On November 13, a team of Comets claimed the title of world champions for UTD at the International Academy for Dispute Resolution mediation contest.
First-time competitors Hadia Siddiqui, a psychology senior, and Ifunanya Ngadi, an ITS senior, were selected to represent UTD in the final round after strong performances in the preliminaries. Despite technical difficulties limiting them to a fraction of their usual prep time, they took home the championship title for UTD – the team’s third since 2014. They also won an invitation to compete against mediation teams fielded by law schools in the spring.
Siddiqui attributed a large part of her success to the mentorship she received from team captain Veda Tsai, an interdisciplinary studies senior, both before and during the competition.
“At first, I was super nervous about it, but it helped that I was under the guidance of Veda, and the first round I was assigned advocate, so I got to work with her,” Siddiqui said.
Business administration senior Jared Pugh jumped in: “[Veda] is the heart and soul of the program. She’s the glue, if you will.”
Pugh, who was named All-American after placing sixth individually, also had an atypical experience at the competition. He was tapped the morning of the competition to compete with another UTD student on a hybrid team with a competitor from Principia College, and, on one hour of training, managed to perform exceptionally well.
“It was pretty interesting,” Pugh said of the experience. “I feel like I hit it off really easily with them, and while we only met 40 minutes before our first competition, my teammates were awesome. They were able to save me a couple of times, and competing was a really fun process at the end of the day.”
After her team qualified for the finals, Tsai chose Siddiqui and Ngadi to represent UTD, leaving herself out of the final round. To further complicate matters, the Comets did not initially receive all of the necessary information for their round.
“Normally, they give you some secret facts about the case ahead of the round,” Siddiqui said. “And, we were supposed to get them at least 30 minutes before the round started, but we actually ended up with only 10 minutes to prepare. But, we still won – it was pretty intense.”
The mediation team’s coach, Tony Seagroves – who also coaches Mock Trial – was voted Coach of the Year by the other coaches. Tsai attributed a lot of the team’s success to the kind of preparation Seagroves gives them. What is a semester-long class for many schools gets condensed into six hours for the Comets who compete: a four-hour training session on a Sunday, and two hours of preparation before the competition begins.
Seagroves says the secret to UTD’s success – all three first-place finishes have been under his tenure as coach – lies in the realistic approach the team takes to mediating.
“I am a practicing attorney,” Seagroves said. “I go to mediations, so I try to teach [the students] what a real mediation is going to be like. And the judges are real attorneys, real mediators and real judges – so when they go in there and act as if they’ve done this before, I think that resonates.”
Seagroves also emphasized that the lessons he teaches apply to far more than acquiring collegiate accolades.
“What I tell [students] is that if you’re going to go onto the courtroom, the boardroom, the operating room, or wherever you end up – if two or more people are involved in a project, you need to know how to negotiate,” Seagroves said. “There’s always going to be some sort of conflict.”
He concluded by extending an invitation for more UTD students to get involved.
“The mediation program is housed under the Department of Undergraduate Education. There’s no prerequisites to join. Every fall, once the semester begins, I have students contact me, I put them on a list and I reach back out to the interested students right before preparation begins, giving out spots based on availability.”