In August 2023, thanks to the support of English Department and the College of Letters & Science (among others), UW-Madison’s Writing Center and Writing Across the Curriculum programs welcomed two full-time teaching faculty, Abigail (Abby) Letak and Seth Umbaugh.
Although both Abby and Seth have extensive experience with UW-Madison’s Writing Center and WAC, they come from different fields and bring a wide range of experiences and depth of knowledge to our programs. Abby serves as the associate director of the WAC program and coordinates outreach for the Writing Center, while Seth oversees many of the Center’s community partnerships, including Madison Writing Assistance and UW-Madison’s Odyssey project.
To introduce Abby and Seth to you, our readers, we have asked them to respond to some questions. We know that you will come to admire them as much as we do!
Nancy Linh Karls and Emily Hall
Directors, The Writing Center and Writing Across the Curriculum
Abigail (Abby) Letak
Abby Letak (she/her) comes to the UW-Madison Writing Center and Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) by way of the UW-Madison Sociology Department, where she recently finished her PhD. In her dissertation, which focuses on the sociology of mental health, she uses C. Wright Mills’ concept of the “sociological imagination” to emphasize the ways in which much stress and distress in our current neoliberal age have both social roots and solutions. Together, the three papers of her dissertation wrestle with human being—as fundamentally social and relational—in a world that cares mostly for human doing. “The phrase ‘human beings, not human doings’ was originally imparted to me by a mentor in college,” Abby explains. “It guides my research, teaching, administrative, and service work as I aim to prioritize human worth apart from productive output—which can sometimes feel like a radical move in a cultural system of value built on human instrumentality and in an academic environment with cultural imperatives such as ‘publish or perish.’” Overall, Abby believes it is critical to emphasize the role that mental health and wellbeing play in teaching, writing, and the teaching of writing. “I’m passionate about recognizing writing as a process, not just a product,” she explains, “and I’m especially eager to explore the emotional and psychological challenges of that process.” In her new role as Teaching Faculty, she works with undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty and instructors to facilitate meaningful and sustainable teaching and learning around writing. Outside of her academic work, she enjoys co-directing a local dance company, crocheting and other crafts, watching television, and spending time with her orange tabby cat, Desmond.
Seth Umbaugh (he/him) first joined the UW-Madison Writing Center as a Teaching Assistant from the English department. Early in the course of his work with the Writing Center, he discovered that he enjoyed the conversational approach to teaching which one-to-one sessions encouraged. Through Writing Center partnerships with UW-Madison’s Odyssey Project and his work with Madison Writing Assistance, Seth learned further the breadth of benefits one-to-one writing consultations can have for students. As a new Teaching Faculty in the UW-Madison Writing Center, Seth continues to work closely with campus partners and community members to expand access to high quality academic support for underserved student populations. Guided by his own experience as a first-generation college student from a working-class, single-parent family, Seth aims to help students feel more comfortable with a system that does not always feel welcoming or intuitive to navigate for those who are unfamiliar with its culture and operations. In addition to his work in the Writing Center, Seth is a PhD candidate in English Literature at UW-Madison. His dissertation considers working-class U.S. literature from the 1930s and the narrative strategies black and white radical authors used to forge political solidarity across racial and ideological differences. In his free time, Seth likes to run on Madison’s many bike paths, play with his dog, write and read poetry, and talk on the phone for hours at a time.