By Bradley Hughes –
It’s graduation and award time, and the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is delighted to honor two of our wonderful tutor colleagues, who are the recipients of our second annual teaching awards for graduate teaching assistants on our Writing Center staff. Every semester there are between 45 and 50 doctoral-level teaching assistants on our staff, in addition to c. 50 undergraduate writing fellows, and our career staff and our undergraduate-student receptionists. Through all of the Writing Center’s programs, each year we work with over 6000 undergraduate and graduate student-writers from across the university and in the community through our Madison Writing Assistance Program.
We invited all of the graduate teaching assistants who were on our staff in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018 to nominate colleagues or themselves for these awards. All of the nominees were then invited to submit a 400-word statement reflecting on their Writing Center consulting and to include a summary of evaluations from their Writing Center students. The primary criterion for these awards is demonstrated excellence in individual consultations in the Writing Center, with both undergraduate and graduate-student writers. The selection committee read the nominees’ statements and evaluations from Writing Center students for evidence of–
- dedication to students
- success in tutoring
- ability to work with writers in various disciplines and at different levels
- evidence of student learning
- innovation in tutoring
- and reflective tutoring practice.
The selection committee (Nancy Linh Karls, Emily Hall, Jennifer Fandel, and Brad Hughes) then selected the recipients for our two awards. We had many very strong nominations, and we honestly wish we had many awards to give!
To honor our Writing Center’s long history—in 2019 we will celebrate our 50th anniversary—for the first five years of these awards we have named them after two stellar figures in the history of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Writing Center. Here are brief descriptions of each award and excerpts from statements written by the two winners.
Tori Thompson Peters—Recipient of the Professor Paula Gillespie Award
The Paula Gillespie early-career award honors graduate teaching assistants who are in their first two years on the UW-Madison Writing Center staff. Professor Emerita Paula Gillespie was the long-time director of the Center for Excellence in Writing at Florida International University in Miami and before that she was the director of the Ott Memorial Writing Center at Marquette University, and she is one of the best-known writing center scholars in the United States. Professor Gillespie did her undergraduate *and* graduate degrees in the English Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and was a TA on the Writing Lab staff at UW-Madison in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Here’s a link to a post that Paula Gillespie wrote for our blog in 2015, about partnerships between university and high school writing centers.
Tori Thompson Peters, who is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric in the English Department, has been a tutor at the UW-Madison Writing Center for four semesters. Here is an excerpt from Tori’s statement reflecting on her growth as a writing center tutor:
One of the most important things I’ve learned about tutoring is how to build trust and relationality in appointments so that students did not feel I was merely a critical outsider, but, as stated in my evaluations, someone who is “interested in [their] success.” I learned more about how “success” in appointments can vary when an advanced writer told me it’s vital for her to talk about things other than writing in the beginning of a session in order to build trust and comfort. She shared her experiences with and research on different cultural expectations for professional conversation, and this shaped the way I thought about “efficient” writing center appointments from then on. I focused more on how I greeted people when they walked in and opened up space for conversation about circumstances surrounding their writing. Because of this, I was better able to offer strategies that made sense for them in that moment. This is an example of the way writing ecologies can come to bear on tutoring sessions. When talking to students about the material circumstances in which their writing is embedded, I understand how this writing is affecting them in addition to how they can change their writing. This helps build relationships and leads to more effective tutoring practice.
And here’s a link to a post that Tori wrote for our Writing Center’s blog last October, about the importance of friendly talk in writing center consultations.
Neil Simpkins—Recipient of the Professor Joyce S. Steward Award
The Joyce S. Steward award is our senior TA award, honoring graduate teaching assistants who have been on the Writing Center staff at UW-Madison for more than two years. This award is named in memory of Professor Joyce S. Steward, who was the founding director of the Writing Laboratory (the original name for the writing center here) and one of the most important pioneers in developing writing centers nationally and in developing the field of writing center studies. To learn more about Professor Steward’s remarkable career and accomplishments, please see this tribute to Joyce Steward, published in 2012 on our Writing Center’s blog.
Neil Simpkins, who is a PhD student in Composition and Rhetoric in the English Department, has been a tutor at the UW-Madison Writing Center for ten semesters. Before beginning his graduate work at UW-Madison, Neil was an undergraduate tutor for three years at the Center for Writing and Speaking at Agnes Scott College and then after graduation was a coordinator there for one year. Here is an excerpt from Neil’s statement reflecting on his growth as a writing center tutor:
As a dissertator examining how disabled students experience writing instruction, becoming
flexible and adaptable has been a key goal of mine. Last year, I had the privilege of working at the Writing Center with students referred from the McBurney Disability Resource Center at the university. Working with this student population taught me to reframe the goals of my sessions and stretched my methods. I adapted skills I learned through Skype tutoring to work collaboratively with students in person. Alongside my students, I figured out methods of reading aloud that better suited students for whom this was not an accessible or helpful option. I learned the importance of mentorship and emotional support in writing center work. One of my ongoing McBurney students had this to say about our partnership: “I could not be happier with the services at the writing center and the support of the instructor.” With this student, we built a personal relationship where we shared what was going on in our lives outside of the context of his assignments, which helped us approach his writing anxieties head on and also gave us ways to build his confidence.
Coming from a writing center background before grad school, where I have grown the most is communicating with writers outside of my discipline. In my first session working with a nuclear engineer, I stumbled through what I had learned in my tutor-education at UW-Madison about the genre conventions of science journal articles. I’m proud to say I’ve built a firm foundation of genre knowledge as well as the rhetorical savvy to speak across a wide range of disciplines (for example, knowing what endogenous and exogenous variables are can go a long way!). I share my own struggles as a dissertator and reflect the emotions that writers across the disciplines bring to the table. Whether I’m working with a writer on an application for a Hilldale undergraduate research fellowship, an NSF grant, or a Spanish theatre journal article draft, I seek to work from a place of partnership with writers both inside and outside of my disciplinary expertise.
And here are links to some posts that Neil has written for our Writing Center’s blog–about writing centers and pronouns, about queering RAD research in the writing center, and about reading out loud in the writing center.
From all of the students and the staff of the Writing Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a huge congratulations and thanks to both Tori and Neil—and to all of the wonderful, smart, generous tutors on our staff! And a heartfelt thanks to the UW-Madison English Department and the Herlihy-Jones fund for their generous support which makes these awards possible!
Featured photo of springtime blossoms on crabapple trees, on Library Mall on the UW-Madison campus, by Jeff Miller, University Communications, May 2015.