West Point's new Writing Center open for business
Story and photos by Mike Strasser
(Updated Sept. 19, 2013-11:08AM)
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Sept. 18, 2013) — “I think the hallmark of any Writing Center at any university is always that it’s student-centered,” Dr. Jason Hoppe, director of the West Point Writing Fellows Program, said.
Writing Centers are largely administered by students for their fellow students and, ideally, their services can be used by writers working in virtually any discipline.
Today, the U.S. Military Academy has one of its own. A ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the grand opening of the West Point Writing Center Sept. 16 at its Jefferson Hall location.
Hoppe, an assistant professor in the Department of English and Philosophy, is the director of the new West Point Writing Center and discussed its mission and the cadets who will provide services there.
“Their work really consists of engaging students in thoughtful, focused conversations,” Hoppe said about the center’s 15 Writing Fellows, some of whom began consultations immediately after the grand opening. “It’s about students talking over strategies for successful writing with their peers, and helping those peers to realize for themselves what they want to argue and how they want to say it in their own writing.”
Lt. Col. Sean Cleveland, officer-in-charge of the Writing Fellows Program and Writing Center, said the Writing Center offers individual consultations to all cadets enrolled in English 101 by the Writing Fellows who have demonstrated success across the writing-intensive courses.
“We have some of the finest writers in the Corps in our Writing Fellows program, and their peer-to-peer mentorship and tutoring in the Writing Center will prove invaluable for the cadets who seek their assistance,” Cleveland said.
The Writing Fellows, mostly from the Classes of 2014 and ‘15, are not to be mistaken as copy editors—proofing papers for grammar, style and syntax isn’t their purpose. Instead, their peer-to-peer consultations offer assistance in:
• developing a thesis
• clarifying an essay’s initial focus
• organizing paragraphs
• analyzing evidence
• integrating and documenting sources
• revising a draft
While the immediate focus this fall is on improving argumentative-based writing skills in the Class of 2017, this is just the beginning.
“This is a really important step forward as we look to the future,” Col. Scott Krawczyk, professor and head of the Department of English and Philosophy, said. “Though we are focusing this year on the plebe class, our ultimate goal is for the West Point Writing Center to serve the larger academic community, faculty and cadets alike as a resource for sustaining and improving writing skills across the academy and for our Army.”
The mission of the center will be to further the studies of cadets and faculty in critical thinking, academic argument, writing within and across the disciplines and strengthening professional communication. The vision is for cadets and faculty to work together in a variety of forums to research ideas and explore effective practices within composition studies and to contribute actively to scholarly conversations throughout academia.
Class of 2015 Cadet Kathleen McDevitt is among the 15 Writing Fellows this semester who will provide peer-to-peer consulations at the new Writing Center located in Room 423 at Jefferson Hall.
Dr. Jason Hoppe, director of the West Point Writing Center and the Writing Fellows Program, cuts the ribbon at the new center with Col. Scott Krawczyk, professor and head of the Department of English and Philosophy, Sept. 16 at Jefferson Hall with several Writing Fellows—some of whom would be working there that evening—in attendance.
The West Point Writing Center, located in Room 423 at Jefferson Hall, is open for appointments 8-10 p.m., Sundays-Thursdays.
“We see this as a crucial move in the direction of best practices in higher education, and we’re looking forward to seeing the effects of all the hard work put in by the Cadet Writing Fellows,” Krawczyk said. "We are immensely proud of all of them, including our alumni Fellows from last year—the pioneers in this effort.”
Lt. Col. Justin Gage, EN101: Basic Composition course director, said prior to the grand opening, the Writing Fellows have already begun working with faculty members, visiting classrooms, and preparing their service in the Writing Center.
“We had a pilot program last year where the Fellows worked primarily with a small, select group of EN101 students,” Gage said. “This year, we felt it was important to expand the program to include all students enrolled in the basic composition core course. We have seen the impact peer-to-peer tutoring can have and are excited to assess the benefits of expanding access to the entire class.”
After its inaugural evening of consultations, Hoppe was pleased with the feedback. The cadets seeking writing consultations were primarily looking for assistance to improve the substance of their arguments, followed by concerns related to paragraph organization and style. Thesis development was a recurring focus of the evening’s tutoring sessions.
Other topics included generating ideas, organizing paragraphs, enhancing transitions, refining an argument and crafting the introduction or conclusion.
Following each consultation, both the cadet and Writing Fellow will fill out report forms about the session.
Among the comments generated from the first sessions at the Writing Center:
— “I was able to understand the prompt and the organization of my paper even more. I was able to create a better thesis.”
— “The session was awesome. I came in to the appointment much less prepared than I had anticipated, but [my Writing Fellow] really helped me to generate and sort my ideas, despite how flustered I felt initially. She also helped me come up with various strategies to take with me as I wrote the drafts of my essays and refined my argument and thesis. This appointment definitely provided me with valuable skills that I will take with me into future writing assignments.”
— “This session was WAY more helpful than I ever thought it would be. It was so useful to be able to think out loud and bounce ideas off of another person. Also, [my Writing Fellow] knows the ‘unspoken’ rules of how to write essays that I have never heard before. They were all very helpful and made a lot more sense.”
— “Excellent assistance. My Writing Fellow’s guidance greatly helped me craft a thesis for my paper.”
The West Point Writing Center, Room 423 in Jefferson Hall, is open 8-10 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays. Appointments are encouraged but walk-ins are also welcome. For details, visit www.usma.edu/dep/.