NEW YORK MILLS-The Cultural Center in New York Mills announces four finalists from the essay contest portion of the Great American Think-Off.

These four essayists each win $500 and a trip to New York Mills for the live debate June 8.

During the debate, the finalists argue their side of the question, "To vote or not to vote: does it matter?" Two finalists will assert yes, voting matters, while the other two finalists will argue no, voting does not matter.

The finalists will be available to meet the public June 7 at the meet and greet reception. The reception also will feature visual artists on display in the gallery's "Distinctly Minnesota" exhibit, and is preceded by a Historical Walking Tour of downtown New York Mills.

The four finalists are Rick Brundage of St. Paul, David Lapakko of Richfield, Jennifer Nelson of Fridley, and Louise Mengelkoch of Lake Oswego, Oregon. Mengelkoch and Nelson will argue yes, while Brundage and Lapakko will argue no.

Brundage has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Minnesota and a master's degree in public affairs from Brown University. For 15 years, Brundage has mentored students in history, public policy and rhetoric from Minnesota to Taipei, including 12 years as a grand strategy faculty member at Yale University's Ivy Scholars Program, four years as director of forensics at Taipei American School and three years coaching at Apple Valley Senior High School. Currently, he is a public speaking consultant and political activist.

Lapakko is an associate professor of communication studies at Augsburg University in Minneapolis. There he teaches courses in persuasion, argumentation, research methods, communication theory, intercultural communication and organizational communication. He is the author of "Argumentation: Critical Thinking in Action."

Mengelkoch, originally from Minneapolis, is retired and lives in Portland. She taught journalism for almost 25 years at Bemidji State University and has published numerous articles in newspapers and magazines, mostly about social issues and politics. She earned a master's degree in English literature and liberal arts.

Nelson, a native of Morris, currently lives in the Twin Cities where she works as a research consultant for the DFL Caucus at the Minnesota House of Representatives. There she provides elected officials with additional research and analysis on proposed state legislation related to transportation, housing, and capital investment. She earned her master's of public policy from the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs in 2014.

Tickets for the debate are $12 in advance, or $15 at the door; students are $5. Anyone who joins the audience gets to vote in the contest to decide who is America's Greatest Thinker for 2019.

For more information, contact the center at 218-385-3339, its website at or buy tickets online at