This year has been a big one for the Writing Center: one filled with awards, grants, travel, and growth. As the Writing Center is celebrating its 10 year anniversary, I wanted to take some time to shine a spotlight the center, partly because of the wonderful work the center does and its recent achievements, but also because, as a new tutor myself, I’ve had the privilege to work with the amazing tutors and faculty who welcomed me into their space.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Writing Center, Celeste Del Russo, the Writing Center director, talked to me about its role on campus. “We work with undergrads and grad students on any type of writing project that they are working on for their coursework, or even in their own personal writing experience. We try to provide them with a space to share their work and to receive feedback in a non-judgemental environment. [We] help them to learn more about their writing process and what that looks like for them.” Any student at any stage in the writing process can come to this social space and work with tutors, who are also their peers.
If you’ve ever visited the Writing Center before, it’s always a fun, relaxed, welcoming and social space for students to learn, something the center prides itself on. Dr. Russo explained, “...[O]ne of the more important parts of our role is that the social space itself of the Writing Center is one that we hope to be welcoming to many different students, and we hope to provide a space where they feel comfortable. [The space fosters] the social aspects of writing, the sharing of writing, ideas, and communication.” The Writing Center is an open space for all students, which is extremely valuable, especially to students who may not be confident in their work. Cate Romano, the Assistant Director of the Writing Center, echoed this point. She sees the Writing Center as “a safe space for overwhelmed students to come, and a place to boost their confidence.” When tutors are in training, there is always a focus on positive, productive feedback. Dr. Russo said, “[T]he Writing Center [is] a space where we want to talk about a student’s strengths, as well as areas they can develop. [We] look for the positives and help them build up the confidence in sharing their writing and help them identify themselves as writers.” Within my tutoring sessions, this is always a point I try to emphasize: you are a writer! Every Rowan student will encounter writing during their college experience. The Writing Center is the place to go whenever you need help. It’s what they’re there for, and it’s what they love to do!
It’s because of the great work the center does and their commitment to inclusion that the Writing Center received the Access and Inclusion Award from the Disability Resource Center (DRC). This honor is awarded to staff and departments who strive to provide access to the resources Rowan students need to succeed and thrive in college. The center had been working with the DRC for a long time, even in events outside of the Writing Center. Donna Mehalchick-Opal, the Coordinator for the Writing Center, told me about how she and other tutors have volunteered in the College Compass program. This program provides students with disabilities a period of transition into their college and campus life. Donna and other tutors meet with students a few times during this program to inform them about the Writing Center and encouraging them to visit. Donna also shared some of the outcomes from the Writing Center’s partnership with the DRC, including training on access, inclusion, neurodiversity, and more. In asking why she felt they received the award, Dr. Russo pointed to this partnership with the DRC, but also spoke on the impact of the students they’ve worked with, saying “The students that have come to us through the [DRC] have taught me and taught all of our tutors so much about what it looks like to write from different ranges of ability. [I]t’s helped us to really think about our tutoring strategies, and our tutor training, to make sure that we are providing the best kind of access to all students.” Their approach hasn’t been to find better ways to “accommodate” students, Dr. Russo emphasised, rather it’s constantly asking “how can we provide better practices all around, provide better assistance universally.”
Dr. Russo was also awarded $1,800 to bring speaker and educator John Warner to conduct a workshop in celebration of the Writing Center’s Ten Year anniversary. This was through the STORI Award (Support for Teaching, Outreach and Research Innovations). The STORI Award provides funds for initiatives focusing on one or more of these three areas: teaching initiatives that increase student learning, outreach to the community via student or faculty led initiatives and/or recruitment efforts, and new research initiatives. The workshop, which will be held next March, will be held for Rowan faculty members and local high-school educators.
On top of this work within the studio, the Writing Center has had an impact on the local community. Writing Center tutors have visited local Glassboro schools and Logan Township Middle school, leading writing workshops with middle school and high school students. I got to speak with Laura Kincaid, in her third year of tutoring and pursuing an MA in Writing Arts, about her experiences with local school outreach. She told me, “Last year, I went to an assisted living space where I ran a Creative Writing Nonfiction Workshop for some very nice elderly women. This year, we got a partnership with Logan Middle School. They had read an anthology over the summer which included a narrative poem, so they wanted us to come in to something on poetry.” The first day, tutors worked with the students on their poems, providing encouragement and constructive feedback. The second day, tutors and students shared their works in a poetry reading. “The kids really liked that, and all the feedback that we got from the teachers was that it got [the students] excited and talking about their assignments.” Logan Middle School is looking to have tutors come back and lead more writing lessons next year!
Writing Center tutors and staff also had the opportunity to present at this years International Writing Association conference (IWA). Nicole Tota, a junior English major and third-semester tutor, discussed their presentation on using collages as a multimodal form of essay creation and peer review. “Our participants were really interested,” she told me, “and they really enjoyed our ideas.” On top of the successful presentation, Cate Romano said she gained information from other sessions that she has since used in her classes. Cate learned of a PechaKucha, an online visual presentation service used by creators and schools. “My class just used it last week for their critical engagement, and they really liked it. I think it was really successful.” Moving forward, the Writing Center is in the process of submitting their proposal to present at next year’s Mid-Atlantic Writing Centers Association (MAWCA), held at Towson University, Maryland in March 2020.
It’s only my first semester in the Writing Center, but I already feel like I’ve grown so much through my sessions with students and tutor trainings. The Writing Center is more than a place to bring your paper, it’s a thriving community of students and faculty dedicated to helping students learn and grow as writers. When asked about the Writing Center’s plans for the future, Dr. Russo explained, “Moving forward, we’ll continue to think about issues like access and inclusion, how we can implement some of the First Year Writing goals of language diversity and social justice, and how we can continue to advocate for our students and our student writers.” As new developments in writing continue to advance, and as more students in Rowan are required to produce and analyze multimodal works, so to will the Writing Center. “[We’ll] think about how to continually adapt our practices to support students across different modalities.” It’s an honor to grow alongside their talented team of tutors.
If you haven’t visited the center, I highly recommend stopping by room 131 in the Campbell Library. Also, follow the Writing Center on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get the latest updates on upcoming events (like Friday movie-and-pizza nights or kickball) and writing workshops!
Special thanks to all who contributed to this article. Their names are listed below.