Join Us “On the Isthmus” at the 2011 MWCA Biennial Conference!

Events, Midwest Writing Centers Association, UW-Madison Writing Center Alumni Voices, Writing Across the Curriculum, Writing Center Tutors, Writing Centers / Monday, October 17th, 2011

By Rebecca Lorimer and Elisabeth Miller.

Memorial Union Terrace on Lake Mendota, UW-Madison
Memorial Union Terrace on Lake Mendota, UW-Madison

The 2011 Midwest Writing Centers Association Biennial Conference will take place here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison October 20th-22nd. This year’s theme, “On the Isthmus,” gestures quite literally to the conference’s location, but also to the quality that makes this conference unique: just as writing centers bridge disciplines, locations, and widely diverse writers, so does this conference connect writing studies professionals across institutions, interests, and multiple points of view.

In fact, this year’s conference is unprecedented in its size and diversity. This MWCA conference is its largest ever, with over 300 attendees from Midwest states like Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Kansas, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, and Nebraska, as well as those making the trek from as far away as Florida, Colorado, Georgia, South Carolina, and Frankfurt (Oder), Germany. Attendees can look forward to three pre-conference workshops, a welcome reception, a keynote address, a featured closing session, three special-interest sessions, 43 individual presentations, 27 panels, 13 workshops, 12 roundtables, three fishbowls, three performances, and two lightning talks. Needless to say, there is much to look forward to.

Marquette University Assistant Professor Beth Godbee says that, for her, MWCA is “a place for challenging and extending my thinking about composition theory, practice, and pedagogy.” And the variety of the presentations on this year’s program attest to how far one’s thinking might extend. Pre-conference workshops range from developing a writing fellows program to viewing the writing center as a research site. Panel presentations focus on topics as diverse as “Transatlantic International Writing Center Collaborations,” “Rethinking Dissertation Support in the Writing Center,” and “The Writing Center and Student Athletes: Writing Center Consultants at the Football Study Table.” Further, Professor Godbee says that the relationship-building opportunities of a smaller, specialized conference are important to her, as she’s “met many close colleagues-friends through MWCA” and is looking forward “to making new connections as well.”

This opportunity to bridge and connect is central to this year’s conference, with presentations addressing relationships across institutions—2-year and 4-year writing centers, university and community centers—many of which are presented collaboratively by writing center professionals of differing institutional positions—undergraduates, faculty, directors, and graduate students. A panel on “Adapting Writing Center Pedagogy to an Elementary School Setting,” for example, will be presented by a writing center director, adjunct tutor, and undergraduate tutor. “Weaving an Effective Web of Writing Center Relationships at Small Liberal-Arts Colleges,” for example, will also be presented by undergraduate consultants from Coe College in Iowa together with writing center director and Professor Robert Marrs.

Cover of 2011 MWCA Conference Program
Cover of 2011 MWCA Conference Program

In fact, Marrs, who is bringing 17 of his undergraduate students from Coe, is committed to involving a wide variety of writing center professionals in conference conversations. “These trips are invaluable in helping the staff acquire new ideas we can adapt for our own Writing Center, and at the same time they are forced to explain to other people what we do at Coe and why we do what we do,” says Marrs. As a small liberal arts college, Coe has a staff of entirely undergraduate tutors, and conferences like MWCA’s expose students to writing center expertise beyond Marr’s direction, ensuring a professional, prepared staff.

For undergraduate attendees or for those who advise or direct undergrads, one special interest group meeting (SIG) especially offers ideas about the larger profession of writing center studies: “How to Keep Doing What You Love” offers undergraduates a unique opportunity to hear from faculty about how undergrads can continue studying and teaching one-to-one writing work in writing center, rhetoric/composition, and WAC/WID graduate study and in careers as professional writers.

As Professor Marrs says, MWCA is an opportunity “to keep rethinking what we are doing and how we do it.” The conference’s two keynote addresses especially show how valuable radical “rethinking” can be for writing center studies. We’re very sorry that Professor Eric Darnell Pritchard from the University of Texas at Austin will not be able to join us as our keynote speaker, and he sends his deep regrets. But we’re delighted that Professor Deborah Brandt from the English Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the top literacy scholars in the United States, has graciously agreed to speak at our Friday keynote luncheon.

Professor Deborah Brandt, English Department, UW-Madison
Deborah Brandt, UW-Madison

Deborah Brandt’s research focuses on social and economic histories of mass literacy; the status of mass writing within late twentieth and early twenty-first century culture; and diversity, equity, and access in literacy learning. Author of Literacy in American Lives and of Literacy and Learning, she is currently working on a project called “Writing Now: New Directions in Mass Literacy,” a study that explores the ascendancy of writing as a second stage of mass literacy, focusing on the impact of writing as a means of production in the American economy since about 1960.

Professor Michele Eodice, University of Oklahoma
Michele Eodice, University of Oklahoma

And on Saturday afternoon, Professor Michele Eodice–who is Executive Director of Learning, Teaching, and Writing at the University of Oklahoma and co-author of The Everyday Writing Center–invites you to meet at the “Charette,” a group brainstorming method from architecture. Eodice will call on all attendees to draw connections and build bridges between the tremendously varied expertise at the MWCA conference.

Even as conference attendees share knowledge, make connections, and challenge each other’s theory and practice, Professor Marrs also notes that it’s “important that these trips are a lot of fun.” MWCA has taken fun seriously, weaving it throughout this year’s conference. Thursday’s welcome reception features the Chick Singer Band, led by the talented Madison College English Department faculty member Anna Purnell and self-described as “a lounge-chicksingerband_logo1a-licious band of musical masterminds.” There’s also plenty of fun to be had around the table, both during the on-site conference luncheons and at the diverse restaurant options around campus, as presented in the conference’s locally produced Madison Restaurant Guide. Conference participants, as well as those who aren’t able to attend, can follow all of these conference happenings and highlights on the MWCA Twitter feed (

Autumn on Library Mall, UW-Madison
Autumn on Library Mall, UW-Madison

As Professor Godbee says, “Fall in Madison is absolutely beautiful—what a wonderful place to have the conference this year!” This year’s MWCA’s attendees can take a short stroll out the Pyle Center’s doors to watch the sailboats dotting Lake Mendota and enjoy the oranges and reds of autumn’s falling leaves. Such a location for this varied and exciting conference will undoubtedly invigorate the hundreds of brilliant writing center thinkers who find themselves ready to network, re-boot, inspire and be inspired “On the Isthmus.”

27 Replies to “Join Us “On the Isthmus” at the 2011 MWCA Biennial Conference!”

  1. A lovely preview of what is sure to be a lovely conference. While I’m so sad that Prof. Pritchard can’t be with us, I also know that Prof. Brandt is not to be missed!
    Thanks to everyone involved in the preparation for your work.

  2. Rebecca and Elizabeth, thank you so much for writing this evocative description of the conference. Your post makes me so sorry to be missing so much serious fun!

    I’m so grateful that our new Title V Coordinator will be able to attend the pre-convention workshop on the writing fellows program. We are initiating our own program, based on those at UW-Madison and the University of Iowa, so the workshop could not be more spot-on.

    And as a UW alum, I can attest to the gorgeous fall colors. Lake Mendota takes on an especially intense blue color, reflecting the October sky, and when those Norway maples turn yellow the contrast is somehow harmonious – gold and blue.

    Enjoy the conference, everyone! I look forward to reports on WCenter!

  3. The number of attendees alone suggests that this is going to be an incredibly vibrant, dynamic conference! Wow. The time will fly fast, I’m sure, so savor the moment everyone — especially you first-time conference goers :)) Savor learning from and with each other, forming new friendships and professional connections, and the simple pleasure of spending time together in the glorious Wisconsin fall. Enjoy!

    ** Thanks to Rebecca and Elisabeth for the fabulous preview.

  4. Thanks for this description, Elisabeth and Rebecca. I’m especially looking forward to hearing about the tone and approach of Writing Centers at other institutions, since I find I get caught up in thinking that what is “the usual” for my own Writing Center is the same for all. Your post reminded me of this, so I look forward to expanding my horizons!

  5. Wow, I was already excited about attending the conference, but now I’m REALLY excited! Thanks for this great preview. There’s so much good stuff going on this week–it’ll be tough to choose among such fantastic options.

    See y’all soon!

  6. As a Southeastern Writing Center Association (SWCA) member, I’m really looking forward to my first MWCA – even more so after reading everything in store for us. I had the pleasure of attending a presentation by Coe College writing center consultants several years ago at another conference, and I was impressed by their thoughtful discussion of their writing center work. I look forward to that presentation as well as many others. Thanks so much Rebecca and Elisabeth for the preview!

  7. Wow! As someone who’s been living in the nitty-gritty details of this conference for months, I so appreciate this expansive view of all that will be happening in Madison just three days from now! Reading this blog post reminds me just how excellent this conference will be. Thanks, Elisabeth and Rebecca (and Beth, whose comments I wholeheartedly agree with)!

  8. Thanks Elisabeth and Rebecca!

    I’m looking forward to the diversity of perspectives and topics as well as sharing ideas with my writing center colleagues. It will be well worth the drive from Cleveland. Oh, and getting to return to Madison at a beautiful time of year helps as well.

    See you all soon.

  9. As always, you had me at the convergence of “Madison” and “writing centers,” but now I find Anna Purnell’s band is playing… what more could I hope for! I hope she’ll dust off some Reptile Palace Orchestra numbers for the old folks, like me. 🙂

  10. Thank you very much for this preview. I am now even more excited to attend a regional conference that is bigger than a writing center conference for all European writing centers. And I can underline that Madison is so beautiful!
    I am looking forward to meeting so many collegues and to learning so many new things. See you all soon.

  11. I think Kirsten covered most of what I wanted to say: Madison + writing centers = guaranteed awesomeness. (Is it wrong that I’m already trying to work out how many bookstores I can hit on Thursday before the afternoon workshops start?) But this post has made me even more excited! I’m looking forward to Deb’s keynote and getting really excited about the presentations; the Coe College one, in particular, looks great. And I’m especially pleased to be bringing three of my favorite recent alums with me, and glad that they’ll be getting this chance to meet so many of my friends and colleagues.

    So excited to see you all!

  12. This conference will rock! I’ve known it since the first excited murmurs of preparation that began a year or more ago. I am lucky that my office is situated in a hallway where my UW-Madison Writing Center colleagues work and “travel” — an isthmus of sorts within our English department. I have caught sight of the program and now this preview confirms my sense of overwhelming abundance in this conference. I look forward to every minute of it, and I echo the thanks to our two blog writers, Elisabeth and Rebecca.

  13. This is a terribly exciting opportunity to learn even more about the exciting, diverse and ground-breaking research and practice that writing centers do. I am so impressed with the keynotes and the fascinating range of workshops and presentations. What a pleasure to be involved.
    Thank you to the organizers and to Rebecca and Elizabeth for the blog.

  14. Greetings from Iowa!
    There are about 11-12 of us getting ready to head to Madison, and we’ve been looking forward to MWCA for quite some time.

    Looking forward to seeing you at the conference and on the Terrace!

  15. What a great post. I’m sorry to miss such an excellent conference, and send my best wishes to friends and colleagues.

  16. After reading this delightful blog post, I am CONVINCED that the MWCA conference will be better than Christmas morning 😀

  17. Thank you, Rebecca and Elizabeth, for this preview–I’m even more excited now than I was before! The challenge will be choosing among all of the fascinating topics. I’m looking forward to reuniting with far-flung writing center comrades and hearing about the amazing work being done in centers across the region.

  18. What a fabulous overview of all that awaits those of us fortunate enough to attend this year’s conference! The crew from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh is excited to learn from everyone and to enjoy ourselves in Mad City. Thank you, Elisabeth and Rebecca, for this taste of what is to come.

  19. Thanks for this blog post! Conferences in our field are always so exciting not only for the ideas we encounter, but also as we get to reconnect with colleagues who have moved away.

    I’ve been working with some of the Fellows who are presenting at the conference, and I am so impressed by the dedication, thought, and time they put into their presentations (some of them have delivered practice presentations several times to a variety of audiences). I know they are excited to hear scholarship in this field that they do such hard work in and are eager to discuss their academic writing on peer tutoring with people who dedicate so much of their lives to this rich work.

  20. Thank you, Rebecca and Elisabeth! And thanks to all of you who are working so hard to prepare for the conference. I think Kirsten and Tisha have clearly laid out the equation for excellence: Madison + writing centers = awesomeness.
    Can’t wait!

  21. We’ll be there with bells on…two WC directors and five graduate student writing consultants from the middle of Illinois.

  22. Thank you for hosting such an exciting conference. I’m looking forward to hearing Deb Brandt speak, experiencing a midwest fall, and touring the UW-Madison Writing Center!

  23. I am really looking forward to this. In addition to getting to host the conference on the UW campus, I’m looking forward to meeting other writing center faculty and getting to talk about the work we do. Thanks for this great preview!

  24. The conference looks fantastic. I am envious of those who are able to attend! What a wonderful opportunity.

  25. Now I’m really disappointed I’m not there! A lovely preview of MWCA, especially comments by “Professor” Godbee!
    Be sure to check out presentations by Illinois grad students Jessica Bannon, Amy Herb, and Yuki Kang (if it’s not too late).

  26. […] Many writing centers also give undergraduate and graduate students opportunities to engage in writing center and WAC research and cross-campus collaborations, research that is important preparation to lead writing center programs.  If you’re interested in examples of these research projects, I’d recommend two of my favorites: Jon Olson, Dawn Moyer, and Adelia Falda, “Student-Centered Assessment Research in the Writing Center,” in Writing Center Research: Extending the Discussion; and Carol Haviland, Sherry Green, Barbara Kime Shields, and M. Todd Harper, “Neither Missionaries Nor Colonists Nor Handmaidens: What Writing Tutors Can Teach Faculty about Inquiry,” in Writing Centers and Writing Across the Curriculum Programs.  As centers host regional and international conferences and IWCA summer institutes, graduate students often play important roles in planning and presenting, as we did here at Madison when we partnered with Edgewood College and Madison College to host the October 2011 Midwest Writing Centers Association Conference. […]

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