Won’t you be (more than) my neighbor? Writing center/library partnerships

By Heather James and Rebecca S. Nowacek

Rebecca (left) and Heather (right) inside the Ott Memorial Writing Center

Rebecca (left) and Heather (right) inside the Ott Memorial Writing Center

Heather is a Research & Instruction Librarian at Marquette University’s Raynor Memorial Libraries. She works to develop and promote information literacy instruction for courses and is the liaison for the departments of Biology, Biomedical Science, Chemistry, and English. She also holds an MFA in Poetry from San Diego State University.

Rebecca is the Director of Marquette University’s Ott Memorial Writing Center and an associate professor in the Department of English.   She’s also a former grad tutor and Assistant Director of the L&S Program in Writing Across the Curriculum at UW-Madison.

When a writing center is located inside of a library, it can be easy to feel like a renter: an interloper in someone else’s space rather than a partner in building and inhabiting that space.  And it can be a challenge to develop professional relationships that shift this feeling.  Here at Marquette, we feel lucky.  That “we” is both of us—Rebecca (the writing center director) and Heather (a research and instruction librarian).  Our jobs are busy ones—intellectually demanding and constantly in motion—but over the years we have developed a relationship that allows us to rely on each other, share the load, make each other laugh, and be our best professional selves.  People often speak colloquially of their “work spouses” and we’re happy to report that our “marriage” is three years strong.

The focus of our post is the ongoing and deeply rewarding collaboration that has emerged between the writing center and the library at Marquette University: it began as a somewhat impromptu bit of cooperation based on an idiosyncratic personal connection, but has grown into a collaboration that informs in very deep and often ambitious ways our ideas about how both of our programs can continue to grow within our university community.  We recognize, of course, that there’s a fair amount of scholarship on the relationships between writing centers and libraries—both published (O’Kelly, Garrison, Meyer, & Torreano; Elmborg and Hook) and unpublished (we’ve attended panels at the International Writing Centers Association, Conference on College Composition and Communication, Association of Research Libraries, and LOEX); the common motive in these publications and presentations is to share the structures of and conditions for successful collaborations.  We’re hardly the first to experience such a positive collaboration and while we won’t make the claim that what we’ve experienced is unique, we aim to share in this post the circumstances that have fostered our collaboration, the forms this collaboration has taken, and the ways in which this collaboration influences how we think about the future of both our programs. (more…)

Writing with the Vikings: The Importance of Process and Vulnerability

By Jenna Mertz

Jenna Mertz served as a peer writing tutor in UW-Madison’s Writing Fellows Program for eight semesters before she, regrettably, had to graduate in May of 2014. She is currently a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Ås, Norway.

 

The author, blissful and pre-black eye

The author, blissful and pre-black eye

According to Jack Kerouac and pithy coffee mugs everywhere, writing and traveling are romantic endeavors. “The road is life,” have no regrets, get out of your comfort zone, write till you bleed and then keep going. These trite sayings, meant to move the lethargic and uninspired to cliff dive, pen novels, and finish dissertations, make the process of travel and writing look so productive, so self-contained, and so clean. Even if said cliff diver or dissertator breaks an arm whilst diving or dissertating, coffee mug quotations have a way of smoothing the accident into a coherent experience with a worthwhile outcome.

But what about the process? The unromantic mess of acclimating to a new culture or writing a compare and contrast essay? Sorry, Pinterest pins—you don’t cut it here.

In the author’s estimation, inspirational Post-It notes are on par with inspirational coffee mugs

In the author’s estimation, inspirational Post-It notes are on par with inspirational coffee mugs

As a former peer writing tutor who has spent the past eight months teaching writing in Norway, I’ve been thinking a lot about process in regards to both writing and traveling. In my transition from UW-Madison Writing Fellow to Fulbright English Teaching Assistant, I’ve been privy to writers’ struggles in a way that I hadn’t before, and in traveling out of the States for the first time, I’ve made myself vulnerable in ways I hadn’t before. In this blog post, I hope to highlight a few of the activities I’ve been involved with during my Fulbright grant, but I also want to champion the unglamorous and gritty underbellies of drafting and traveling. I want to advocate for showcasing vulnerability, as coffee mugs can hardly be entrusted with the task. (more…)

Filling in the Gaps: Storytelling and Close Looking

By Samantha Timm and Chelsea Fesik

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to teach a class as an undergraduate?  In this post, Samantha Timm and Chelsea Fesik will explore what it has been like to fall down the writerly rabbit hole and into the strange and wonderful world of peer mentoring and peer teaching.  With one foot in the realm of the student, and the other in the realm of the teacher, we have had to think deeply about our positionality as peer writers, tutors, and instructors.  How do these different identities shape the ways that we connect with our students?  How have our academic backgrounds shaped our styles of teaching?  This post will explore a myriad of questions, partially for your entertainment, dear reader, but also in order to make sense of what these experiences mean in our own lives.  Buckle up, and enjoy the ride!

What we do: 

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Taking the Pot off the Stove: Teaching Students to Stop Writing Well

By Rob McAlear

Rob McAlear is an Assistant Professor of English at The University of Tulsa, where he also directs the Writing Program. He is a former Assistant Director of the Writing Resource Center at Case Western Reserve University and UW-Madison Writing Center consultant.

“The aspects of things which are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something –because it is always before one’s eyes.)” -Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

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The Happy Dissertator: Sustaining Graduate Writing Groups

By Sarah Groeneveld

groeneveldpic

Sarah Groeneveld

Sarah Groeneveld is the Interim Associate Director of the UW-Madison Writing Center, a role she took on after working as an instructor at the Writing Center for four years. This year, she has enjoyed supporting graduate tutors, organizing and running workshops, meeting with student writers, and developing new programs such as the Graduate Writing Groups. She completed her PhD in English at UW-Madison this past summer.

Last week I received an email from Katie Zaman, a dissertator in the Sociology department, in which she told a delightful story:

“Today I was in Helen C White, organizing for the TAA, and I met a happy dissertator in the hallway. She was heading to get coffee because she had already met her writing goal for the day and it had only been half an hour in the dissertation writing session. She was smiling and relaxed and I asked her about the group – she told me I could find out how to join it by emailing you. I want to be happy like her and have writing goals and meet them! Is there an application process?”

Katie was referring to the Graduate Writing Groups that have been meeting this year at the Writing Center. These groups are made up of about twenty students who gather together once a week for three hours. During that time, graduate writers set goals, write, and then check back in at the end to share successes and keep each other accountable. As the organizer of the groups this year, I felt that Katie’s email encapsulated why these groups are so important. Writing can be a very lonely activity for graduate students. To combat that feeling of isolation, these groups are a way to see writing as something shared and collaborative – something that is more fun, less overwhelming, and more manageable when it’s done with others in the room. Through goal setting, brief conversations about writing, and – first and foremost – dedicated time for writing, the groups help graduate students get more words on the page in a supportive setting. Needless to say, I was more than happy to have Katie join a group.

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Entering the Conversation: Voices from the Vanderbilt Writing Studio

By John Bradley, Jane Hirtle, and RJ Boutelle

John Bradley is Assistant Director of the Writing Studio and Senior Lecturer in English at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN. Before moving to Nashville, John served one year as the Interim Associate Director of the UW-Madison Writing Center after many years of experience as a tutor there.

Jane Hirtle is a PhD candidate in Vanderbilt’s Department of Psychology & Human Development and is serving her second year as the Writing Studio’s Peabody Writing Fellow (Peabody College of Education and Human Development).

RJ Boutelle is a PhD candidate in Vanderbilt’s Department of English and is currently serving as the Writing Studio’s English Writing Fellow for Spring 2015.

John Bradley

John Bradley

From the seat here at my desk, I only have to glance up to see the beautiful space featured in the photos spread throughout this post. More importantly, though, if I leave my office door cracked at any point during the week I am treated to the constant buzz of conversations happening just outside my door, conversations the variety of which would likely be familiar to anyone who has spent any amount of time talking and listening in a writing center. Those conversations certainly bear a strong resemblance to those I was party to during my countless, well-spent hours in the UW-Madison Writing Center, but now they’re happening here in Nashville, TN, at Vanderbilt University where I help direct the Vanderbilt Writing Studio.

That pleasant background noise is coming from the Vanderbilt Writing Studio’s mixed staff of 30-some undergraduate and graduate writing consultants (tutors, instructors) and their equally mixed clients, writers seeking out the opportunity to talk over everything from their first college essays to their dissertations. Invariably, at some point throughout my day, one of those conversations will pull me out of my office and into its orbit. While conversation is one of my favorite metaphors for the work of academia and scholarship, more broadly, I love that I work in (more…)

“A Life-Changing Experience”: Some Reflections on the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camp

By Chris Earle, Kevin Mullen, Rebecca Couch Steffy, and Nancy Linh Karls

Chris Earle is a Ph.D. candidate in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison, where he also serves as the Assistant Director of the Writing Center. Kevin Mullen completed his doctorate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison and currently teaches writing with the UW Odyssey Project. Rebecca Couch Steffy is a Ph.D. candidate in Literary Studies at UW-Madison and has been a Writing Center instructor since 2011. Nancy Linh Karls is a member of the UW-Madison Writing Center’s permanent staff and its Science Writing Specialist; she also coordinates the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps and directs the community-based Madison Writing Assistance program. Together, Chris, Kevin, Rebecca, and Nancy have co-taught the Mellon-Wisconsin Dissertation Writing Camps several times, including the most recent camp in January 2015.

During the first week of the new year, and one of the coldest weeks of this winter so far, 19 graduate students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison huddled together on the upper floors of the Helen C. White building around a common purpose—to escape both the isolation and the constant distractions that come with writing a dissertation so that they could dedicate an entire week to making significant progress on their work. By moving the solitary act of writing into a space shared by other people going through the same process, these students began to bond and find inspiration through their shared goals and the collective sounds of fingertips striking keyboards.

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FIGs and the Art of Teaching Dangerously

By Greg Smith

Greg Smith, assistant dean emeritus, had been the director of the First-Year Interest Groups (FIGs) program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison  from 2002 until his recent retirement at the end of December 2014. Prior to coming to UW-Madison, his work at other institutions included being an assistant professor of English, a registrar, a TRIO program director, and a director of student services.

FIGs: UW-Madison’s Interdisciplinary Learning Communities

The idea of reforming education is a hot topic, and for the most part the public focus has largely been on K-12 classrooms. By now we are all familiar with phrases like “no child left behind,” “common core,” charter schools, teacher accountability, and achievement gap, just to name a few. However, many institutions of higher education have also been involved in creating exciting innovations that focus on improving teaching and learning environments. UW-Madison has long been a leader in reforming undergraduate education, with Alexander Meikeljohn’s Experimental College being a prime example. Its goal was to create a unique learning community that brought students and faculty together as they studies a core curriculum based on “the great books.” While Meikeljohn’s experiment was short-lived–it was established in 1927 and closed in 1932–some of the fundamental ideas behind it did not disappear but emerged many years later. (more…)

Inquiry Groups as Tutor Education: Writing from Below

RLL with JS

Rebecca Lorimer Leonard and her handsome cat, Jon Snow.

By Rebecca Lorimer Leonard

Rebecca Lorimer Leonard is an assistant professor of English and Director of the Writing Center at University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is a former UW-Madison Writing Center tutor and Assistant Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program. You can read about her work at http://blogs.umass.edu/rlorimer/.

In late November, CNN aired Ivory Tower, a feature-length documentary that asks if college is “worth it” given the rising costs of higher education in the U.S. The film, which premiered at Sundance, is an accounting of dated and disruptive trends in college financing, teaching, and managing. As do many books and documentaries that investigate crises in U.S. education, Ivory Tower uses several campus cases—Harvard, Spelman, Bunker Hill Community College, San Jose State, Deep Springs College, and Cooper Union—to fill out something like a higher ed. balance sheet, weighing “spiraling” costs against “entrenched” practices. (more…)