At the first Writing Arts faculty-student meet and greet held this October, department chair Dr. Drew Kopp and Dr. Jade Jones unveiled a special opportunity that Writing Arts students could take up this coming January: the Writing Arts Winter Writing Retreat. As Morgan Riccobenne quoted in her blog post covering the meet and greet event, Dr. Kopp expressed that the Winter Writing Retreat is meant to kickstart the Writing Arts Department’s newly developed mission statement of providing students with “distinctive educational experiences” that will give them an edge in their future writing careers. With the first day of the retreat a single month away, and only one available spot left for interested students, now would be the time to take a closer look at what this retreat is going to look like for those attending and what this event means for the future of Writing Arts at Rowan.
Before I dig into what students can expect from this experience, I’m going to take a moment to give some background behind why this retreat is happening in the first place. Over the past year, the staff of Rowan’s Writing Arts department have been taking time to re-evaluate its mission, and the goals that the department will have to reach in order to fulfill this mission. As these questions have been carefully examined throughout the past year, there is one idea that the department has indisputably stood behind: the Writing Arts major of Rowan will always strive to provide its students with an empowering, distinct education, while also guiding each student into new opportunities and experiences that will help them shape into the kind of writers that they want to be. Dr. Kopp expressed that the department’s commitment to providing this educational experience to its students will be seen through the upcoming Winter Writing Retreat that he and several other Writing Arts professors have put together, including Jade Jones, Megan Atwood, Lanre Akinsiku, Keri Mikulski, Heather Lanier, and Amanda Haruch.
For those lucky enough to be attending this weekend-long retreat, students will be traveling to Pendle Hill in Wallington, PA. This cozy retreat center sits on a comfortable 24 acres of land, surrounded by plenty of wildlife, nature trails, and meditation ponds. During the day on Saturday, students will work in a series of workshops with published faculty and professional writers to hone their craft in a variety of written genres. Professor Jones will lead a workshop on creative nonfiction, with a focus on developing students’ sense of voice, narrative point of view, and the power of descriptive language. Her workshop will guide students into these layers of understanding by analyzing excerpts from Octavia Butler and Audre Lorde. Professor Atwood’s workshop will rely on her expertise in creative fiction to help students improve their ability to craft characters and setting.
Joining them will be published author Lanre Akinsiku, and new Writing Arts professor Heather Lanier. Akinsiku, whose work was placed in the New York Public Library’s annual list of greatest books for children and young adults, will be leading his own fiction writing workshop, with special consideration being spent on helping students vanquish “some of the pesky writing demons” that feed writer’s block, as he described. Professor Lanier’s workshop will focus on elements of poetry -- such as how to create the right image, and the “musicality” of language. Students in her workshop will be in an environment fostered to promote creativity and growth, where they will write new poems and receive feedback from professors and peers. At the end of the retreat, students will have the opportunity to read what they’ve been working on to faculty and peers, and will also be able to join in on a dinner with a publisher who is currently working in the field.
The experiences that students will have at this retreat is an encapsulation of the Writing Arts Department’s newfound drive to forge opportunities for its hard-working students. There aren’t many other schools that offer programs such as this retreat, which is exactly what makes department chair Dr. Kopp hope that the department will be able to offer other writing-workshop retreats in the future. “What I am committed to students getting from this,” he explained, is an experience that “enriches and expands what it means to be a writer, deepening their connections with other students and faculty in the department.” He and others in the department hope that the Winter Writing Retreat will lay a fertile groundwork for being able to keep expanding what Rowan’s Writing Arts faculty can provide for their students in an ever-competitive market for writers.
Interested in joining the Writing Arts Winter Writing Retreat at Pendle Hill? Email Jade Jones (jonesjr @ rowan . edu) or Drew Kopp (kopp @ rowan . edu) today!
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.