Sitting on Top of the World: A Multilingual Writing Center?

Writing Center TA Manuel Herrero-Puertas

Writing Center TA Manuel Herrero-Puertas

By Manuel Herrero-Puertas. In an increasingly globalized world, more students start their papers with the phrase “In an increasingly globalized world. . . .” Stale as this formula sounds, the truth is that globalization leaves no landscape unaltered. Consider academia. More than ever, universities provide international avenues where scholars from different countries meet and exchange knowledge and resources. Do we still think of U.S. universities as U.S. universities? Reconsider. The University of Wisconsin-Madison alone counts almost 4,000 international students from more than 110 countries, the 12th largest international population in a U.S. campus. This breadth and wealth of nationalities creates a fertile multilingual scene. UW-Madison offers instruction in roundly 80 different languages, some of which extend to graduate programs in which professional scholars write reviews, articles and dissertations in their target tongues. Students choose every year among 100 study-abroad programs, devoted mainly to hone second-language skills and, no doubt, to escape the infelicities of the Madison winter.

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Writing Across the Foreignness

John Anderson

Writing Center TA John Anderson

By John Stafford Anderson. Saturday, at a party we had celebrating her upcoming dissertation defense, a friend of mine tearfully took me aside.  She wanted to know if I would be available next week to help her with some writing points on her dissertation.  Of course, I agreed to help, but I wanted to know why she was so tearful at this amazing South African-themed braai being held in her honor.  My friend is not prone to drama or gossip; she is quite practical.  Since she arrived in Madison, she has maintained course in some particularly ugly storms without needing tissues.  The tears were definitely out of place.  She pulled me aside, away from the music, out of earshot from others, and dropped the bomb:  “my advisor,” she said, “said my writing is awful:  he said I write like a foreigner.”  Well, my friend is a foreigner who is fluent in three languages besides English.  How else should she write, I wondered?  “He said I should write like an American,” she explained.

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The Number One Requirement

connectionThis 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.

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