Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Coffee's for Closers!: The Pressures of Marketing a New Writing Center

Academic journal article WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship

Coffee's for Closers!: The Pressures of Marketing a New Writing Center

Article excerpt

One of the most memorable scenes in the film Glengarry Glen Ross occurs when Blake, a slick and successful salesman, is brought in to motivate the low-performing salesmen of Premiere Properties. As he is about to begin speaking to them, he admonishes the elderly, struggling salesman Shelley Levene for pouring a cup of coffee while he is talking, bellowing, "Put. That coffee. Down. Coffee's for closers only." Blake then goes on to drive home a sales mantra repeatedly--ABC (Always Be Closing)--as he berates the staff for their poor sales performances.

Obviously, writing center work is not equivalent to high-pressure sales. Nevertheless, writing center directors can experience immense pressure to "close," to get students to give the writing center a try. There might not be quotas and a looming termination if numbers do not improve, but--rather quickly--stakeholders around a campus may notice if students are not visiting the writing center. As I began my career as a writing center director, although my administration was supportive, I was painfully aware that growing the University Writing Center (UWC) and improving the numbers would play an integral role in influencing the funding and support for the UWC moving forward as well as my own professional advancement. The pressure was daunting, and I must profess that the character of Blake became an imaginary adversary in my head. Every day it seemed as if he was shouting at me: "ALWAYS BE CLOSING! Your career depends on it!"

The scholarship on early-career directors suggests that I am not alone. Nicole Caswell, Jackie Grutsch McKinney, and Rebecca Jackson found marketing a writing center to be one of the twelve most common tasks for the nine early-career directors they studied. Anne Ellen Geller and Harry Denny, studying fourteen early-career directors, also noticed that this drive was strong and resulted in immense pressure. For participants in their study, "Nuts-and-bolts writing center direction and measurable--or at least noticeable--writing center growth appeared the means to the most rewards institutionally..." (111). While not always viewed as primary tasks for directors, marketing and growing a writing center play a pivotal role in their labor. Their work is manifested and highly visible in the physical spaces they lead and manage, tethering their identities to these spaces. From an institutional perspective, the two are oftentimes essentially one and the same. Tangible results become highly desirable as they can help a writing center, and its director, gain recognition from peers and administrators.

Yet, marketing a center receives limited attention in scholarship and is often relegated to WCenter and/or personal discussions amongst directors. As a result, directors are left with an exhausting everyday task that--while potentially rewarded institutionally--is frequently not a part of their formal preparation and is commonly seen as separate from their scholarly endeavors. Early-career directors are often placed in a quintessential "Catch-22." Administrative success frequently comes at the expense of scholarly success and vice versa, yet both are essential for professional advancement, especially for those on the tenure track.

EMBRACING THE CHALLENGE WITH A PERSONAL APPROACH

As I embarked on my first year as Director of the UWC at Texas A&M University--Central Texas, I favored administration. Because the UWC opened a year before my arrival, it was not overly busy and many students did not know of the service. This placed the need to invest in, and establish personal connections with, the student body at the forefront of my mind. Interestingly, my experiences as a tutor led me to the primary mechanism for marketing the UWC--classroom visits. Like many tutors, I had given classroom presentations promoting the writing centers where I worked. I'd always been struck by how frequently the students I saw in those presentations eventually came to the writing center. …

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