Senior-Thesis Writing Groups: Putting Students in the Driver’s Seat

By Elisabeth Miller and Stephanie White

Sunday evenings at Starbucks... (photo by Bryce Richter)

Sunday evenings at Starbucks... (photo by Bryce Richter)

On a Sunday morning in February, five students brave the icy winds howling off Lake Mendota, knock the snow and slush off their boots, and straggle into the student union toward a table near the windows looking over a snowy Memorial Union Terrace. That night, another five students wrap up their weekends by braving the same wind and snow to gather in a Starbucks near campus. And throughout the week, two other groups meet on campus, taking time from the busy schedules to gather with groups of their peers to work together on their writing. The students talk about their weeks and laugh about Facebook status updates before getting down to business, and throughout their meetings, the students’ warmth towards each other is as palpable as the snow outside. Indeed, these are no one-off study groups cramming for an impending midterm. These are groups of undergraduate honors senior-thesis writers meeting to encourage, support, productively challenge, and reinforce each other’s work as they work on projects that include discussing the idea of modernity in sculpture, analyzing data from a sleep lab dealing with parasomnia, studying rock formations in New Zealand, examining the archives of Asian-American publications on our campus, and much more.

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My Week in Dissertation Heaven

Behind Nmachika is the beautiful Lake Mendota

Behind Nmachika is the beautiful Lake Mendota

By Nmachika Nwakaego Nwokeabia.When I found out that the UW-Madison’s Writing Center was offering a dissertation writing camp (or, as I fondly call it, a dissertation boot camp) during this past summer, I knew I had to apply for it. I was obsessed with my dissertation, and this was yet another way for me to shower my dissertation with love.

To prove my dedication to my dissertation I wrote every single day (often waking up at 4:00 AM and racing straight to the computer to put down my crispest, freshest thoughts), joined every virtual and real-life writing group I came across, pestered colleagues with my groundbreaking ruminations, and religiously practiced the BIC method during periods of writer’s block; yet all I had to show for my hard work was a directionless, unwieldy, unmanageable, intimidating  100-page monstrosity of a chapter that only seemed to grow by the day. I was in deep trouble, and if anything could help me, it was the Writing Center.
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Our Writing Center’s Founder: Professor Joyce Steward

Professor Joyce S. Steward (1917-2002), founder of the Writing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Professor Joyce S. Steward (1917-2004), founder of the Writing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

By Brad Hughes, Director, The Writing Center, Director, Writing Across the Curriculum, UW-Madison.

In this blog post, I would like to honor the legendary founder of the Writing Center (originally called the Writing Laboratory) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and one of the most influential pioneers in the modern writing center profession—Professor Joyce Stribling Steward. Professor Steward founded the Writing Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1969 and directed it until her retirement in 1982. Among her many accomplishments, she—

  • pioneered writing center methods that emphasized respect for individual student-writers and that tailored instruction to individual students, starting where students are and working collaboratively with them
  • conceptualized and designed a writing laboratory for writers at all undergraduate and graduate levels, writing in all disciplines
  • expanded writing center programs beyond individual tutoring to incorporate workshops in the center as well as outreach in courses across the curriculum, at the graduate and undergraduate level
  • published, in 1977, an article about writing laboratories in an MLA journal for English Department chairs, The ADE Journal
  • co-developed and led a week-long summer institute about developing writing laboratories, held at UW-Madison in 1981
  • co-authored, in 1982, one of the first books about writing centers, The Writing Laboratory: Organization, Management, and Methods
  • influenced the development of many other writing centers around the United States through her publications, by hosting visitors from many colleges and universities, and through her invited lectures and consulting around the US
  • developed and taught the first course on women’s literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

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New(s) from the UW-Madison Writing Center!

The Chancellor's Convocation for New Undergraduate Students, UW-Madison.  Photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications.

The Chancellor's Convocation for New Undergraduate Students, UW-Madison. Photo by Jeff Miller, University Communications.

Welcome to a new academic year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center! As our Writing Center re-opens on the first day of classes for the fall semester–on Tuesday, September 4–we’ll be eager to welcome undergraduate and graduate student-writers from across the University. And we’re delighted to have 26 talented new undergraduate writing fellows and 11 new doctoral-level teaching assistants and two new undergraduate receptionists join our staff of 105 wonderful colleagues. Based on suggestions from student-writers and from faculty and from our own staff, our Writing Center’s leadership team is always looking for ways to improve and innovate. Here’s a sampling of some of what’s new this semester. . . .

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A Room with a View / Writing with Others

The Lake Mendota shoreline and UW-Madison campus looking toward the downtown Madison skyline. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

The Lake Mendota shoreline and UW-Madison campus looking toward the downtown Madison skyline. (Photo by Jeff Miller/UW-Madison)

Unfortunately, the photograph with which I would have preferred to begin this post doesn’t exist. Instead I’ll have to help you reach the right place to recreate the picture for yourself mentally. I’m John Bradley, interim associate director of the Writing Center; thanks for following my lead. I’ll get to the point along the way, I promise. (more…)

The Madison Area Writing Center Colloquium

madison_wc_colloquium_photos_smaller1I’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.

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Spotlight on graduate student writers

Did you know that approximately a third of the UW-Madison Writing Center’s visitors are graduate students? These writers come to the Center for assistance with course assignments, Master’s projects and theses, prelims, proposals, presentations, dissertations, publications, job application materials, and more! This week we’re turning the spotlight on two graduate students and asking them to tell us about their Writing Center experiences.


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