by the WIC Team

WIC and participating units strive to foster a commitment to excellence in undergraduate student writing and recognize the value of writing across the disciplines with the annual WIC Culture of Writing Awards in the disciplines.

Participation in the Culture of Writing Awards has thrived since 2006 as students earn recognition and cash awards through either individual or team writing projects. This year, participation continued to be strong despite the obstacles posed by remote learning, and 37 awards were granted across 7 colleges. WIC would like to thank all participating units for their continued desire to recognize and reward outstanding student writing.

Congratulations to this year’s awardees!

Student namePaper TitleCollegeNominating MajorNominating Professor
Grace BurksAttracting Pacific Northwest Pawpaw (Asimina Triloba) Pollinators Through Dual-Use Production ManagementAgricultural SciencesAgricultural SciencesKJ Joseph
Katrina DoggettThe Racehorse Industry: ethical and welfare considerations of standard practicesAgricultural SciencesAnimal SciencesGiovanna Rosenlicht
Erin JacksonStarkey Experimental Forest and Range Prescribed Grazing Plan, Union County, ORAgricultural SciencesRangeland SciencesClaudia Ingham
Madeleine ReyesEconomic Analysis of Policy Options for Water Scarcity in California AgricultureAgricultural SciencesAgricultural and Food Business ManagementPenny Diebel
Monica VickersCost-benefit Analysis for Invasive Weed Control: The Case of Knotweed in Skagit CountyAgricultural SciencesEnvironmental Economics and PolicyPenny Diebel
Juriana E. Barboza SagreroGuinea pig model of mild hyperandrogenemia – is it a suitable model for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)? A pilot study.Agricultural SciencesBioResource ResearchKatharine Field
Sarah EllisPersonal Ethical Action PlanBusinessBusiness AdministrationAngelika Buchanan
Nicole KotwasinskiPersonal Ethical Action PlanBusinessBusiness Information SystemsAngelika Buchanan
Tiffany HuestisPersonal Ethical Action PlanBusinessEntrepreneurshipAngelika Buchanan
Katie WallacePersonal Ethical Action PlanBusinessFinanceAngelika Buchanan
Dhrushil PatelPersonal Ethical Action PlanBusinessInternational BusinessAngelika Buchanan
Kendyl DruffelPersonal Ethical Action PlanBusinessManagementAngelika Buchanan
Suzi McConnellPersonal Ethical Action PlanBusinessMarketingAngelika Buchanan
Maria BakerCold Desert Climatology of the Patagonia Steppe in ArgentinaCEOASEnvironmental SciencesAndrea Allan
Christopher EgyedDescribing the Climate of the Lake Superior Basin: The Influence of Continentality and the Great Lakes on a Humid Continental ClimateCEOASGeography & Geospatial ScienceAndrea Allan
Giulia Ann WoodDetermining Arctic krill spawning regions and impacts of warming on abundance and distributionCEOASOcean SciencesKim Bernard
Ranyu (Sienna) ShiNeural Prosthetic Hand Design Impact AssessmentEngineeringElectrical & Computer EngineeringRachael Cate
Rachel VillarrealConnection to the LanForestryForest EngineeringJon Souder
Jay SharpeCooperating to Address the Risk of Wildland Fire: A Policy BriefForestryForestryMindy Crandall
Alissa LiuThe Cultivation of Social Harmony: A Discussion of Tradition in Chinese Contemporary Styles and Popular MusicLiberal ArtsMusicKimary Fick
Ana R. PearseMarina Abramović’s Rhythm O: Reimagining the Roles of Artist and ObserverLiberal ArtsArtLei Xue
Grace KnutsenColonial Combatants: Moroccan Soldiers in the Twentieth-Century French ArmyLiberal ArtsHistoryJonathan Katz
Tristan MitchellScientific Realism and Trust as a Remedy for Coronavirus Vaccine SkepticismLiberal ArtsPhilosophyJonathan Kaplan
Kendrea BeersEmbodied Wisdom in Mahāyāna Buddhism and Orthodox ChristianityLiberal ArtsReligious StudiesGeoffrey Barstow
Shane Ania Louise Dela Cruz TyIndividual Interventions for Social JusticeLiberal ArtsEthnic StudiesMarta Maldonado
Rhythm KristichThe Impact of Political Ideology on Aggression and CompassionLiberal ArtsPsychologyChris Sanchez
Maire K. HargadenDoes Universal Early Childcare Affect Academic Outcomes?Liberal ArtsEconomicsTaylor Rhodes
Duncan Sean KempThe Economic Path Dependency of Foreign Extraction Duration: Why Colonialism StillLiberal ArtsPolitical ScienceMichael W. Trevathan
Whitney ThalerStudent Debt and the Alteration of Adulthood IndependenceLiberal ArtsSociologyMark Edwards
Joshua StickrodIntertextual Revisionism: Recontextualizing The Eurocentric Literary Tradition In Hannah Crafts’s The Bondwoman’s NarrativeLiberal ArtsEnglishMegan Ward
Evaggelos Klonis100 Dinge: Wie entkommt man der hedonistischen Tretmühle?Liberal ArtsGermanSebastian Heiduschke
Christina JacksonCapital vs. Capability: Evaluation in Early Childhood EducationPHHSHDFSKathleen McDonnell
Katie SawtelleWomen’s Health Narratives: A Cervical Cancer Prevention Program for College-Age Women in Portland, OregonPHHSHealth Promotion & Health BehaviorKari-Lyn K. Sakuma
Andrew McKelveyCondensation of 4-tert-butylbenzophenone via Friedel-Crafts Acylation and Characterization of the Synthesized Product.ScienceChemistryChristine Pastorek
Jared JensenRESEARCH PROJECT: Mosquito Sensory Modulation — Effects of a striped pattern and olfactory cues on mosquito host-seeking behaviorsScienceIntegrative BiologyMeta Landys
Genevieve ConnollyUsing Euclidean Geometry to Construct Objects in the Elliptic Klein DiskScienceMathTevian Dray
Richard PuroPhotodimerization of Organic Semiconductors in the Strong Coupling RegimeSciencePhysicsEthan Minot

“When Dr. Natchee Barnd presented me with the WIC award, I actually cried because, still, in my senior year, I wasn’t terribly confident in my writing and I think part of me thought I was undeserving of it for some reason. The award spoke far more to my skills than I realized, and it validated all my hard work that I’d put into my classes (I’m welling up just writing about it).”

Elena Ramirez Robles, College of Liberal Arts, 2018

“Thank you for your support.  The Culture of Writing Award was the first award I received during my academic career.  It’s an accomplishment with significant positive impacts on young scholars during a vital stage of their progressive young careers.”

Andrew Larkin, College of Science, 2010

Participation in the Culture of Writing Awards has thrived since 2006, as 326 total students have earned recognition and cash awards for both individual and collaborative writing projects. WIC would like to thank all participating units for their continued desire to recognize and reward outstanding student writing.

How to Nominate a Paper:

Units comprised of more than one major/designator may give an award for each major/designator (but not for each concentration). The manner in which a paper is selected is up to the unit, but here are three possible models to follow:

  • Model 1: The academic unit might use the unit awards committee to ask faculty to nominate and submit their best undergraduate paper for the year. The committee chooses the awardee.
  • Model 2: The academic unit wants the awardee to be from a WIC course, so one or more WIC instructors select the best paper.
  • Model 3: The academic writing occurs in a capstone course with a team project. The unit selects the team with the best-written capstone project for the award. When the award goes to a team of four, some units divide the $100 award four ways, while other units contribute more than $50 so that individuals will receive a more substantial award.

Once a paper has been selected, fill out the nomination form in its entirety and submit the form to Caryn Stoess no later than 5:00 p.m. on May 25th, 2021.

For more information regarding the Culture of Writing Awards, please visit our website.

By Sarah Tinker Perrault, WIC Director

Outside, March means daffodils and crocuses, migratory birds, and alternating t-shirt and winter jacket weather. Inside, it means tired faculty working on wrapping up winter quarter and getting ready for spring quarter. 

Here is what WIC can offer from winter, and for spring.

In winter, we had two excellent information literacy events, and the content of each is available online. In January, digital literacy expert Mike Caulfield gave a talk on “Teaching Truth and Trust in an Era of Digital Dissensus,” and in February OSU librarians Hannah Rempel and Jane Nichols offered a workshop on how to integrate information literacy so that students are empowered and create stronger connections in their thinking.  

If you missed these events, or were there and want a refresher, please avail yourself of the following resources:

Another winter project was to continue WIC’s year-long focus (begun in a fall interview with Dr. Ana Milena Ribero) on language difference and inclusive pedagogies. This term we add a video essay on linguistic equity created by graduate and undergraduate student members of the WIC team.

Looking ahead to spring, we will offer an array of events, including one on how to practice linguistic inclusiveness in teaching. Normally offered as the Spring Lunch Series, this quarter’s events will be a bit more varied in time of day—think of them as the Spring Snack Series—but no less useful than in previous years.  Here is the lineup, with links for registering:

  • The art of asking questions: How to prime stronger student engagement
  • 3 quick hacks to build cognizance, agency, & logical flow in STEM WIC
  • Whose language? Inclusive teaching of academic communication across disciplines
  • Using learning outcomes to create clear assignments
  • How to design accessible and engaging course material

To keep up to date on events and other WIC news, please click here to sign up for the WIC listserv. 

Finally, as we look ahead to spring, please also remember to nominate a an undergraduate writer for the WIC Culture of Writing Award in your discipline.

by Erin Vieira, WIC Intern

Thursday, April 2nd, 2020. 4:58pm.

My Zoom screen is already pulled up—it has been for about eight minutes now in anticipation of my upcoming student appointment. Normally, this would be an easy thing for me. I’ve been working at the Writing Studio for well over a year at this point and I’m always looking forward to learning more about what I can do to support student writers. It should be the engaging experience I’m always looking forward to.

But it’s different this time because the Writing Studio services have shifted onto Zoom and it’s my first online session with a student. My anxieties only seem to grow as I see the student pop into the waiting room, right on the dot at 5:00—back then, the ‘your student is waiting for you’ notification in the corner of my laptop screen was unfamiliar. Steeling myself with a deep breath, I accept their request to join and put on my game face, ready to help the student however I can in this new and difficult time.

To put it bluntly it wasn’t my greatest session, as brief as it was.

Our time was filled with awkward pauses and the occasional moment of speaking over one another, with lapses where neither of us knew quite what to say. When the student shared their paper with me on the screen, I found myself staring at it too long, and the silence only seemed to stretch on and on. Compared to our usual studio pedagogy, this approach felt like a whole new beast. I was used to flitting between the students, offering advice where I could give it or sitting down to brainstorm deeper concepts, but now, knowing that an entire hour of my time was dedicated to a single student without being able to step away and return—it was daunting. And, yes, even that classic internet lag seemed to be getting in the way too.

This experience isn’t individualized to just me. Many educators often find themselves attempting to overcome these Zoom silences now that everything’s online. Zoom etiquette takes time to learn, and I’d like to think I’ve improved over the almost three terms we’ve spent using it as our main platform for student assistance. Even so, there is still much we as educators can learn to do for the sake of our students. In our weekly Thursday meetings, the Writing Center staff has spent time strategizing how to better support the student writers via Zoom, with one strategy being a focus on how to better prioritize the student. Thus, I’ve taken the strategy of student prioritization and showcased a few different techniques that I use in order to ensure student needs and goals are prioritized and helping create an active conversation with them.

Techniques for Student Prioritization

We must ask ourselves about the importance of priority. What does it mean to prioritize the student during a consultation? What does that look like?

  1. Listen to the student

I am not the main speaker in the sessions, the student is. Although this may take some gentle guiding, it is important to encourage the student speak about their experiences and what they find important about their paper. When you’re actively encouraging the student to do so, you’re showing them that you want to actively listen to them and understand where they’re coming from. This also nods towards myself as a writing consultant, as I must recognize the student writer brings disciplinary expertise to the table. Being open about wanting to understand where their expertise lies creates an open channel of communication between the two of us.

Secondly, it can be very easy to talk over others during a Zoom session, which is why I must remind myself to stay quiet when the student is speaking and wait for signals to see if they’re done. I don’t want to dominate the conversation; I want students to speak for themselves. Listening to what the student has to say without interruption shows openness and availability to understand them.

Take these questions in for consideration that I typically ask I student:

Hello, welcome to the Writing Studio [your name]! Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re working on today? “Hi, I’m working on [my paper] today. Let me tell you a bit about that.”

  1. Ask questions about the student’s goals

Students often tell me that they feel as though they are struggling “in general” with their paper and don’t quite know where to start. It can be difficult to understand where they should start, where their weaknesses lie, or where their focused goal need to be, which is why it’s important to ask some opening questions. Where in the paper do you feel like you are having difficulties? Are there any particular spots you have already received feedback on that you believe need more work? What stands out to you in this paper that you feel like you could work on?

“I’m having trouble with [a certain aspect] of my paper and I just don’t know if it’s good enough.” What is the main goal of the paper? What are you striving to achieve in writing it?

“I don’t know where to start.” Are there any recurring issues you’ve noticed when you write papers? Is it possible this paper has those same problems you’ve had before?

Oftentimes, these questions will bring results, and the student and I can work from there. Other times, they still don’t seem to know where to go and still feel they are stuck on the “in general” problem, which is what leads me to my next point.

  1. Ask the student to explain their thought process

Not everyone processes information in the same way. I’ve had quite a few sessions where students find themselves being better “talkers” than “writers”, and they claim they have no idea where to start. Even the simplest question, such as “what is your paper about?” or “what are the main points of your paper?” can prompt a train of thought that allows the student to talk their way into realizing the problem they have. In such moments, students will often go on a long spiel about the topic they’re interested in talking about, but they ‘don’t know where to start’. The ideas are in there, they just need to be nudged towards talking about them.

“I guess if I had to pick one, this body paragraph could use some work, but I don’t know what’s wrong with it.” Let’s focus on this section in particular, then. Can you explain to me what the purpose of this paragraph is? Do you feel like you discuss those points well?

  1. Take notes

While a student is talking their way through an idea, I like to keep a notepad opened on my screen or have a physical one to jot notes down on. Once the student has talked their way through the issue that was brimming in their brain, they’ll often pause and go ‘but I still don’t know where to start’, which is my cue to raise my notepad in success and show that they may already have an entire essay sitting on the tip of their tongue. Then, I go through the notes with the student, help them make more explicit connections between the content they were just discussing, and how to organize it properly. Doing so helps highlight their ideas when they’re struggling and reveals the active ideas they’re sitting on that we can now bring our attention to.

I noticed you mentioned this point when you were talking about the topic. Why don’t we add it to your outline to make sure you touch on everything you want to talk about? Could this help better organize your ideas?

  1. Acknowledge the strengths and skills of the student

It can be easy for a student to get tangled in what they’re doing wrong. They feel their grammar is lacking, or they never have clean transitions and nothing about the paper feels right. Recognizing where the students’ strengths lie can help them come to understand how to continue using their personal strengths. If I continue to point out all of their weak spots without ever drawing attention to what they do well, they may not even notice their strengths. Taking these strong points and explaining why it works well allows them to continue using techniques they may not have realized they already have.

Although you mentioned you were concerned about your transition sentences, I actually found they were quite strong. The reason they are strong is because you [list the techniques the student uses], which you should continue to do in the future.

  1. Ask questions about writing choices

On many occasions, students don’t notice why they make certain choices, leading me to questions like “Why did you decide to make this statement?” and “Do you feel as though this is proper analysis?” This reminds the student to take a closer look at their work and dig into their own analysis—an analysis of their analysis, if you will. Question the reasons they decided to portray certain information or how they organized their essay. “Is there a paragraph you feel is more important than the other?” “Which order should these paragraphs go in because of that?”

  1. Seek weaknesses together, but don’t override their perspective

Students put a lot of trust in me as a writing consultant. Because I am in this position, they are inclined to take the suggestions I give them. This requires a careful balance, as I don’t want to take over the conversation or assume ownership of the paper. It is key to recall that when I suggest something, the writing in front of me is the student’s paper, not my own.

I have a suggestion for adding some information to this paragraph. Do you think this is something that would work well with the topic we’re discussing? Are there any ways you could improve on this idea? Can we consider these options together?

Ultimately, the student makes the final choices in the paper, and I want to highlight their agency, as they have the expertise on the topic. If I am sharing something from my perspective, I need to be clear why it is that I have that perspective and to brainstorm with them to promote their own ideas rather than having them just write down my own. Ask for the student’s opinion on what I’ve offered and be open to change. Empathize with the student’s perspective.

I know you said this feels like your thesis statement is right here, but I actually felt like it was more of a summary. The reason I feel like you’re summarizing rather than making a claim is because of these reasons. How could we adjust this to make it feel more like a claim?

Looking to Future Sessions

Thursday, February 11th, 2021. 4:58.

With my Zoom screen pulled up, the cold feeling of anxiety has all but left in favor of anticipation as I see the student join my waiting room. This time when I welcome them into the studio, I’m not bracing for impact—I’m opening up my mind to a new experience that the student will be carrying with them in their future writing career.

In the end, making the student feel heard is my main priority. By trusting our service and choosing to get assistance with their writing, students are allowing themselves to be very vulnerable. It is crucial that I am constantly reassessing the way I choose to go about my consultations to ensure that I am helping the student to the best of my ability. Despite the added challenge of Zoom, using the techniques for prioritizing the student, such as listening to the student, asking about their writing process, etc., has allowed me to better my consultation strategies to give my students something that’s worth their time and allows them to take away strategies from the consultation to use in their future writing.

And there are fewer awkward pauses, too.

By Alexander Mahmou-Werndli and Erin Vieira


Travis Margoni is a member of the English faculty and the founder of a Writing Across the Curriculum initiative at Yakima Valley College, an open-admissions, primarily two-year Hispanic Serving Institution in Washington State. He has formerly worked as an instructor at the University of Utah and, during his M.A. at Oregon State, served as the GTA of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program.

Alex: Can you expand a little bit on the institutional context of Yakima Valley College, and how your role with WAC fits into it?

Travis: Yakima Valley College is right in the heart of Washington and we’re a two year college that now has roughly five bachelor’s degrees too. We’re traditionally a community college, but we’ve moved the word community out of our name as a lot of two year colleges have. We’re an HSI [Hispanic-Serving Institution] with roughly 60% Hispanic-identifying students. That number has increased a lot over the last two decades from when we were initially awarded HSI status about 20 years ago, give or take. We have around 8000 [8,139] enrolled students and the area that we serve is largely an agricultural area; a lot of the families here are involved in agriculture. There are a lot of immigrant families here, too – the community as a whole is over half Latinx as well – and a lot of our students are first-gen students from all different backgrounds.

It’s really a privilege to work at an institution like this. It’s partially why I came here after being at the University of Utah for four years; I wanted to transition into teaching two-year college and I liked the Northwest. When this opportunity came up, I was really excited to come up to an HSI and learn here and bring whatever I could to the campus.

In terms of shared governance at our college, it’s a little bit fuzzy at times… we don’t always know what our roles are as faculty in terms of campus leadership. We don’t have a faculty Senate, for example, like OSU has, so there are a lot of leadership opportunities, but the ability to do WPA work is about building relationships and taking your own initiative and plowing forward and building support for that.

Alex: On that note, could you tell us a little bit about the process for initiating the WAC initiative at YVC?

Yeah. It was a pretty informal process. I was having lunch with another former WIC GTA, Laura May, who runs our Writing Center in Grandview (one of our two campuses) … this was a few years back, and I said “wouldn’t it be amazing if we could initiate a WAC program here?” And we thought “oh we’re just dreaming,” you know, but then, over the course of a couple of years, I started to develop some relationships with my Dean, for example, and our grant manager, our Title V Director, etc, and I just made the pitch. I put the research together and I sent it to Wilma Dulin (our Title V Director) and to my dean, Kerrie Cavaness. We also had support from our Vice President, Tomás Ybarra, who’s opened up a lot of lines for equity initiatives on campus. I made sure to provide a lot of evidence to show how impactful WAC programs are and how many colleges have them, including two-year colleges – roughly half of all two year colleges have a WAC program and others are developing them right now.

I also made sure to show how WAC practices are especially impactful for an HSI, where students are marginalized by these high stakes testing and assessment measures that are frankly racist. If your disaggregated data shows disparities in demographic success right along racial lines… we could talk about how “Oh, these are inequitable,” but let’s not split hairs here, let’s not equivocate about inequitable outcomes and student learning. What we’re talking about is racism and about racist outcomes, so your assessment is either racist or its anti-racist and there’s no in between.

From there, they said “alright, we believe you, this is one of the 11 high-impact strategies for higher education promoted by AAC&U.” So I just brought the evidence in a five, six page proposal. I made sure to tie it to equitable assessment. From there, they gave me a few dollars of grant money and I started doing workshops with faculty and doing one-on-one consultations with folks. Then, you find buy in, you connect with the instructors who are using writing and you learn from them, too. I don’t have all the solutions on how writing should happen across disciplines in higher ed, but I believe in the cause, and I believe that we should be using writing. I believe that it should be responsive to, of course, the needs of a discipline, but also to what students bring; what are the assets within a discipline that students bring in terms of communication and writing, too? Let’s build from there.

Alex: You mentioned that, in pursuing these goals, you went from initial proposal to workshops with faculty – how has the WAC program grown at YVC since?

Travis: I ran about a year’s worth of workshops for faculty to introduce them to the idea of writing across the curriculum and the classroom practices involved, the assessment, all that. Then, from there, I identified folks who would be ideal for an advisory committee.

And then the pandemic hit.

So that has sort of put some things on pause, but it worked out because at the same time we’re developing a new strategic plan at our college, and we recently rewrote our mission statement. What I don’t want to see happen is trying to force a WAC program at an institution that’s not ready to do that, or with faculty members who don’t have buy-in that writing is an appropriate thing to incorporate in their curriculum. You have to build from a grassroots standpoint, see where the faculty’s interest is, what their needs are, what they’re doing in the classroom, and learn from that.

In order for a WAC program to be equitable, to be implemented in a way that’s not based in the white supremacist notions of the institution, we don’t want to be just trying to get people to write for the academy constantly. I think that the academy needs to be more responsive to the community and the assets that our students bring as writers and critical thinkers into the institution.

Right now, we’re working on an anti-racist first-year composition assessment ecology. There is a statewide grant through College Spark (and Asao Inoue, another OSU alumnus, is one of the directors of the grant) and I’m on the team to administer that grant in Washington. We’re working with seven different colleges across the state to develop an anti-racist composition assessment ecology for first-year composition. I think that’s an important thing to do before we build out and flesh out a WAC program at YVC, because writing across the curriculum all begins with first year composition. That’s such a critical entry point into the university, into higher ed and writing. Writing is critiqued in that space from all across the university and all across higher ed and is important for building the right type of writing environment that is necessary to build a WAC program.

Over the spring and over the summer, we need to increase our institutional presence with, for example, a WAC resource page or WAC website. And then, our advisory committee will help to lead us forward. We’re also going to have to do some work with our curriculum committees. I don’t know that we’re ready to do that work until the strategic plan is laid out, though. We need to have programmatic assessment happening, according to our accreditors, and before we go about assessing our programs we need to figure out what we want to assess. In the future, I see WAC as being an integral part of that.

Erin: You speak a lot towards equity; what other values guide the programmatic assessment of learning at YVC? 

I’m part of our 20-30 person equity team here and we recently rewrote our mission statement with our administrative council, which was a big win for our equity team and our faculty:

Yakima Valley College cultivates equity and a culture of innovative and inclusive teaching and learning. As a federally recognized Hispanic Serving Institution residing on the traditional homelands of the Yakama Nation, Yakima Valley College serves all students holistically, supports all students’ learning goals, and fosters achievement within career and educational pathways. We strengthen our communities by providing opportunities for personal enrichment, economic mobility, and sociocultural engagement.

I think that, you know, we focus on equity, a culture of innovative inclusive teaching, and innovation in that. When we look across campus, we need some innovative teaching. Nationally, only 40% of two-year college students finish their program – whether it’s a transfer degree or a certificate in a specific area – within a six-year period of time. We’re a little bit above that at YVC relative to other two-year colleges, but still not good enough.

Our institutional research team really encourages accessing our disaggregated data regularly to know, for example: if our students who identify as Black are not being supported in classes for some reason, what does that say about our instruction? If our indigenous students are not succeeding at the same rate as other students, why is that? What is it about my instruction that is leading to some of those outcomes? These are the values I think that we’re seeing. At an HSI, there’s an additional mandate for this. Latinx students and students who are immigrants and the children of immigrants in our Valley have been marginalized from and excluded from educational opportunities historically, and YVC has a mandate as an HSI to serve those students as best we can.

Erin: You mentioned needing to create a website for WAC; what other short-term goals and benchmarks does WAC have at YVC and how would you say they align with the values you just described?

Travis: Right now the short term is to create an equitable first-year composition ecology. We’re making steps there – we have a directed self-placement model now.  Carolyn Calhoon-Dillahunt and I wrote a chapter on this for a collection that’ll be coming out soon too. That’s a part of our move toward a more equitable learning environment and more equitable student success rates as well.

I’ve done some one-on-one consultations over this year with instructors who are using writing. But I haven’t done as many faculty forums, for example, and other activities in part because everyone’s just really spread thin.

So, in terms of institutional presence, resources for faculty are needed right now, so that faculty who are not familiar with WAC principles and practices can go to a Canvas page, see what’s going on in their own discipline, and get some ideas based on the resources there. There are faculty in STEM, for example, who occasionally email me and say “hey Travis look at this, did you see how writing is being used in this chemistry class here?” so trying to collect those resources and make sure that those are available for people is a goal.

A lot of this has been about building relationships, because I don’t have all the answers. Having worked with OSU’s WAC program and having taught business writing and tech writing over the years, for example, has helped me to learn a little bit of what the expectations are for students across campuses, across workplaces. As for our long-term goals, I’d love to see a WAC program that grows out of an anti-racist first-year composition assessment ecology and that could serve as a basis and a foundation for a WAC program that stretches across our campus. I’d also love to see our student success rates increase across campus because we’ve gotten away from the culture of high stakes testing. “You don’t need to test to assess” is my position at assessment meetings – some mixed reception on that, but I really believe it.

Erin: Most definitely. What advice would you have for aspiring faculty, say from business administration or biology, interested in developing these sorts of anti-racist assessments in their classrooms?

Travis: I would say: get away from testing and look carefully at your disaggregated data often. You know, see it as part of the fabric of your courses and your teaching. A culture of testing, I think, is really antithetical to deep learning and the kind of creative brilliance that we’re all capable of producing and experiencing. We just don’t need to test to assess, and when we teach to assessment tools that we know to be racist, we’re producing racist outcomes and we’re not encouraging deep learning and critical thinking.

I would say “think about culturally responsive pedagogy” as well. How do your students operate? What assets do they bring to your classroom, and how can you really lean into those assets for assessment and learning?

But those are big abstract concepts, I think. The most simple thing is to try to get away from a culture of testing if you can and assess in more authentic ways that really allow students to thrive and show their brilliance.

Erin: Would you be willing to share a story of success from interactions with faculty, or some faculty-led events?

Travis: I’ve had really good conversations with faculty who are interested in this. One instructor in psychology, for example, came to me about two years ago with some questions about his psych classes: “I really want to use writing and I want to have my students to create a good research paper in my class, I want them to be producing good research papers and they’re just not doing that. I give them a model of the paper, sometimes, or an example, but I still end up with papers that just aren’t very strong.” And so, we talked about different things that he could do in his class. For example, I recommended having students in groups critique and analyze model papers and sample papers. And so, he brought that into his classroom, and he started conducting peer review sessions in his class for the drafts.

Just those two things alone improved the situation –  before the pandemic, I’d see him around campus, and he’d be like “Travis, that assignment’s going really great! I want to talk to you about this idea and that idea that I have about writing in psychology and sociology now.” Seeing that is really exciting because this is one of our most senior faculty. He’s been here for almost 30 years and it’s changing his classroom approach and his assessment approach and his practices of incorporating writing. Students are more engaged and they’re succeeding at higher rates. It’s really cool to see somebody who’s been here for like two decades longer than I have, to see his face light up when he’s bringing new ideas into the classroom that are helping his students, so it’s rewarding to me in that sense, too.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of having conversations and building relationships with people and saying “well, think about trying this. If you can afford a half an hour in your class one day, do this and see what comes of it. See what kind of conversations happen. Incorporate some free writing exercises, some note taking exercises, and some reflection during your class, or model student papers.”

Alex: You’ve already spoken a bit to how your experience at OSU has shaped your goals for Yakima Valley’s WAC program. Is there anything you’d like to add about your OSU experience or share from your experience at Utah that has shaped your activities at YVC?

Travis: Being a part of the WAC program at OSU and working with Vicki Tolar Burton is a learning experience that I carry with me to all of my institutions and all my classes moving forward, because I know what’s expected of students across the curriculum now. I’ve learned from faculty across the curriculum at OSU, at Utah, and now here at YVC as well. And what we do is allow students to show what they can do with their writing when they have a chance for feedback, when they have a chance for communication and open dialogue through an assessment process. And so, I got to see that firsthand working with whether it’s sociologists or the mechanical engineering department or whoever it might be at OSU that I worked closely with over those years. It also showed me we don’t have to continue doing things the way that we do at every institution.

Alex: In an inverse way: from your work to establish Yakima Valley’s WAC initiative, have you gleaned any takeaways from more established WAC or WID programs?

Travis: One of my takeaways is that you need to have a team in place to build and maintain a strong WAC program. Right, so the relationships and the collaboration that those of us who are invested in WAC engage with that’s all really necessary. And you have to have people you have to have investment from across a college. If there isn’t investment from administrators, if there isn’t investment from folks in STEM, if there isn’t investment from the English department – then it’s just not going to happen, despite our good efforts. It also takes time to show the value of a WAC program. If folks aren’t familiar with it, if folks are busy and occupied by other projects on campus, which is often the case, it can be slow to try to build and maintain a WAC program. And again, I think one thing I’ve learned too is that WAC programs look and function in different ways at different sites in different campuses, and that’s okay and even necessary. There’s not a one singular approach to building, developing, or assessing a WAC program that’s going to fit for every institution. Your approach needs to be responsive to the community needs and the community assets that are available at any site.

Alex: That’s a great point and that description which, I think, really resonates with the kind of the grassroots approach you described earlier.

Travis: Right, exactly, yeah. And as an outsider – I grew up in Michigan, and here I am in central Washington – you need to go in and listen and try to understand all the points of view that come into play when we talk about writing and communication and critical thinking and learning on a campus. A little bit of intellectual humility is always necessary in higher ED.

By Jessica Al-Faqih, Erin Vieira, and Alexander Mahmou-Werndli

This video essay is hosted on Oregon State’s media site and can be accessed via the following link:

https://media.oregonstate.edu/media/t/1_qvfmuu9j

Works cited: