Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Search This Transcript

Kendyl Harmeling: How are you?

Adam Robinson: I'm good, I'm good; how are you?

KH: I am well, thank you! 

AR: Good--K: Yea! 

KH: I'm sorry for the late email; I didn't realize that someone else would be using the writing center account this morning, so I had to, well, make a skype account.

AR: Are y'all doing skype now? Like for the virtual writing center? Something 1:00like that?

KH: Ah, no, we're using it [Skype] just to do these interviews, yeah.. It's not a tech platform I'm used to.

A: Ah, me either. Sorry there's a cat on me, so periodically ... [lifts cat]. So, it's January, I'm assuming this is your first the Master's program?   KH:Yeah, the Master's. 

AR: Cool, cool, so you'll be teaching next....fall? Ah, I remember that, I remember that. I was so nervous to work in the writing center, and that-those nerves eased up over time but then I got really nervous to teach the next year. Have you ever taught before? 

KH: uhhm, I have not, I've never taught before. 


AR: yeah, I hadn't either.

KH: I've worked in writing centers for the last .... 3... years? But never taught before so that's totally new.

AR: ah, yeah, 

KH: When you were at Louisville, you were an...MA?

AR: yeah, an MA. I started in 2000-actually, I went to Louisville for my undergrad as well. And I applied to grad school kinda last minute; I'm a first generation college student--I got to college, ended up choosing English after a bunch of other majors, so it was really last minute to apply to grad school. And even more last minute to apply to be  GTA. Beth Boehm, she was in the English department before, I think she's a provost now, and she was like "Did you apply for a teaching assistantship?" and I was like, "What is that?" so I applied, and I got lucky and got the assistantship in 2006, and did the writing center then 3:00and taught the year after. I hung around and adjuncted or a bit, and I actually worked in the WC for 40 hours a week! I don't know if that ever happened before or since, but they were short one semester so I was tutoring 40 hours a week in the WC one semester. And that was pretty wild, doing 8 straight hours a day of tutoring. And then I got my first full-time job in higher ed-- I was an advisor in 2010, only did that once, stayed for only 8 months, um, and uh worked with exploratory students and then the job opening came up for associate director in the writing center: Cassie's job now, and I don't know if Cassie told you I did the job before her. And I did that for probably sometime in 2010 to, I don't know, 2015? [laughs] If these dates are important I can verify them for you, 4:00everything is kinda fuzzy. I met my significant other, her name is Megan Bardolph, she's an English professor--she worked in the writing center very briefly-- and she got on the tenure track and we moved to Pittsburgh, so that's how I got out of the writing center for a bit. 

KH: WOW! I can't believe the 40 hours a week!

AR: Yeah!

KH: That's crazy..

AR: Yeah, I'm not being cocky, but I was pretty confident with what I was doing and I had regular clientele so my schedule was continually filled, and there wasn't -- 'cause I remember those--kind of awesome days where you go in and everybody no-shows or cancels, and you hang and talk to your colleagues; I 5:00didn't have any of those. It was really hard, but I learned a lot. It was a...that was a good semester. 

KH: So when you... you said that when you started in the writing center that you hadn't worked in one before . AR: Yeah!

KH: So,what was your training like to become a tutor?

AR: Maybe kinda similar to yours. When I started the Director was Dr. Mary Rosner, so we had a weekly class; we had a Bedford St. Martins or something anthology of texts for and we were on the third floor of the library at the time and I don't know if you've ever been up there, you've relocated since, but there 6:00was a wall with a nook behind it where we did the class. We did a weekly "Writing Center Theory and Practice" and we did observations of each other and we did recordings and um, I remember us having to transcribe, we had to transcribe one of our sessions and that was a big project, kinda annoying, um, uh, had to transcribe not only words but body language ahh, I remember that assignment. Kinda like what you're doing now! Yeah, so we had that in the fall and then nothing in the Spring, and then the next fall when we started teaching, we took the Teaching Comp. Class and Bronwyn actually taught that class.

KH: Oh, ok!

AR: Yeah, he was director of comp. At that time, so you know, um, and that was 7:00kinda the structure, and the second year I guess we had a 2-2, so I taught 2 Eng. 101's in the fall, and 2 Eng. 102's in the spring. That was kinda how the structure was. 

KH: Oh, ok, so very similar to how it still is. 

AR: Yeah, yeah, and it's still, it makes a difference. I've done some workshops since, and I'm a full-time English instructor at IVY Tech Comm. College, but before I was at Penn State New Kensington, and I had a bunch of different jobs there, but I ran tutoring center there, all subjects so not just writing but math, and it was all undergrads which was fine, but there was no opportunity for them to take a class uh no real opportunity for them to do robust training, and it makes a difference, so yeah, I was real thankful that it was structured that way. 


KH: Um, so, with, when you were working in the wc, and i know you were doing 40 hours a week --and that's so many hours--

AR: well that was after I graduated.. 

KH: OH! Okay, okay. 

AR: Yeah, so I did my MA and for whatever reason they had a shortage in assistantships, or they didn't have as many tutors promised to those hours, or whatever, so I was basically hired as an adjunct professor ...

KH: Oh, I see.

AR: It was the equivalent of teaching four classes, 40 hours a week, and I taught a class .. . like I said I don't think it happened before or since, it was, just like, it was an odd semester. 

KH: So, do you remember what it was like to work with writers in the wc?


AR: Oh, yeah, yeah i uh, well quite a bit. But, yeah, I remember I was very nervous--when I was in undergrad i had the same job, took me five years to finish my undergrad-- I was a physical therapy tech working in a hospital, which actually helped me some because it was a lot of one-to-one, coaching people through problems. So, I had some preparation without knowing I had, so, because doing anything educational was very new -- I was very nervous.  What was I nervous about? Maybe that I wasn't going to be helpful to people, like I didn't know any like rules of grammar and usage or anything, didn't know how to help people talk about the English language; I didn't feel confident in my own 10:00writing.... So, I kinda brought that whole stew of whatever, I was like this is gonna be tough. And the thing is it was tough, and it still is; I still do some tutoring at the college that I'm at and even if you've been doing it for a long time , it can be hard sometimes. But it was really difficult at first. It was rewarding, but it took a while. It took a while to get comfortable and start to understand how to approach writing, which is why I thought that 601, or intro writing course, was super helpful 'cause it gives you a foundation. Know how to set an agenda, know what to do with a paper, how to read it out loud, know what kind of questions to ask... so it was helpful. 

KH: So you mentioned you ended up feeling like it was rewarding--and that's 11:00something I totally relate to, the stress and workload of it, you still walk away feeling like "oh I did something."

AR: Yeah.

KH: Do you remember any particular not session, cause I feel like that's asking a lot of you to try to remember, but what would make you walk away feeling rewarded?

AR: I can remember like a few, I'll give like, I don't know, people's names- I don't know if I'm supposed to give 'em or you can bleep 'em out. There was-so-I had, i guess we called them clients at the time, I don't know if that's what you still call them, um and um the first regular client that i had was named Simon, and he was from China and a graduate student in the education program, ha had probably been in the US for maybe just a few months, obviously learning English, 12:00I think maybe it might've been his third language. He was feeling really isolated, not really connecting with people, and he was a really social guy, and so he didn't really have an outlet and so that was probably the first meaningful connection I made with a student, and I mean I was obviously helping him with his writing. I also remember, and this kinda stayed with me, his name was Brian and he was a biology student and he was going to medical school and he was taking a History course so it was kind of outside the realm of what he was interested in... it required a lot of writing, it was about the panama canal. I 13:00remember that. What was interesting is was that he kind of committed to what we want students to commit to: getting started early, doing multiple drafts, going home and using the feedback and coming back with a paper that actually looked different than the last time you saw it because that doesn't always happen. And I remember that by the time he was done, he was shocked at how well the paper turned out. It was the proudest he had ever been about something he'd written. I mean he did all the work, I'm assuming i gave him some good feedback but it's actually stuck with me now that I teach writing full time and getting back into the writing center as the associate director; um, just like, when you can get a student to commit to the process it made me realize that pretty much everybody is already a better writer than they realize they just have not seen how good they really are. That was a particular set of sessions that happened over three 14:00or four weeks that I have not forgotten about. And It's something i tell my students now, that you can write complete sentences, you have thoughts, what you maybe have never done is really commit to revising, getting feedback, thinking through, and actually just putting yourself into the paper. So that was one that really came to my mind now that we're talking. 

KH: yeah, that sounds like... I've had a couple writers where the final paper is so different then the first draft and then they get so excited in a session and say like "oh i can do that?!" and it's really exciting to watch them get agency 15:00over their own paper. That's definitely one of my favorite parts as well. Um. Ok, so when you were working on the third floor, do you remember what that space setup was like?

AR:  Oh, yeah. I'll describe it, well have you been up there? Have you seen where it is?

K: I haven't.

AR: you'd walk in, there was a narrow walkway, robin blackett was at the front then there were two offices with Mary Rosner, and Bronwyn after that, and then there was my office. Real narrow hallway, go past Robin's desk, then there's another little tiny office where the AD's where, the PhD students, and then keep 16:00walking and then you had this huge open space. And I will say, the space y'all are in, in terms of visibility and accessibility and all that you guys are set, but in terms of pure aesthetics and beauty, the third floor had it. I don't know if it can be beat, because you go and it was completely wide open with a couple of round tables, typical writing center setup, and a couple computers lining the wall, but your view was just a canopy view with all big windows and treetops overlooking the quad. Really nice. Really peaceful. You could take a right and there was a makeshift wall and on the other side there was a conference table where we'd do classes at and meetings at. Then there was an office in the back 17:00and that's where the consultants were. Now, what i would add in there, when i was there in 2006, it was reversed so the phd students were in the back remote office and all the tutors were crammed into that little hallway office when you first walked in. We used to piss Dr. Rosner off so much cause we got along really really well and it was like a social hour in there. We really bonded, but after that they switched it and put the phd students in there and the tutors in the back so we could be as loud as we wanted. And that switch made sense. 


KH: So while you were there, you spoke to how the office usage switched between the ad's and the tutors, but do you remember any other changes, whether logistical, professional, pedagogical changes that occured while you were there? 

AR: Um, yeah, well, maybe a few things, in no particular order: we did the virtual writing definitely grew. I don't know where it's at now but it was completely asynchronous to my recollection. Um, and um, it was pretty minimally used when I was there. It was really one class that seemed to funnel 19:00all business to the VWC. We added synchronous chat, that really changed. When I was AD we started at the HSC. So that was our first satellite location. Megen Hancock was the first tutor to do it, she was a phd and did a couple hours a week, and if she couldn't do it i would go over. THe family scholar house started when I was there,  Nia Boyd was a MA tutor who volunteered there and suggested we start working over there. Nothing really significant happened with 20:00it until Bronwyn got there cause he's interested in community literacy. So then we started to go over to their site on eastern parkway and do workshops and talk to the students, and try to work with them. I'd say that that was another kind of thing that happened over time. The Dissertation writing retreat, I imagine that still happens, that was something that got started when Bronwyn got there. Barrie Meadows she was good, and she was a phd just doing research on something i don't remember what, and she was seeing a lot about dissertation bootcamps and I'm assuming Bronwyn had already heard of these things, and out of a 21:00conversation it got decided that we would do the dissertation writing retreat. So that was another new initiative that started, because when Ii was there in 2006 none of this really existed, it was all after Bronwyn got there. He added a lot of value to the place, just with his background and his ability to get things done. I feel like we did a lot more workshops, I actually did a majority of them when I was AD -- going to classrooms and talking about writing. We would do them on the Belknap campus and go over to the HSC and do it. We got involved with what was called SIGS at the time, which was the interdisciplinary graduate school group and were doing workshops for them. That was another thing that started with him. More initiatives, more outside the classroom work, more relationships with professors. And I feel like that was something that grew over 22:00time, like if we knew a professor was really sending students to us, we'd reach out and see how we could do a better job or be better connected with them. Those were some things I remember happening. 

KH: You mention that the VWC kind of was starting to get some traction while you were working here, so what other kinds of technology were kind of used in the writing center? So, like I'm assuming since it was the VWC everything was still WCOnline? Is that the same scheduling that you used?


AR: Yeah, we got that a couple years in, when Bronwyn got there, but before that we used TutorTrack which was pretty awful or we'd just write it in a book. So, WCOnline that really helped with the synchronous chat cause you could link out .. it's just good software. Before, we might've been using something in Blackboard and it was terrible. It was like a texting-type chat.

KH: Okay! So you mentioned workshops and community outreach as well and mentioned you had to ... well "had to" ugh the rhetoric of "had to" is not what I'm going for!

AR: [laughs] no i know what you mean!

KH: [laughs] so did you have to do classroom presentations? 


AR: Yes, so the classroom presentations by and large would be done by the consultants. Me as the associate director, just because the workshops took more logistical planning, they were more involved, like one on MLA or literature reviews, with having more teaching experience, I would typically handle those or the other ADs would. But we would try to have the consultants do those short "come to the WC" presentations because that's the best person to do it, you know? "Here's what a tutor looks like; they're not intimidating. 

KH: Yeah. 

AR: So when I was a tutor in 2006 I remember doing those and I actually still talk about this with the students I teach now because even though I teach composition I ask them to do some public speaking.  Real low stakes. Because 25:00when I was in college, i waited until senior year to take public speaking like I would drop classes if i had to do a speech. So i remember that that [presentations] was really terrifying to me, to have to go into a class and have to talk about going into the writing center. Even when I was AD, we would have students come into my office or Bronwyn's office and practice presenting  cause I'm sure you had..maybe it was you or one of your colleagues who was just terrified to go into classrooms ... to go in there and do that. Since there's not much going on in the first couple of weeks, we tried to do those a lot so it was a good use of everybody's time as well. 

KH: yeah, we're in presentation mode right now and some of us have ... some of 26:00us like them more than others so it's kind of like a "hey if you do my presentation, I'll take your appointment" 

AR: that's fair!

KH: yeah it's just win-win! But I don't mind them um so... when you were in the writing center, were there any documents or photos or kind of like "memorabilia" that you still have that's sentimental? 

AR: [laughs] yeah, the only thing i have is um i have this rock... i think it's in my office. Basically, Robin and I got really close because we worked in such close quarters, like her desk was right outside my office. So she got a piece of 27:00some rock from when they were breaking ground and building the new writing center; I was a part of those planning meetings with the library like what it would look like, but that was my last year there so i never got to work in the new one. But she gave me a piece of this rock, so I do remember that. I don't really have anything... I don't know if you guys still use those pamphlets, those foldable pamphlets,  so that folding machine I remember purchasing it and that was created with Bronwyn. Before the pamphlet we would give out a bookmark that had our hours and not much else, so we'd give out like a bookmark and a 28:00pencil. I remember transitioning to the pamphlet and it was a lot cheaper and you could put more information on it. I remember us trying to come up with the design and I believe it was Barrie, the dissertation writing retreat person, her husband at the time may have come up with that basic design. I remember us working pretty hard together to figure out that pamphlet, and all the silly things you have to do when you work in an office, like somehow maybe Robin discovered there was a folding machine you could just feed them through cause we were hand folding them, and that was groundbreaking but kind of wonky. That was a big document. And then we made all those handouts, and the handouts -- I still use them -- that was all Bronwyn. We made a whole new set, that were more rhetorically focused, those writing FAQs on the website, that was all kind of 29:00Bronwyn's time and it was all kind of understanding we had all these assistant directors, PhD students, who had a lot to say and so they were really involved in that too. So we could put together just a lot more material that was more reflective of how we wanted to talk about writing. I have a weird sentimental value to those documents because I was part of all that, even the handouts since they were made in Publisher and they have this weird little checkered design in the corners...well that was my idea. I don't know why; it was probably a terrible idea because it just eats up a bunch of ink but I remember that. I wasn't good at any of that so it was me playing around and seeing what this thing would look like. So I can still see me in some of the stuff that you all 30:00use or hand out to students or refer them to on the website. 

KH: Is there anything else important or something else that you would like to be in this interview that i haven't asked? 

AR: I'll throw out a few things and if I think of other things I'll email them over. I think it would be kind of interesting, I don't even know how you would articulate it or what but, there's a pretty incredible legacy that comes out of that writing center, you know? There were some really, really smart people who um "cut their teeth there" to use a cliche. For me, I used to live there then we moved to Pittsburgh and I was the director of the [sounds like McCarlson] Center 31:00for nontraditional student success, a center for adult learners and veterans and I implemented some writing tutoring there at the University of Pittsburgh. And when I got to Penn State New Kensington they had a tutoring center there but it was just a bit of math tutoring so I built a whole writing tutoring program; I was also a disability coordinator and I incorporated a lot of that working with students there. So I know for me, a lot of what I learned in the writing center I still use to this day. It really influenced not only how I teach writing, but just how I work with students. It ended up being very valuable when i became the disability coordinator doing a lot of work one-to-one and helping students break-down and plan tasks. IVY Tech, the statewide community college system in Indiana, I'm living in Indianapolis now unfortunately [laughs], I'm going to be 32:00working with their writing centers now too just helping with training tutors. I just know in my own professional life and some of the things I'm proud of, I learned pretty much all that from working in the writing center. Bronwyn in particular should be noted, because Bronwyn has been my most important mentor, him and Beth Boehm. They're my two most important mentors, but in terms of writing instruction Bronwyn is number one. He taught my Teaching Composition class when I first started teaching and then when he came to direct the writing center, I learned just a lot about writing but also about how to be a leader. The impact he's had, not just on the writing center but also the English department, all the people he's mentored -those people are out maybe teaching 33:00right now as we speak. Just thinking about how that [the writing center] was a starting point for a lot of people, that's pretty incredible. I feel very lucky. I think too, when I left the writing center, I continued to work in centers -- like i mentioned the center at Pittsburgh and at Penn State New Kensington I was in the Academic and Career success center -- so i've always been in centers. Now that I reflect on it, I think they [centers] just give people a place to go. There were folks who would come in there and work with us routinely and they never seemed to actually invest time in their writing or show improvement in the writing, but they kept coming back and I feel like it was just a place for them to be. I think sometimes, particularly we would talk about how to teach people to become a better writer and communicator as the number one goal, but also it's 34:00a place where people can feel they have some sense of connection to the university or to a fellow student who might be going through the same thing. That's kind of special. I feel very lucky to have been a part of it and that's something that's really important about it. 

KH: Okay, well thank you, I really, really appreciate you being able to work this into your schedule.

AR: Oh, yeah I don't teach on Fridays so it was no problem for me at all! It 35:00feels like so long ago since I was there but it really wasn't. Wow, I mean learning from each other and hanging out in and outside the writing center, it was wonderful.  Actually, I just remembered this, there was a tutor named Lauren Hall, she ended up getting her PhD at the University of Pittsburgh, I don't know what she's doing now, but she was really loud. And I was too, and it takes me back to when we'd have five or six appointments and just all of that hustle-bustle, people around, getting used to tutoring alongside other people -- that's all coming back to me. Oh, and how some people would get the reputation of being like "the loudest" [laughs]. Robin knew a lot about peoples' tutoring and she would put writers with certain tutors because she could hear basically every tutoring session that was happening. You're taking me back down memory lane! Bronwyn really sticks out because he's super smart and super kind, but he's also that rare academic who can actually get things done. He's got a really nice broad skill set that a lot of those in academica don't have, so yeah, he's awesome. But that's all I got right now, I think. 

KH: Thank you so much for your time! I hope you have a good weekend! 

AR: Yeah, you too! I hope you have a great semester and it was great talking with you!