On November 4-7, a group of eight peer tutors and 2 Sweetland faculty attended and presented at the joint gathering of the International Writing Centers Association and the National Conference on Peer Tutoring and Writing held in Baltimore. Because of the port city location, the theme this year was elaborate — the notion of writing centers as “safe harbors”. From the IWCA sessions on Thursday, through the peer tutor led sessions on Friday and Saturday and concluding with the keynote by Andrea Lunsford, tutors and teachers gathered to discuss the ways students and centers navigate these often uneasy seas. Here’s the website: http://www.mawcaonline.org/iwca/index.html
Sweetland was well represented. Autumn Chapoff, Kristen Bialik, Stefanie Gibson and Colleen Cirocco presented their own films and discussion on the issues of multidisciplinarity in the writing center. Meghan Zingales presented on UM’s OWL and SyncOwl programs, their evolution here and their implications for effective writing help. Shauna Russell presented a scholar-to-scholar poster on Non-Native English writers and the issues of Higher and Lower Order Concerns. Naomi Silver, our Associate Director, collaborated with a group of Big Ten writing center directors to address “Issues Facing Writing Centers at Large Research Universities”. And finally a joint faculty/student panel consisting of George Cooper, Matt Kelley, Brad Estes, and Sarah Friedman addressed issues of directive and non-directive tutoring considering editions of the St. Martin’s Guide to Tutoring and our recent initiatives involving course assistants for SCW 100.
This was my 30th academic conference as a presenter and I can only say that as much as I enjoy sharing my own individual work, collaborating and presenting with these undergraduates made this an extremely rewarding conference. Most of these presentations began as a part of SWC 301 in winter of this year and it was a pleasure to watch these students go through the anxiety of writing the proposals, meeting the deadlines, making revisions, and finally working on and presenting their work. ALL the sessions were very well attended. Meghan’s Saturday session had some 30 people in the audience. It’s not easy to do an individual presentation before a group of academics/strangers and she really pulled it off. The group of 4 (Autumn, Stefanie, Kristen and Colleen) had a great audience and I should point out that these students did not know each other at all before they put this presentation together. That these students were able to come together in class and then transcend a class assignment and ultimately were able to have a terrific, useful presentation is incredible to me. Shauna Russell deserves special mention here for fulfilling a personal goal to present at NCPTW — one that began back in the summer of 2009. As their co-presenter, I can only say that Sarah, Brad and George were great people to present with and they all offered thoughtful, meditative and wise response to a central issue in peer tutoring. They were able to overcome technical issues, my own tendency to ham it up, and a lively Q&A including some assertive questioning by a mustachioed man. That I was able to witness 8 former students as they contributed so convincingly to the larger international discussions about tutoring and writing has really been the highlight of my time here at UM.
In her Saturday keynote, Andrea Lunsford, mentioned the Sweetland Writing Center by name as a center that’s “doing it right” — and by this, at least what I interpreted from her talk, means a center that’s dynamic, that embraces but transcends its service function and is truly the CENTER of writing and thinking on the campus. She said, there is literally “no ceiling to the work a good center can do” and after attending this conference I intend to recommit myself to making sure this continues.
I’ll close by thanking all my awesome Baltimore fellow travelers/colleagues (and dinner companions) for their most excellent (and fun) fellowship.
Very special thanks to our director, Anne Gere, for believing in our work here from the beginning and for funding this trip and to Laura Schuyler, the best trip planner/facilitator/contact person and colleague I could ever wish for. Thank you thank for helping us, as Andrea Lunsford said, to help us keeping “doing it right.”