As a doctoral fellow interested in writing studies, this past semester (Spring 2014), I took a graduate seminar titled Critical Issues in the Teaching of Writing: Histories, Theories and Practices of Writing Centers and one-to-One Teaching taught by Dr. Anne Ellen Geller at St John’s University in New York. From the moment she told me about the Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project, I thought of Concordia College – NY, my alma mater, as a perfect place to gather research to add to the PWTARP. The Writing Center at Concordia College is a small one, but it’s one of the spaces on campus that is always bustling with dialogue and full of learning. When I heard about the PWTARP, I began to think about how much my experience as a peer tutor impacted me as a graduate student, as an instructor and in daily life. My experience as a writing center peer tutor gave me confidence as a student while learning to work collaboratively and listen carefully to others. I learned these skills in the small writing center at Concordia, which serves a small Lutheran, liberal arts college.
The list of alumni I contacted all tutored in the writing center at Concordia during their time as undergraduates. The group I surveyed included men and women from the age of twenty-two through forty who graduated anywhere between 1995 through 2013. The survey reached eighteen active email inboxes and I received seventeen completed surveys, a response rate of 94%.
The results of the survey show that those who worked as tutors in the writing center were deeply impacted by their experiences they carried with them post graduation. The experiences in the writing center allowed these alumni to develop significant skills including confidence building, collaboration, listening skills, analytical skills, a different relationship with writing and an overall stronger educational experience. Those skills developed in the center were not only useful during the undergraduate experience, but also in career choices, graduate school choices and relationships.
One of Concordia’s strongest values is its emphasis of creating and serving a community. The responses to the survey made it clear to me that the writing center at Concordia creates and supports the space where students, peer tutors and professors discuss writing. During peer tutors’ service to the community, they learn about themselves as students and as individuals, making them more confident and also strengthening their communication skills. Some sample responses:
Working with others and their writing has helped me be more understanding and insightful to the way other people think and communicate. It has made me a better writer and a better communicator. And it has helped me hone my analytical and critical thinking skills.
I always felt privileged to work in the writing center as an undergraduate student. I had more practice with writing than other students. The resources I had access to were more than helpful for my personal works. The writing center was more of a family to me than a work space. I saw the other tutors as role models. Their knowledge of writing exposed me to the complexity of the writing process both creatively and academically. If I had not worked in the writing center as an undergraduate student my perspective on writing could have withheld my development and interests as a writer. I believe that the writing center should continue to resemble what is now and always been writers who carry the existence of literature and language via community.
I find myself completely at ease, whether I’m talking to a laborer fixing a section of railroad track, or meeting with the top Executive at a Fortune500 company.
Using the resources the PWTARP offers gave me insight into my own experience as a peer tutor during my undergraduate experience. It made me think about what I truly learned during my time as a tutor concretely. But even more so, I believe the PWTARP reminds us of how insightful such experiential learning can be for peer tutors.
The above is a short summary of the research I completed this past semester for the graduate seminar on writing studies I was part of. If you’d like to read the full project or know more about my research, feel free to reach out to me at Nathalie.Virgintino13[at]stjohns.edu. I’d love to hear about the research others are working on and contributing to this insightful project.
–Nathalie Virgintino, St. John’s University