Writing Fellow Alexis Brown Selected as a 2012 Rhodes Scholar

By Emily B. Hall, Director, UW-Madison Writing Fellows Program.

Alexis Brown, 2012 Rhodes Scholar from UW-Madison

Alexis Brown, 2012 Rhodes Scholar from UW-Madison

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.

Alexis’s research was so impressive that she was accepted to present her work at two major writing conferences—the Midwest Writing Centers Association Conference (held in Madison in October) and the National Peer Tutoring in Writing Conference (held in Florida last November).  Alexis’s presentations dazzled writing professors, writing center administrators, graduate students, and tutors from across the country.  And Alexis achieved all of this last fall while “fellowing,” editing the MJLC, studying full time, and undergoing a series of demanding interviews for the Rhodes!  I’m beginning to think Alexis must have a Time-Turner like Hermione Granger—how else could she accomplish so much with her days?  I hope my comments demonstrate how deserving Alexis is of this great honor, how proud we in the Writing Center and Writing Fellows program are of her, and how grateful we are to have her as our colleague.  Congratulations, Alexis!!

By Alexis Brown, UW-Madison Undergraduate Writing Fellow. If being a Writing Fellow has taught me anything, it’s the value of serious revision. For the past two years, I’ve worked as a Writing Fellow in UW-Madison’s Writing Fellows Program, where I help students revise their papers for academic classes. I’ve always enjoyed my work—there’s something really satisfying about watching someone’s ideas slowly sharpen and take form as we go through their writing together,  and I love being able to give pointed feedback I think will help them as they edit their work.

Applying for the Rhodes scholarship, though, taught me even more about the value of revision, because this time I was the one doing serious revising—and I needed all the help I could get. The Rhodes application involves a personal statement that has to describe my interests, both academically and in my extracurricular activities. Basically, you have to sum up who you are as a person…in 1,000 words. It’s a tall order, and after my first draft, I could tell, I needed a lot of work. Luckily I had the support of people involved with the campus selection committee and the Writing Center to help me along the way, including our own Writing Center director Brad Hughes and English professor Caroline Levine.

It took a while—I even started over completely at one point—but I’m happy to say my finished draft is one of my favorite things I think I’ve ever written. I’m lucky I had people here to push me along the way, because I know my work wouldn’t have been as polished or interesting if I hadn’t. I just found out I’ll be a Writing Fellow for Professor Caroline Levine’s class this coming semester, before I graduate and head off to Oxford in the fall. I hope I can be as helpful to her students as she was to me.

For more information about Alexis, see this story from University Communications at UW-Madison.

14 thoughts on “Writing Fellow Alexis Brown Selected as a 2012 Rhodes Scholar

  1. Congrats, Alexis, on revising your way to a Rhodes scholarship. What an accomplishment!

    Your post reminds me of what Wallace Stegner said was one of the most important lessons to learn–and one of the hardest things to teach–about writing: “Revise! Revise! Revise! . . . Sooner or later, you’ve got to learn to revise.”

  2. I wrote (at least) 17 drafts of my law school personal statement. We didn’t have a Writing Center at the University of Florida, so I had to rely on generous friends with strong writing skills. The first four drafts of this statement were outright rejected by a trusted friend. Slowly, a narrative I liked emerged. That was probably one of my first experiences with the power of having an outside reader whom one trusts and of really removing the ego when asking for feedback on one’s work. I can’t even count how many drafts of chapters, articles, presentations, job letters, and so on I’ve shared with friends, Writing Fellows, colleagues, faculty and staff members, and Writing Center tutors. Having multiple perspectives on one’s work can be daunting, but is so critical!

  3. Congratulations, Alexis! What an honor, for you, your school, and your Writing Fellows program. I would love to read your paper on phatic speech! Enjoy your time at Oxford!

  4. We’re so proud of you, Alexis! Congratulations on your tremendous accomplishment, and hats off to all those who mentored you along the way.

  5. Congratulations, Alexis! What a wonderful achievement for you. The Writing Fellows Program sounds like such an impressive and supportive community of writers, and clearly you have distinguished yourself amongst your peers.

  6. Congratulations Alexis and the UWMadison Writing Fellows Program! This Rhodes Scholarship is a well deserved honor for you all.
    I am so impressed by all you have accomplished so far, Alexis, and send my best wishes for an equally productive time studying in the UK. But don’t forget to take time to enjoy yourself while you are there.

  7. Congratulations from me, too! And I can only support what Emily wrote about Alexis’ presentation. I saw it at the MWCA conference and was very impressed.

  8. Congratulations again, Alexis! Your accomplishments are truly inspiring and I feel grateful to know such a lovely person. All the best to you at Oxford!

  9. Alexis, I’ve seen you working for the better part of the last 2 years and you have my utmost respect for the work you have done. If anything, you under play the amount of revision you put into your work. I can’t count the number of times you stayed up all night working on a paper, and coming from an insomniac, that really does mean something. When you say that you believe in revision, what you could also say is that you not only believe in revision or collaborative writing, but rather that you are an ideal model to which many of us can work toward. Congratulations for your work.

  10. Cheers, Alexis! Oxford has been blessed with a thoughtful, intellectually mature and kind-hearted MA student next year. As for the importance of revision, thanks so much for sharing your experience, particularly insofar as it speaks to the value of our Program: revision is so critical to the writing process, that even a Rhodes Scholar needs to revise (and re-revise)! :)

    Keep on writing and re-writing!

  11. I’d like to add my name to the chorus of congratulations! I’m doubly happy–for Alexis, who’s done us so proud, and for the humanities on campus. I’ve been sitting on the University’s selection committee for the Rhodes and Marshall for several years, and I’ve been frustrated that few humanities majors apply. (Alexis told me she would never have even thought of applying if Prof. Pondrom and I hadn’t encouraged her!) One reason for the small number of applicants, I think, is that it’s often difficult to articulate the ways that an English or art history or philosophy major can make you a world leader, which is one of the qualities these scholarships value. Alexis has done that in some important ways. First, she’s actually been an imaginative and effective campus leader, founding the one and only journal of undergraduate literary criticism. Second, her essay beautifully spells out ways that a nuanced understanding of language can matter to questions of community: who belongs, who can speak, and how we make sense of our communities to ourselves and others. She has linked the study of literature to urgent social and political problems, and that is not only an effective essay strategy, it is a meaningful and important problem for all of us in the humanities. I hope that Alexis will inspire other humanities majors to apply, and that her thinking will spur us all to keep thinking about the meaning and value of thinking like a humanist.

  12. Congratulations Alexis! As director of the Undergraduate Academic Awards Office, which coordinates campus nominations for the Rhodes Scholarship, it was rewarding to watch you go through the application process. The first drafts of your personal statement gave a glimpse of your impressive accomplishments, but the final draft really captures who you are as a scholar and a person. I know your success will inspire other talented students to apply for the Rhodes and other UK scholarships, and your advice about the value of revising your essays (even if you’re a fabulous student!) will guide them. Thank you!

  13. Congratulations, Alexis! I serendipitously came across this encouraging post while trudging through revisions for my dissertation intro. Now I can go back to my interminable revisions.

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