Honoring Tutor Excellence at UW-Madison’s Writing Center, Spring 2017

By Bradley Hughes

Brad Hughes is the Director of the Writing Center and the Director of Writing Across the Curriculum at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he is the editor of Another Word, the UW-Madison Writing Center’s blog.

It’s graduation and award time, and the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is delighted to honor two of our wonderful tutor colleagues, who are the recipients of our first annual teaching awards for graduate teaching assistants on our Writing Center staff. Every semester there are between 45 and 50 doctoral-level teaching assistants on our staff, in addition to c. 50 undergraduate writing fellows. Through all of the Writing Center’s programs, each year we work with over 6000 undergraduate and graduate student-writers from across the university and in the community through our Madison Writing Assistance Program.

We invited all of the teaching assistants who were on our staff in the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017 to nominate colleagues or themselves for these awards. All of the nominees were then invited to submit a 300-word statement reflecting on their Writing Center consulting and to include a summary of evaluations from their Writing Center students. The primary criterion for these awards is demonstrated excellence in individual consultations in the Writing Center, with both undergraduate and graduate-student writers. The selection committee read the nominees’ statements and evaluations from Writing Center students for evidence of–

  • dedication to students
  • success in tutoring
  • ability to work with writers in various disciplines and at different levels
  • evidence of student learning
  • innovation in tutoring
  • and reflective tutoring practice.

The selection committee (Nancy Linh Karls, Emily Hall, and Brad Hughes) then selected the recipients for our two awards. We had many very strong nominations and statements, and we honestly wish we had 20 awards to give!

To honor our Writing Center’s long history—in 2019 we will celebrate our 50th anniversary—for the first five years of these awards we have named them after two stellar figures in the history of our Writing Center. Here are brief descriptions of each award and excerpts from statements written by the two winners.

Erica Kanesaka Kalnay—Recipient of the Professor Paula Gillespie Award

Erica Kanesaka Kalnay

The Paula Gillespie early-career award honors teaching assistants who are in their first two years on the UW-Madison Writing Center staff. Professor Paula Gillespie is the long-time director of the Center for Excellence in Writing at Florida International University in Miami and before that she was the director of the Ott Memorial Writing Center at Marquette University, and she is one of the best-known writing center scholars in the United States. Professor Gillespie did her undergraduate *and* graduate degrees in the English Department at UW-Madison and was a TA on the Writing Lab staff at UW-Madison in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Here’s a link to a post that Paula Gillespie wrote for our blog in 2015, about partnerships between university and high school writing centers.

Here’s a brief excerpt from Erica Kanesaka Kalnay’s statement reflecting on her writing center tutoring:

Tutoring at the Writing Center constantly prompts me to ask such fundamental questions as: ‘What is the purpose of a university education?’ “What are the responsibilities of teachers and learners?’ ‘When we write, how do we balance form and freedom, expectation and surprise?’ I find myself having to renegotiate these questions with each meeting, as I attempt to modulate my instruction to each task and each student. I imagine Writing Center meetings as constellations in which many ideas, feelings, and relationships assemble. Amidst all of these contingent parts, students and instructors must search for the arrangements that work best. Relatedly, I believe that Writing Center instruction must grow out of respect—respect for diverse people and ways of thinking—and a willingness to confront the new. What is individual writing instruction if not an opportunity to affirm that ‘your voice matters’? In my teaching, I work to honor diversity in its many forms, not only cultural and linguistic, but diversity of tasks, disciplines, learning styles, personalities, and perspectives. This necessitates being flexible, taking risks, and sometimes even allowing myself to be wrong.

And here is a link to a post that Erica wrote for our blog last September, about play and the writing center.

Leigh K. Elion—Recipient of the Professor Joyce S. Steward Award

Leigh Elion

The Joyce S. Steward award is our senior TA award, honoring teaching assistants who have been on the Writing Center staff at UW-Madison for more than two years. This award is named in memory of Professor Joyce S. Steward, who was the founding director of the Writing Laboratory (the original name for the writing center here) and one of the most important pioneers in developing writing centers nationally and in developing the field of writing center studies. To learn more about Professor Steward’s remarkable career and accomplishments, please see this tribute to Joyce Steward, published in 2012 on our Writing Center’s blog.

Here is a brief excerpt from Leigh Elion’s statement reflecting on her writing center tutoring:

Throughout 6+ years at the Writing Center, I have taught in every mode we offer: main center, online, Madison Writing Assistance, workshops, outreach, and in almost every satellite location. My experience working with writers across a wide range of locations and backgrounds has given me expertise in the literacy demands of the university and a sensitivity to student learning needs. My extensive genre knowledge is useful for helping students learn the ‘rules’ of academic writing, but it also contributes to my ability to imagine lots of possibilities for writers and to help them envision and enact these possibilities for themselves. Grounded in discourse norms, I encourage students to pursue originality and complexity. This pays off. Students I’ve worked with have been admitted to top graduate programs, received funding for undergraduate research, been selected to study abroad, published journal articles, finished dissertations, and found faculty positions. While I celebrate these achievements, I more deeply value moments where students come to imagine new possibilities for themselves as writers, especially where they previously perceived themselves to be limited. Apart from being patient, warm, and genuinely invested, I strive to help students locate genuine strengths and to flip deficiency narratives so they become empowering. For instance, students struggling with their authority have found breakthroughs when I ask them to teach me, to write me the origin story for their projects, or to articulate how their struggles motivate them. I am energized by mentoring writers as they recognize ideas and strengths they didn’t know they had and by supporting learners to meet their own goals.

This summer Leigh will finish her PhD in composition and rhetoric at UW-Madison, and in the fall of 2017 she will be joining the Writing Program at the University of California Santa Barbara as a career lecturer. Here is a link to a post that Leigh wrote for our blog last December, a thought-provoking post about writing tutors as writers.

From all of the students and the staff of the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a huge congratulations and thanks to both Erica and Leigh—and to all of the wonderful, smart, generous tutors on our staff! And a heartfelt thanks to the UW-Madison English Department and the Herlihy-Jones fund for their generous support which makes these awards possible!


Featured photo of springtime blossoms on crabapple trees, on Library Mall on the UW-Madison campus, by Jeff Miller, University Communications, May 2015.

6 thoughts on “Honoring Tutor Excellence at UW-Madison’s Writing Center, Spring 2017

  1. Congratulations, Erica and Leigh! We are so lucky to have such impressive, committed teachers in our midst!

  2. Ditto Congratulations to Erica and Leigh! Your students (past, present, future) are also lucky to have you!

  3. Congratulations, Erica and Leigh! And thanks to the Writing Center for inaugurating these awards to honor such exceptionally dedicated and successful instructors.

  4. What a great way to recognize outstanding Writing Center tutors. Congratulations, Leigh and Erica!!!

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