Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

A Is for Alumni: Cultivating Past Advisors as Current Advocates

Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

A Is for Alumni: Cultivating Past Advisors as Current Advocates

Article excerpt

Were the fall semester of 2014 a movie, I could imagine myself as Benjamin Franklin Gates, the character played by Nicolas Cage in National Treasure. Surrounded by boxes of old files, I was elbow-deep in papers in a side room of our school's library, digging for any sign of past Writing Center employees: a frayed name tag, a tattered attendance sheet, a crumpled memo. Anything that could give me another name to add to the list--a list of every advisor who had worked in the Wittenberg Writing Center since its founding in 1980. We did not have one on file, and attempts to recreate the list from other sources had been stymied: all the old employment records before 1995 had been destroyed, and the course for writing center advisors had not begun until 1990; there were at least ten years of advisors hidden away. All we had to go on were the random files left by the previous director, ones now stored in boxes in the basement of the library. So I searched.

The reason for creating the list was fairly straightforward: we wanted to host a reunion, celebrating thirty-five years of student writing advisors at Wittenberg (1). That reunion, though, was part of a larger plan, one that aimed to strengthen the relationships between the Writing Center, the school administration, the school's advancement department, the school's communication office, and our alumni. We wanted to cultivate the ties with our former advisors so that, yes, we could (selfishly) position the Writing Center as central to the school's mission (2). And that plan had, and continues to have, many moving parts.

The writing center field has long recognized the value of its work for tutors beyond the walls of the writing center itself. Sue Dinitz and Jean Kiedaisch talk of how writing center staff benefit from talking with writers: "While tutoring and writing, independently, help students develop skills with wide relevance in the work world, practicing them in combination--tutoring writing--allows for a mutual reinforcement of these skills." And these skills are "central to success in almost any profession" (5). Paula Gillespie, Brad Hughes, and Harvey Kail have written about the Alumni Tutor Project, a research endeavor that has highlighted "detailed information on the skills, values, and abilities that tutors have taken with them and on the ways they adapted their knowledge of writing and collaborative learning to suit their needs" after graduation (40). More importantly, the authors have explained how to use this information with different populations, from administrators to colleagues to donors to ourselves. And we have at Wittenberg done such surveying; every year we ask the graduating seniors to fill out a questionnaire regarding their work, and we have previously polled several alumni on how their days in the Writing Center connected to their current work.

Yet we were looking for something more than survey results. It is one thing for writing center administrators to offer their research from these projects; it is another for the alumni themselves to offer their stories. We wanted to build from Gillespie, Hughes, and Kail's work, to bring the alumni themselves into the conversations, so we started with a reunion.

That reunion idea was the result of collaboration with our school's director of alumni relations. Over the course of several conversations, we talked about the best way of interacting with alumni. One of our first steps was writing an article on the Writing Center for the alumni newsletter. From there we began trying to track down the names of everyone who had worked in the Center. We wanted an email list so that we could send updates on the Writing Center, letting the group know of recent publications and conference presentations from current advisors; we also hoped that we could use the former advisors as a resource for current staff. Might they be able to offer advice about finding jobs, about using the skills gained in the Writing Center in the outside world? …

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