PRAXIS Managing Co-Editor Thomas Spitzer-Hanks: What’s your hometown, David? How did you end up at the University of Texas? What do you do here besides work at the writing center?
David Vaughan DeVine: I’m from here in Austin, I was actually born just a few blocks away at Seton Medical Center. I decided to come to the University of Texas to stay near my family and manage my household, so UT’s always been “in the cards” as it were. Beyond my work at the writing center, I’m a graduating senior in the Rhetoric & Writing Honors Program and also study philosophy and urban studies. I also co-manage the DRW’s UT Rhetoric Society, a student organization for rhetoric majors, with another consultant, Emily Robinson. And when I find extra time, I still tutor introductory logic courses.
PR: Has your schoolwork changed or guided your work in the writing center? If so, how?
DVD: In both the DRW and Liberal Arts Honors program, I’ve taken a lot of courses on writing and style, so I’ve got a few extra resources I draw on personally. For example, in Professor Davida Charney’s course on style, she had us break down our writing into linguistic matrices to determine our percentage of Greek, Latin, French, and Saxon based words to understand how word choice has an incredible impact on tone. When students come in asking to work on “style” or “flow” which seem like giant terms, I can help students understand how small changes can have meaningful impacts on their writing tone and style.
PR: You have a pretty unique position in the writing center we both help staff. You’re an undergraduate but you’re also basically part of the admin team, and you have more seniority at this point than all but one of the Assistant Directors. Why have you chosen to be so involved in the writing center and how has that involvement changed over the years?
DVD: I’ve chosen to be involved because I love the work and the environment. I also think that goes back to the size of our program and department. The DRW is extremely small compared to other departments at the university, so word travels quickly. Trish found out, around the time that she took over as Director, that I was interested in going to grad school and in administration, so she offered me a research assistantship last summer.
At that time, the UWC also offered me work from May to August, where I feel I shifted towards my administrative support role. Last summer I worked with Vince and the rest of the admin team to build the information architecture (IA), the surveys and forms, that keep our admins informed on what’s going on “on the floor.” Alice and Trish have since invited me to some of the meetings to report on the IA, our data, or just to hear from my perspective as an undergraduate, which puts me in that unique position.
PR: I know that you sometimes mentor new consultants and speak to trainees. What do you say about writing center work, and what are some common questions and concerns you hear?
DVD: That working here is rewarding and provides a strong foundation for teaching. Some of the most common questions I’ve heard are about what to do when the student knows more about a topic than the consultant and how to handle the non-directive method effectively, as most consultants don’t have much experience with that pedagogy before taking the internship course.
PR: You’re really interested in assessment. Why is that? What is inherently interesting about assessment and how did you get involved in assessment at the writing center?
DVD: I’ve always been interested in looking at systems. Some of my research focuses on urban systems and environments, and with that work, I love looking at maps and graphs to see how things connect in the big picture. In producing assessment for the writing center, I get to look at what we’re doing from that system perspective, seeing how the questions we ask students or the way we present ourselves to the university community impact our mission and how we approach it.
When we started our assessment committee last semester, I was already working closely with the IA, so Mary Hedengren invited me to continue working with the same ideas and goals that I brought into my IA and data management work, but in a larger group environment.
PR: What’s the purpose of UT’s writing center? Do you think we achieve that?
DVD: Our purpose is to help students become better writers by critically engaging them in the (re)writing processes. I do think we achieve that by focusing on writing as a process, not as a product. By speaking as a peer and not an instructor, it’s easier for me to help students understand why they’re concerned about specific sections of their arguments and essays and about how re-arranging ideas impacts their overall writing. When students come in to re-write or to brainstorm, they’ve got an opportunity to talk about that process, rather than to have someone tell them what the “right” or “A-worthy” answer is.
PR: You work on space and place, and you use rhetorical theory to work with those concepts. Drawing on that knowledge, what would you say about the new space? Do you think the texture of the service we provide has changed? Also, do you think the change in working conditions has changed the experience of working at the writing center?
DVD: Very much so, I think our change in location has affected the experience of working here and the services we provide. In our old space in the Flawn Academic Center, there would be hours where we’d fill every chair in the office. I remember a few instances where students would actually request to work in the hall, on the tile, because they couldn’t hear their consultant. Also, when we hosted workshops or training sessions for consultants, we’d have to close down half of the space. With the extra 3500’ feet and the larger staff, students can be more comfortable and have a variety of options for where they want to work, which can directly impact their experience with us. I also think the natural sunlight has changed the texture of our service. Students didn’t tend to like the bleak gray walls in FAC.
Also, the move into the PCL has brought us closer to the research aspect of papers and library staff. I was just reading through exit-poll comments yesterday and I read a lot of students were happy with the move to the more centralized space and got to work right after leaving the consultation. That’s also affected working here. When on break in between shifts, I can really easily run upstairs and grab a book for my own research, or talk to a reference librarian at the front desk, which has made my life a lot easier!
PR: What are your future plans?
DVD: After UT, I plan on earning a master’s and Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition studies, then to put my hands to work teaching or administrating in my own center.
Praxis would like to thank David for participating in this interview.