Writing Fellows take Tigers to the top tier
Clemson University is no stranger to national accolades, having earned the No. 21 spot on the U.S. News & World Report list of top public universities and being one of only eight public schools making Writing Across the Disciplines a top priority.
Representing an innovative expansion of past and current initiatives, the Writing Fellows program has assisted Clemson in gaining the spotlight. The program partners Writing Fellows with student writers enrolled in cross-curricula seminar courses in several departments across campus. Fellows function as an important intervention in the writing process by promoting the importance of revision in writing through peer interaction across the Clemson campus.
“Part of what the Writing Fellows process can do is demystify this idea of writing as something that happens only when there’s inspiration,” said Meredith McCarroll, Writing Center director.
Clemson’s Writing Fellows program aims to build on the strength of writers, offer practical experience to the Fellows and create a climate of academic conversation and revision within academic courses. It was founded in 2012 by Bill Lasser, director of the Calhoun Honors College; Michael LeMahieu, director of the Pearce Center for Professional Communication; and McCarroll.
“A program like Writing Fellows puts students in conversation together about ideas in a way that is complex and encourages creativity and critical thinking about an idea that may otherwise seem stagnant,” McCarroll said.
This academic year’s program includes 17 undergraduate Fellows representing 10 majors ranging from communication studies and English to political science and bioengineering. The Writing Fellow receives a paper draft from the student writer and provides written comments. Typically, these comments are in the form of proactive questions that encourage the student writer to think more deeply about the next level of revision. After making revisions, the student writer meets with the Writing Fellow for a 30-minute appointment. This conference prepares the student writer for another round of revisions before the assignment’s due date.
Student writers benefit from the peer tutoring and tend to be more comfortable talking with a fellow student than with a faculty member. The environment allows writers to let their guards down, voice their insecurities and admit their fears.
Student writer and junior English major Megan Brovan has experienced the program’s benefits firsthand.
“I knew how the process would work but wasn’t sure what insight I could get,” Brovan said. “As it turned out, working with a peer is a great step no matter what the process. Partnering with different Writing Fellows over time has introduced me to other conceptions of what good writing is. It’s helped me to be conscious of issues of clarity in my writing,” she said.
Writing Fellows also staff Clemson’s Writing Center, located in the Academic Success Center. Fellows meet with students to go over writing samples ranging from personal statements for medical school to papers for graduate students in mechanical engineering. All Clemson students — undergraduate and graduate — can schedule an appointment to meet with a Writing Fellow.
The education doesn’t stop with student-writers. All Writing Fellows complete a three-credit course prior to their participation in the Pearce Scholars program, which includes the Writing Fellows and the Pearce Center interns. The course helps the Writing Fellow to understand the theory and practice of peer tutoring and writing as well as the history and evolution of the writing process.
“Undergraduate peer tutoring has proven to be one of the most effective ways not only of improving the writing of individual students but also of fostering a larger culture of writing at universities” LeMahieu said.
“When we select Writing Fellows, it’s not that we’re looking for students who never have a comma splice; rather, we’re looking for students who are cognizant of the fact that writing is not some gift that’s bestowed to them,” McCarroll said. “Fellows who have an awareness about their own process are the best sorts of tutors because they can relate to fellow students.”
Writing Fellow Haley Nieman enjoys “reading many styles of writing and working with students from different backgrounds while improving skills at the same time,” she said. Nieman finds the camaraderie among Fellows and the program’s mentors “incredibly enriching.”
Clemson is traditionally known for its success in engineering sciences as well as in excellence in communication. The Writing Fellows programs aims to join these disciplines under the umbrella of writing.
“Often I hear, and chuckle, when a friend of mine defines her identity as a scientist and not a writer,” said Glen Southergill, assistant director of the Writing Center. “She literally writes all the time — proposals, reviews of literature, reports, articles for publication. She also uses tools like Twitter to connect informally with her scholarly community; however, she seems to think these activities are not writing.”
Both Southergill and McCarroll believe there’s a tendency to underestimate the diversity of writing done in different departments, and that it’s important to note that all disciplines engage in writing in some form. They strive to communicate this across campus in order to attract a wide variety of faculty and disciplines to partake in the program.
“There’s a writing component in every field,” McCarroll said. “This initiative cannot take place in just one department. It actually has to be writing across the curriculum and be built across departments. The reality is most people are already incorporating writing into the classroom. The challenge, however, is talking with and helping them realize that they’re doing so.”
According to McCarroll, one of the loftiest goals of the Writing Fellows program is to create a culture of writing at Clemson and build on the intellectual community and previously established Writing Across the Curriculum initiative.
“We’re benefiting from the exciting, engaging conversations that happened then and expanding upon them with this program, McCarroll said. “To have a program that can jump from discipline to discipline is part of what makes the Writing Fellows program so exciting and so much a part of Writing Across the Curriculum,” she said.
Associate professor of political science Jeff Fine and his honors course participate in the Writing Fellows program, which Fine says has been a great experience.
“The Writing Fellow assigned to my class has been instrumental in helping the students develop their arguments, with the students making marked improvement from the initial draft to the final product,” Fine said. “This is the single best batch of papers that I have received since arriving at Clemson over eight years ago, and I see the high quality of the students’ papers as directly attributable to the Writing Fellows process.”
Southergill believes the immediate impact of the Writing Fellows program will only continue to grow as the program expands and says that Clemson is already seeing good early indicators of its greater impact.
“There’s a time that I imagine,” McCarroll said, “that all Clemson students are sitting in the library, working with one another together as peers. What happens in the Writing Center and within the Writing Fellows program can, and will, be a model for that.”
The Writing Fellows program continues to expand thanks to the support of the Department of English, The Pearce Center for Professional Communication, and Calhoun Honors College and “represents the next generation of Clemson’s longstanding commitment to excellence in Writing Across the Curriculum and Writing in the Disciplines,” LeMahieu said. “The program complements faculty development initiatives through a focus on students.”
If you’d like more information on the Writing Fellows or the Writing Center, please contact Meredith McCarroll at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by by Katie Mawyer, Class of 2014 | College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities