Odyssey Voices

By Mackenzie McDermit and Kevin Mullen

Kevin Mullen

Kevin Mullen

Mackenzie McDermit

Mackenzie McDermit

Mackenzie McDermit is a recent alumna of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she participated in the university’s Writing Fellows program. She spent a humbling and inspiring semester researching writing pedagogy in the Odyssey Project and has been hooked ever since. This is her first year as a tutor for the program.

Kevin Mullen recently completed his doctorate in English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During his time as a graduate student, Kevin was fortunate to work for several years with the Writing Center and the Writing Fellows program. He is currently applying all of the skills and insights he absorbed there to his current position as a Literacy Faculty Associate for the UW Odyssey Project.

Now in its twelfth year, the UW Odyssey Project is an intensive, two-semester humanities course that seeks to remove economic barriers to education for 30 adult learners a year by providing tuition, books, childcare, and dinner before class. While earning six credits from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Odyssey students explore a wide range of foundational thinkers in literature, history, music, art, and philosophy. As they discuss the ideas of Socrates and Frederick Douglass, analyze the poetry of Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson, engage with original historical documents like the Declaration of Independence and The Federalist essays, and read aloud scenes from Macbeth and A Raisin in the Sun, students gain skills in critical thinking, persuasive writing, and communication. Many students in this program are struggling with issues such as homelessness, depression, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and teen pregnancy and have been made to feel in the past that they are “not college material.” Under the direction of Prof. Emily Auerbach, who recently won a national award for her work, and a team of dedicated UW faculty members, over 300 students have graduated from the Odyssey Project and two-thirds have continued their education by taking more college courses. (more…)

You Can Take the Tutor out of the Writing Center…

The author, in a frivolous moment.

The author, in a frivolous moment.

By Mike A. Shapiro

Mike worked as a tutor at the Writing Center at UW–Madison for five years, and as a coordinator for two. This fall, he is teaching first-year composition in the College of Engineering.

As Julia Dauer wrote earlier this fall, writing tutors often balance diverse instructional lives. But what happens when that balance is disrupted?

From January 2009–August 2014, I worked almost exclusively as a tutor. In those five years, I tutored thousands of students working on multiple thousands of drafts. The time I wasn’t working directly with students was spent supporting other tutors.

This fall, for the first time since 2004, I am not working as a tutor. Instead, I’m back in the classroom, teaching four sections of first-year composition. This shift leads me to a basic question: what skills, if any, transfer from tutoring to teaching? (more…)

An Interview with Jackie Grutsch McKinney, Author of Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers

Jackie Grutsch McKinney is an associate professor of English at Ball State University, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in rhetoric and composition. Over the last eighteen years, she has worked at three different writing centers as a tutor, assistant director, and then as a director. Her book, Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers, has been awarded the 2014 International Writing Centers Association’s Outstanding Book Award.

Chris Earle is the TA Assistant Director of the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is currently working on his dissertation in UW’s Composition and Rhetoric program. He would like to thank Professor McKinney for generously sharing her time to talk about her work.

Last October, Professor Jackie Grutsch McKinney joined the Madison Area Writing Area Colloquium to lead a lively discussion centering on her recently published book, Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers (2013 Utah State Press), which has since been awarded the 2014 IWCA Outstanding Book Award. The project, the talk, and Professor McKinney’s argument has stuck with me. On more than one occasion, I have been given pause as I find myself retelling, maybe too uncritically, what McKinney aptly names the Writing Center grand narrative. Demonstrating the persuasiveness of Mckinney’s account, in these moments I find myself asking—and not always answering—what work gets accomplished in this (re)telling and, more importantly, what aspects of our work it leaves out?
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Confronting the Politics of Language Diversity in the Writing Center

By Rachel Carrales

Rachel Office

Author Photo

Rachel Carrales has worked in the writing center at UW-Madison since 2010. She is a PhD candidate in Composition and Rhetoric at UW-Madison, where she studies how middle-class mothers use their literacy practices to respond to the ideology of domesticity.

In addition to working as a tutor in the writing center at UW-Madison, I also teach a class on literacy practices and identity, an intermediate composition course that fulfills students’ comm B requirement. About a week before the start of the semester, Mary Fiorenza, the writing program administrator of English 201, handed out a list of lessons that Deborah Brandt, a literacy scholar and longtime teacher, had “learned the hard way.” One of the lessons she had learned was that it was important to “honestly confront the politics of language diversity,” a phrase which struck me as beautifully capturing what it is that I try to do with all of my students in the writing center, but a goal that I have in mind with my multilingual graduate students in particular. (more…)

Who Am I?

Jessie GurdJessie Gurd is the 2014–2015 TA Coordinator for the Online Writing Center and a PhD student in Literary Studies; she has been an instructor at the Writing Center since the Fall of 2012. Jessie studies early modern English drama with a focus on ecocriticism and spatial theory. You can find her on Twitter @jesstype.

If the image above is any indication, I am definitely away right now.

It is midmorning here in Bermuda—still early back home in Wisconsin—and my “office” affords a view of the harbor and the hotel pool deck. We are just on the edge of Hamilton proper, so the noise of a small city occasionally leaks through the wind, birds, and tree frogs. For the past few days, I have woken, made a cup of tea, and come out on our little balcony with my laptop to work.

Technology makes it not only possible but fairly easy for me to keep up with my work as the Online Writing Center’s TA Coordinator from here. Even in Madison, my trips to campus are relatively infrequent, and I assess the queue of requests for email instruction much as I do here: with my first cup of tea. Being so very away right now and yet having much the same experience I do at home highlights the perspective my position affords. Even when I am on a laptop in the heart of the brick-and-mortar Writing Center on campus, I am working at a distance. (more…)

Reflecting on Processes: Building and Tutoring

KimMarie Cole, Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of Composition at the State University of New York at Fredonia working with students.  A 2002 graduate of UW-Madison (PhD, English), she taught in the Writing Center from 1999-2001, Photo by Fredonia Marketing and Communication

KimMarie Cole, Associate Professor of English and Coordinator of Composition at the State University of New York at Fredonia works with students when she’s not wielding a hammer. A 2002 graduate of UW-Madison (PhD, English), she taught in the Writing Center from 1999-2001, Photo by Fredonia Marketing and Communication

By KimMarie Cole, State University of New York at Fredonia

My thanks to Brad Hughes for the invitation and opportunity to share these ideas with you and to my colleague Heather McEntarfer  who provided helpful comments and insights on early drafts of this post.

My family and I are building a house.  For more than 2 years, it’s been at various times our hobby, our passion, our albatross, our marathon.  The house sits a quarter mile off the nearest road at the end of a dirt driveway that may prove our undoing in winter.

Digging the Pond

Digging the Pond

A few weeks after we closed on the property, excited and eager about the possibilities and ridiculously naive about all things construction and rural, our neighbor came back and offered the insight that we needed a pond.  We nodded. Seemed like a good long-term project.  Two days later we arrived to find him and his tractor excavating, digging the pond.

Our initial gratitude and befuddlement in equal measure have faded as work on the house progresses.  We were glad to get the pond, yet it felt weird not to have any say in its location or its timing.  Today, it’s hard to imagine a time when the pond wasn’t there, first a big dirt hole and now full of water and frogs who croak loudly when it’s about to rain and in the evenings as we try to finish one more task.   Certainly, though, as the photo record shows, it has changed a lot in the past two years. (more…)

Seeing New Connections: Tutoring Spaces and the Writing Center Commons

By Becca Tarsa

Author photo - courtesy of Matthew Collins

Author photo – courtesy of Matthew Collins

In addition to teaching both first-year and intermediate composition for the English Department, Becca Tarsa has worked in the UW-Madison Writing Center for five years, and is currently serving as TA Coordinator. She is in the final year of her PhD in UW’s Composition and Rhetoric program.

In her article “Composition’s Imagined Geographies: The Politics of Space in the Frontier, City, and Cyberspace,” Nedra Reynolds sums up in three words something nearly all writing instructors have learned keenly by experience: “Space does matter.” For better or for worse, our authority as writing instructors is often drawn from the contexts in which we’re working – as are the practices through which we enact that role. Because, as Reynolds puts it, “surroundings have an effect on learning or attitudes towards learning, and material spaces have a political edge,” our ethos and praxis are to some degree (often a significant one) determined by the location in which our work takes place: “where writing instruction takes place has everything to do with how” (20). (more…)

Instruction Across Environments: Teaching and Tutoring at UW-Madison

by Julia Dauer

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Author photo, by Rebecca Dauer

Julia Dauer has worked at the Writing Center since 2012.  She is a graduate student in literary studies at UW-Madison, where she writes about American literature and teaches literature and composition courses.  

I went to a small liberal arts college, where writing spaces were relatively uniform.  The Writing Center was housed on the fourth floor of the only library on campus, right next to the English building.  When I came to UW-Madison, navigating campus spaces was a real challenge for me.  All of a sudden there were so many!  And they were so different!

Of course, UW isn’t the biggest campus in the country, nor does it have the widest range of spaces.  But it is a large campus, serving a large student population — the University lists its enrollment at over 43,000, and nearly 30,000 of those students are undergraduates.  And to me, coming from a college of 2,400, it seemed huge. (more…)

Outreach By Design

Rachel Herzl-Betz

Author photo. Image taken by Jennifer Brindley.

By Rachel Herzl-Betz

Rachel Herzl-Betz is the T.A. Coordinator of Outreach for the Writing Center at UW-Madison, where she has been a tutor since 2012. She is also a PhD candidate in Literary Studies, with a focus on Victorian Literature, Disability Studies, and Rhetoric.

This August, when I began my work as the Outreach Coordinator for the Writing Center, I found myself fascinated with an unexpected challenge. Every year, tutors from our Writing Center have the pleasure of giving presentations and creating collaborative writing lessons for more than 150 classes, student groups, workshops, and events across campus. As the new coordinator for these efforts, I assumed that I would be caught up with new genres of writing and discovering new campus buildings. Instead, I found myself wondering at the wobbly line between creation and adaptation.

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What I’ve Learned from Working With Blind and Visually Impaired Writers

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Author Photo

Annika Konrad is in her third year as a Writing Center tutor at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also a Ph.D. Candidate in Composition and Rhetoric. She has taught undergraduate writing courses and is a TA assistant director of the first-year writing program.

I was always wary of stepping outside the classroom. As someone who moved straight from college to graduate school, I’ve felt most comfortable working with students. I had a lot of questions about what it would mean for me to bring my skills as a writing instructor to communities outside the university: Would people trust me? Would they view me as a know-it-all academic? Would my university experiences actually translate into helping community members with their writing? For a long time, questions like these prevented me from taking the leap. But when I joined a support group at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind and Visually Impaired in Madison, Wisconsin, I quickly realized I had walked into a relatively unheard community. (more…)