By Ishita Aghi and Erika Gallagher
Ishita and Erika are undergraduate assistant directors in the UW-Madison Writing Fellows Program for 2017-18.
At UW-Madison, the Undergraduate Writing Fellows program is composed of 50 students who assist other undergraduates with academic writing in courses across the College of Letters & Science. Fellows are undergraduate tutors from a variety of disciplines who possess a passion for helping others. They undergo extensive training and ongoing education, complete their own original research, and work directly with professors to help their students become better writers.
As Undergraduate Directors for the Writing Fellows program, we have experienced the joys of learning and collaborating as new Writing Fellows. All new Writing Fellows complete a writing-intensive training course, English 403: Tutoring Writing Across the Curriculum, in which they read extensively from the field of writing studies, participate in lively discussions, and conduct original research about writing and/or tutoring writing. In addition, during their first semester in the Program, they begin the work of a Writing Fellow, assisting 8-15 students with drafts of two different papers over the course of the semester. They do all of this while being full-time students themselves. Serving as a Writing Fellow can be challenging: Fellows must manage a hectic schedule of commenting and holding individual conferences with students and communicating regularly with course professors.
Each year yields a new cohort of dedicated new Fellows who take on the challenges and responsibilities associated with peer tutoring. We are very lucky to have a new group of Fellows this year up to the challenge of tackling these responsibilities. Ranging from sophomores to fifth-year students, our new Writing Fellows come from all over the US, including Illinois, Minnesota, Tennessee, and, of course, Wisconsin. The new Fellows study a variety of subjects such as: Communication Arts, Community and Environmental Sociology, English, International Studies, Kinesiology, Life Science Communication, Pharmacology and Toxicology, and Philosophy. Not only do the new Fellows have various academic backgrounds, they also have varying perspectives about what the Writing Fellow program has taught them in the short time they’ve been involved.
To better understand these perspectives, we distributed an online survey to new Fellows, asking about their experiences with the Program. In their responses, new Fellows demonstrated that they’ve already gained new insights into the writing process: they enjoy collaborating with peers, realizing the power that words hold, and recognizing that writing can be both liberating and oppressive. Fellows also praise the strong sense of community they feel within the program, particularly while taking English 403, and they enjoy working with a variety of students while growing as writers themselves. One Fellow highlighted, “I think the most valuable thing I’ve learned so far is to understand that I myself am always learning, and viewing that as a positive opportunity for growth.”
One new Fellow, Jesús Galvan, eagerly expressed his positive experiences in the Program. Originally from Belvidere, IL, Galvan, a 5th year Kinesiology student with certificates in Latin@ and Chican@ Studies and Global Health, became interested in the Writing Fellows Program through his positive experiences visiting the Writing Center. As a Fellow, Jesús has learned to prioritize organization and help students break down a prompt to see if their writing serves its intended purpose. He finds his biggest (and best) challenge to be the research project in English 403 and writing time-consuming marginal comments on drafts of student papers. Jesus is passionate about helping others–he is currently applying to two AmeriCorps programs and to be a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Mexico to further his goals as an educator and advocate for students. In the future, he hopes to continue working collaboratively with students to ensure their educational equity. In this work, he has found it helpful to draw upon the Writing Center’s feminist pedagogical training and other Fellow research projects on inclusivity and empowerment. Jesús notes, as a Badger, that “getting accepted into this position has solidified my overall growth as a writer while in college, and has added yet another dimension into my rich, well-rounded Wisconsin Experience.”
As another new Fellow noted on our survey, writing brings people together by allowing us to “cultivate our writing skills and make connections with students.” Many wrote that they love meeting their students and collaborating with other undergraduates, Fellows, graduate students, and faculty alike. In the words of one Fellow, “[I enjoy] thinking about the intentional and unintentional power of my words to help, to harm, and to connect with others.” The Writing Fellows program is rife with opportunities for every undergraduate as it focuses on supporting all students involved: tutor, tutee, and, of course, the student researcher. From English 403 to staff meetings to ongoing education sessions, Fellows are always collaborating and growing alongside their peers, pushing the boundaries of writing education as they are exposed to more people, more voices, more dialects, more research, and endless opportunities.
We can only offer words of praise in our comments about this program (as we learned in our seminar class, praise is key for growth and positive learning outcomes). We are so lucky to have new fellows who are compassionate, kind, intelligent, mindful, wonderful students and people who are helping to lead campus toward a “writer” future.