Our Legacy

The Writing Workshop, 1987-1996

In 1986, English department chair Linda Hubert wanted to expand the department’s efforts to help students write better. She began exploring the possibility of establishing a writing center. The following year, Buttrick 306 was designated the Writing Workshop. Two students tutored their peers in writing for English and other courses. Hubert wrote a successful grant to the Kellogg Foundation for computers and furnishings. With the help of Myrtle Lewin, director of academic computing, she planned the facility and ordered the equipment.

The following year, the Writing Workshop evolved into a more formal system of tutoring under the direction of Christine Cozzens. Tutors increased from three to seven. Weekly training meetings acquainted the tutors with the principles of teaching writing. Faculty members from various departments came to the meetings to talk about how to improve student writing.

From the beginning of the program, tutoring in writing was available for all students without cost for coursework in all departments. Efforts were made to develop tutoring as a valuable service for writers at all levels. From just a few hundred appointments each semester, the Writing Workshop grew rapidly in popularity and effectiveness. 

The Center for Writing and Speaking, 1996-2011

In 1996, Dean Sarah Blanshei, Associate Dean Ruth Bettandorff, the chair of the English department Christopher Ames, and the director of the Writing Workshop Christine Cozzens discussed expanding the program. Blanshei wanted to expand writing across the curriculum. Cozzens and Ames saw the tutors as the most significant agents of writing across the curriculum because they already worked with students and faculty in all disciplines.

In addition, the projected growth of the college and the expectation of a large first-year class underscored the need for more tutoring hours. Several studies of student opinions suggested that they sought “more meaningful work” for financial aid and other on-campus jobs. Expanding the tutoring program seemed to be a reasonable and useful response to these issues.

Meanwhile, the increased attention to oral presentation in most courses raised the need to train students in public speaking. At a later meeting that included members of the Department of Theatre and Dance, the idea of training “speaking” tutors emerged. Dudley Sanders (Department of Theatre and Dance) drew up an initial proposal.

In 1996, the Speaking Center opened in Buttrick 207, a classroom equipped with audio and video recording and playback equipment. Pamela Turner was the first coordinator of the Speaking Center. In its first year, Turner and her staff modeled many of their practices on those established by the Writing Center but sought also to determine the special identity of a center devoted to oral presentation skills.

After a succession of coordinators, Veronica Henson-Phillips took over the position in the fall of 1998. Wendy Atkins-Sayre succeeded her, overseeing an important shift towards a more rhetoric-based approach to tutoring, Wendy initiated a successful program of faculty development regarding using speaking assignments in class. Dave Lawrence, the next Speaking Center director, took this program and the center to a new level of expertise and effectiveness, bringing expertise in digital communications to the Center for Writing and Speaking. 

The expansion in 1996 also included new outreach programs for the CWS. The Partners Program creates tutoring pairs for the semester or the year. It's aimed at students who want to work regularly and consistently on writing or speaking (international or ESOL students, senior thesis writers, students with learning disabilities, creative writers, etc.). The Course Tutors Program puts a dedicated tutor in a course to support student learning and to work with the instructor to strengthen the teaching of writing or speaking.

Cozzens continued in her role as the director of the newly named and expanded center with Professor David Lawrence directing the Speaking Center. The two programs used similar tutoring practices, met together regularly as a whole staff, and in January of 2001 were united in a common, especially designed space on the ground floor of the renovated McCain Library.

2012 and Forward

In 2011 drastic college-wide budget cuts transformed the CWS. The tutor salary budget was replaced with an all-work study plan, meaning that only students with work-study may be hired as tutors using the college budget. It was a dramatic change from the past, when a dedicated salary budget allowed the hiring of the best candidates, regardless of their work-study status. To make sure that the quality of tutoring remains high, designated funds ared used to supplement the salary budget.

Other changes dismantled the salary structure that allowed us to hire a full-time speaking center director. To address these new circumstances, the CWS administrators and tutors agreed that all tutors should coach writing and speaking. There will no longer be separate writing and speaking centers, but one. The Center for Writing and Speaking became the new name for the English Department’s Writing Workshop joined with the newly devised Speaking Center. The two programs were united for administrative, philosophical, and practical purposes

In the spring of 2012, a new hiring plan went into effect that asked candidates to demonstrate both writing and speaking skills and to reflect on the broad spectrum of communication theory, skills, and activities during their interview.

In addition, we created the Patricia Collins Butler Fellow using funds donated by our late benefactor, who argued cases before the United States Supreme Court. The Butler Fellow will teach public speaking courses, and be the adviser and trainer for the CWS on matters related to oral presentations, rhetorical theory, and more. This position, designed for an advanced PhD student, will give the recipient valuable experience as staff of a peer tutoring center and will thus prepare them for a competitive job market.

The Center for Writing and Speaking seek to make a comfortable, helpful, stimulating place for all. Workshops and other special events bring students to the center as well. These activities celebrate and deepen our shared understanding of writing and speaking. Walk-in hours on Monday nights give students the opportunity to come to the CWS for short visits. The physical space is open for all students to use as a place to do their work.

Tutors carry out research on topics related to teaching writing and speaking, and they attended conferences to learn and to present their research. They also observe their peers as part of their own education. This important feature is part of the CWS’s training program, reinforcing the idea that we are all always learning, and helping each tutor remember what it is like to be a student.

Back to top