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New U of U Writing Center to Help Students Communicate More Fully

August 25, 2003 — In an effort to help students correct their writing and become independently better writers, this fall the University of Utah will introduce a new resource: the Writing Center, which will offer free 20-minute, one-on-one tutoring sessions for U undergraduate students. Staffed by trained undergraduate and graduate students, the center will be open from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday; and from noon until 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Students can schedule appointments in advance or receive on-the-spot assistance as walk-ins. The Marriott Library has donated space for the center, which will be located near the east entrance, in what was formerly the third-floor circulation area of the building.

Because the U requires all undergraduate students to fulfill two writing requirements, about 3,500 students cycle through its writing classes each year. “However, the Writing Center’s target audience is students from all disciplines who are not enrolled in writing courses but who need help with challenging writing assignments,” explains Writing Center Coordinator Raul Sanchez, an assistant professor of English and faculty member in the U’s Writing Program. He says students who use the center, whether ill- or well-prepared writers, most likely will not be experienced in the kind of writing expected in college; writing which includes “composing a coherent argument and incorporating research and outside information into it.”

Maureen Mathison, associate dean of humanities and associate professor of communication, notes that, although all students declare a major, writing is the “ghost major because to do well in their careers students will have to write-whether they are nurses writing reports, social workers writing case studies or mathematicians writing and creating arguments.

“Writing is one of the most important skills a person can have in today’s world. Students often equate writing with English or creative writing,” Mathison says. “But writing in the fuller sense-constructing arguments that are issue-based, well researched and tell all sides of a story-is not taught in high school. And just because a student has a Ph.D. in writing doesn’t mean she can write a good editorial for the newspaper, present something to the Utah State Legislature or write like an engineer. To think and communicate well is an ongoing process.”

Robert Newman, dean of the College of Humanities, says, “The lack of a writing center has been a huge gap in an effective university education. We are delighted that the students and the University administration are banding together to fill the gap.”

The University’s College of Humanities’ Writing Program will administer the new Writing Center. Start-up funds came from the U’s College of Humanities, Academic Affairs and the Associated Students of the University of Utah (ASUU), which contributed $16,000 of unused funds from the 2002-2003 year to be used to furnish tutoring stations for the project. Additional funding is being pursued through ASUU for technology that will better facilitate serving the students.

The Writing Center is not just a grammatical resource. “That’s the very old model-1960s and earlier,” Mathison explains. “While students should come with a knowledge of grammar, not all will. And, although the center plans to help students with grammar, syntax and mechanics, these devices will not always be the issues. Language is not just words and rules, but an opening to a whole conceptual world where style and usage has an impact on the reader.”

Sanchez, who directed University of Southern Florida’s writing center for two years, notes that organizers of the U’s center have studied and will incorporate the best and most effective components of other universities’ writing centers. “For the first few years, we will be educating people as to what we do. Oftentimes students need to be trained how to use a writing center because they think of it as a place to get their papers fixed; whereas our purpose is to help them become better writers.”

The Marriott Library has donated space for the center. “The library is dedicated to supporting students in all their academic endeavors and in ways beyond traditional library services,” comments library director Sarah Michalak. “We are glad that we have the space available to support the Writing Center, which will clearly be a much needed resource for students.”

Sanchez says the Writing Center is for part- or full-time students from all class levels and from upper and lower campus. “And it’s free. Students need to remember that at the Writing Center they will not be given grades. We are there to help them.”