The Wisconsin Idea and the Writing Center

The Year of the Wisconsin Idea logo

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a long and distinguished history of public service. The guiding philosophy of this commitment to public service, called the “Wisconsin Idea,” is often described as “the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.” Since I have a scholarly interest in the Wisconsin Idea, I’ve been thinking about the relationship between the Wisconsin Idea and writing centers. I’ve only begun to explore the connections, but I’m excited about the possibilities.

The Wisconsin Idea has been receiving renewed attention on our campus in light of the University’s designation of this academic year as “The Year of the Wisconsin Idea.” If you’re unfamiliar with the Wisconsin Idea, you can browse a redesigned website, which provides information about the Idea, its history and a timeline of its development, along with stories from current faculty, staff, and students about how their service to the state, nation, and world correspond with the Wisconsin Idea.


Dissertation Boot Camp: What Eighteen People Did on Their Summer Vacation


Nancy Linh Karls, the Writing Center's Science Writing Specialist and Co-Leader of Dissertation Boot Camp, Summer 2011

Jointly offered as a partnership between the Graduate School and the Writing Center, UW-Madison’s Dissertation Boot Camp is based on dissertation camps offered at such institutions as Columbia University, Stanford University, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, and Florida International University. (A special thanks to colleagues at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and at the University of Michigan for helping us plan our first camp!) UW-Madison’s Dissertation Boot Camp seeks to help participants accomplish their writing goals, accelerate their time to degree completion, and enable them to learn strategies that will help them with future writing projects.


None of Us Are Herrings

Wriiting Center TA David Aitchison

Wriiting Center TA David Aitchison

By David Aitchison. Hear David read this blog post with his wonderful accent. A few weeks ago, I had an appointment in our Main Writing Center with a sophomore, Amanda, who was working on her application essays for the Business School. With just a thirty-minute slot to look at three 250-word essays we had little time to waste. I remember three things in particular. First, it was fun – one of those sessions that gallop by because it’s late in the day and the two of you have the sillies, though that doesn’t stop you from thinking sensibly and strategically. Second, it was easy – Amanda was the kind of student who, even if she didn’t know it herself at first, was bursting with all the right ideas that, as I saw it, were exactly what her essays needed. Third, as we were wrapping up, she confessed that, much to her relief, coming to the Writing Center was nothing like she’d expected. “You know,” she said, with a bit of a blush, “how everyone’s ALWAYS nervous about coming to the Writing Center for the first time. It’s daunting.”


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.


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.


The Number One Requirement

connectionBy Melissa Tedrowe

This 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.


A Graduate Education

This week my shift at the writing center will be bitter sweet. I’m finishing
my work on two dissertations and a master’s thesis. In my work at the
writing center, I’m a bit of a graduate student junkie. In fact I probably
spend way too much writing center time with graduate students and not nearly
enough slogging away in the trenches of business school applications and
literary analysis papers. However, when I started working at the writing
center the last thing that I wanted was to work with a graduate student. I
didn’t want to constantly deal with my intellectual insecurities and risk
highlighting all of the things that I didn’t know that I thought I should.
How was I supposed to help someone finish a dissertation when I was so far
from the thinker and writer I wanted to be? Lost and Confused Signpost

In my mind working with graduate
students, particularly ones finishing their dissertations, could only result
in them not getting the help they wanted and me getting a bruised or
battered ego in the process. I was pretty certain that I made it as far as
I did in graduate school on my fast-talking, wily distraction tactics, and
lots of nodding, so I was ill equipped to help others. By avoiding
dissertators and hiding myself in conferences with the comfortable security
of several kinds of power disparities on my side I could protect myself, and
those I was helping, from facing all the things I didn’t know. That is until
Melissa found out. (more…)

Joint Staff Meeting–Another Big Success!

The undergraduate Writing Fellows and the staff of the Writing Center came together last Friday to build community and share scholarship at our annual Joint Staff Meeting. The meeting was conference-style, featuring panels of Writing Fellows’ original research on various topics related to tutoring and teaching writing. It was an inspiring experience, and renewed our (already strong) love for our writing community that has been cultivated around these programs and sustained by our shared passion for writing and tutoring.

The particular dynamic of this meeting reminded us, yet again, how unique and – okay, we’ll say it – awesome the Writing Fellows program is. Here were undergraduate students, usually considered the lowest rung on the academic ladder, presenting advanced and relevant research to graduate students, academic faculty, the works! The Fellows program offers a challenge to the normative academic hierarchy, and it’s refreshing to find those spaces on campus that are open to engaging with undergraduates on an intellectual level. We felt that the Fellows presenting rose admirably to that opportunity; we were so impressed with their poise and professionalism!


On Reading Aloud

img_3360 It’s been loud in Madison these past two weeks. Tens of thousands of people have gathered each day in our city, collectively and individually giving voice to their concerns about a piece of legislation which impacts every member of our state and beyond. Demonstrators on both sides of the debate have shouted, sung and discussed themselves hoarse. The Capitol building, day and night, has been filled with bodies, but also writing—signs, notes, posters, fliers. Whatever positions the throngs of visitors to our Capitol hold, they’ve come to exercise their voices, and the impact of these weeks has been to demonstrate that a voice of the people exists.

“Voice” is one of those concepts in writing that can mean any number of things, so many that it often dissolves into something so vague it may cease to seem useful. But like the concept of “rights” which has been occupying Madison in particular these past two weeks, the weakness of the concept—and by “weakness” I mean the difficulty in fixing its definition—is one of its strengths. It can be variably invested with meaning, mapped onto or found to underlie so many other aspects of writing: it plays a part in every point of the rhetorical triangle and acts as a sort of cognate for tone, style, point of view, personality, purpose. In creative and critical writing a long-term goal is to “find your voice.” In red-pen in the margins of one of your essays you may see its various incarnations—at one moment in that more figurative sense, “you have developed a compelling voice here,” and at another its more practical, grammatical cousin, “avoid the passive voice!”