Kristen Kiledal

From Science to Speech

Spotlight on Dr. Kirstin Kiledal

Written by Breana Noble

When Professor of Rhetoric and Public Address Kirstin Kiledal graduated from Hillsdale College in 1984, she was en route to medical school. Then the liberal arts called her in a different direction.

“One of our biggest problems is that we think when we graduate our education stops,” Dr. Kiledal said. “But our education never stops.”

As a freshman, Dr. Kiledal knew she would major in biology, and her schedule was dominated by science courses. But always wanting to challenge herself, she looked to the speech team to grow in her public speaking abilities.

“I was not a natural speaker,” Dr. Kiledal said. “It was uncomfortable for me.”

For four years and several different tournaments, Dr. Kiledal competed, falling in love with the activity and developing her confidence in front of a crowd. Upon graduation, she was accepted into a master’s program in genetic counseling, but at the last minute, she was unable to attend.

Ball State had contacted her that summer and wanted her to assist with its speech team because of her success with the speech team during college. After an interview, the school hired her, allowing her to pursue a master’s in speech communications. But she didn’t leave science behind. Her thesis discussed scientific rhetoric.

“On the committee, there was a biologist, who brought me back to the world of biology,” Dr. Kiledal said.

As she was doing graduate work on genetics and bioethical decision making, however, her speech mentor called.

“He had sent forward my credentials to Pennsylvania State University. They were short a person for their Ph.D. program in communications.”

She spoke with the school, who promised she would be able to continue her “crazy biology studies” in plants after completing her degree work in the philosophy of science and rhetoric.

At the same time, she was working to attend medical school. However, upon earning her doctorate, life had changed.

“My husband and I were expecting a child,” Dr. Kiledal said. “I wanted to be a mom too.”

When Hillsdale College contacted her about a temporary position in speech, Dr. Kiledal had a part-time job at a community college in the Metro Detroit area. After driving the nearly two-hour trip back and forth for a year and a half, she was eventually brought on to staff permanently.

Now Dr. Kiledal is beginning her sixteenth year teaching at Hillsdale and is introducing to the core curriculum a new classical logic and rhetoric course that she helped develop. In it, she combines instruction on ancient writings of rhetoric with pieces focusing on the rhetoric of literature, economics—and biology.

“Regardless of the field of study you choose, the liberal arts education prepares you as a whole person and citizen,” Dr. Kiledal said. “Studying rhetoric, regardless your vocational endpoint, provides you a way for assessing whatever comes your way.”


Breana NobleBreana Noble, ’18, is a student from Michigan studying American studies and journalism. She is a member of the Dow Journalism Program; is an assistant news editor for Hillsdale’s school newspaper, the Collegian, and has interned at Newsmax Media in Washington, D.C. through the National Journalism Center.