This past Friday, April 8, I attended a UW system-wide conference about supporting the academic success of “at-risk” students — most commonly, students who are the first in their families to attend college; students returning to college at a “non-traditional” age; students from low-income backgrounds; and students from groups historically underrepresented in higher education. As I listened to the sessions, many of which were packed with quantitative and qualitative data about what places a student “at risk,” I heard a stunning refrain. The single most powerful predictor of whether a student will succeed or slip through the cracks comes down to one word: connection. You can teach the best curriculum, adhere to the most sophisticated educational models, give students access to the fanciest computer labs, etc., etc., but at the end of the day what matters is that students know that someone cares about them. “I felt invisible,” “My professors didn’t have time for me,” “Everyone was too busy”: These are the words of students who, after lingering on academic probation, decided college wasn’t for them. The difference between success and failure in one student’s case? She found an advisor willing to give her twenty minutes of undivided attention twice a semester. That’s forty minutes total of the advisor’s time. Amazing.
No one suggests that reaching out is the only piece of the academic success puzzle. But everything I heard on Friday tells me that without it, little else matters. So I’m reminded that as busy as I may get heading into the end-of-semester (a time of overwhelm for many students), I need to keep reaching out. Even the small gestures matter: making eye contact and smiling warmly to the students who pass in the hall, offering a simple “You ok?” to a student who seems upset. Such gestures say, I see you. I’m glad you’re here. And I want you to stay.
Artists Molly Rentscher (left) and Meghan Johnson (right).
Although I’m not a coffee drinker, I l – o – v – e coffee shops! The misty aroma of coffee hanging in the air (so much better than the actual taste), newspapers flung about, a chance to eavesdrop on some really fascinating conversations (oh come on, you do it too). Ah, but what I love most about coffee shops is the art. Stroll into any coffee shop worth its artificial sweetener and you’ll find an eclectic, continually rotating collection of locally-produced pieces — pieces that, to my untrained but appreciative eye, are every bit as good as the stuff hanging in fancy museums. More affordable too, if they happen to be for sale.
Stephanie White has been teaching in CWA since spring 2010.
Community Writing Assistance (CWA) is the community outreach branch of the UW-Madison Writing Center. Teaching at seven different locations around Madison, from public libraries to our local Urban League Building to neighborhood community centers, CWA instructors provide free, drop-in help with writing of all kinds to writers from all walks of life. In this post, CWA instructor Stephanie White reflects on what she finds most meaningful about teaching in this program.
It’s week four of the semester in the Writing Center, the week in which I usually exhale a sigh of relief. There are so many moving pieces in this large and busy place, so much to do to “get the show up and running,” to quote our wonderful program assistant Terry Maggio. By week four, the foundations have started to settle: the TA schedules are set, our many satellites and Online Writing Center are up and running, our first classes have come and gone. This is the time I allow myself to look around and ask where we are now, to see who or what needs a little extra attention. This is also the time when I feel extra proud of the work I’m privileged to do: along with Brad, Nancy, Terry, Emily and over 100 talented undergrad and graduate student instructors, I’m part of a unit whose mission is to support a strong culture of writing at UW-Madison. Together we help make this university a better place, one student writer at a time.
May your fall 2010 be filled with rewarding work, frequent moments of joy, and words on the page!
The UW-Madison Writing Center
The Community Writing Assistance Program—the branch of the Writing Center that offers free help with writing of all kinds to local community members—is expanding its services! In the next few months, thanks to a generous grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction Division for Libraries, Technology and Community Learning, CWA will start offering instruction at two new locations: the Hawthorne Branch Library and the Meadowridge Branch Library (dates and times to be determined). Assistance at these branch libraries—and at the central branch of the Madison Public Library, where drop-in appointments currently are available on Mondays from 1:00-4:00—will focus on back-to-work writing: resumes, cover letters, and more.
Meanwhile, thanks to a grant from the Evjue Foundation, CWA instructors Michael Dimmick and Rob McAlear continue to help with all kinds of writing—job-related, academic, personal, and practical—at the bustling South Madison Branch Library on Monday evenings from 5:00-7:30 and on Saturday afternoons from 1:30-4:00.
Hello! And welcome to our blog. I’m delighted to offer our second-ever post, which features the words of five fabulous undergraduates who run our reception desk. Theirs are the voices you hear when you call to schedule an appointment or ask a question; theirs are the faces you see when you walk into our main location in 6171 Helen C. White Hall.
As both dedicated members of our staff and students with lots of writing to do, they are in an ideal position to answer the following: What’s the best thing about coming to the Writing Center?