Sunday, November 17, 2013

Writing Center Sunshine: NCPTW 2013

PSA: Coe College received its first snowfall of the year. That's right -- that powdery white stuff we haven't seen in months. Rather than embracing the chilly air, I think I will cuddle up with my cup o' joe and daydream about warmer places... like...


Really, this post is motivated by much more than my dissatisfaction with the weather. The WC actually just got back from the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing, held on November 1-3, 2013. While soaking up the sunshine, we attended conference sessions filled with information about other writing centers and presented sessions of our own. In typical Coe Writing Center fashion, we also managed to have some degree of fun, both within and outside of the conference itself.

Most consultants took a 22-hour van ride from Cedar Rapids to Tampa... but due to scheduling issues, I was unfortunately forced to take an air-conditioned, non-smelly, 3 hour plane ride. My airplane buddies and I arrived in Tampa around 4 PM on Thursday. We hung around the hotel (AKA on the hotel's private beach...) until our van buddies arrived around 8 PM.

Because the CWC thrives on anything-and-everything food related, we dined as a staff at Bahama Breeze. Our little midwestern hearts were pleased with the fresh fish, but our director Dr. Bob took the tropical food admiration a step further. He told us about his tradition of buying key lime pie whenever he is in Florida. It started when he and his wife, Margie, were in the Sunshine State for a few weeks. They bought a pie but then realized they had nowhere to store it... so they ate the entire pie in one sitting. The next time Dr. Bob was in Florida, he was eating dinner with some friends when it dawned on him that it was his birthday. His friends promptly asked what he wanted for the occasion, and he asked for key lime pie. It's been a tradition ever since. The CWC got in on the tradition when our server brought enough forks for our entire table -- and Dr. Bob split his precious key lime pie into bite-sized pieces for all of us.

The next day, we had free time until 4 PM when the conference commenced. What better way to spend a few free hours than plunging down 90 degree drops with a safety belt pushing into your abdomen and strangers screaming all around you? Kristen, Leeann, Candace and I thought that sounded idyllic, so we spent the day at Busch Gardens amusement park. After being terrified on the 90-degree Sheikra, I comforted myself by touching a wallaby... which is my new favorite animal. Next CWC trip to Australia, perhaps?

We rushed back to the hotel in time to catch the shuttle to the conference and arrived just in time for the first session. I attended a session called "Crayons with Purpose: Visual Dialogic Reflection in the Writing Center." It was all about using drawing as a way to reflect about our lives, whether as a writer or as a consultant. With all the papers that come through the CWC, it was nice to have a little visual expression.

The opening speaker, Kristin Gilliss, spoke poignantly about the skills gained from conferencing in a writing center. She works for the Mulago Foundation, an organization that acts as a liaison between donors and charities. The charities are required to submit mission statements precisely stating their goals - in six words or less. Ms. Gilliss assists the donors in discovering what they are actually doing, not just what they think they are doing. That is considerably similar to what a consultant does... examine what a writer is actually doing, not just what they think they are doing. Ms. Gilliss reminded us that our job is needed and that it extends beyond college. I felt fortunate to listen to such a poised speaker who is the quintessential example of "making a difference."

Early Saturday morning, I rushed out of the pouring rain onto a shuttle bus. As if my trip wasn't great enough already, I met some new friends from the Auburn University Writing Center. We chatted about the differences and similarities between our writing centers (notably the fact that Coe has 70-some consultants...).  We went to a session together about connecting writing center identity to our other identities - and the coolest part was that we got to make a kaleidoscope! I connected my identity as a consultant to my identity as a resident assistant because they both require empathy and understanding. I gained a much more holistic understanding of myself.

The sessions continued all day Saturday, including a session I helped present. My presentation group held a roundtable discussion relating our hiring practices to our writing center culture. Coe is unique in its non-traditional hiring practices, which often consist of scavenger hunts, pseudo-speed-dating, and other generally fun activities. Coe College has a friendly, relaxed atmosphere as a whole, so it seems fitting that our writing center is also pretty chill. We hope our hiring practices assist in finding consultants that best fit our culture. Our awesome audience had a lot of questions and comments about our practices, and they brought their ideas to the table (literally) as well.

The snow outside is dreary, but the memory of this phenomenal trip warms me right up (and the writing center coffee in my hands probably helps too). I was proud of our writing center and humbled by the other impacting writing consultants all around me. To our beloved blog readers, perhaps we'll run into you on our next trip... we sure hope so.

-Angela, class of 2016