Despite the early morning rain last Saturday, five writing tutors from the University of Redlands Academic Success and Disabilities Center, along with Assistant Director Meigan Karraker and Professor Bridgette Callahan, took a university shuttle to California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, CA. The troupe was bound for the fourteenth annual Southern California Writing Centers Association Tutor Conference, an annual event dedicated to the community of writing tutors across the U.S. (and Canada) sharing the philosophies and ideas within their own writing centers.


The theme of this year’s conference, “connecting with purpose,” was reiterated throughout the day-long proceedings. Event coordinators emphasized this premise as central to writing center work; “between tutor and student, between concept and execution, and across genres, disciplines, and departments.” And, after a short introduction by the many coordinators (including SoCal WCA President Matt Nelson of UCSD), the connecting commenced.


The event facilitated four presentation sessions, each session offering several options to choose from. The presenters were all members of their own writing centers, the majority of them undergraduate students. These presentations ranged from topics challenging tutors like “Connecting with Student Writers’ Native Language,” to broader issues like “Bringing STEM to Your Writing Center,” to the growing technological element of centers in “Writing Center as Virtual Space.”


One such presentation from Iris J. Brooke, an associate professor from the University of Toronto, asked her audience of tutors to view the writing center as “a place for pedagogical change” to a relationship-focused educational experience in the university. Coming from a public institution that often houses hundreds of students in a lecture hall, she offered through a series of writing based interactions and audience discussion an informal conversation on how best to use the one-on-one relationships fostered in the writing center as a counterbalance for the more mechanical side of lectures and assignments.


Other presentations, like that of three students from CLU itself, offered more concrete techniques for writing tutors to approach the students that find tutoring sessions intimidating, boring, or obstructed by a language barrier. These methods were then discussed amongst the audience of tutors who shared their own experiences with more difficult clients; how they got one to open up about a personal assignment through encouragement, how they got a more apathetic student to take a writing assignment more seriously by explaining its relationship to their future career, how they guided an English language learner through the obstacles of an English writing assignment by the use of visual aides and applications to their own cultural experience.


Harvey Mudd College (with an enrollment that hovers around only 800 undergrads a year) was represented by a group of tutors sporting olive green bucket hats; easy to spot in a crowd.


The last event of the convention facilitated a community hour in which tutors representing their writing center could advertise via tri-fold posters and fliers what made their center unique and share ideas about how to improve each other’s tutoring.


CSU Channel Island’s poster proudly advertised their Writing and Multiliteracy Center’s ability to work not just with writing projects, but “any part of the written, oral, or visual communications process.”


The writing center at Nevada State College, though only four years old, facilitates the “growth mindset and collaboration” of current students as well as alumni, faculty and staff.


Alongside their writing center, Southern Utah University proudly advertised their annual Utah Shakespeare Festival, which presents award winning theater to their university community.


The University of Redlands was represented by senior Joellen Banks, sophomore Stelle Salsbury, sophomore Jonathan Ruhlman, junior Caroline Boyl, and senior Sketch Ree Mead.  The group’s poster advertised, among other things, their First Year Seminar Workshops, in which tutors go directly to classes to present for and work with freshman in their transition from high school to college writing and the weekly Writing Lounges — informal meetings in the Armacost Library where students can get writing help or simply enjoy unimpeded writing time. Additionally, the poster emphasized the center’s unique integration of Johnston tutors, who have specialized experience helping other buffalo with their contracting processes. Of course, their poster also emphasized the U of R’s beloved mascots, the late Thurber and his successor Adelaide.


Over by the refreshments table was a wall dotted with multi-colored paper hands, above which a banner read “What’s Your Purpose?” Each hand on this “Purpose Wall” had handwritten notes from tutors telling their peers what they want their center to be known for. One read “To empower others.” Another, “To forever chase satisfaction.” A yellow one at the bottom had its two middle fingers folded in as though it were signing the word “love” and read “to help develop clients’ writing skills.”


By the end of the community hour, the event drew to a close. Tutors walked out of the venue greeted by clearer skies than there was upon arrival. Each group bid farewell to new friends and connections and brought home with them fresh ideas to their own university’s writing centers for improvement.


Photos contributed by Jono Ruhlman. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this, Calley. What these narratives attest to is the mutual benefits of tutoring. That is, it is not only the students who are being tutored whose writing, and ways of thinking about writing, improves; but it is also the tutor who gains immeasurable skills that pay dividends long after any one-on-one meeting. When I first started teaching at the college level, I was convinced that I needed to reproduce a bunch of “mini-mes. Because I wanted all of my students to become literature scholars, I equipped them with a very limited range of writing and rhetorical skills. As I”ve become more experienced in the classroom, I”ve seen the benefit of having good writers and thinkers specifically NOT become aspiring literary critics. Rather, as Erica suggests in her response, we need a lot of different people, in a lot of different jobs, capable of writing and thinking well so as to influence a whole range of social issues. And the writing fellows program is a perfect space and model in which to foster these kinds of writing relationships.

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