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Chuck Glover: So when did you work at the Writing Center?

Susan Popham: I want to say it was 19-- 19999 and 2000, around here somewhere.

CG: And were you a MA or a PhD student?

SP: I was a PhD.

CG: So what positions did you hold, and what kind of responsibilities went along with those?

SP: So I was considered an assistant director. At least, that's the title I 1:00thought I had and have been putting it on my resume all this time. So if I wasn't, it would be a good thing to know. Anyhow, so -- part of my -- there were about four or five of us that were considered assistant directors at the time, and we split our time with our graduate teaching assistantship. So we would teach one class and then work in the Writing Center the rest of the time. So part of that time in the Writing Center, we kind of help train some of the MA students who were working there. We worked with them. We might supervise a group of students, mentor them as they were working there, sometimes with their own 2:00clients. Sometimes we work with clients. There were times in which we had more clients come in for help with the Writing Center than we had people to staff it. So we did that. I did some workshops for students, how to write a letter to get into grad school, how to write a - um - teaching philosophy, how to - you know, some of those things. I -- based on my own PhD work and my dissertation topic, I tended to focus mine in things, like a -- how to write a letter to get into Med school, 'cause I was doing some medical rhetoric stuff. How to write, how to write a letter to get into grad school, how to write a letter to get into med 3:00school, dental school. I don't think I did one for how to get into law school. I think someone else did that, but we kind of tended to choose topics that suited our research interests. And, uh -- Carol Mattingly was the Writing Center Director at the time. Dr Mattingly. And so that had just gotten started, and so we worked with Carol quite a bit. Um-- And at the time we were putting the Writing Center into the library, so there was quite a bit of talk just planning, thinking through logistics, all of that kind of stuff. How were we -- how are we 4:00going to decorate it? I remember suggesting that we have kind of an art competition and so I think Dr Mattingly contacted the art school and they asked some of their students to kind of, have a little competition and they did some artwork for our space. Just a lot of, like -- if we put computers here, what does that mean for people moving around the room? That kind of thing, but we had a great time doing it.

CG: Yeah, that's awesome. I wonder if some of that art is still at UofL. That's really cool.

SP: I don't know -- it's been so long. Like about two years ago, I went back into -- into the building and was doing a little bit of work there, but I didn't go up to the Writing Center.

CG: They've completely changed it now. Now the Writing Center is on the 1st floor, like whenever you first walk in on the side that's not, like, by the museum. The side that's like, on campus. Whenever you walk in, it's like, right 5:00on the left. There's like -- it's glass. It's all glassed in. It's awesome. So do you remember how many other tutors there were, and if you were called, like-- tutors?

SP: Yes, so I don't remember exactly, but I think there were a dozen of so tutors. And we did call them tutors.

CG: Gotcha. So how were you trained to be, like, a writing tutor?

SP: The writing tutors at the time were typically MA students, and most of them signed up to take a Writing Center class with Dr Mattingly. And so at the time, they were typically incoming graduate level students and we worked with them, so they took a class on Writing Center theory and practice. They did a practicum 6:00working in the writing center. They -- and so we kind of broke them down into groups, and each one of the assistant directors took a group of like, three or four students, and mentored them. And we talked about how we don't write peoples' papers for them. We help them develop their writing skills. We explain things we asked them to do. The actual marking on their paper. The revising. Well, if you did it this way, what would that, like -- think about combining these two sentences, what would that sound like? Those kinds of things. So it was there for the tutors. They had both -- both the class and then the kind of 7:00hands-on training sitting there, watching them working with them. Most of them were quite capable. I mean the actual, like, the training wasn't like-- training kind of thing. It was just like, here's how it works. You know, give it a try. Go, go, sit down. You know it's only 45 minutes. You're not going to -- you know. What's the worst that can happen? You know, kind of a thing. And then we would do a little debriefing afterwards. So, you know.

CG: Gotcha. So what was the structure of the program at that time?

SP: Of the graduate program, or the Writing Center program?

CG:The Writing Center program.

SP: I don't know that we had a program per se. It was just kind of, come in if you wanted to work in it and get the assistantship for working there. You just kind of signed up and it was take a class, do the practicum. And continue working there. So aside from that, I wouldn't say it was a broad scale program.


CG: What population of students did you work with?

SP: Um, we worked with a - it was open to all students on campus at the time, so I - I know that there are writing centers that are only open for first year students, or writing centers that are only open for students in 101. Say, you know, writing 101 or some of those kinds of things and various institutions based on who they have as staff, how many staff they have, how many students they have, the kind of, just, funding they have-- but we were open for everybody, so I know we had international students coming in, ESL students 9:00coming in. Graduate students came in, so we often work with people on their thesis for their Masters degree. We had a lot of 1st year students. We had a lot of, like, junior, senior level undergrads. I remember working with a PhD student in -- he was Chinese, and native Chinese speaker, and his English speaking skills were pretty good. It was just that he needed a lot of help with things that just take an enormous amount of time in practice. Like articles, when do you put "the" in? When do you put "a" and when do you leave no article? And he just had a running appointment like three times a week. He would come in and he was a PhD student so. But we had a lot of ESL students, a lot of non-native 10:00English speakers and graduate students. Just - it just ran the how gamut.

CG: So what were, like, the -- some of the most rewarding parts about working with writers? And then, what were some of the more challenging parts of it?

SP: Um-- some of the-- working with the writers or working with the tutors?

CG: Um, working with the writers.

SP: Okay, so working with the writers. Some of the most rewarding times are when they turned around and said "thank you," like, like -- "thank you so much, this really helped. I think I got it now." Or -- oh, you know when you can see that lightbulb go on, you know they're like, "oh, that's it. I always thought it was something way different." You know, you're like, "no, pretty sure it's just 11:00this." So when they say thank you, when you see that lightbulb go on, when you think -- when you hear them say "I got it, I think I can do this," that's truly rewarding. Hardly ever did somebody come back, you know, three weeks later and say "hey, I got an A on that paper." You know, they almost always came with a need, so they hardly ever came back and said that. But if they ever left and you thought, like, I think they got it, that was rewarding. The challenge for me... there were two challenges. One was feeling like I wasn't good enough. The sense that I didn't know enough about the English language. I didn't know enough about writing. I knew what it meant to write well myself, but I didn't always know what to call things, and so going into it, I had this feeling like I wasn't good enough. I couldn't-- I didn't know if I could do it. After you do it after a few weeks, after you do it a few times, you're like, I got this, it's okay. You know, if you make a mistake, ask someone else if you're, you know -- there were 12:00always multiple tutors there, so. You know, if you're like, hey Jill, I don't know what you call this, but I think you know there was always someone there you could ask for backup, so that kind of relieved a lot of my anxiety. The other challenge was just patience. Was just -- the sense of just sitting there for long periods of time. Kind of just, hoping that your client would get it, you know, and then you explain it once and you hope they get it, you know, you can tell they didn't. So then you gotta try to think of a different way to explain it and you watch him there still not getting it. So then you gotta think of it -- you know, a third way to try to get it to him. So just this patience both with them and people and as learners and with yourself too.


CG: Absolutely. Um, so how did you -- how did you approach sessions and, like, working with writers? And are those strategies you learned at the Writing Center? And do you still use those kinds of strategies today?

SP: Um-- okay. Okay, so-- how did I approach it? So the biggest approach for me, the biggest thing I had to - to maintain and think about was-- this was their writing. This was their product. These were their skills. This whole approach is to help them develop as writers and, you know, help them figure out how they can improve or develop or grow or strengthen or whatever they need to do with their writing. But it, you know, because I think I had a tendency to just want to step 14:00in and say, oh, well. Just -- just do it like that, you know. And so I had to constantly remind myself, "let them do it, let them do it." I learned that in the Writing Center as well as prior to working in the Writing Center, I learned working with -- just as a composition instructor. And throughout my comp theory classes and whatnot, like, you have to let people do it themselves. Do I do that now? Yeah. I still -- if we are working on a piece of technology, and I know 15:00better, I still have a tendency to take the keyboard away from someone and say okay, let me just, I'll just type in your password. Um, again, it's that patience. It's trying to have patience with what they are as learners and as writers, yeah.

CG: Yeah. Um, what types of issues in writing did students usually ask about? Do you remember?

SP: A lot of it was trying to explain the assignments to them. So they would come in and they'd say, "my teacher says I'm supposed to write an eight page paper, or five page paper," and I'm like, "okay. So what kind of paper" and so-- it would vary a lot. Um, you know, we're like, well, they don't care, they just want everybody in their biology class to write their paper. And I'm like, "okay, well let's talk about what that can mean. Do you have any -- did they give you any examples to look at? Did -- let's pull up the assignment. Let's--" So the biggest thing was trying to get students to -- um, you know, they're like, just 16:00tell me what my teacher wants, kind of thing. They didn't say it exactly like that, but it was trying to get them to figure our what the teacher wanted, um, and so that was a big thing. The other thing was just invention. Like, even when I could explain to them, this is what your assignment wants you to do. Then they're -- I'm like, well, what topic are you thinking about? "Well, I'm thinking about the rainforest." Well, how do you, like -- let's plan that out. Let's think that through. Let's -- so a lot of that was intention, and even kind of just pre-invention, just -- preparation.

CG: Sure. And so with that, like -- what do you think that the Writing Center 17:00did to effectively teach writing at the time? Like, what do you think that the Writing Center did effectively?

SP: I had a great time working there and so like, my, my first reaction is I think we did a lot of things effectively because I had such a great time working there. I'm not sure that those two connect logically. Okay, so, I really do think, like -- I think we were very effective. Like, we had students come back, you know, the next semester, or come back the next assignment, and they were like, "I had a lot of help that last time must be doing something -- doing something right," you know?" And so. That is both, I think, a good thing, and not necessarily a good thing. Like, if we were really great at it, they wouldn't need to come back, but -- like, writing is a complex skill and it takes a lot of 18:00practice. And every time you're right in a new field with a new topic or new genre, you're going to have to learn a lot of new things again, and so I think the idea that people would come back, clients would come back, really told us that we were doing a good job.

CG: Yeah. So what do you remember about the tutoring space? Like, how it was all arranged?.

SP: It was big. We had one big wall of windows, the rest of it were walls. Uh. That it was a big, big room. I think we had about-- I want to say about 15 computers there. Most of the computers were on the exterior walls and then I 19:00think we had four tables -- kind of roundtables, I think -- I might be wrong on that -- where we would sit down and work with people if they had a hard copy. Or we -- they could work individually, they could just come in and work on a computer. So it's kind of an open computer lab that could work there. We could work with him at the table and then say okay, now go over to the computer and work at it for a while. I'll come back in, say, 20 minutes, and see how you're doing on that introduction or conclusion or whatever. So -- but I, yeah, I remember it as being a big, open, bright space with the computers on the outside, and about four tables in the interior part of that room.

CG: Gotcha. So there weren't any, like, tutor offices. It was all just in this 20:00one big space.

SP: There was an office with about -- with a seminar table and I think about three or four computers in there, and that is where we met with the tutors. So if we worked with cheaters and I'm like, okay, let's sit down and talk about how'd your week go? You know, what kind of challenges did you have? Did you have any problems with students? Anybody getting burned out? So that was the pace where we worked with the tutors. And then Carol Mattingly and -- hold on-- Lord, I can not remember her name. There was -- there was kind of, umm-- in a -- like a director, in -- you manage like a staff director, kind of. She managed the day-to-day operations of it. She kind of did the budget and stuff, worked with 21:00Carol a lot, but Carol did more the pedagogy and she did a lot more of the kind of logistics and the budget and whatnot. I cannot remember her name. Diane -- Diane something. But anyhow, it's been a long time ago.

CG: Do you remember what you and the other tutors would do in your downtime while you were waiting for appointments?

SP: We did a lot of gossiping. We did a lot of chatting. Some of them -- we were talking. Many of them had not yet taught a composition course, and they were excited about getting to do that. I had taught a lot of composition by that point, and so we would talk a lot about-- what does it mean to-- to be a composition teacher, and design your own class plans, and design your own lessons, and these kinds of things. So we did a lot of that. There was -- at the time, there were -- there was a little bit of web surfing, but that was even, like -- that really wasn't a big thing, even then. But-- we talked about, you 22:00know, personal lives and stuff like that.

CG: And so did your work with the University Writing Center connect you to your teaching coursework or scholarship at the time?

SP: No, not really, no. So I didn't -- I really didn't do much scholarship in or reading or prepare to be a Writing Center director. There were people who did. There were other assistant directors who are like, "I want to make writing centers um, like, that's my niche. That's what I want to go out and do, and they did. They did research work on it. One of them helped. Dr Mattingly set up a database kind of thing, worked with other writing centers in the region. Things like that. So some people did, I did not. And when I took my -- when I took my 23:00first job after I graduated with my PhD, that institution didn't have a writing center, and so I didn't ever do any writing center work after that. I helped write a proposal for a writing center, which eventually was instant or instituted at that institution, but I - I didn't have to do any of that aside from helping write the proposal and trying to get funding for it. That was the extent.

CG: Gotcha. So, this kind of goes along with that, but like -- did your work at the Writing Center influence your teaching or scholarship or administration since you left UofL?

SP: Yeah, I think it did. Like, it really helped. Um, working with those tutors, 24:00working with a small group like that I developed, you know, some -- some -- a good solid repor with a lot of the tutors. Uh, I had them over to my house for -- we had a barbecue one night at the end of the school year.

CG: Imagine doing that now!

SP: It was way outside of Louisville, like it was a trek, you know, and they're like -- it's a three day retreat. Um, so yeah, and I had, uh, some of those skills already, so it wasn't like having to work with people in the Writing Center was my first time ever. Some of that stuff was already there, but it did kind of help hone and polish those skills. It did, kind of. And then also working with students one-on-one as a composition teacher. You don't really do 25:00that very much. You have a -- you have the class. You might do one-on-one conferences during the semester. You know, spend a week or two doing that, but for the most part you teach the class. But then working in a writing center, you're -- you really work with students. One-on-one, you get to see them as individual writers. And -- and see their skills and their growth or their lack of growth or whatever. You know their development as writers and as individuals and that -- that was rewarding as well. It helps me remember when I teach my own comp classes, they're all individuals. Like, someone -- they've all learned their rules of capitalization differently. You know, even working with graduate students, I'm like -- what is your rule for capitalization? And they're like, I 26:00didn't know I had one! I'm like, okay, well, let's look at this. You know. And so it kind of -- yeah. I mean that... I'm not -- it was about two years. It really helped, kind of, hone my -- hone my skills.

CG: Who were the administrative staff when you worked at the Writing Center? Do you remember who, like, the director, associate director, administrative assistants were?

SP: Carol Mattingly. And then Diane, whose name I cannot remember.

CG: Okay, okay, gotcha. How did the Writing Center change during your time while working there?

SP: Um-- the-- the starting working there was the big change. So, prior to that time, the Writing Center was in a basement of the Humanities building and it was a dank and dark little hole, and then Dr Mattingly started. She's like we need 27:00to do something different with the Writing Center. We need a writing center class. We need a pedagogy class and theory practicum, and so then we were like, instead of making it for -- because people saw it as being for English students, only for people who needed help writing their English papers -- and she's like, "nope, we're open. We're going to take it to where the students are -- like, we need to take this writing center to where the students are working. Let's put it in the library, 'cause that's where most people are writing their papers. That's where most people are researching. As you know, we're taking it to the students." So that, like that in itself -- getting the permits, getting the permission, having it done, making sure everything was paid -- like, that was all on Carol Mattingly and doctors Renee and a few other people involved in the 28:00administration of the English Department. That was huge. Like, it was a huge, huge, huge event, so. Just getting that going, seeing that through was a huge change in and of itself. Once we got it going, then tweaking things; "oh, well, this isn't working. Okay. Well, we need to move the computers over here, It's clearly not working. Oh, we can't have the computers in the middle of the room because people are tripping over the cords." You know, all that kind of stuff. So it was mostly tweaking, but we didn't really want to make any big changes after. The big -- yeah, after the big boom, that was enough for a while.

CG: Gotcha. So what technology was available to be used at the writing center?

SP: MS Word. But that was about it at the time.


CG: Gotcha, gotcha.

SP: I think that, you know, there was a little bit of web surfing. But not a lot. I -- I don't even think that we -- we didn't even have like a classroom -- like, we didn't even have a learning management software, like you might have now. Blackboard, or-- it seems like we were just getting started in one. But for the most part, most classes didn't use any of that, so it wasn't like at the time you can say, "okay, well, let's just pull up your class and see what your teacher has online," like that stuff just wasn't there.

CG: Gotcha. So how did students sign up for appointments? Did they just walk in?

SP: Um, there were some walk-ins. We frequently, throughout the semester, there was -- we were open enough that people could just walk in. Then they -- I could 30:00walk in and sign up. You know, they're like, I just want to make an appointment for next week. Many of them would come in for an appointment and then make several other returning appointments. They could call. Um-- that was about it. I don't even remember if we had a website where they could sign up. I don't think we did at the time, but.

CG: Okay, what other work did you do for the Writing Center? Like, class presentations or workshops or creating handouts?

SP: I did that stuff, yeah. I talked about doing workshops for how to write a letter to get into grad school, how to write your teaching philosophy for grad school. So we did a lot of that kind of thing. And yeah, I did some handouts. Workshops, um-- it seems like I did some workshops for people who were going to be composition teachers. I can't remember if that was part of the writing center 31:00work or part of my work as an assistant director of comp. I know I did some, I just don't remember where they fit in that chronology. But we did. We did a lot of that.

CG: Cool. Do you have any copies of, like, any photos or documents you would be willing to share with us?

SP: Lord... I mean, I don't know how I'm going to send you the clay and stylus. It was so long ago, I don't think I have any of that stuff. I know I did for a long time. Because when I -- when I went to my first job, like, I still continued to offer some of these workshops, and I became a director of composition. And so when I worked with some of my -- some of my teachers of 32:00composition, I was like, hey, here's some handouts that I did working in the writing center or something, so I had some of those for a long time, but it has been so long ago.

CG: Yeah, understandable!

SP: Honestly, like, the technology that I developed those things in are gone. Talking real floppy drives.

CG: Is there anything else you remember that you think is important that I didn't ask you about?

SP: Carol Mattingly was great to work with. She really was. She was so kind. Um, very smart, very patient with all of us. Um-- I-- looking back on it now, like, I really liked working with her at the time, she was really generous with her time and she did a lot of mentoring for the grad students that went beyond work 33:00in the writing center, you know kind of thing. So she did a lot of that. She helped a lot of grad students go to conferences, help them prepare and present at conferences. When I look back on it and I'm like, I don't know how she had the time to do that. That kind of mentoring and just helping any grads. Any grad student, as well as managing the work of the Writing Center, plus her teaching and her own research. I remember sitting there in the Writing Center and talking to her about research and stuff, and different things that she was excited about, and just-- um, she was -- it was great working with her.