During the snow storms last week, I trekked through the layers of fresh Wisconsin slush to the Social Sciences building. I made my journey upon an invitation to meet with a Sociology faculty member, prepared to discuss co-teaching a session on poster presentations. While watching flaky descents of snow through his window, we chatted for almost an hour about how we might help his students emulate the department’s prize winning posters. Of course, we didn’t actually need nearly that much time to discuss the session. We were both so eager to explore the challenge and craft of visual design and to understand one another’s approaches to teaching this genre that our conversation stretched beyond our original plan. By the end of our meeting, we both left with an enhanced understanding of how our respective fields (Sociology and Composition and Rhetoric) approach visual design in posters, and we had collaboratively developed a strong lesson plan for teaching research posters for his department’s graduate student professional development group.
On Friday, February 17 the Writing Fellows Program hosted our annual Joint Staff Meeting with the Writing Center. Seven Writing Fellows gave presentations based on research they conducted for their English/Interdisciplinary Courses 316 class. Writing Center instructors served as moderators for each presentation and posed questions designed to help audience members delve more deeply into the issues. As usual, the presentations were highly engaging and the discussions were lively and enlightening. There was a genuine spirit of camaraderie as we discovered what we can learn from one another and how our experiences in the Center and in the Fellows program intersect and diverge. Our meeting was enhanced this year by the presence of several distinguished visitors: Michael Mack, professor of English and Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Taryn Okuma, Professor of English and Director of the Writing Center—both from American Catholic University in Washington, DC; and visiting scholar Dr. Katrin Girgensohn, faculty member and Director of the Writing Center at European University-Viadrina in Germany.
The presentation titles suggest the broad range of topics discussed:
I’ve long argued that writing centers at research universities should prepare interested doctoral students to lead strong, innovative writing centers and WAC programs when they move into their faculty careers. And that we should do this in systematic and sustained ways. Being a dedicated, successful, experienced writing tutor is of course a necessary part of that preparation, but that alone is not sufficient. Professional development for future writing center directors is something our Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison takes seriously—my colleagues and I are proud that this past year, in 2011 alone, seven more of our PhD alums, at various stages of their careers, were offered positions as writing center directors or assistant directors around the country, joining many other distinguished UW-Madison alums who direct writing centers.
This question—of how research universities can prepare graduate students to become writing center directors as part of their faculty careers—has been an important topic of discussion when the writing center directors from the universities in the Big 10 conference meet once a year (I’m always hoping that some athletic competition will break out during meetings of Big 10 writing center directors, but, alas, none yet). We’ve talked several times about what we can do—intentionally and systematically–to prepare our grad students to lead strong writing center and WAC programs. As an outgrowth of these discussions, at the 2010 IWCA conference in Baltimore, several members of the Big 10 group spoke about the opportunities we have and the challenges we face as we prepare graduate students to be future writing center directors.
As a visiting scholar from Germany at the UW-Madison Writing Center, I sometimes feel jealous of all the things going on here. Having a writing center with 110 people working as writing fellows, writing consultants and as leadership staff, and, even more important, experiencing how the writing center is valued here at the university, seems to be paradisiac. In Germany, where I direct a writing center at European University Viadrina, writing centers are still new phenomena and far away from being well staffed and valued. And that is exactly the reason why I am here: I got a research grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG) to conduct an explorative study on successful implementation of writing centers. The writing center at UW-Madison is the ideal home base for this, since it has such a variety of programs, like a very successful WAC program, and this amazing institutional standing. Nevertheless, as I said in the beginning, sometimes it makes me feel jealous to see this. Or frustrated, because I cannot imagine that there will ever be a time when we will have a fixed and sustainable budget, sufficient staff and adequate acknowledgement from our institution. To deal with these feelings it helps me to remember that the UW-Madison writing center has not only its current hard working staff, but it has been built up by 43 years of people working here. And so do writing centers in the US generally: several decades have passed since most universities established writing centers, and the first writing-center-like institutions date even back to the 1930s. Comparing my own writing center with this one here in Madison, or comparing writing centers in the US with writing centers in Germany, is like comparing the achievements of a small child with those of an experienced, grown-up person. All these achievements needed their time and today’s writing centers profit from history. (more…)
By Elisabeth Miller and Anne Wheeler, Graduate Co-Coordinators of Madison Writing Assistance.
As of the Fall 2011 semester, Madison Writing Assistance (MWA) was active at 7 Madison area libraries and community centers, conducted nearly 200 sessions, employed a staff of 10 people from several different disciplines and programs within the UW-Madison Graduate School of Letters & Science, and involved multiple community volunteers and partners. In any given week, a Madison resident might receive help with his or her resume, learn to use Facebook, get feedback and assistance on a letter to a landlord, or compose a recipe for MWA’s weekly cookbook workshop. In the same week, as MWA’s consultants testify, we also have the opportunity to meet and interact with people and work on writing in a way that augments our graduate school experience and contributes massively to our teaching and research. (more…)
By Emily B. Hall, Director, UW-Madison Writing Fellows Program.
Those of us who know her and work with her in the Writing Fellows program are simply thrilled that Alexis Brown has been selected as a Rhodes Scholar for 2012. A deeply motivated student, Alexis has an outstanding academic record and a rich and varied set of intellectual and leadership experiences. In addition to founding and editing the Madison Journal of Literary Criticism, keeping up with her coursework in two demanding majors, and working for Americorps, Alexis has left an indelible mark on our program as a Writing Fellow. She has provided thoughtful, critically astute feedback to students in courses in English, psychology, and legal studies. In her Writing Fellows seminar, Alexis wrote an outstanding paper that explored how phatic speech (or small talk) can create a sense of community between Writing Fellows and students and can facilitate meaningful conversations about writing and academic discourse.
By Sarah Groeneveld. The day I met Laura (a pseudonym) was a memorable one. It was a slow day at the Writing Center last January, and I had a free hour in the middle of my shift. Laura was scheduled to meet with me later, but had mistaken the time of our appointment and had shown up early. Therefore, we were able to spend a wonderful two hours talking about three things that we both share a passion for: teaching, animals and questions about difference. But what is memorable to me about meeting Laura is that about five seconds after sitting down next to her, I suddenly noticed a gigantic head and deep brown eyes staring at me from underneath the desk. Laura introduced me to Monty (another pseudonym), a German Shepard who helps Laura navigate the world – not only physically, but in ways that Laura explained to me in the following weeks and months.
“Hello? I’m not really sure how this works. I’m hoping to have someone look at my paper…”
Before our students sit down with one of us for the first time at the Writing Center…
Before the opening chit chat…
Before the delving into concerns and ideas…
Before they begin to explore the power of talk for their writing process…
Before all of that, each of our students has to work up the courage to dial our number or to find their way from a packed elevator in a strange building down the hall to our door. In this post I want to take a moment to focus on what happens when our eventual students hit call on their phone or stride into our waiting area for the first time. That’s because, although we might think that learning in the Writing Center begins in earnest once tutor and tutee sit down over a draft for the first time, we should also remember that that first encounter is a packed educational moment, too. (more…)
By Danielle Warthen. As a writing instructor who’s also been a writing tutor in the UW-Madison Writing Center for the past five years, I’d say that, hands down, the most common comment I hear from students new to the Writing Center when we begin our sessions is: “I’m a bad writer.” It’s often said in an apologetic tone, as if the student has already decided that this session will be yet another disappointing illustration of being “bad at writing,” and I should prepare myself for some sort of intellectual letdown. These words are often meant as a benevolent warning to me, I suppose as a way to help me manage my expectations. The student is telling me not to expect a “good writer” who’s going to be a breeze to collaborate with–this is going to be hard work for both of us, with questionable returns, because . . . well, they’re bad at it.
If you’ve ever staffed a writing center or tutoring center in an evening, you’ve probably seen your fill of pure, visceral panic. I’m in my third semester as a Writing Center instructor now, and I’ve been in the trenches. Most times, you can see the warning signs a long way off: the wide, intense eyes; the shallow breathing; the kung-fu grip on a partial draft or outline of an assignment; even the hunched, tense shoulders typically found in fugitives and air traffic controllers. The assignment is due tomorrow, and so much hinges on it: a passing grade in the course, a place in a competitive program, the respect of a professor. It’s just too much. And, dear god, it’s already 6:00 PM. If I was a bartender, I’d pour the student a stiff drink; if I was a doctor, I’d prescribe a mild sedative; but since I’m a Writing Center instructor, I go with a different tool. “Oh, yeah,” I say, nodding knowingly. “I’ve been there before. So let’s see what we can do.” (more…)