After writing a report, essay or study, every author will go through the inevitable stage of reviewing their work and ask, “does this make sense?”
While students and faculty have the option to visit the university’s Writing Center for help, Rachel Azima, director of the Writing Center, decided to take the resource one step further with the Writing Fellows Program.
“Writing Fellows programs have been around for decades at other institutions,” Azima said. “Ours [UNL’s] is modeled after the one at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my Ph.D. alma mater. I wanted to offer more extensive support for both faculty and students around writing, and the Writing Fellows Program serves as an effective, boots-on-the-ground way of contributing to writing across the curriculum and writing in the discipline’s efforts on campus.”
The Writing Fellows Program works with faculty partners and specific classes to support students with their writing. A class that the Fellows currently support is Cray Cressler’s evolutionary medicine course.
“One of the challenges with grading student writing is separating out content from quality,” Cressler, associate professor in the school of biological sciences, said. “Given that grading writing is inherently subjective, it’s incredibly valuable to have the Writing Fellows helping students to get the writing up to a quality where making an objective assessment of the content is easier.”
In addition to helping students with course work, the Fellows also offer feedback to the faculty partners.
“I have gotten invaluable feedback from them [the Fellows] on my rubrics and how the students interpret what I’ve put into the rubric,” Cressler said. “Every year that I have worked with the Fellows, my rubric improves and student writing improves alongside.”
Most of the Fellows are undergraduates who consult with the Writing Center, and they generally support anywhere from 10 to 15 students throughout a semester. Writing Fellows discuss ideas and problems with students and offer suggestions so students can express their ideas as effectively as possible.
Ann Tschetter, an associate professor of practice in the department of history, has been working with the Writing Fellows Program since 2017 and has been grateful to work with the program and further resources available to students.
“I believe analyzing historical information and writing about it are great ways to learn history,” Tschetter said. “For students, it’s a great way to help them develop good writing habits and it also really builds student confidence in their writing. Meeting with the Fellows helps students develop other skills as well—things like meeting in a professional situation, receiving and acting on constructive feedback, and how to polish their work.”
Working with the writing Fellows goes far beyond standard proofreading of papers, with students receiving guidance about organization, how to clarify points and making sure readers of different backgrounds and skill levels can understand the information presented.
“Involvement of the Fellows at the UNL Writing Center in my courses gives students access to more sources of feedback on their writing, particularly on early drafts and on scaffolded assignments leading up to the complete version of a longer writing assignment,” Sabrina Russo, professor of biological systems, said. “Writing is of course a highly creative, integrative and challenging process, and learning how to organize one’s thoughts into a coherent argument is a fundamental skill, translates across many disciplines and is an essential part of professional development for nearly every career trajectory.”
Russo’s students also get feedback about integrating different forms of information in with writing assignments such as quantitative results (which could be presented as figures and tables) along with conceptual models, diagrams and other visual aids.
As most of the Fellows are going into English, writing and communications fields, it’s good to have a fresh set of eyes to review a topic they may be completely unfamiliar with.
“It’s really beneficial to have Fellows who are not science majors reading science writing,” Cressler said. “Good science writing shouldn’t be inaccessible, and having an outside audience read and react to the writing helps students to communicate their ideas more clearly.”
Since the Writing Fellows Program inception five years ago, approximately 854 students have received assistance in over thirty courses and multiple disciplines.
And with funding from the Center for Transformative Teaching (CTT), the Writing Fellows Program will be continuing through the next three years and is looking for more faculty partners to join.
“We typically work with 3 or 4 faculty partners per semester, but thanks to the CTT’s generous funding, we plan to increase that to 5 per semester by the 2024-2025 academic year,” Azima said.
Those on the fence about joining the program need look no further than the advice given by veteran faculty partners of the program.
“I became a partner with the Writing Fellows Program because I thought having feedback from fellows would help my students learn to write better, and it does,” Harry Ide, associate professor of philosophy, said. “Students and faculty should seek out the Writing Fellows Program for assistance because the Fellows are very good at helping students clarify their ideas, organize them effectively, and state them clearly in papers.”
“Working with Writing Center Fellows is such a great opportunity for both students and faculty,” Tschetter said. “This program not only helps students to develop a whole host of skills, it also helps faculty think about their assignments and writing prompts in new ways.”
For more information about the Writing Fellows Program, visit the Writing Center’s website.