On April 1 and 2, five members from Keene State College’s (KSC) Center for Writing visited Pace University in Pleasantville, New York, to attend the Northeastern Writing Center’s Association (NEWCA) conference.
KSC juniors Brendan Hoar, Caroline Gamble and Veronica Spadaro are student tutors who attended and they were accompanied by the Director of the Center for Writing Kate Tirabassi and the Assistant Director Cyndi Smith.
Their presentation titled, “The more things change the more they stay the same,” focused on the history of the writing center and which things changed and which stayed the same.
Secondary Education major and English major Brendan Hoar said the group wanted to find more information about the center in terms of what techniques they used, the advancements of technology and how the center is advertised. “It was analyzing our tutor practice throughout history and every tutor was assigned a binder to riffle through and we all put it on Google Docs,” Hoar explained. “We basically held an archive of old stuff and what methods we used… we were digging up our history basically and finding out where we started, what the building used to be and things like that.”
Hoar said he personally talked about how campus outreach has changed and how the center has physically changed.
Hoar has been working for the writing center officially since January of 2016. He said getting a job there was very spontaneous and wasn’t anything he had thought about for a long time.
When asked why he applied, he said, “I’ve always loved writing obviously and I feel like because I’m [an] English education major, it all fits…I figured that it would be great not only to add onto my resume, but also for personal experience editing papers.”
He said working with people is what he loves to do.
This year was the second year that Hoar was able to attend the NEWCA conference. Any writing centers from the Northeast are part of this program and each year these centers get together around April to discuss methods of tutoring, get ideas from one another and make connections.
The three KSC students were picked based on availability and who was interested.
When it came down to presenting their topics, Hoar said they were all a bit nervous but just had to roll with it.
Hoar said, “We had a relatively small group and there was roughly about 14 other writing center directors and/or tutors who visited our workshop and that was really cool, so it was an average size. Some of the other presentations were huge, like there were 20 or 30 people packed in a room and some of them were very small.”
Overall, Hoar said he felt like the presentation went really well and their group got through everything they needed to cover.
Hoar is a tutor for the writing center, but works as a writing fellow, meaning that he goes outside of the center and visits classrooms to help students. All three of the students who went to the conference are writing fellows. Writing fellows can either go on campus represent the center or hold workshops with different professors and visit their classrooms sequentially throughout the semester or based on whenever the professor wants, according to Hoar.
Hoar said most of the classes they help out with are Integrative Thinking and Writing (ITW) for first years who are learning how to write. The tutors are trained to use specific outlines to figure out exactly what students need help with in their papers.
“It’s more of a discussion rather than saying, ‘I’m just gunna go ahead and change everything in your paper,’… most of the time, we strive for a discussion on how to improve it,” Hoar said.
KSC junior Caroline Gamble, who is double majoring in elementary education and Spanish has been working for the writing center for two years. Her ITW teacher in the fall of 2014 gave her class the opportunity to apply to the writing center and Gamble said about five or six of the kids from her class ended up working there.
This year was Gamble’s first time attending the NEWCA conference. She said she presented on the work that the writing center does.
“So I presented on our workshops … for the most part, we go into ITW classes and we do workshops about putting quotations….revising, and editing, things like that, and I talked about how that’s changed over the years and how the basis of it is the same but with the changing times it’s different.”
At first, Gamble said she was nervous because she didn’t know what to expect.
“I had never been there before, I hadn’t seen it and of course I was presenting in front of adults… but once we started presenting, it was fine and we were pretty confident.”
Gamble said she felt the group did really well.
“It was cool because we did our presentation and people would come and talk to us afterwards about how well we did on our presentation and they would give us comments and we would talk about it.”
Gamble said she plans on working for the writing center for the rest of her time at KSC.
Tirabassi is an associate professor of English and has been here at KSC since 2007. She said she was an ITW coordinator from 2010-2014 and last year she was the interim director for the Center of Writing and now she is in a three-year position for the director. She also has been on the Steering Committee for NEWCA and the Proposal Reading Committee. She has been on the Steering Committee since 2002 when she was a graduate student at UNH and then she was the chair in 2009 of NEWCA.
Tirabassi said the NEWCA conference has been going on for 34 years and KSC has been attending since it has had a Writing Center, starting in 1992.
“We learned from our research that there have been student tutors since ‘92 and there have been faculty members who were tutors for a couple years before that.”
Tirabassi said NEWCA brings people together. “What’s great about NEWCA is that the people who go to NEWCA are undergraduate writing tutors through writing directors, a few deans go, people who are first year composition writing teachers go… so there’s a whole range… of people who come to the conference and then we also have an opportunity to learn from each other.”
Last year, KSC hosted the NEWCA conference. “We are regionally located when you think about it, with people coming from New York and Maine [and] New Jersey,” Tirabassi said. “…It’s a nice middle ground; we had almost 300 attendees and our space is wonderful for a conference. We used the Science Center for our sessions, we used the [Young] Student Center for our major keynote speaker and registration and then we used the Zorn [Dining Commons] for our luncheon and award ceremony.”
This year, Tirabassi said she thought the presentation went really well. “People in the audience talked about how they didn’t realize how important history was…. People turned to us saying, ‘We were just at your session,’ or ‘We heard about your session,’ and people were saying, ‘Can you elaborate,’ so that was very striking for me because you don’t always have that immediate feedback.”
Tirabassi reiterated what Hoar said about their presentation’s focus. “Those of us presenting put together the changes on the overall writing center’s [look], changes on the staff …moving from faculty to tutors to student tutors, thinking about staff over time… [we] looked at mission statements that were old and new. We looked at how is our history helpful for us and how is history important for your current staff to learn about? How does it teach you about your current practices?” Tirabassi said. “Maybe there have been current practices that have been lost that maybe we want to return to.”
Tirabassi found that the overall policy hasn’t changed for the Center for Writing. She said the focus has always been to work with both students and faculty.
Smith came to KSC as a student during the fall of 2008. During the fall of 2009, she worked as a tutor for the Center of Writing and did that for six semesters. She has now been working here for five years as the assistant director.
Smith said one of the best things about NEWCA is that regardless of the type of the conference, it always turns into a conversation about what each writing center does and if they have issues, how they can get help on it.
“That’s how we ended up with our online scheduling program here at [KSC] for the center,” Smith explained. “The staff went to NEWCA… spring of 2009, and while they were there, other groups were raving about this new equipment that was made to track appointments and kind of make sure we are on the right track. They said, ‘This is what you need to use,’ and the director at the time said, ‘Let’s get it.’”
Smith found it interesting that despite the fact that the Center for Writing has been running for 21 years, each semester has new staff and it changes, but there are still things that stay the same.
Smith was also happy with the way the presentation went. “Right after session, I had someone who attended our session pull me aside and said, ‘Of the sessions I’ve seen today, your students are by far the most well-prepared and professional. They seemed comfortable,’…. It was great feedback.”
Grace Pecci can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org