Dr. O’Rourke, Powerhouse of the QEP

Simon Boes

Executive Staff

Dr. Sean O’Rourke joins the Sewanee community as a powerhouse in rhetoric and speech academia. He earned his B.A. in Speech (Rhetoric and Public Address) from Humboldt State University and went on to get his M.A. in Speech (Rhetoric and Public Address) from Humboldt. Then, he received his J.D. in Law at the University of Oregon and Ph.D. in Rhetoric at Oregon. O’Rourke has been part of the Board of Directors for: American Communication Association, Rhetoric Society of America, and American Society for the History of Rhetoric. O’Rourke was also Director of the Public Speaking Program at University of Oregon as well as Director of Graduate Studies and Speech Communication. Finally, O’Rourke was Department Chair of Communication Studies at Furman University. Meanwhile, O’Rourke has been prominent in the scholarship field with two books under contract and one book under review. These include: Engaging the Humanities: A Model of Collaborative Faculty/Student Research, Like Wildfire: The Rhetoric of the Civil Right Sit-Ins, and Was Blind But Now I See: Rhetoric, Race, Religion, and the Charleston Shootings, respectively.  Serving on over twenty committees, and given over thirty public lectures, O’Rourke comes from a prominent professional stance. However, when he was an undergraduate, O’Rourke was United States’ Representative to New Zealand for the SCA Committee on International Discussion and Debate, Outstanding Man-of-the-Year at Humboldt, Six-Time National Champion in Public Speaking at Humboldt, and in fact qualified for the NCAA Division III National Wrestling Tournament.


O’Rourke’s specialty was a concept that Sewanee thought was lacking and prioritized recently. Sewanee undergoes an accreditation cycle roughly every seven years, from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, where the University must propose a Quality Enhancement Program (QEP.) This year’s QEP is Learning to Speak, Speaking to Learn. The QEP, “is designed to improve students’ oral communication skills through the practice of public speaking in disciplines across the curriculum.” There is more information on this initiative on Sewanee’s website.


Preparing for this QEP, there will be a new Center for Speaking and Listening (CSL), much like the Writing Center. In fact, the CSL will hopefully work in conjunction with the Writing Center. It will be a place where one can learn techniques and gain resources from the educated students and staff that will advise at the CSL. It will be available not only to students but also faculty in need of assistance.  In addition,  there will be classrooms with special equipment to aid speaking. Furthermore, there will be a new professor, an Assistant Director of the Center for Speaking and Listening, starting next semester. This center is significant, as all students will give presentations in classes across the curriculum.


O’Rourke has travelled across the nation to similar centers learning about them. He has already been to: Agnes Scott College, University of Richmond, University of Mary Washington, Eastern Kentucky University, Stanford University, and San Jose State. O’Rourke is still planning to visit University of Southern Mississippi and University of Memphis.


O’Rourke has already made an impact on campus with the students he has taught. When not researching for the CSL, he teaches Public Speaking and Introduction to Rhetoric. Tomas Arcinega (C’18) mentions about his Public Speaking class, “I appreciated the confidence he gave me and others, along with the ability to relate and engage everyone. He is respected through his actions and words, an approachable, honest man. Someone I think highly of even though he’s only been here for such a short period of time and only knowing him through class.”  Meanwhile, Julian Wright (C’17) critiques the same class, “Dr. O’Rourke is always accessible and the class is relevant to almost every career or profession and an invaluable skill that helps both in University settings but also beyond.”


O’Rourke’s distinguished talent in speech and rhetoric will certainly lead to Sewanee becoming a more orally adept University.