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Rhiannon Hopkins, graduated from Northwest on May 7 with her bachelor’s degree in speech and theater education and is becoming a forensics coach and theater director next fall in the Independence School District. (Photo by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

Rhiannon Hopkins, graduated from Northwest on May 7 with her bachelor’s degree in speech and theater education and is becoming a forensics coach and theater director next fall in the Independence School District. (Photo by Todd Weddle/Northwest Missouri State University)

May 13, 2022

Northwest helped Hopkins find passion for speech, debate, teaching


As Rhiannon Hopkins concluded her high school years and contemplated her future, she had long set her sights on a teaching career. She just wasn’t sure of the subject area she wanted to teach.

“I always knew that I wanted to be a teacher,” Hopkins said. “That was always my thing. I always knew I wanted to do that, but I didn't know for the longest time what I wanted to teach.”

A connection with Northwest Missouri State University, however, helped solidify her direction and career goals. Hopkins, a native of Oak Grove, Missouri, graduated May 7 with her bachelor’s degree in speech and theater education. This spring, after year of student teaching in the Independence School District, she seized an opening in the district for a forensics coach and theater director and will begin career next fall at Bingham Middle School.

“I always felt like I was the most qualified person because of the education that I have,” Hopkins said. “I’ve never felt like, ‘I don't know how to do this.’ I got confident, and I feel really good about it.”

Hopkins opted to attend Northwest after making a connection with one of her high school teachers, Kelsey Bowers, a 2014 Northwest alumna who competed with the University’s Speaking Bearcats speech and debate team and suggested Hopkins consider participating in debate also. 

“I joined the debate team and I was like, ‘This is what I want to do. How do I do this for the rest of my life?’” Hopkins recalled.

Bowers connected Hopkins with Brian Swafford, a senior instructor of communication who coaches the Speaking Bearcats. A tour of the Northwest subsequently sealed her decision.

“When I got to Northwest, I was like, ‘I want to graduate and I want to be a debate teacher,’” Hopkins said. “So I poured myself into debate, and I also got involved in theatre.”

In addition to participating in multiple theatre productions, both on stage and behind the scenes, she was active with the Speaking Bearcats during all four years of her college career at Northwest. As a sophomore, she tied for a national championship in College Public Forum Debate and was the top finisher in the College Public Forum Speaker Awards at the 2019 Public Communication Speech and Debate League (PCSDL) National Tournament at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Hopkins points to Swafford as well as faculty in the School of Education as influences who guided and mentored her toward reaching her career goal. She also found inspiration in the teaching styles of faculty like Professor of Theatre Dr. Joe Kreizinger and Assistant Professor of Communication Dr. Brenda Rourke.  

“I’ve always had the dream of teaching in speech and theater,” she said. “Going to Northwest and having that support system really kind of solidified that for me.”

Hopkins spent the 2021-22 academic year student teaching in Independence, where she also dedicated herself to preparing high school students for state, district and national tournaments. Throughout, Hopkins says she often found herself reflecting back to the lessons she learned during her coursework at Northwest and now feels prepared to enter the profession full-time.

“I feel like every single time that I’ve run into a roadblock in teaching – whether that’s me and the student’s relationship is a little rocky, or I don’t know what to do about this curriculum, or this student needs an accommodation and I’m not sure if it fits correctly – I can always go back into my assignment log, and there’s something there for me,” Hopkins said. “I feel like I would not have gotten that anywhere else. Education is an art as much as it is a science.”


Media contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704