Showcasing Undergraduate Research

By Emily Hall

At a large university we are regularly exposed to the original and sometimes groundbreaking research that takes place across campus. Mostly, this research comes from the work of professors and graduate students, many of whom have grants, research funds, and laboratories to support their endeavors. Less frequently do we have the opportunity to learn about the innovative research produced by our talented undergraduates.

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Sam.S Sam Stowers presents her poster at the Conference on College Composition and  Communication inTampa, Florida on March 19, 2015

The Writing Fellows program is committed to undergraduate research and to helping Fellows conduct and share that research—both on campus and beyond. All Writing Fellows enroll in English 403 (formerly 316), the training seminar for new Writing Fellows, and all produce a semester-long research project on the subject of writing or the tutoring/teaching of writing. The Fellows work incredibly hard on this project: they spend untold hours observing conferences, conducting interviews, transcribing results, and interpreting data. Because the Fellows are engaged in the practice of tutoring writing while they conduct their research, these papers have an immediacy and an immediate relevance: results can quickly begin to influence their own and their colleagues’ tutoring practices. In addition, Fellows see how their work interacts with various theories they are reading from writing studies and they use their original findings to test—and sometimes nuance or challenge—prevailing theories of tutoring. The research paper, in other words, allows Fellows to participate in the field of writing studies and to experience the interaction and interdependency of theory and practice.

A number of Fellows recently shared the fruits of their labor at two different venues: Samantha Stowers presented her research from English 403 at the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Tampa, FL and Samantha, along with Chelsea Fesik, Hannah Locher, Quinn Buchanan, Samantha Lasko, Eva Jacobs, Miriam Kelberg, Kiana Murphy, Kaitlin Miller, Kevin Dlugos, Lee Bongey, Julia Boles, and Andrew Murdoch presented versions of their 403 research projects at the annual Writing Center/Writing Fellows joint staff meeting on April 10. Sam Stowers flew to Florida in mid March to take part in the prestigious annual Undergraduate Poster Session at 4Cs. Her poster, on “Student Stress and the Writing Conference,” examined undergraduate students’ stress levels before and after meeting with their Writing Fellows. Her research revealed that receiving feedback on drafts and conferring with Fellows significantly allayed student stress. Sam’s results highlighted the fact that Fellows assist students not only in the academic realm but also in the affective.   At the same time, Sam’s findings suggested some ways the WF Program could improve its communication with the undergraduate students it serves.

Back in chilly Madison, Sam joined her Writing Fellow colleagues, Hannah Locher and Chelsea Fesik, on a panel presentation that explored “Tutoring Writing in a Stressful World.” Chelsea discovered paradoxically high anxiety levels among a cohort of advanced writers while Hannah explored connections between writing and students who work.

Chelsea Hannah Locher, at the podium, Sam Stowers, and Chelsea Fesik (far right) lead a panel on “Tutoring Writing in a Stressful World.”

Other topics at this year’s meeting were equally original and thought provoking. Kiana Murphy and Katilin Miller presented a panel entitled “Writing in the Academy: Rethinking Spaces and Writing Assignments.” Kiana explored the ways in which black women artists in the First Wave program feel silenced in more traditional academic writing assignments but feel supported and encouraged in the context of their First Wave work. Kaitlin closely examined writing prompts and how students experience them.

Kiana

Kiana Murphy (at podium), Jess tank (center), and Kaitlin Miller (far left).

Quinn Buchanan and Sam Lasko identified strategies for written and verbal feedback. While Quinn showed that students benefit equally from both written commentary on their work and meeting in conference, Sam looked at the ways in which Writing Fellows affirm (or not) their students’ identities as they discuss papers and assignments.

samandquinn        eva.miriam

Sam Lasko and Quinn Buchanan                       Eva Jacobs and Miriam Kelberg

The relationship between gender and tutoring writing was the topic of Miriam Kelberg and Eva Jacobs’ panel. Lee Bongey and Kevin Dlugos offered insights into working with multilingual writers, and Julia Boles and Andrew Murdoch examined the intricacies of collaboration between students and Fellows, particularly the interruptions and affirmations that characterize conferences and the role of praise in the tutorial. The panelists were supported by a wonderful team of moderators: Sarah Dimick, Annika Konrad, Stephanie Larson, Leah Pope, Jess Tanck, and Devin Garofalo.

All who attended seemed energized by the atmosphere and excited to bring new ideas and insights to their tutoring. One Writing Fellow commented, “My favorite thing about this staff meeting is seeing how people use their own passions and interests as a launching pad to study the work we do and challenge the way we think about it.” A staff member from the Writing Center remarked, “I had such a great time on Friday—I’ve been to many of these meetings, heard many Fellows’ presentations, and the ones this year seemed extra amazing to me! It’s always such a treat.”

3 thoughts on “Showcasing Undergraduate Research

  1. I’m always blown away by the high quality of the research projects that the Fellows present, but this year I was particularly impressed by the broad applicability of their arguments. After several panels, I heard observers talking to one another about how far these projects could go, and how much could change for the field of Writing Center Studies if we took, say, working students or the role of interruption more seriously.

    Even beyond the boundaries of the meeting I could already see the potential impact of the Fellows’ research projects. During Chelsea Fesik’s presentation on writerly anxiety, Neil Simpkins was livetweeting and a graduate student from another university chimed in to ask how he could learn more. It turned out that he was doing his dissertation on a similar topic and was excited to find another researcher interested in a similar topic. I know that he wouldn’t be the only researcher outside of UW Madison to find exciting implications in their work, because they are engaging with the kind of questions that shape the work that we do on a daily basis. Consider me inspired.

  2. Thank you for sharing! As someone who was busy presenting at the last meeting, it was great to be able to sit back and learn from this year’s researchers. I really enjoyed Lee Bongey and Kevin Dlugos’ panel about working with multilingual learners; an essential point they both brought up was the importance of thinking about writers’ backgrounds and how the different writing and cultural “logic” they bring may influence how they understand and respond to Writing Fellows’ feedback. I think this insight will certainly help me moving forward with my WF work.

  3. I was lucky enough to see “Tutoring Writing in a Stressful World” at the joint staff meeting. The panel’s conversation really opened my eyes to how stress and work affect the writing processes of both Fellows and the students they work with, and caused me to rethink the way I treat the draft stage of a paper. The best thing about Writing Fellows’ research is how quickly and effectively we can apply it to our own work!

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