Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

A Space for Change: Writing Center Partnerships to Support Graduate Writing

Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

A Space for Change: Writing Center Partnerships to Support Graduate Writing

Article excerpt

As the Council of Graduate Schools Ph.D. Completion Project reports, even under favorable conditions, at least a quarter of the students who begin a Ph.D. do not complete the degree, and the biggest roadblock is often writing the dissertation. In an editorial in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Ph.D. student Kevin Gotkin catalogues the gaps in his graduate writing education:

   I have never workshopped a piece of writing during a
   course. And no one else in my classes has, either. We usually
   have a single day in the middle of the semester devoted
   to talking about our final projects. We go around
   the room and talk in the most wildly abstract terms about
   where they might go in 25 pages. It's very exciting, but it's
   not writing.

We envisioned graduate students like Gotkin finding a space in our writing center to workshop a draft, get feedback on a literature review, or join a dissertation support group, but we did not have the resources to carve out such a space. When we were offered pilot funding to support graduate student writing by expanding our existing writing center services, which were targeted mainly to undergraduates, we knew we needed to act quickly if we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity. But we also knew we needed to anticipate challenges and next steps.

We found that organizational development theory provided practical questions to consider as we changed from a primarily undergraduate center to one that also supported graduate writing. We asked ourselves:

1. Is the change important?

2. Is the change achievable?

3. What resources are available?

4. What alliances enable collaborative problem solving?

5. How do we sustain change?

We will use our local situation to suggest a framework others may use to reflect on the role of change within their own centers, especially as those changes support graduate student writers. The organizational development framework that we use could also prove helpful for any writing center facing a large change.

Supporting graduate student writing relies on partnerships between groups of faculty and students across campus. On our campus, for instance, a WAC/WID alliance with the writing center (The Eberly Writing Studio), provides disciplinary insight: faculty know what counts as evidence in their own fields, how research is conducted, who receives credit, and so forth; but they sometimes have a difficult time conveying this knowledge to students (Pare, et al. 222). The Writing Studio can help graduate students navigate as they learn these disciplinary conventions. Specific alliances, however, depend on local conditions. On other campuses, a writing center might be allied with a center for teaching and learning or perhaps with a university library. The model we propose allows for a range of partnerships. To foster such partnerships, Karen Vaught-Alexander suggests using organizational development (OD) theory. She proposes that WPAs, including writing center directors, are uniquely positioned to create bridges as they negotiate across curricular, student, faculty, staff, and budgetary issues (126). She provides a heuristic, drawn from OD theory, that can help administrators understand the institutional structures, motivations, needs, and resistance associated with change. Vaught-Alexander poses questions that help us consider how we can take active roles as change agents--even at an early stage of program development.


Vaught-Alexander's work inspired us to research current organizational development theory. Particularly useful was Bryan Weiner's observation that readiness for change varies in relation to the perceived value of the change (4). With Weiner's point in mind, before we launched our pilot, we surveyed 126 WVU faculty and 107 WVU graduate students across the disciplines to gauge whether both groups were receptive to graduate writing support. …

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