Writing in the News

Fall 2012 Common Book Writing Contest

The winners of the third annual Common Book Writing Contest were recognized at Convocation on Wednesday, August 15, 2012. First place was awarded to Mathew Halvorson, a Polymer and Fiber Engineering major from Jonesboro, Georgia. Halvorson’s response, “Immortality,” focused on the theological aspects of Rebecca Skloot’s novel The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Second place went to English major Amanda Vita from Johns Creek, Georgia, who wrote an essay comparing the actual to the theoretical in relation to the life of Henrietta James. Ellen Rankins, an Animal Science major from Cusseta, Alabama and Mary Katherine Cook, a undeclared Science and Math major from Birmingham, Alabama tied for third place. Rankins’ poem “Immortal or Gone” takes on the voice of Henrietta’s daughter, while Cook’s untitled poem focuses on the concept of immortality.

This year’s Common Book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, focuses on the connections between science, culture, and ethics, appealing to students from all different majors and academic goals. Auburn University Interim President Timothy Boosinger explains, “The goal of the Common Book program is the encourage students to become involved in a common academic experience, one that creates a discourse around complex issues such scientific research, social inequality, and ethical dilemmas. The students who entered the writing contest demonstrated their ability to be great students because they took the time to read and think about issues raised in the book.”

The contest was open to all incoming first-year students. Entrants were asked to submit a written response to this year’s Common Book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot, using any genre they wished. A panel of faculty, alumni, and students judged the submissions. The competition is sponsored by Auburn Connects! and the Office of University Writing.

The four winners were awarded with gift cards to the Auburn University Bookstore. They will also be participating in Common Book events throughout the semester. The    ir profiles will be published on the Office of University Writing webpage.

Auburn Featured in National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) Publication

The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) annually surveys students of participating colleges and universities on their engagement in proven best practices that relate to set learning objectives. Survey data is gathered from all disciplines and results are then distributed to individual institutions to make needed improvements in teaching and learning.

As a participant in the NSSE administrations for eight of the last ten years, Auburn was recently recognized for its work and devotion to creating engaged learning opportunities for all students through the creation of the Office of University Writing (OUW) and a formal University Writing Committee. The article features information about the writing-in-the-majors policy, an initiative developed in 2010 that requires each department to develop a plan that provides multiple opportunities for students to engage in varied and meaningful writing assignments. The Civil Engineering department is recognized for their significant revision to an already writing intensive plan, that now details the integration of seven different kinds of writing, five different purposes of writing, and four forms of feedback.

Also included in the article is a report on the ways in which the Office of University Writing has worked to involve faculty and promote professional development. Through a set of symposiums on teaching writing, a poster reception, and a longitudinal study, the OUW has worked to improve writing across campus.

For the full article, see Improving Writing Across the Disciplines

Six Auburn Students Represent the McWhorter School of Building Science at the Associated Builders and Contractors National Competition in San Antonio, Texas

Six Auburn students recently represented the McWhorter School of Building Science at the Associated Builders and Contractors national competition in San Antonio, Texas. The project challenged team members, Charles Powers, Seth Slatton, Kathryn Crowley, Jeremy Bolton, Daniel Chapman, and Chelsey Jacobs, to bridge the gap between classroom learning and real world experience by crafting a proposal to repair and renovate an abandoned, inner-city school located in Baltimore, MD. As the team worked diligently to plan and draft a technically written piece for this first phase of the competition, they were faced with critical thinking tasks associated with the industry. “From the beginning, we decided that to get the detail we needed we should split the task of the proposal by scope, and all in all I believe we spent well over 60 hours making sure that our management and staffing plans in the proposal were sufficient,” commented Daniel.

After arriving at the competition, the group was again challenged as they were tasked with revising their original proposal due to simulated real-world problems affecting the build site. “All parts of our proposal had to be revised to reflect the changes. So, we went about making the changes as slowly and accurately as possible. We read through the new information as we received it and had a lot of open discussion at our table to utilize everyone's strengths,” said Kathryn. Daniel added, “This new proposal took time and effort with many revisions in a ‘crunched’ environment due to the time limit that was set, but it really helped me further my knowledge of the process behind the preconstruction phase.”

In the end, the team’s effort and hard work paid off, as Auburn was awarded 1st place in the Project Management Category. Daniel shared, “It was great to be on that stage and hear them announce Auburn University had received first place in the project management plan. The whole competition was a great learning experience to practice and apply the skills we learned in the classroom.” Kathryn agreed saying, “This competition was really focused on real life applications and presenting an actual problem that a construction company had a couple years before. It was interesting, after we completed our evaluation and presented our solution, when they held the problem statement debrief and we were able to see how the actual company went about researching the problem, developing a plan, and executing the solution. The entire experience will be exceptionally helpful in the future on the job site or in the office when a problem arises.”

Click here for more information on the competition.

Auburn Faculty and Students Present at the International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference in Savannah, GA

AUBURN, AL (June 18, 2012) – Eleven faculty members and eight students represented Auburn University at the International Writing Across the Curriculum Conference (IWAC) in Savannah, GA. Coming from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, these faculty and students shared their experiences on how to successfully integrate and promote writing. Hosted by Georgia Southern University, the conference welcomed 440 educators and students to the Coastal Georgia Center June 7-9.

Auburn’s deep interest in writing has developed in response to a university-wide writing initiative that began in 2010. Led by the Office of University Writing, faculty have worked collaboratively within their departments to bring engaging writing assignments to all courses. In their group presentation, Sharon Roberts (Biological Sciences), Becky Barlow (Forestry and Wildlife), Marcia Boosinger, (University Libraries), J. Scott Finn (Architecture), and Tony Overfelt (Mechanical Engineering) demonstrated how they have personally brought writing to their individual classes. “The IWAC conference was a great way to see the existence of writing at various universities, but after attending some of my fellow colleagues’ presentations, I am really impressed by the success of what Auburn has accomplished,” remarked Tony Overfelt. English Department representatives, Miriam Marty Clark and Hilary Wyss, joined by three graduate teaching assistants, Michelle Hopf, Amelia Lewis, and Jessica Sims, led a roundtable discussion on their experiences using writing in a large section literature course. “The attendees at our panel asked questions that led to a very productive conversation. We learned a lot that we are bringing home to our department,” reported Michelle Hopf.

In another panel, director of the Office of University Writing, Dr. Margaret Marshall, and graduate students, Neecee Matthews-Bradshaw and Laura Elmer, presented the beginning stages of a longitudinal study following faculty teaching writing in upper division courses. Faculty from the Department of Political Science, Cathleen Erwin and Tina Zappile, presented their research analyzing their department’s syllabi. Their analysis showed significant statistical progress in the addition of writing assignments to courses across all three programs in the department since the implementation of the writing initiative.

A final Auburn panel focused on the support structures that are needed to advance and promote the mission of the Office of University Writing. Travis Adams (Coordinator of Student Services) and students Alyssa Pratt, Karissa Womack, and Haley Bridges led a roundtable discussion sharing their varied experiences and how their roles supporting the initiative through their work in assistantships, internships, and in a student organization have impacted faculty and students. “The conference was a great opportunity and learning experience for me,” said Ms. Womack. “Auburn was the only university that had undergraduate representatives, and I think that says a lot about the success of the initiative we are trying to implement.”

“Discovering SHR: A Master Class and Reading” with Alison Pelegrin and Emma Bolden

On Saturday, February 11, the Southern Humanities Review invited writers in the Auburn area to “Discovering SHR: A Master Class and Reading” at St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church. The event consisted of two workshops, one poetry and one nonfiction, that offered writers of all kinds the chance to come together and learn first-hand from Pushcart nominees Alison Pelegrin and Emma Bolden.

Pelegrin, a long time resident of the New Orleans area, has published several books of poetry, including her most recent Hurricane Party (2011), and her poem “Blessings for a Nemesis” appeared in the Summer 2011 issue of SHR. Pelegrin led the morning poetry session by sharing some of her favorite poems and then using those examples as a spring-board for creative brainstorming exercises. Pelegrin shared personal experiences, inspirations, and advice to make the session interesting and helpful for aspiring poets.

Bolden, who led the afternoon segment “Thinking Nonfiction: Putting Your World on the Page” was thrilled to return to Auburn, where she used to teach English. Currently a Creative Writing professor at Georgia Southern University, Bolden has published several chapbooks and has appeared in numerous journals, including the Fall 2010 issue of SHR. Bolden encouraged the attendants to begin their own memoirs by leading the group in exercises designed to get them thinking about thematic connections between specific narrative episodes. Bolden also talked about research, psychic distance, and effective plot devices.

After the workshops concluded, all the writers were invited to reconvene at Gnu’s Room, one of Bolden’s “favorite places in the world,” to drink coffee and listen to both authors read aloud from their original works. During her time as a professor at Auburn, Bolden spent a lot of time pouring through the Gnu’s Room selection of antique etiquette books. “That place was like a second home to me,” she said. Bolden started the reading event off by sharing poems of an uncommon theme—witchcraft. The poems, which focused on different perspectives and were inspired by intensive research of historical documents, captured the essence of a tragic and fascinating historical phenomenon.

Pelegrin chose to read a diverse smattering of her poems with subjects ranging from naughty keychain bobbles to her hometown after hurricane Katrina. Many of her poems, such as “Ode to Contractors Possessing Various Levels of Expertise,” showcased her ability to write and entertain with both humor and poignancy.

Chantel Acevedo, a chief editor of SHR, was extremely grateful to the Auburn University English Department, the Liberal Arts Department, and the Alabama State Council on the Arts for making the master classes and reading possible with their generous support. Everyone in attendance agreed that the entire event, from the morning workshop to the evening poetry reading, was an immense success.

19th Century Novel Course Hosts "Poster Session"

Dr. Emily Friedman, inspired by her work with Dr. Devoney Looser at the University of Missouri, designed a "Not-Austen" early nineteenth-century novel course in which students read a variety of novels that were written, printed, and sold during the last years of Jane Austen's life. The course culminated with a "final exam" editing and presentation project that provided students with the opportunity to meet and learn from experts in various fields. According to Dr. Friedman, the students gained a new and important perspective by completing the project. "I think that my students came away with a real appreciation for how much work and thought goes into every component of the books they study, both in prior centuries as well as today's scholarly editions," she said.

On December 7, 2011, Professor Friedman and her students held a "poster session" in RBD Library where they showed off the hard copies of their final products and discussed what they learned with librarians, faculty members, and peers. "A poster session allows you to speak one-on-one, which most students find a little less intimidating, but still includes the challenge of sharing your knowledge in a clear and effective way," said Dr. Friedman. Dr. Friedman included this speaking opportunity to help her English students cultivate the key communication skills that are needed to impress future employers.

MIT lends a hand to Auburn writing

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Writing Across the Curriculum program is lending a helping hand to the Auburn Office of University Writing (OUW). Two videos entitled “No One Writes Alone: Peer Review in the Classroom” will be featured on OUW’s website as a guide for both students and instructors on the benefits of allowing students to help each other with writing.

“These videos are an excellent tool for students and professors to consider how peer review supports writing,” said Dr. Margaret Marshall, Director of University Writing. “It is my hope these videos can show instructors that writing is not just something students do at home. Peer review is an engaging, hands-on activity that can get students talking about the subject matter. We’re thankful that MIT encourages their wide distribution and gave us permission to place them on our site.”

While peer review and workshops are a mainstay of writing courses, MIT’s videos show that peer review can be a helpful tool for writing assignments of all kinds.

The student tutors at OUW’s Miller Writing Center understand the value of peer review. “I think that in general students tend to trust their peers more,” said Kelly Tsaltas, a sophomore tutor at the Miller Writing Center. “Sometimes it’s easier to take advice from someone who’s in the same place as you than from someone who’s ‘been there done that.’ ” Tsaltas added that in her experience, students are much less intimidated by a peer review than a paper conference with their professors.

Dr. Marshall said the videos are a great addition to OUW’s mission of supporting writing across the curriculum at Auburn. “Professors of all disciplines have realized the value of writing, but they aren’t always certain how to incorporate writing effectively in their courses” Marshall said. “We hope these instructional videos provide another illustration of how writing can become a productive activity for students within disciplinary classrooms and that they give professors and students ideas about how to adapt peer review to their situations.”

Writing as Therapy

Are you worried or stressed about that next big exam coming up? Is test anxiety making it hard to even remember what you studied? There’s hope! You may not believe this but writing might be the best way to alleviate those concerns.  A recent study at the University of Chicago found that expressive writing before test taking can actually boost scores dramatically. Expressive writing allows students to openly communicate any ideas, opinions, or feelings about any subject they choose. Researchers found that when students wrote specifically about why they were worried about the exam, the result was an increase in their test scores.  The article provides numerous explanations as to why this type of writing can benefit both teachers and students. If you’re not convinced this will work for you, visit Sciencemag.org to read this fascinating study.

Read about previous Writing in the News stories in our Writing in the News archive.

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