WIU’s University Writing Center has served students for more than twenty years. Since the mid-1980’s when the Writing Center opened, it has changed immensely…especially over the past year.
The University Writing Center offers one-on-one consultation for all Western students, both undergraduate and graduate; the Writing Center is available to anyone, including WIU alumni. Neil Baird, the Director of the University Writing Center explained that many types of students visit the Writing Center. Most of those students who frequent the Writing Center are enrolled in required first year composition courses like English 100 and 180. “About 59% of students [are in] English 100, 180, and 280; but we also serve a number of students in English as well,” Baird said. “We serve a number of students….all the way down from entry level to graduate level courses as well as many ESL (English as a Second Language) students,” he said.
I was a bit surprised to find out the types of students who seek out help the most from the Writing Center. Students from the Marketing and Management Department visit the Writing Center most frequently, followed by sociology and anthropology majors and then psychology majors, said Baird. The Writing Center student tutors each have their own area of specialty- making them more adept to help a wider range of students. Baird said, “We have folks that specialize in psychology, history, computer science, theatre, natural sciences, instructional design and technology, journalism, communications, and quite a few that specialize in career writing.”
During a Writing Center session, the student tutors focus on the writing assignment and understanding its rhetoric, as well as tutoring equally. “What’s offered by those one-on-one consultations is being able to learn how to read and decode a writing assignment,” Baird began. “Through tutoring equally, we hope to help students develop skills…not just for the paper they’re writing now, but other papers in the semester. We want them to feel comfortable about writing.”
Baird has served as the director since 2008; and since then, he’s accomplished most of the large changes he wanted to accomplish with the Writing Center. “The big [change] was trying to signal faculty and students on this campus that the English department does not own the Writing Center; it’s a space available to all writers, no matter what their background is,” he said. “The main difference I’ve made is making the Writing Center the center of writing…by centralizing the Writing Center and moving it to Malpass. Moving it out of Simpkins Hall and centering it in Malpass has helped a lot,” he explained.
With the Writing Center in Malpass Library, its services are more accessible for students. In Baird’s first year as director in 2008, only 2,800 students came in for help. “Last year (2011-2012), we recorded 3,751 sessions. We’ve gained almost a thousand more students since I’ve become the director,” said Baird. Although the number of sessions are increasing, Baird continues his work to make the Writing Center very accessible. “I want to be able to [schedule] online. It may be able to give us the opportunity to give online tutorials,” he said.
Baird continues to think about the future, and said if Writing Center services were accessible online, then distance learners and alumni would be able to take advantage of the free services. “Alumni who no longer live at WIU but still want collaboration on writing at the Writing Center would be able to do this. Our distance learners can utilize this,” Baird explained.
As for alumni, Baird said they can greatly help the Writing Center. “We have a number of undergrad and graduate students that present at Undergraduate Research Day or present at conferences,” he said. “Alumni, or Writing Center alumni, can help donate money to our foundation account and help take care of the Writing Center fee, phone costs, or plane tickets to present the original research we do in conferences. It’s called the Writing Center Foundation Account,” he stressed.
If you’d like to read more about WIU’s Writing Center, visit http://www.wiu.edu/university_writing_center/.