The University of Iowa’s Writing Center was established by Carrie Stanley in 1934 and was one of the first writing centers in the country. It is housed in the Department of Rhetoric but serves students, faculty, and staff from all across campus. The University of Iowa is renowned for the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and for being the first public university in the nation to admit women on an equal basis to men. Iowa City was designated the third UNESCO City of Literature in 2008.
The Writing Center works with writers from all departments and disciplines, and with all genres of writing. Every year we see approximately 2,500 writers in almost 7,500 face-to-face appointments and 1,000 online consultations. Writers can make appointments using our online schedule, they can register for a semester long, one-on-one weekly meeting, and they can submit work to our online system for written feedback.
We are open from 7:30 am to 8:00 pm Monday to Thursday and from 8:00 to 5 pm on Fridays. Our graduate student write-on-site program runs from 7:30 – 9:20 am M-Th, and 8-11 F. Regular weekly meetings and as-needed appointments start at 9:30 and run throughout the day and into the evenings at our main center in the English Philosophy Building, and at several smaller satellite centers across campus.
The Writing Center has a long-standing tradition of one-to-one instruction in rhetorical and communication skills. An understanding of how discourse, whether of writing, speaking, reading, or listening, is both purpose and audience-driven has been a hallmark of the Writing Center and its host department, Rhetoric. Our job is to help those we work with become better writers, readers, and critical thinkers.
The Writing Center typically employs 25-30 graduate student instructors, 9-10 undergraduates, and two or three Rhetoric faculty members each semester. The Director is a Professor in the Department of Rhetoric who has published extensively in the field of writing center research and second language writing development. We also have a full time Assistant Director who tutors, assists with research and training, and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the center.
All new graduate and faculty instructors are required to take a three-semester-hour course called Teaching in a Writing Center. The Writing Fellows Program trains undergraduate students in the Honors Program to work closely with professors teaching a variety of courses. Fellows assigned to a course meet with students twice a semester and provide written feedback on first drafts of their papers. Undergraduate tutors who work one-on-one in the Writing Center come from the Writing Fellows Program, or are trained in a three-semester-hour practicum offered in collaboration with the Department of Linguistics.
Our tutors work with all kinds of writers, from native English speakers to international students with other first languages. We see undergraduate students tackling their first college papers, and graduate students writing dissertations and articles. Writers bring us creative pieces, personal statements, cover letters, research articles, and academic work from fields as diverse as English literature and particle physics. We also work with faculty on assignment design and on lesson plans for teaching writing, and occasionally they bring us their writing too.
All members of the University of Iowa can use our services, but we have several programs that target particular groups of writers. One is for athletes. Because of their intense training and academic schedules, athletes frequently cannot access Writing Center resources at our usual locations and times. Graduate tutor Katheryn (Kery) Lawson, a born-and-raised Iowan, has spent the last two years working one night a week at the Gerdin Athletic Center helping the university’s student athletes with their writing. Because of her expertise as a historical musicologist, Kery is also sought out by music students who require specialized knowledge in music notation and music theory.
The Writing Center helps students with Spanish writing. Claudia Pozzobon, a graduate tutor who hails from Venezuela, is an invaluable resource for students in upper-level Spanish courses. She especially enjoys helping students understand the Hispanic culture they encounter while learning the language. One important lesson she imparts on her students is that English and Spanish essay structures are quite different: “It’s important they know that they can’t write an English paper with Spanish words.”
Non-native English speakers are an important group at the Writing Center. Graduate tutor Danielle Kennedy, from Maryland, writes that international graduate students “are by and large good writers in terms of organization and structure, but they often struggle with issues like word choice and grammar.” In addition, they must balance multiple time-consuming projects and tasks, within and outside their degree programs, leaving little time “to develop a writing practice that isn’t subject to time-to-degree pressures.” In their regular weekly meetings, Danielle seeks to create an atmosphere in which they can “talk about writing issues in a fairly low-stakes environment.”
The Writing Center’s services extend beyond the university community. Amanda Gallogly, a graduate tutor from Iowa, works with people from the broader Iowa City community by tutoring at the local library a few hours every week. She feels fortunate to be able to work with a wide variety of writers, from “ten-year-olds [to] eighty-year-olds, and every age in between. I’ve seen published authors and people who have never before dared think they could write.” Working with community writers is particularly rewarding, Amanda finds, because “our universal is that they invariably express deep appreciation for the existence of such a service. [This community writing resource] definitely responds to a community need.” Anne Sand, a graduate student in the MFA program, facilitates a lively weekly creative writing group which is also open to members of the Iowa City community.
In addition to our partnerships with the Athletic Center, the Spanish Department, and the Iowa City Public library, the Writing Center has collaborated with Academic Advising to create Writing for Academic Success, a regular face-to-face weekly meeting which helps writing-apprehensive undergraduates manage assignments in writing intensive course. Kery, Claudia, Danielle, and Amanda have all worked with Writing for Academic Success students; they find that these twice-weekly check-ins are particularly valuable for incoming freshmen, not only in terms of their writing, but also in providing broader emotional and academic support. The Learning Commons in the university’s Main Library offers a weekly tutoring spot, advantageous because of its close proximity to reference librarians. Kery, who is in the Library and Information Science program, has facilitated collaborations designed to improve student research skills between the Writing Center and library staff. Finally, the Writing Center has partnered with the Blank Undergraduate Honors Center for many years through the Writing Fellows program.
Our tutors overwhelmingly seek to bring attention to the Writing Center’s welcoming atmosphere and variety of resources. Danielle points out that many mistakenly assume an assignment-based approach to the Writing Center. She explains that our services can be beneficial for students who aren’t taking writing-intensive courses: “I think many undergraduate students could benefit from weekly enrollment tutoring, even if they don’t have many writing assignments that semester. Writing takes a lot of time and practice, and it’s hard to get that if you only write when you have to.” Claudia highlights the essential services the Writing Center provides when other departments lack the space and resources to help their students; for example, “right now, we are the only resource for students for Spanish writing.” Amanda illustrates the ways in which the Writing Center is an open, safe space for a variety of writers and individuals: “The biggest thing I wish more people knew about the Writing Center is that it really is for everybody…[not just] ‘struggling’ writers or people who are writing in a non-native language.” In addition, she wishes to dispel the “myth….once and for all…that writing is a solitary act….if you happen to live in Iowa City, whether you’re a student at the U or not, you’re in luck, because there is a university-supported Writing Center that’s just waiting for you to stop in.”
Deirdre Egan (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Post written by Katheryn Lawson and Deirdre Egan