Alumna hopes debate inspires at-risk students to go to college

FI Roundtable

High school students take part in a roundtable with the Miami-Dade Urban Debate League.

– By Stephanie Villavicencio

Nalisa Saati ’10, an FIU Honors College alumna, is providing at-risk students in Miami-Dade County with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

As the program director of the Miami-Dade Urban Debate League, a branch of the National Association for Urban Debate Leagues, Saati hopes to use debate as a way to build reading, research, communication and critical-thinking skills among low-income middle and high school students with the ultimate goal of inspiring them to seek a college degree.

“By touching one student’s life, the Urban Debate League is helping to change the lives of whole families,” Saati said. “By extension, entire neighborhoods and communities are being transformed by the organization’s influence.”

A Miami native, Saati is proof of the positive effect debating has on students. She was a member of her high school debate team at Carrollton School of the Sacred Heart, which helped her foster a passion for debate and an educational foundation that helped her receive a full scholarship to the University of Texas after a recruiter saw her in action.

She then transferred to FIU, where she graduated cum laude with dual bachelor’s degrees in international business and philosophy. As an FIU Honors College student, Saati received additional advising and mentorship, something she believes was pivotal in her completing her degree and something she says helps her now in her current position.

“It was the glue that kept it all together, being part of a community greater than itself,” Saati said.

Until recently, Miami-Dade was the largest urban public school district in the nation not associated with the Urban Debate League. Starting this year, the Miami-Dade Urban Debate League is in 18 of Miami’s urban public middle and high schools.

In addition, the Miami-Dade league has entered into partnerships with local universities, including FIU. The partnership hopes to help students find mentors and scholarships that will help them get to college.

On April 30, FIU will be hosting its first debate — the FIU Panther Challenge — at Academic Health Center 3 (Room 110) with faculty, staff and community members serving as judges for more than 170 participants. The event will feature a keynote speech by Saif Ishoof, vice president for Engagement, a presentation by FIU’s Office of Financial Aid and Admission, and a special appearance by FIU mascot Roary.

For more information about the Miami-Dade Urban Debate League or how to get involved, email Nalisa Saati at