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Students Tutor Students in Catawba's Writing Center

January 21, 2011

Category: Academics, English

By Susan Shinn, Catawba College News Service


Chelsea Starr
Davis"Students say they come in for proofreading, but it's always a lot more than what they come in for," explains Catawba College Writing Center tutor Chelsea Starr, a sophomore from Weston, Fla.

"The biggest thing I see is at the organizational level. There is a disjuncture between the argument and paragraph topic.  Sometimes you have an introduction and then the paragraphs are not relevant to the thesis," notes another Writing Center tutor, Lizzle Davis, a sophomore from East Bend, N.C.

As another semester cranks up, so does the Writing Center. Staffed by Catawba College tutors, the center is a free service for classmates looking to improve their writing in any subject area.

"I started going to the Writing Center as a freshman," says Kendra Joyner, a senior from Rock Springs, Wyoming.  "I had grammar issues ... trouble with comma placement, using a semicolon versus a colon, run-on sentences and comma splices, so the Writing Center has really helped.  I can look at my writing now and find those mistakes, which is really great."


Dr. Margaret Stahr
Kendra Joyner
Dr. Margaret Stahr, an assistant professor of English, serves as the center's director. Stahr's doctoral dissertation focused on writing center scholarship, and the director's role was part of her job description when she was hired nearly three years ago. The center first opened in the late 1990s.

"I want to make Catawba's Writing Center look similar to the best in the country," Stahr says.

Tutors are recommended by their professors and asked to apply with Stahr. They receive rigorous training for 1-hour academic credit.

"One of my goals has been to improve and elevate training tutors get," Stahr says. ;

Sessions last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, and tutors are paid, but "not enough," Stahr says. Tutoring hours may be part of a student's work-study program. Believe it or not, the tutors are not all English majors — and that's intentional on Stahr's part.

"I really want the Writing Center to serve the entire campus," she says. "I want tutors to have a wide array of knowledge and ranges."


Joe Manser
Joe Manser, a senior from Mooresville, N.C., is one such tutor.  A chemistry major, Manser says he agreed to work in the center because "I just wanted to do something a little bit different.  It's nice to have a repertoire.  In science, a big part of being a researcher is publication in journals. Science and math are very cut and dry; writing is more personal. I've learned a lot about my own writing."

"The Writing Center has long been an important part of the English Department and the college," says Dr. Gordon Grant, English Department chair. "But it has really blossomed under Dr. Stahr. She's worked to make the tutors as strong as they've ever been. She's done a great job."

Some interesting statistics about the Writing Center include:

  • More than half the students who use the Writing Center are first-year students. ;
  • In 2008-2009, the Writing Center had 313 appointments. Last year, it had 439 appointments. ;
  • Of the appointments in 2009-2010, 43 percent were for the composition courses (Rhetoric and Composition I, Critical Reading and Writing, Advanced Academic Writing); 21 percent were for First Year Seminar; 11 percent were for courses in the humanities; 9 percent were for courses in social and behavioral sciences.

Stahr says that students who have overcome their own writing struggles often make the best tutors. They need to be approachable and empathetic. Stahr encourages tutors to themselves be tutored.

"It's really hard to share something you've written with someone else," she says.

Tutors can assist with the entire writing process, from brainstorming to drafting to polishing assignments.

Often, Stahr says, a student will have a prompt and not know how to get started.

Rather than grammar and spelling, tutors tend to focus on higher- order concerns such as organization and structure.


Stahr stresses to her tutors that no matter what, the paper is always the student's paper.  "Students need to be active in this process," Stahr says.

Tutors note that it's a collaborative, conversational process. Tutors won't copyedit a paper. You don't drop it off and pick it up. Tutors ask lots and lots of questions."

"Most people think it's editing.  We spend a lot of time reading people's papers and on organization," explains tutor Elizabeth Sawyer of Raleigh, N.C., who recently completed teacher certification coursework in English, grades 9-12. "You start getting to know a person and their writing style and you noticeably see them improve.  You notice that they're getting it.  It's rewarding when students come back to you.  The challenging papers are the most rewarding. You get really frustrated, but your realize it was really beneficial to the student."

Writing Center Hours
Stahr adjusts hours for the Writing Center based on student demand and tutor availability. This semester, hours for 211 Admin are:

  • 1-4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday ;
  • 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday ;
  • 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday ;
  • 2-4 p.m. Friday

Evening hours for study room 5 at the library are 7-10 p.m. Sunday- Thursday.

"Both spaces are great," Stahr says. "We're really grateful to the library for providing us with that space."

To make an appointment with the Writing Center, call (704) 645-4819 or stop by Admin 211.

Freelance writer Susan Shinn is a full-time student at Catawba College.



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