English Professor Karen Dillon, Department Chair Naomi Crummey, Director of Lumpkin Learning Commons Spencer Brayton and writing tutors Alexis Mayes, Shelby Rainford, Gabrielle Maguire and Sara Lewis all attended the Midwest Writing Centers Association (MWCA) Conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, last month.
Dillon said, “Naomi had taken students seven years ago but I had never gone and we had never had a really great professional development opportunity for our tutors so we sent a proposal in and it was accepted as a panel presentation.” Both professors and students were presenters on the panel.
They spoke about Blackburn’s writing studio model. Dillon explained that this model is a new idea for a lot of colleges, particularly for undergraduates. She said, “We started them in 2012 because most students needed some kind of supplemental help but very few actually went to the Writer’s Block.” She indicated that it was hard to give classes of 25 students individual attention so they made all first year writing students meet with a tutor. Since creating the writing studios, attendance at the Writer’s Block has improved drastically. Dillon noted, “Over the last three years students who are currently in studio vastly make up the majority of visits to the Writer’s Block which suggests that when you establish a relationship with a tutor, they tend to continue using that service.” “The highlight of the conference was presenting,” added Maguire. “Being able to see interest of others in something we call normal at Blackburn was super cool to see and be a part of.”
Mayes said, “It was an interesting experience to see how other tutors worked. A lot of the other schools there were bigger than us so they had the means to do online tutoring which was interesting.” She also stated that as a writing tutor at Blackburn she feels underprepared to work with foreign exchange students, students with disabilities and students with English as a second language. There were quite a few panels that she attended at the conference to help her feel confident to work with these particular types of students.
Dillon stated the conference was a lot of fun and that they did a “bang bang” the last night of the conference. This is where you eat two meals one after another in order to try two different restaurants. She also emphasized how proud she was of her tutors and that they were professional, prepared and outstanding presenters. Crummey said, “I think the experience of presenting at a professional conference is huge in terms of intellectual and professional growth.”