Center Has the Write Stuff for Students

Mary Powell, left, talks about her paper with student consultant Yin Chin Casey Huang in USD's Writing Center, located in Founders Hall 190-B.Mary Powell, left, talks about her paper with student consultant Yin Chin Casey Huang in USD's Writing Center, located in Founders Hall 190-B.

Today, Friday, Dec. 14, is the last day that the University of San Diego's Writing Center is open during the Fall 2018 semester. After a semester in which student writing consultants fulfilled more than 1,000 appointments, today is the last chance for students to get tips, to get a second pair of eyes on their work and to make adjustments with their help before they have to turn in the assignment to their professor.

Today is also a special day at the Founders Hall 190-B space. Why? Because the center that residents joyfully describe as a "family-run business," has extended hours. Today only, they'll be open for the usual 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift, but they’ll then host their twice-a-year Night Against Procrastination event from 2-9 p.m. There are 30-minute walk-in appointments available all evening long. Plus, there's free pizza while it lasts.

Celebrating its 40th year on the USD campus — current English Professor Dennis Clausen was its inaugural director in 1978 — the center uses 35-40 student staff members who earn college credit instead of pay for their work. By doing this, the center attracts a type of student worker that truly cares about what they can do to help.

"Students can bring their work to the center at any stage of the writing process," says Hugo Werstler, a 2014 USD alumnus and the center’s executive assistant. "Even if it's a blank page."

Mary Powell, a senior business economics major and minors in philosophy and law and ethics, has spent much of her time as a USD student in the center. Initially a student consultant and now one of two student coordinators, her passion for writing and grammar is palpable, almost as much as her working with other students. "It makes me feel better to help someone cultivate their thoughts," she said. "All of our consultants really like to help others. It's very rewarding."

Powell knows this firsthand. On Thursday, she was also a customer. Another consultant, Yin Chin Casey Huang, spent time talking her through some questions she had about a paper she's doing for a class.

It is students like Powell that give current Writing Center Director Deborah Sundmacher, who has been in the role for eight years, the feeling that she's got one of the best jobs on campus. "I get to work with exceptional students who are intelligent, curious, kind and generous people who always give of themselves," she said. "The people in the center are like family and it's a business, that's why we call it a family-run business."

The "business" model is thoughtfully on helping students succeed on their own. The consultants are merely there to offer encouragement and to be a listening board — not to physically do the edits for a client. The center’s mission statement says it all:

"In one-on-one consultations, our experienced consultants provide critical reflection and constructive feedback during the multiple stages of the writing process, from planning to composing to revision. It is our goal to help students develop strategies for improving their writing, gaining confidence in their writing and developing educational independence."

The center is open to undergraduate and graduate students from all disciplines. Powell said the majority tend to be first-year students. One may suspect that English majors are the norm as both consultants and customers, but Powell said the disciplines that use the center most frequently include business administration, biology and mechanical engineering majors as well as those in the Kroc School's Peace and Justice Studies program.

Customers know they are getting quality instruction. When consultants are not helping students, consultants are likely sharpening their skills. Powell said there are workshops for consultants to gain tips on working with first-year students, on types of papers such as subjects like science and on working with non-English speaking students. There's also a mentor-mentee program to help new student consultants transition smoothly to the center.

Perhaps the Writing Center's biggest challenge is its location. The Founders Hall space is located at the back of the building and just outside the room's window is the noticeable construction for the new Ministry Center. While the Ministry Center is slated to be ready in Summer 2019, the Writing Center is eyeing a new environment of its own.

The Writing Center is expected to take up a second-floor residence in the upcoming Learning Commons building, which will be located behind Copley Library. Sundmacher said the new center is expected to have double the space and be a more visible place. For now, though, where the center exists is just fine with Powell.

"It's a place where I always feel supported, a place I can always talk with other students. I really do spend a majority of my time here when I'm not in class. Every moment here is not wasted. There's always something going on. Even when I did study abroad in Rome the fall semester of my junior year, I missed my family, I missed my dog and I missed being a part of the Writing Center."

— Ryan T. Blystone


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