A Culture of Writing
A Swarthmore education requires a good deal of writing. From formal analyses of gothic paintings to biology lab reports, written expression is the cornerstone of almost every discipline. Now entering its 25th year, the Swarthmore Writing Program exists to support students in all their writing efforts and to encourage a culture of writing on campus. At the heart of the program is a team of student Writing Associates (WAs) directed by Associate Professor of English Literature Jill Gladstein. With an insider's perspective, three WAs reflect on the impact writing and the Writing Program has had on their time at Swarthmore.
At left, Associate Professor of English Literature Jill Gladstein Oftentimes, writing in college can be seen as simply a means to an end, handing in a paper and moving on to the next. The WAM Program approaches writing as a long-term, process-oriented endeavor by creating semester-long, or even year-long, partnerships with a student and their WAM, or Writing Associate Mentor. The pair meets once a week to plan and pre-write for future assignments, revise current papers, and talk about anything and everything writing related. All students are welcome to request a WAM and, often, it is seniors working on final projects and theses that take advantage of the program.
My initial interests in becoming a WAM were directly related to my own experiences as a student. Splitting my time between the Humanities and Social Sciences divisions, I found myself writing a lot of papers. To be able to complete all of these assignments, I came to rely on informal pre-writing sessions with my long-time roommate. Sitting around the dining room table in our off-campus apartment, we would constantly give each other feedback and evaluate each other's arguments. This regular dialogue about academic writing helped me tremendously as a student and a writer and I knew, as a WA, I wanted to recreate this type of relationship with other students.
I have been lucky enough to be able to work as a WAM for the past two years and I consider my partnerships to be the highlights of my time in the program. This past spring, I worked with a senior on her sociology and anthropology thesis. For most students, a culminating project like a thesis is the first extensive piece of writing they will attempt and can appear like an insurmountable task. Attention to the writing process becomes crucial when attempting to put a year's research on paper.
A WAM relationship is not simply about having an extra reader look over the thesis until its completion, but also about setting weekly goals to make the task more manageable and talking through ideas and issues in expression. I am certain that it was as much of a learning experience for me as it was for the student I was working with. As a junior preparing for my final year and senior comprehensives, I was able to get an insider's look into the thesis writing process. My experiences as a WAM continue to serve me well in my senior year, as I take on the challenge of writing my own theses in Sociology and Anthropology and French.
Alex Weintraub '11
Boca Raton, Fla.
Special Honors major in Visual Studies and Social Thought, minor in French Literature
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After an introduction byWriting Associates Outreach Coordinator Sara Forster '11 to the third annual Writing Associates Faculty Panel, President Rebecca Chopp, Associate Professor of Psychology Andrew Ward, and Professor of Mathematics Stephen Maurer '67 reflect upon and discuss the joys and challenges of writing - and rewriting.
The Writing Associates Program is a past Certificate of Excellence Winner from the national Conference on College Composition and Communication. I have learned so much during the past two years I have been a part of the Writing Associates Program. I've acquired and refined skills in each of the roles I have occupied: organizational skills, collaboration, writing, communication, and the list continues. I think, though, the major overarching skill I have acquired has been the ability to reflect on my work (both academic and professional) so that I have insight into how I approach my work and, therefore, how I can improve my process.
In English 1C (aka the WA Course), I learned how to reflect on my work, both as a writer and a WA, through discussing and writing about how I WA papers, conduct conferences, and approach my own writing. This reflective process, though, does not end with the class. WAs continue to reflect on their time in the Writing Program by writing about their WA process throughout each semester. As a Program Coordinator, I write a journal-type paper at the end of every semester about the goals I accomplished and the way in which I attained them. As the Special Programs Coordinator, I am responsible for matching my peers with Writing Associate Mentors (WAMs) and overseeing community service projects. WAMs meet weekly over the course of a semester with their peers in order to aid them in improving upon their writing processes. Understanding how and why my matching process works helps me maintain and improve upon it so that I can facilitate effective partnerships in future semesters.
Reflection has shaped how I already have and will continue to approach my courses at Swarthmore and my academic and professional endeavors in the "real world" after I graduate. In my WA and Special Programs Coordinator reflections, I ask myself a number of questions. For example, what did I accomplish and how did I go about accomplishing it? How does what I am reflecting on fit into who I am as a WA or Coordinator? How can I learn from my experience and shape how I approach WA-ing or Coordinating?
These kinds of questions have been essential in the academic work I have already completed at Swarthmore, and I know will become especially helpful as I start to prepare for my Honors exams in Psychology and Dance and write my Psychology thesis. How did I approach my coursework during the past three years? How can I synthesize the papers I've written and discussions I've had in the courses I have taken? How can I revise the work I've done now that I'm reviewing it again? Similarly, these types of questions will be beneficial as I pursue clinical psychology research after graduation. I am grateful to the Writing Program because I am now equipped with the skills that enable me to understand how I approach my academic and professional work.
Amelia Kidd '11
Honors Psychology major, Honors Dance minor
Students and other visitors to the Writing Center's open house during this fall's Garnet Homecoming and Family Weekend enjoyed a cake wishing "Happy 25 Years of WAing."
Writing a scientific paper is like conducting an experiment - you start with a hypothesis, or thesis, then build up your evidence and form conclusions. That's one of the comments I make most to WA-ees in introductory biology courses and a guideline I use for my own scientific writing. As a Biology WA, biology major, and an amateur scientific researcher, my experiences with science and writing are continuously colliding.
I'll be honest - writing in the sciences can be scary, because it involves a distinct style and jargon. Many of the students I've worked with who are really fantastic writers are worried about not adequately communicating the 'science' in their papers. Biology writers navigate around terms like nondisjunction and allelopathy and use words like significant with caution. The key to an intelligible scientific paper, as with other forms of academic writing, is not so much the content but rather the argument, and the clarity with which it is communicated.
Writing is vital to every aspiring scientist because of two necessities: publications and grants. Journal articles allow researchers to share their latest studies with the entire scientific community, and grants provide the funding. When researchers start a new experiment, they read published literature to see what other hypotheses have been tested and to gain background information on their research topic. And scientific journals are peer reviewed, so you could be a professional WA!
I'm in the process of editing my first scientific paper, based on the ornithological research I did during my semester abroad in South Africa. Though I've written multiple papers for biology courses at Swarthmore, the process of writing up my own independent research is intimidating. And yet, I have every scientific paper ever published to guide me. Scientific authors have contributed to a formal system of writing with clear and well-defined rules, creating a kind of universal structure, a language that all scientists understand and follow. And of course, I'll be sure to have this paper WAed in the Writing Center!
Sara Lipschutz '11
New City, N.Y.