Featured Writing Center: Augusta University

Every so often, we here at Praxis like to feature write-ups of writing centers around the country. This edition of Axis is particularly special for me (James Garner, managing editor) because we're featuring the first writing center I worked in as an undergraduate at Augusta University in Augusta, GA. Aside from my personal connection to the school, Augusta University's writing center has changed in some exciting ways since I last worked there in 2012. When I learned that AU had created a satellite campus at AU's Health Sciences campus, I had to get in touch with Dr. Candis Bond about featuring the center on the Axis blog. Dr. Bond has graciously agreed to share about her experience directing the center and tell us about the center itself. If you're interested in having your writing center featured on the Axis blog, please contact us at praxisuwc@gmail.com. 

Augusta University Writing Center: At a Glance

Name of Center: Augusta University Writing Center

Web Address: http://www.augusta.edu/pamplin/writingcenter/

Social Media: Twitter: @AugU_WritngCntr; Facebook: @AugustaUniversityWritingCenter

Institutional Affiliation: Augusta University (formerly Georgia Regents University)

Institutional Location: Department of English and Foreign Languages and Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

City, State: Augusta, Georgia

Locations/Hours: Summerville Campus:  Hours: M-R, 8:00am – 8:00pm, F, 8:00am – 1:00pm
                                       Health Sciences Campus: Hours: W/R, 3:00pm – 8:00pm                             

Director: Candis Bond (Assistant Professor of English, Department of English and Foreign Languages)

Mission Statement: The mission of the Augusta University Writing Center is to help students become better writers. By offering free peer consultations to guide students through the writing process, the staff empowers students to make well-informed decisions about their texts.

The Augusta U Writing Center: History and Transitions

One word sums up the current state of affairs in the Augusta U writing center: transition. The Augusta U writing center originated at Augusta College, which eventually became Augusta State University. Within the last five years, Augusta University emerged as a public, University System of Georgia research university after the merger of Augusta State University and the Medical College of Georgia. Augusta U is now comprised of two large campuses: the Health Sciences campus and the Summerville campus.

The writing center, located on the Summerville campus (previously Augusta State University), has had to grow very quickly to accommodate a more diverse body of students, many of whom are majoring in the Health Sciences of STEM fields. I began my role as Director of the Augusta U writing center in August 2016. Since my arrival, I have worked to retain the center’s commitment to writing center best practices while simultaneously adapting to the university’s new emphasis on STEM and the Health Sciences. Our identity must shift as we become a writing center at a Health Sciences research institution. It has been an exciting time of growth, creativity, and innovation for the center.

What Do We Do in the Center?

Historically, the Augusta U writing center has been a small center focused on in-person, one-on-one peer writing consultations at its location on the Summerville campus. The center staffs ten peer consultants who work ten hours per week. Before I arrived in 2016, on average the center held about 1500 thirty-minute consultations per academic year, with 5% of these appointments taking place online or with graduate students. We are funded by the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences as well as the department of English and Foreign Languages, which means we have developed many partnerships within these disciplines. As a new director, my goal was to increase our outreach across disciplines and colleges, improve the range of our writing resources, and increase contact hours with students. Since the Augusta U writing center is now serving two campuses and a much more diverse study body, we needed to improve outreach and visibility on both campuses. Within the last year, we have worked hard to help students, especially those majoring in the Health Sciences, realize that writing isn’t something that happens only in English composition courses, and that everyone benefits from individualized writing support.

We began by making several changes to better live our mission and reflect the theory supporting our practice, particularly that writing is a social, collaborative process. First, we changed the title of our staff from “tutors” to “consultants” to emphasize our focus on collaboration and to move away from perceptions of the center as a site of remediation. We also changed our appointments from thirty to sixty minutes to accommodate writers who might be working on longer or more advanced projects, especially graduate students. This alone has more than doubled our contact hours with students. We have always offered students free coffee (we take our coffee very seriously at the Augusta U writing center), but we added free candy to our repertoire, because you can never have too many freebies available in the center, and students love candy. The consultants were very passionate about this new addition, as you can imagine.

In addition, we began to advertise online consultations more during class visits and on our “For Faculty” tab on our website. These changes have increased online and graduate consultations by more than 10%. Overall, we are trying to make the center more friendly, accessible, and less site-bound so all students, not just those majoring in the arts or humanities, see the center as a vital, central part of the university experience.  It is still too early to see how effective these changes are, but we have increased our number of appointments by approximately 25% this academic year, and we have made contact with hundreds of students we don’t normally see by expanding our services beyond one-on-one consultations. While our primary focus is still on in-person, one-on-one consultations, we have expanded what we do quite a bit. Below is a list of changes we have made in the last year to make our center more accessible for all students, including those majoring in the Health Sciences or STEM disciplines. We are very excited about the growth the center is experiencing, and we hope we will continue to expand. While these are features of our center, they may serve as a model for other universities working to integrate multiple campuses or adapt to shifting student demographics.

·       Opened a Satellite Location on the Health Sciences Campus: We wanted to be a visible presence on the Health Sciences campus. In February, 2017, we opened a temporary satellite center in the library on the Health Sciences campus. In the library, a central space, we increased visibility of the center and integrated into the existing campus culture. We have also been able to collaborate with the library faculty and staff so the partnership is mutually beneficial. The library brings students to the center; the center brings students to the library. Our new location has increased our reach to Health Sciences majors substantially. It has also increased the number of ELL students we work with significantly, since many of our ELL students are enrolled in Health Sciences, pre-med, and graduate medical programs.

·       Adjusted Staffing: The Augusta U writing center has always offered free, one-on-one peer writing consultations to all students, faculty, and staff, but in the past the writing center served primarily undergraduate students. This meant the staff was made up of undergraduate peer tutors. Since the merger, we support a larger number of graduate programs (many in the Health Sciences and STEM), so our definition of “peer” has evolved to include faculty consultants who receive course release time to tutor, post-baccalaureate consultants with previous experience tutoring or teaching writing, and graduate consultants. We are currently in the process of finding ways to fund graduate assistantships to grow our graduate writing support. To support a more diverse, prepared staff, we also began actively recruiting consultants from majors outside of the humanities, arts, and social sciences by working closely with the Honors program and the Office of Experiential Learning. Currently, I have students majoring in psychology, political science, cellular and molecular biology, communications, computer science, counselling, and English working in the center; I hope to diversify the staff even more in upcoming years.

·       Expanded Writing Resources: To reach more students, and to make the center more accessible, we have expanded the ways we work with students. We want students to know that the writing center is a resource that exists beyond the walls of its physical space. Consequently, we have piloted many new programs and resources this year, including:

o   Writing Groups: So far, we have hosted groups for graduate students, ELL writers, and creative writers. These groups have been a great way to reach Health Sciences majors and graduate students who may want ongoing writing support and a community of writers to work with.

o   Embedded Consultants: One of the questions faculty in the Health Sciences and STEM disciplines (and all disciplines, really) have when they send students to the writing center is, “will the consultant have adequate disciplinary knowledge to help?” Embedding is a way to ensure consultants have the disciplinary knowledge they need to help students navigate the writing process while still staying committed to our mission to improve writers rather than particular assignments. Embedding also provides opportunities for the center to educate faculty and form lasting collaborations with departments and colleges. At Augusta U, we have piloted embedded consultants in Psychology and Nursing programs thus far. Both met with success and resulted in plans to create workshop series on the writing process and documenting sources.

o   In-Class Workshops: We offer in-class writing workshops on a range of topics, from peer review, to the writing process, to documentation styles. We also customize or create workshops if faculty request it. The workshops have been a great way to build new partnerships across disciplines.

o   Handouts and Web Content: We added a “For Faculty” tab to our website’s homepage that educates faculty about the writing center’s mission and offers them support. We have also added a “Handouts” tab that offers handouts and tutorials for students who can’t make it into the center. It is rewarding and exciting to see a student walking the halls while reading a handout they printed off from our website. Handouts make our center mobile and accessible to students who may not be able to make it in for an appointment.

o   Class Visits and Campus Presence: Historically, consultants at Augusta U visited freshman composition courses to introduce students to the writing center. This year, we have added visits to upper-division courses across disciplines, resulting in a 15% increase in the number of upperclassmen we see in the center. We have also increased the number of consultations focused on writing for courses other than first-year composition by nearly 20%! The consultants are having a blast working with a broader range of assignments, and we love that we’re getting students to use the center throughout the duration of their academic careers. This has been a great way to get our Health Sciences majors in the door, as well. We have also begun making appearances at all major campus orientations, recruiting events, and organization fairs. We want incoming and current students to know we are here for them, and that we are part of the college experience.

o   Events: We have tried to become more visible to students by hosting fun, writing-focused events throughout the year. For example, we started a “Books on Film” movie series that shows a film adaptation of a book the last Friday of each month, and we host events for National Day on Writing and International Writing Centers Week.

How Do We Do It? Consultant Training

One of the most frequent questions I am asked as the Director of a writing center at a Health Sciences-focused university is, “How do you train your tutors to help STEM and Health Sciences students?” The answer is simple: the same way we train all writing tutors. All consultants who work at the Augusta U writing center must take a three-credit training course: English 3830: Writing Center Theory and Practice. To enroll, students must have a 3.0 GPA, a minimum of a “B” in composition one and two, a letter of recommendation, and a strong writing sample. The course covers the history of writing centers, the theory undergirding our practices, and guidance on doing writing center research. Students write a consultant philosophy, create an online handout or tutorial for our website, and conduct or write their own research project as part of the course. The class also includes practicum hours, during which students observe and reflect on consultations and work with an experienced mentor consultant. Since the course emphasizes rhetorical approaches to writing, all consultants receive training in how to talk with students about the social dynamics of their writing; they know to emphasize disciplinary audiences and conventions when appropriate. And they know that it is not their job to have disciplinary knowledge, but rather it is to model the writing process, which includes doing research on genres and conventions when one is unfamiliar with them. Having a rhetorically sound foundation goes a long way in helping writers in any field.

 

While it is essential to train consultants in the fundamentals of our field by emphasizing rhetoric and writing as a social process, I do realize that consultants need some additional training to be confident when they work with our new base of STEM and Health Sciences writers. I have tackled this need in a few ways. First, I modified my course to include a more extended unit on genre. We read genre theory, and we spend a significant portion of time discussing some of the more common genres we see in the center, such as literature reviews and lab reports. We do research on disciplinary audiences and look at model sample papers. I have also implemented ongoing consultant training that focuses more on the specific assignments and questions we see in the center. Consultants attend a ninety-minute workshop once a month while employed. These workshops cover topics such as “Using Databases to Find Scholarly Sources in the Health Sciences” (facilitated by Reese Library), “Advanced APA Style,” and “Literature Reviews and their Variations: Synthesis vs. Summary-Style Reviews.” Workshops aren’t limited to discipline-specific topics, but they are a space when students can become more familiar with genres and disciplinary expectations. This training prepares writers to ask productive questions during consults, and students perceive them as credible models of the writing process when they have some basic knowledge about writing in the disciplines.

Over time, I have found that one of the best things you can do to help students work with STEM writers—or any writer working in a discipline you are unfamiliar with—is keep the lines of communication open and acknowledge when you yourself are unsure about disciplinary conventions. I am available to my consultants in person or online during hours of operation to answer their questions, and when I don’t know the answer, I reach out to colleagues in the discipline in question to get their input. I have built several great relationships with faculty in the Health Sciences and STEM fields by admitting my ignorance and being willing to learn. I model this approach to my consultants so that they, too, see the work of consulting—particularly on discipline-specific assignments—as a collaborative, social process.

Come See Us!

The Augusta U writing center is growing quickly during this exciting time of transition, and the staff and I can’t wait to see where the next few years will take us. Please come see us any time you are in town, and don’t hesitate to ask questions or share ideas for how to continue to grow and support writers across and in the disciplines. Our center is indebted to the scholars and practitioners who have made their best practices and innovative ideas available. We are proud to be part of such a vibrant community and welcome discussion!

 

Grammarsaur, the Augusta U writing center’s unofficial mascot, hopes you visit soon!