Going the Extra Miles: UWC Scholars Travel to Philly for MAWCA 2016


SUMMARY: UWC tutors went more than a few extra miles this year. In 2015, JMU's University Writing Center hosted the annual Mid-Atlantic Writing Centers Association (MAWCA) conference.

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UWC tutors KC Collazo and Rodolfo "Rudy" Barrett at MAWCA 2016.

UWC tutors went more than a few extra miles this year. In 2015, JMU’s University Writing Center hosted the annual Mid-Atlantic Writing Centers Association (MAWCA) conference. In 2016, three UWC presenters headed north to Drexel University in downtown Philadelphia to share their research and to engage in the broader writing center conversation.

Peer Tutor Kassandra Collazo embraced the conference theme of “synergies and innovations” by presenting on her cross-training in JMU’s English Language Learners Services (ELLS) center. She shared her work with ELLS Director Kristen Shrewsbury, how she applies her training in both the UWC and ELLS, and the benefits of these collaborations for tutors, clients, and learning centers as a whole.

MAWCA 2016 was Collazo’s first time presenting at a conference. “It was occasionally overwhelming,” she says, “but I felt proud to be part of the conversation, and to share my expertise. Our learning centers have such experienced faculty and such exciting programs, so being able to show other peer tutors what works for us felt like a great way to contribute to their development.” Longtime UWC faculty tutor Kevin Jefferson, who also made the MAWCA trip, came away impressed: “KC took full advantage of her first conference. She corresponded with her co-panelist beforehand and capitalized on her preparation on the day. She more than held her own in the face of technological challenges and a packed room of conference goers.”

Graduate Assistant Rodolfo “Rudy” Barrett, now an old hand at the conference game, asked his audience to consider how innovation might start with attention to a seemingly minor concern: the names we go by on the Writing Center’s online session scheduler. Barrett outlined his rationale and methodology for the ongoing research project, which aims to identify whether writing center clients resist booking appointments with tutors who have non-white names. During the extended question-and-answer session at the end of his panel, Barrett pointed toward the implications of his thinking: a larger conversation about how perceptions of ethnicity may affect writing center consultations and the need to examine even the most seemingly self-evident of our practices.  

The UWC’s third presenter, Learning Centers Director Kurt Schick, truly embraced the conference theme, inviting administrators, faculty, and students of other writing centers to collaborate with the UWC on a pilot assessment study. Schick proposed a RAD (replicable, aggregable, and data-driven) research methodology focused on studying tutoring techniques and the tutors themselves, rather than on the ambiguous territory of the students’ growth. Many in attendance signed on to help develop the project, with one attendee even noting that Schick’s approach “could change the field.”

Conferences like MAWCA exemplify the writing center ideal of collaborative spaces that reward creativity and contemplation. Jefferson and Schick have already expressed enthusiasm about moving forward with collaborative research and integrating ideas from the conference in JMU’s own center. Whether the ideas are as modest as creating a more casual UWC atmosphere or as lofty as changing the very shape of writing center assessment, the UWC savors these opportunities to influence and be influenced by the regional conversation about the idea of a writing center.

- Rodolfo “Rudy” Barrett | Senior Staff Writer | Graduate Assistant

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Published: Friday, April 1, 2016

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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