Writing Center staff undergoes unique training

Eric Zuniga, Campus Carrier staff writer

Camille Schmied | Campus Carrier

While artificial intelligence technology like ChatGPT prompts concerns about academic integrity in college courses, students at the Berry College Writing Center continue to provide numerous resources to help all students with writing assignments. This semester, new Writing Center hires are undergoing training to begin work as consultants next fall. Melissa King, director of the Writing Center and lecturer of English, rhetoric and writing, said that there is a large number of students starting training this semester. 

            “We have just got a massive cohort of trainees that are going through the training program right now,” King said. “It’s been very thin staffing this year, but next year is going to be very not thin.”

            Staff receive their training in a rigorous, one credit hour course, according to King.  

            “The training process is really intensive. It’s probably the most intensive training that there is on campus for any job,” King said. “We start out by going into theory and history of the Writing Center and what it means to be a writing center and what writing centers should, could, don’t, will, won’t do, and then we start moving into practical strategies and skills and ways of approaching sessions.”

            According to King, applicants for consultant jobs are carefully selected before they are officially hired. In addition to considering students who voluntarily apply for the job, King also solicits recommendations for excellent writers of all majors from faculty. 

            “Another way is that I will reach out to my fellow professors and ask for recommendations that they feel would be a good fit. I have a handful that I tend to go back to for a number of reasons,” King said. “A lot of writing centers will have just English majors helping everybody, but we have people from engineering, psychology, education.” 

            King added that she makes sure that consultants have good interpersonal skills. 

Sophomores Michael Berry and Meredith Stafford are two of the trained Writing Center consultants available to help with any stage of writing. Camille Schemed | Campus Carrier

            “There’s so much more to the job than being able to write well,” King said. “There’s a lot of active listening that goes on or should go on. I meet with them and see if in addition to their strong writing they have these skills as well.”

            As part of their training, Writing Center consultants gain knowledge of the writing conventions of a variety of disciplines from the sciences to the humanities. Consultants are also encouraged to look up information with which they may be unfamiliar with clients. Sophomore consultant Hope Carter said that staff often work with clients of very different majors. 

            “It’s not going to be just your major that comes into you,” Carter said. “I get a lot of science papers and I never understand so I have to be ready to communicate with the person that I have the appointment to make sure that I can help them in the right way and not just with their writing.”

            Carter added that consultants strive to approach their clients non-judgmentally. 

            “I’m never judging somebody’s writing; I’m always judging whether or not they’re ready to be open with me—just whether or not they’re ready to communicate with me,” Carter said. “I see a lot of different types of writing, so don’t feel bad.”

            Consultants are available to help with any stage of the writing, from idea formation before a rough draft to placing the finishing touches on a paper before submission. King said that students who struggle with writing are advised to make repeated appointments to build solid composition skills. 

            “It doesn’t even have to be linked to a paper; they can just make sure that they come in regularly, especially if they find somebody that they work particularly well with,” King said. “What we’re trying to do over time when we work with people in that kind of repeated way is to give them the skills to eventually be able to fly on their own. We want you to be able to identify things so that then you can go off and not have that issue anymore.”

            The Writing Center is not solely a remedial resource, however. According to King, even the most confident writers are encouraged to make use of consultations to further strengthen their writing collaboratively. Junior Khanaja Scott said that many consultants make appointments at the writing center. 

            “You can be an amazing writer and still come here, because a lot of us as consultants, we make appointments here, just to have another set of eyes,” Scott said. 

            Student athletes grappling with time management may be able to spend more time in the Writing Center as of this semester. According to King, time spent with academic success resources, including sessions at both the Academic Success Center (ASC) and the Writing Center, can now be counted as study hall hours for athletes. 

            “In collaboration with Kinsey Farmer at the ASC, athletes now can log Writing Center appointment time as study hall hours,” King said. “She has made it so that going to the ASC or the Writing Center is counted as study hall time.”

            Additionally, King said that she hopes to revive a program in collaboration with Sarah Allred, associate professor of sociology, in which Berry writing consultants offered support to incarcerated people in Floyd County prisons who were taking college classes. 

            “I worked with [Allred] to get some writing consultants and I access to working with the guys at Floyd prison who are in her class, given them some writing strategies, giving them resources, offering them support,” King said. “I’m hoping that we can start doing that again.”

            Students interested in scheduling a consultation can visit the Berry College website, where the Center’s hours and appointment times are posted. Walk-ins are also accepted, and the center offers virtual appointments in addition to in-person consultations in its office on the second floor of the Memorial Library. 

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