, contact Shawn Humphrey, associate professor of economics, at