Making Six Hours of Tutor Training Feel Like Sixteen

By Molly Rentscher, Arizona State University

Molly Rentscher, a University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Fellows Program alum, is the coordinator of the Writing Center at Arizona State University’s West campus in Glendale, Arizona. In June of 2015, she received an MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul University.

Molly Rentscher

Molly Rentscher

On May 26, 2015, I was a graduate student at DePaul University, anxiously awaiting graduation and frantically applying for jobs. On this particular day, I was also preparing a professional development workshop for DePaul University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL) staff when Natalie Smith’s Wcenter listserv post popped into my inbox:

In the past, I was fortunate to have the funds to offer both CRLA training as well as weekly writing specific tutor training—tutors, by the way, are paid to attend training. I know that luxury won’t be possible in the fall. I need some creative ideas for training writing tutors and providing on-going support when the weekly, hour-long meetings the tutors want and need simply aren’t possible.

I found Natalie’s post astonishing, and admittedly, perplexing. (more…)

Writing Fellows as Interdisciplinary Scholars

By Emily Hall

Emily Hall is the director of the Writing Fellows Program at UW-Madison.

In his influential essay “Only Connect,” Bill Cronon explores the goals of a liberal education, arguing that “being an educated person means being able to see connections that allow one to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways. . . . A liberal education is about gaining the power and the wisdom, the generosity and the freedom to connect.”

Forging connections (between different fields of study, between teacher and student, between reader and writer) is one of the goals of UW-Madison’s Writing Fellows Program. And one of the primary strengths of the students who serve as Fellows is their impressive ability to travel across disciplinary boundaries and to make connections with students whose writing may differ significantly from their own. Fellows excel at visiting new fields of knowledge and engaging with them in critical and meaningful ways. Indeed, as Jean Lutes (who along with Brad Hughes and Bill Cronon founded the Writing Fellows program at UW-Madison in 1997) has written, “A primary goal of the Writing Fellows Program is to foster an interdisciplinary community of undergraduates who can explore writing as an object of intellectual inquiry while helping their peers achieve success as writers.” As disciplinary boundary crossers, Writing Fellows approach writing as a way to deepen knowledge both within and across different fields of study. (more…)

Mindsets and Partnerships: University and High School Writing Centers

By Glenn Hutchinson and Paula Gillespie

Glenn and Paula direct the Center for Excellence in Writing at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, Florida. Glenn received his Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and is currently working on a book about writing centers and activism. Paula completed her degrees at the UW-Madison, tutoring in the then-Writing Lab as part of her teaching assistantship. Both Glenn and Paula have been influenced by the Madison Writing Assistance Program, a community engagement effort of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Writing Center, recently described here:

Six years ago, in hopes of forming a Miami-area writing center consortium, we called all local high schools, hoping to locate some writing center directors who could join university directors from Florida International University, Nova, The University of Miami, and Miami Dade Community College. No public high school writing centers existed, and receptionists at the high school were confused by our requests. Our Title V Federal grant for Hispanic-serving institutions featured advisory board meetings with local principals. The discussion would frequently turn to the Common Core standards and the way writing to learn would play a part from early grades to high school. The principals were very interested in ways we could help them to foster good writing.

For the past two years, then, our writing center at Florida International University has been working with local high schools in Miami to help start writing centers. The topic of “mindset” has played a pivotal role in our thinking and training, particularly Carol Dweck’s research on growth and fixed mindsets and how one’s mindset can affect academic performance. In this blog, then, we’d like to share what we learned from our partnerships with schools and what we learned about mindset in the process. (more…)

The Evolution of UW-Madison’s Writing Center Online: A Wayback Look

By Brad Hughes

Brad Hughes is the director of the Writing Center and director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is delighted to be starting his 32nd year as director of the Writing Center.

As we start a new academic year, this seems like a good time to celebrate an important anniversary for our Writing Center. This year the online portion of our Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison ( is celebrating its 20th anniversary–or its 21st, or 22nd, depending on how you count; I will explain in a minute. (Our Writing Center as a whole is heading toward its 50th anniversary in a few years.) Since our base-ten number system makes 20 seem like a significant number and since this story hasn’t been told, I thought it would be fun to trace the history of our center’s online presence. And I thought it would be fun to reveal some out-of-date web fashions–that’s our original website in the featured photo above:-).

Over the decades, our Online Writing Center has become an integral component of our Writing Center programs at UW-Madison. In fact, I’m a big believer in convergence—that is, I believe that those of us in the writing center profession should stop thinking of online and in-person programs as distinct, but instead as productively, even magically, intertwined. One more key reason drives my passion for what we do online: increasing student access to all that a writing center does. Just as our evening and weekend hours in residence halls, multicultural-student centers, campus libraries, and public libraries across our city make our center more accessible and more inclusive, so do all of our online offerings. (more…)

A Case for Disciplinary Tutoring in the Writing Center

By Laura Plummer

Laura Plummer directs Indiana University’s Campus Writing Program, a WAC program that administers the writing center. She is a part of the Big Ten Writing Center/Program Directors’ group that includes UW-Madison, and which meets annually to hobnob about running writing centers at big research institutions.

The Vagaries of General Advice

Laura Plummer

Laura Plummer

“OK, Let me stop you for just a minute. The advice you just gave the writer will result in her receiving an F on that paper.”

I received that comment while interviewing for a writing center tutoring position when I was a graduate student in English literary studies.

As part of the interview, I was given an assignment and an essay draft from an undergraduate business law course, alongside the probably familiar direction to read both documents in preparation for a role-playing discussion of the paper. The essay was an analysis of a case concerning the death of an employee who died on the job. (more…)

Showcasing Undergraduate Research

By Emily Hall

At a large university we are regularly exposed to the original and sometimes groundbreaking research that takes place across campus. Mostly, this research comes from the work of professors and graduate students, many of whom have grants, research funds, and laboratories to support their endeavors. Less frequently do we have the opportunity to learn about the innovative research produced by our talented undergraduates.



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…)

The Happy Dissertator: Sustaining Graduate Writing Groups

By Sarah Groeneveld


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.


“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.