It is with great pleasure that I write my first “Letter from the Chair” as the sun is shining up here in Minnesota. Since I took over the seat from Carol Martin at the MWCA Regional Conference in Skokie, Illinois last October, we haven’t published a newsletter announcing our new board members and each of our new (or continued) roles. I’d like to start first by thanking the following board members who rotated off the board last fall for their service: Carol Martin, Lori Baker, Helena Hall, and Jasmine Tang. The board members who joined us in October are Mike Haen, Jenny Staben and Tatiana Uhoch. We hardly gave them a proper welcome before we were soon meeting for our biennial retreat.
In January, the Executive Board of Directors met in Schaumburg, Illinois for an evening and day long working retreat. Board retreats are a time for the Executive Board to come together, greet new members, assign new or continuing roles, and discuss what we want to accomplish in the off-conference year. For example, the work that came out of our January 2012 retreat was instrumental in the development of new grants and our presence online and in social media. Again this year, time was spent on continuing work of refining our grant processes and evolving our online capabilities; however, the better part of our retreat was devoted to amending the association’s Bylaws.
The first amendment the board worked on was the Grants bylaw (Article IX). The Grants & Awards Subcommittee first identified the need for revision at the retreat and successfully presented for approval the final amended bylaw this April.
The second amendment involves the inclusion of a new article that will outline the board’s relationship with provisional and permanent special interest groups (SIGs). The need for the addition of what will be Article X developed when the board received an application from the Anti-Racism SIG requesting permanent status as a MWCA SIG. While the MWCA has made efforts to encourage SIG development, the board quickly realized that the association did not have any formal policies or procedures in place to handle a request for any formal status. In other words, we simply were not prepared. We had to ask ourselves: What would granting permanent status mean for the MWCA, and what would that mean for a SIG? What would be the benefits? For the better part of a day, the board considered these questions, conceptualized what such as relationship would entail, reviewed model bylaws, and began writing our own. Since January, the Governance Subcommittee has been working on a lengthy amendment that has gone through several rounds of revisions and through several board meetings. I am pleased to announce that the board unanimously voted in “Article X – Special Interest Groups” this past month. Both new bylaws can be found on the MWCA Bylaws page.
The board then had a little time left at the January retreat to review the October conference registration and payment process. As many of you may already know, the board began accepting online payments for membership and conference registration in the last year. This caused some already existing glitches with our current database system to come to full light. In January, the board decided to begin investigating our options. Since then, the board has recognized the need to secure a new membership and conference database system that will be accessible for both members and the board of directors directly through MWCA’s website. Although this project has many steps to take, the board aims to have a new system in place by June 2015 in time for our next regional conference.
This brings me to the last item to share with everyone. The Executive Board is pleased to announce that it has decided on the location of the 2015 MWCA Regional Conference. More details about the conference and the host institution soon!
We look forward to another productive year!
August 23, 2014: Greater Kansas City Writing Centers Project 9th Annual Tutor Conference at Johnson County Community College
September 12-14, 2014: The Nebraska Writing Center Consortium 2014 Meeting – More Info
September 15, 2014: MWCA Travel Grant applications due
September 15, 2014: IWCA Logo Contest Deadline – More Info
October 1, 2014: MWCA Research Grant applications due
October 10, 2014: Southeastern Writing Center Association Conference Proposals Due – More Info
October 30 – November 1, 2014: IWCA/NCPTW 2014 Conference – The Wonderful World of Writing Centers
Maria, Carvajal, University of Kansas
Although I have been working as a writing center consultant for the past three years, I had never had the opportunity to attend a conference or to present at one. The MWCA Conference in Skokie, Illinois in 2013 was the first conference I attended and I was honored to have been chosen to present twice. I wasn’t sure what to expect as I prepared my individual conference and collaborated with three of my fellow consultants in creating a panel presentation. Having had the opportunity to work at two writing centers, I have always enjoyed discussing similarities and differences among writing centers and I was looking forward to sharing my ideas with people who are dedicated to creating better writers. As I headed to Illinois, I was sure of only one thing–we would be having conversations about what happens in the writing center, and how we can improve our practice. Once there, I was happy to find that my expectations were met and even exceeded. Everywhere I looked people were introducing themselves and talking to one another.
As I expected, I also learned something new at the conference. Twice, speakers at the conference pointed out that although much of what we do at the writing center involves talking, there is an important place for listening in our consultations. The talking aspect of our consultations is the core of most of our training and lots of writing center literature, but in order to be successful tutors, we also need to be successful listeners. Realizing that listening deserves the same attention we give to what we say has shaped my tutoring practice since the conference. With this realization in mind, I began paying close attention to what writers are saying. This practice has allowed me to be more engaged in my consultations because I am listening more closely to what writers want. The experience of listening to others talk passionately about writing center work inspired me to listen with the same attention and passion to the writers I work with everyday in the center.
Mike Haen, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Reflecting on the 2013 conference in Skokie, three main aspects of the conference stand out as influential to my personal experience as a tutor as well as to all the work happening at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s writing center.
To start, the conference allowed me to present research ideas for future projects. Specifically, my conference presentation focused on work happening in centers that involves a writer disclosing some sort of emotional distress or mental health diagnosis with the tutor. A very attentive audience responded to my presentation with positive feedback and criticism that helped to improve my research plans for the future. In fact, my potential MA thesis research project relates to this topic, but with a broader sense of the term ‘disclosure’ under consideration. I also plan to present this research to my writing center peers in the future.
Secondly, the conference offered opportunities to see how certain issues were handled at other writing centers. One such issue involved the pressures and responsibilities placed on graduate students working as assistant writing center directors, and what responsibilities are considered common to these positions across institutions. Seeing the discussion on this particular issue helped me to think about my future work in graduate school and in my career. Hearing graduate students in assistant director positions discuss their experiences helped me to identify whether I should seek out assistant director opportunities in the future as a PhD student. These first-hand experiences helped me form an outlook for the future.
Lastly, this conference helped me to meet others who could guide me in future writing center research as well as leadership opportunities. In attending and running, I was elected to the MWCA Executive Board as the graduate student representative. I look forward to working with the board on continuing MWCA’s good work.
Crystal Lenz, Kansas State University
Attending the Midwest Writing Centers Association Conference was an eye-opening experience for me. I have never attended a writing center conference before, so to see the community and camaraderie between writing center professionals was exciting and engaging. Additionally, the excitement about learning, inherent in the atmosphere, was encouraging because it seemed that every professional, no matter his/her position in the writing center hierarchy, was truly committed to learning about new ideas and new approaches to tutoring.
As this is my first full year as the Online Tutoring Coordinator for Kansas State University, I hoped to use my experience at MWCA to broaden my knowledge of how other centers approach online consultations. I experienced an excitement about online work that was engaging, but also motivating. Some centers have been working with online consultations for a long time, yet they continue to be risk-takers and pioneers in their work by continually trying out new formats and new technology. Seeing this fearlessness gave me courage to continue to push into new frontiers of online tutoring at my own university and to see the value that it continues to provide to tutees. I value my experience at MWCA and I cannot wait to participate in many more MWCA conferences in the future.
Audrey Manicor, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
Attending and presenting at the MWCA conference was an educational experience which brought me closer to the larger writing center community. The environment at the conference was inspiring and inclusive, and I enjoyed presenting my own research as a way to both contribute to the dialogue and receive feedback on my project. Everyone was very friendly, and I gained a lot of useful knowledge about other writing centers. I attended talks which discussed dealing with diversity and new technology in the writing center. I was particularly interested in a talk about the English academic standards and the barriers to education which have been created as a consequence.
This was my first time attending a professional writing center conference, and I was very impressed by the passion, creativity, and other-centeredness of the writing consultants I met there. I now possess a greater understanding and appreciation for writing centers and have been applying the skills I learned in my own practice as a consultant. The MWCA conference made me more informed and empathetic to the struggles of the student which has had an influence on my practice. In my consulting I have attempted to be more open and receptive to students and their struggles. Overall I really benefited from my MWCA experience and hope to continue to learn from the community.
Erica Mead, Bay de Noc Community College
As a TRiO Writing Specialist at a rural community college, I am in the unique position of supervising a federally funded writing center. TRiO primarily serves low-income individuals, first-generation college students, and individuals with disabilities, thus many of our writing students come from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education. I always appreciate the opportunity to connect with other writing center professionals to discuss both our commonalities and differences; however this fiscal year, TRiO’s federal budget was cut by 5.2%, leaving me without a professional development budget. I had attended the MWCA conference in 2011, when I was a brand-new writing center director without much experience in or knowledge of the field, and found the whole of the experience welcoming, insightful, and invaluable. Without receiving a 2013 Travel Grant, I would not have been able to attend again, and am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to participate in this enriching conference.
Perhaps my favorite part of the conference was connecting with colleagues from both my past and present to share our research, ideas, and experiences. It was exciting to see how far my friends had come in the few years since grad school. It was also great to make connections with other professionals in my area, as the Upper Peninsula can often be isolating. I was truly inspired by everyone’s passion, commitment, and innovations.
I was also lucky enough to present at MWCA for the first time and share my work, “Not in the Handbook: Using Peer Tutors Labs and Online Training Modules via Blackboard to Support and Develop Tutor Identities and Professional Growth.” My presentation was paired with two other presentations concerning technology and online writing spaces and found myself drawn to both this topic and that of transitional writing throughout the conference. I also benefited from attending the pre-conference workshop, “Building, Maintaining, and Surviving an Academic Resource Center,” as our school is looking to make this institutional move in the next few years. I came away with several ideas, as well as confidence about the work I am doing and the direction in which I’m taking our center. I look forward to the next MWCA conference and can’t thank the MWCA enough for giving me the opportunity to attend in 2013.
Michael Shapiro, University of Wisconsin-Madison
At last fall’s Midwest Writing Centers Association conference, we asked the folks who attended our panel whether their centers were tutoring online. Many of them said they were toying with the idea. What a layered metaphor that is! Compared to the careful pedagogy, scholarship, and hard work of teaching students, one by one, how to become more effective writers, online instruction can feel like a kind of toy.
Yet the superficial unseriousness and gadgetry of online instruction have given us permission to experiment online in a way we might not risk experimenting in our physical centers, and throughout the MWCA conference I heard dedicated, serious scholars speak with delight and energy about the ways they have been toying with online tutoring to reach new students and to improve the quality of all their tutoring. The improvisations of our work online force us to invite the trickster not to our table, as Geller et al. have it, but to our screens.
I was heartened by the ways the conversations about online tutoring at MWCA suggested that online tutoring has never lost the joy and potential of a toy even as it has begun to transforming how writing centers talk about our work, how we are trained and mentored, how we create and nourish relationships with more students in more ways, and how we experiment with new approaches to old challenges. These conversations show how online tutoring, toyed with seriously and carefully, can transform the idea of the writing center.
If you would like to read a longer version of Michael Shapiro’s reflections on the MWCA conference, please read his entry, “Toys and Transformations in Online Tutoring” on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s blog, Another Word:http://writing.wisc.edu/blog/?p=4143
Lacey Worth, University of Iowa
As a tutor at a university with an increasingly multilingual student population, I was excited that so many presentations at the MWCA Conference offered new strategies for promoting productive sessions and creating a welcoming space for second-language learners in the Writing Center. For example, the panel presentation of Thomas McNamara, Libbie Morley, and Yu-Kyung Kang (“Networking the Multilingual University”) offered ideas for working in a small-group setting to create a sense of community and foster less hierarchical power structures between tutees and tutors. Jane Cogie, Carol Severino, and Shih-Ni Prim’s presentation explained the concept of “error gravity,” which will be a useful tool for determining when a more intensive response to a non-native speaker’s syntax or word choice might be desirable in a tutoring session.
Not only did the conference introduce me to new global and local strategies for tutoring non-native speakers, but so many presentations also proved fruitful to the two other roles I assume in my profession: a writer and a literature instructor. Mark Gunter’s “The Place of Poetry in the Writing Center” modeled how poetic structure can be used to encourage tutees to take linguistic leaps. Immediately after his presentation, I began to think through how I might adapt his strategies to my tutees in the Writing Center and my students in the classroom. Finally, Mary Trujillo’s keynote workshop reinvigorated my faith in the social and political importance of the work that we do as writers and readers.
These presentations, along with many others, were so helpful in making me a more reflective and self-aware tutor. In short, I feel grateful that I had the opportunity to join such a passionate and engaged community of readers, writers, and thinkers.
On Saturday, August 23, Johnson County Community College will host the Greater Kansas City Writing Centers’ Project 9th Annual Tutor Conference. Peer tutors from area writing centers will facilitate interactive sessions throughout the day, and Michele Eodice, Associate Provost for Academic Engagement and Director of the OU Writing Center at the University of Oklahoma, will give a keynote address. If you would like more information about this micro-regional writing center association event, please e-mail email@example.com
Two Carthage College Writing Fellows, Micole Gauvin and Cami Christopolus, have had their paper proposal accepted for a panel presentation at the 2014 IWCA-NCPTW conference in Orlando, Florida (October 30th-November 1st). We are very excited, as according to the IWCA-NCPTW letter, “this year a record number of proposals was received, resulting in a highly competitive acceptance process.” A third Writing Fellow, Gabrielle Cypher, did not have her proposal accepted, but has been invited to facilitate a session at the conference. All three young women will join Director Jean Preston at the conference this fall.
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM):
UW-Milwaukee Director Margaret Mika and Assistant Coordinator Josh Worsham, with respondent Jill Jenson, University of Minnesota-Duluth, also look forward to presenting at IWCA-NCPTW.
UW-Milwaukee was honored to welcome several international visitors making site visits in Fall 2013.
Milwaukee Writing Center Consortium (MWCC):
Embarking on its second year, the Milwaukee Writing Center Consortium (MWCC) proudly featured UW-Madison’s Brad Hughes as its guest on Sept 26, 2013, at Marquette University. Brad’s thought-provoking topic, “Thinking Critically about Writing Centers: How Do We Recognize Strong Writing Centers?” engaged every participant. MWCC organizers were delighted to welcome participants from UW-Milwaukee, UW-Waukesha and Marquette, and hope that even more students, tutors and colleagues will join us for our next event.
Renee Brown, University of Wisconsin-Stout
Being a writing tutor is more than just giving instruction to a client and telling them what they should or should not do. It’s a unique experience that allows a tutor and a client to form an encouraging relationship. It’s also been an excellent personal experience that has impacted my work as a student and has shown me that the ability to write well will be necessary in life after college. I have been a tutor for a year and a half at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, and this has impacted my life as a student in many positive ways and has become a way to enhance my future career aspirations. During my time tutoring, the most important thing I’ve learned is that the social interaction of tutoring can help both tutors and clients learn how to develop their writing skills together.
The first time I knew that tutoring was more than just a job was when I had a struggling writer who thanked me for my help and said that they felt more confident in their writing abilities. That time was with an English as a Second Language student who had a difficult time understanding why we use commas and punctuation in the ways that we do as native English speakers and writers. After struggling to explain this several times, I recalled that when we speak out loud we create natural pauses in our sentences and the issues resolve themselves. So, I began reading the client’s work out loud to her as we worked through the paper. She picked up on it right away and we began trading off reading her paper out loud, while she made notes where commas should go. At the end of the tutorial she told me that she would use this process on her own if she was having problems with commas and punctuation and was very happy to have a solution that worked for her. This technique is one that we use frequently at the UW-Stout writing center, and proves to be very helpful for many people.
Becoming a tutor has given me the opportunity to help other students, but I was surprised to find that as I worked with them I became more familiar with problem solving strategies, such as helping them create a solid outline with an introduction, thesis, multiple paragraphs, and a conclusion, instead of viewing a paper as one intimidating object. This was a problem that I ran into many times – a student would come in and have no clue how to tackle a large paper.
One tutorial that stands out to me in this sense was an engineering student who came in with a paper on how engineers need to be better at writing papers. It was a difficult tutorial, as he had already written a very lengthy paper but had yet to find the necessary sources that his professor was requiring. He had no idea how to formulate an outline so his paper was one big block of unorganized information, which was frustrating for him. He kept pointing out things he wanted to keep in the paper, but that were worded in ways that were unclear and over-analyzed. We spent the majority of the tutorial working backwards to create an outline and ended up forming a good thesis that made his topic much more clear. We also went back and greatly reduced the length of his paper by eliminating unnecessary sentences and I worked with him to find fitting sources. Creating the outline gave him more perspective on his topic and he had a much better understanding of the paper’s organization after the tutorial. Once we established how to reign in long-winded ideas and the importance of finding sources in the beginning stages of writing, he felt more confident and less frustrated. The tutorial was a success and we both learned a great deal – he learned important structural and organizational skills for future papers and I learned how to help a client who was completely overwhelmed with his topic.
In a way, my clients have unknowingly tutored me because their needs became my needs. As I learned how to better help them, I was able to help myself as well and I now apply the same techniques that I encourage my clients to use in my own writing, which has in turn made it easier for me to help clients with a wider variety of projects. When I first began tutoring, I had the background knowledge to get a good start and be a good tutor, but the information I gained as I continued tutoring gave me the abilities to apply that knowledge to my own class work and papers. After tutoring for a while, it became easier for me to find good sources when doing research for assignments. My familiarity with both APA and MLA was beneficial for writing research papers, and knowing AP Style allowed me to work faster and make fewer mistakes.
Not all students like writing, and this perspective has encouraged me to keep an open-mind and has helped me to realize that like it or not, writing will continue to be an important skill throughout college and into adult life. Knowing how to step back and look at what my clients need help with has been a valuable lesson I’ve learned since I can take that information and gain a thorough understanding of it in order to better help them. The extra initiative that goes into forming good relationships with clients lets them know that as a tutor you are willing to learn with them and for them.
Jennifer Brooke, University of Iowa
Teaching experience: the elusive pre-requisite for almost any job or graduate teaching assistantship application I encountered. And then, almost before I had begun my search for opportunities to obtain such experience, I was presented with the chance to participate in a pilot program through my Methods of TESL class by becoming a Writing Center Tutor. As a junior at the University of Iowa having only recently decided on a TESL emphasis within my linguistics major, the opportunity couldn’t have been more attractive.
The program took five undergraduate students in the Linguistics department, nominated by professors who knew us well, and funneled us into the hands of the Writing Center to be trained as tutors, concurrent with our Methods of TESL course. Although we weren’t rhetoricians or English majors, as were the majority of other tutors, we had a grasp of linguistic structure that improved the breadth of the help offered by the Writing Center, especially in their ability to deal with the recent influx of international students wanting assistance with grammar. We also helped diversify the Writing Center in terms of integrating more undergraduate tutors into the graduate student-dominated tutor population. With a few weeks of training, several hours of appointment observation, and more than a few butterflies, we were finally allowed to start tutoring independently.
I immediately loved tutoring. Writing was an enormous outlet for me in high school, all sorts of genres, but especially short fiction and poetry. That love for the written word carried over into college even as it metamorphosed into ethnographies, persuasive essays, and research proposals. Language as an idea insists on a constant presence in the mind of a linguist. Thinking about language meta-linguistically is a skill that takes time to develop, and tutoring at the Writing Center was a natural extension of my training in linguistics. The impact of word choice; the clearest or most artful structure of a thought; how an argument flows logically through a paragraph; all these things are what makes language beautiful.
Although it never would have occurred to me to seek out a position as a Writing Center tutor in order to gain work experience, it was one of the involvements in my undergraduate career that shaped me the most in terms of my career path. It gave me plenty to wrestle with as I improved as a tutor, to consider as I began the long process of decision-making about graduate school, and to talk about as I wrote personal statements and interviewed for assistantship positions. It also connected me with other writers, better writers than I, and humbled me about my own writing such that I often came into the Writing Center for help on various writing projects. Most importantly, my position as a tutor allowed me to practically implement my linguistics skills even from the background of a field that produces a lot of theoretical research.
It’s hard to describe that feeling when you sense that you’ve truly helped a student with their writing. It doesn’t happen every time; certainly some students, especially the ones I tutored early on, walked away feeling overwhelmed by my comments. But soon I began to develop relationships with returning writers, and started to gain that indefinable knack that helps a tutor determine what should be the focus of a session. Even giving purely grammatical assistance for international students—sometimes a thankless job—gave me joy, largely due to my training in English grammar from ESL. That feeling of accomplishment and joy was part of what motivated me to pursue my current career path, ESL teaching and research. I credit much of my confidence in my decision to pursue this career to the partnership between the Linguistic Department and the Rhetoric Department, which acknowledged the strength of a diverse set of Writing Center tutors by bringing in TESL emphasis linguists like myself. Writing is beautiful, whether from the point of view of a rhetorician, a linguist, or a struggling undergraduate writer who comes to the Writing Center for help.
The Midwest Writing Center Association (MWCA) serves to strengthen the writing center community in the Midwest through all of its activities. The MWCA offers two kinds of research grants to encourage writing center professionals to advance writing center studies:
1) The Research Grant supports quantitative, qualitative, theoretical, and applied projects associated with writing center research.
2) The Undergraduate Research Grant supports research projects conducted by undergraduate students.
Funding from these grants can be used for equipment, transcription, and reciprocity (such as participant stipends). In addition, funding can be used for travel to support archival research. Please note that this funding is not intended to support conference travel; instead the travel must be part of a larger research program stipulated in the budget rationale. Applicants seeking support for travel to an MWCA or IWCA conference should apply for an MWCA travel grant. In addition, funding may not be used to pay indirect costs and/or overhead and must be used to fund specific research activities.
Award: Up to $750.00. (The MWCA reserves the right to modify this amount.)
Deadline: Applications due by October 1, 2014.
For more information, please click on this link: MWCA Research Grants
MWCA is currently accepting applications for scholarship and travel grants to the IWCA Conference in Orlando, FL, October 30 – November 1, 2014. For details on how to apply and an application form, please click on this link: MWCA Scholarship & Travel Grants
The Executive Board unanimously approved the location of the next MWCA Regional Conference in 2015 during our July board meeting. Once the conference venue has been contractually secured, we will send out an announcement with many more details. We are getting more and more excited as we get closer to finalizing the conference plans, so we look forward to being able to share the news soon!
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