Writing center at the European University Viadrina during a peer tutor education session
By Katrin Girgensohn. This is kind of a birthday post. Six years ago, we opened the doors to our nice spacious room after I, as a PhD student, brought the idea of a writing center to my university and convinced the president that we really should have one. At this point we only had a handful of writing centers all over Germany, so it was not at all normal for a university to open a writing center. Although I had very good arguments, what might have been most convincing was that I was able to get a starting grant from the Hans Böckler Foundation.
In Germany we say that after six years life gets serious, because this is the age when children start school. However, our writing center’s life got quite serious after only three and a half years, when a huge part of our funding was suddenly not available any more. Until then, our writing center had been more or less dependent on funding that came from outside the university. The cancellation of our funding was nothing personal and had nothing to do with the writing center itself – it was a complete governmental program that was canceled. The notification was a shock for me and seemed to be quite unfair because the writing center was very successful and had grown incredibly in only three years of existence. We not only offered writing consulting and writing groups, but also worked with high schools, had already earned a national and international reputation and were even quite famous due to our first “long night against procrastination”.
By Christopher J. Syrnyk, Assistant Professor of Communication, and Faculty Liaison, Advance Credit Program for Communication Courses, Oregon Tech
Christopher Syrnyk, Assistant Professor of Communication, Oregon Tech
At Oregon Tech, where I became an Assistant Professor this fall in the Communication Department, I volunteered during a recent Communication department meeting to take on the role of the department’s Web Content Manager. Volunteering for this role, of course, reminded me that I had promised Brad Hughes to write a blog post for Another Word about a project that four TAs and I undertook to revise part of the UW-Madison Writing Center’s website.
Julie Nelson Christoph, Director of the Center for Writing, Learning, and Teaching at the University of Puget Sound
I’ve considered myself a “writing center person” for over twenty years now, ever since I anxiously took my first college paper to my undergraduate writing center and left with a few concrete ideas for revision and the sense that I might actually be able to do the whole college thing. I eventually became a writing tutor in that same center, and then later went on to teach in the writing center at Madison. And, in January of this year, I became the director of our writing center at the University of Puget Sound. I’ve always loved the community in writing centers, the chance to break down hierarchies and have real conversations about writing. But those interim years as a full-time English professor—in charge of my own classrooms, teaching writing through assignments I’d designed and working with students whose work I’d be grading—had led me away from the core principles of writing centers. And I knew it. (more…)
Katrin Girgensohn, European University Viadrina
All of us at the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are delighted to share two new podcasts from our theory and research series, featuring Katrin Girgensohn, a faculty member and Director of the Writing Center at European University Viadrina in Germany and one of the leading writing center scholars in Europe. During 2011-12, Dr. Girgensohn is a visiting scholar at the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This presentation was taped during a meeting of the Madison Area Writing Center Colloquium on November 16, 2011.
It was in 2010 when a student in our writing center complained about her procrastination habits: “For me, you should open at night, because this is when I eventually get started and would need a writing center”. This student’s comment came up at our next team meeting, and suddenly an idea took shape: “A Long Night against Procrastination”. “Long Nights” are very popular in Germany. We have “Long Nights of Museums”, “Long Nights of Science” or “Long Nights of Sports”, all designed to attract attention through offering events at unusual times.
TV team in the writing center
Obviously this idea works, because shortly after we announced our Long Night, the writing center’s phone began to ring and wouldn’t stop until our event started. All of the important German newspapers suddenly wanted to report about our writing center and its Long Night. A TV team occupied our rooms, and radio reporters were everywhere, so that we had to hold a press conference. The press conference provided us the unique opportunity to talk about writing center work in detail, and several reporters stayed all night long to experience what we had claimed: that we would provide a serious work atmosphere, profound writing consulting and, nevertheless, a fun event. The newspaper “Der Spiegel” later wrote that the night was reminiscent of a pajama party but was a serious event at the same time.
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…)