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Writing Center opts to hire undergraduate tutors

The Mills College Writing Center, where students can seek help for writing papers, is now hiring undergraduate students as tutors in an effort to broaden the scope of expertise for students who seek help in all areas of academics, according to Visiting Professor of British literature and science Kara Wittman. Until now, Writing Center tutors have been exclusively graduate students.

This change will broaden its services to the Mills community by hiring students from all disciplines. According to Wittman, the new job opportunity as a peer tutor at the Writing Center presents undergraduate students with a positive “career move” as well as creating more of a “community resource.”

“We have a huge talent pool that just goes completely untapped,” Wittman said.

According to Wittman, although it is ideal to hire Graduate students, who are future writing teachers, as tutors, this puts a limit on what is taught in the Writing Center.

Helen Walter, director for the Center of Academic Excellence, said that there has been the misconception that they only assist with the mechanics of English writing, rather than dealing with writing papers for all types of disciplines. This has proven problematic for students who seek expertise in areas like science or psychology.

“By allowing anybody from any of the disciplines to [tutor], we’re allowing for more expertise within individual fields,” said Walter.

Wittman and Walter found that trying to generalize writing into one style does not work. Previously, the tutors in the Writing Center staff had been dominated by English majors. They said that different subjects require different types of writing, almost as if it were in a different language.

Angie Young, a first-year whose intended major is English, has had experience in the communications department, in Alumnae Relations. She will be applying for a position as a peer tutor in the Writing Center.

“I feel fine because in my current job I had to get over being scared of talking to people,” Young said. “You just need to talk and be honest and [say], ‘I don’t quite get what you mean,’ or ‘Let me try and help you here,’ you know, just be real.”

Because this is new for the Writing Center, the fall semester’s undergraduate employees are considered to be a pilot group. According to Wittman, although the program is not fully developed, it will be a learning process for both the students and the faculty involved.

Wittman said that training will be a large part of the process for the undergraduate as well as the graduate tutors. She will direct the training workshops for graduate students, all of whom are also required to take a Theories and Strategies of Teaching Writing class.

“I want to make the training process as extensive and rigorous as possible,” Wittman said, “This will also give our graduate students a different kind of opportunity.”

The graduate students will then put what they learn into practice by holding workshops to train the undergraduate students throughout the semester.

Although learning how to teach other students and putting that into practice seems like a time-consuming task, the schedule the students will work on is going to be designed to accommodate their schedule.

According to Walter, finding the balance between the students’ studies, how many students they can tutor, and how much training they are going to be given will all be a part of the pilot program.

Wittman and Walter do not know the exact number of students they will be hiring, but they would like to have more students for each area of study so that everyone who comes in for help will be able to find it.

“Part of what I expect to do is get to know the way writing works in other fields,” Wittman said. “I am an expert in a particular kind of writing. I have also been trained to know something about writing across the curriculum.”

Junior Erika Grant, who is an English major, is excited about this new opportunity and will be applying for a position at the Writing Center. She has had experience teaching others with tutoring experience in high school, Peer Health Exchange, as well as teaching pre-schoolers in the summer.

“I think there’s already a lot of really intelligent, really talented people who are already in the program, and a lot of people who are cognizant of what students need,” Grant said. “I’m excited about being able to learn from them.”