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Two SJU Writing Initiatives Earn Recognition for Excellence

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

At St. John’s University’s Institute for Writing Studies, working together is the key to success. Two of the Institute’s divisions—the Writing Center and Writing Across the Curriculum program—have received a certificate of excellence from the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), the world’s largest organization dedicated to research, theory, and teaching in the field.  

St. John’s is one of five universities to receive the 2013-2014 Writing Program Certificate of Excellence—and the only one recognized for achievement in two programs. The certificates will be presented at the CCCC Annual Convention on March 21 in Indianapolis. In addition to accepting the award on the University’s behalf, SJU students involved with both programs will present at the conference. 

“It’s important to underscore that this is a joint award for two programs that work closely together,” said Harry Denny, Ph.D., associate professor of English and director, University Writing Center. “It’s a collaborative environment here, with students, staff, and faculty working together. That’s how the award is being given—together.”

Since it opened in 2006, over 50,000 individual sessions have been conducted with SJU students at the Writing Center.—approximately 3,000-3,500 sessions a semester. Consultants, who go through a training program that includes “shadowing” sessions for one month and a self-paced curriculum of various readings, range from second semester freshmen to doctoral students. In addition to Denny, Tom Philipose and Alison Perry, Ph.D., the center’s associate directors, guide programming and the consultants’ development at both the Queens and the Staten Island campuses.

The Writing Center monitors outcomes closely. Students who attend individual sessions receive higher grades in their course work, perform better across semesters, and are more likely to stay enrolled. The environment allows for faculty and students to work side by side in an open space where anyone can be mentored.

“I came to the Writing Center as a nervous freshman and learned that, just like any skill, it takes practice to excel in composition,” said Pedro Alfonso ’15C. He is now a writing fellow who has conducted approximately 150-200 individual student sessions and presented papers at the CCCC regional and national conferences.

Faculty as well as students are beneficiaries of the Institute’s efforts. According to the CCCC selection committee, the Writing Across the Curriculum program distinguishes itself by “offering exemplary ongoing professional development for faculty.” Overall, 290 SJU professors—about 20 percent—have participated in some aspect of the initiative.  The selection committee was also impressed by both programs’ use of data and research to drive curriculum and revision.

“This is a time of real momentum for us,” said Anne Geller, Ph.D., associate professor of English, and Writing Across the Curriculum director. “The faculty have contributed to the program being noticed in this way, and they are essential to our ongoing success.” Geller added that “the work being done here informs practices and theories beyond the University.”

In addition to ongoing workshops and initiatives that foster faculty writing and research, the Writing Across the Curriculum program also offers “full immersion” activities. In 2007, 2008, and 2011, retreats were held on the University’s Rome and Paris campuses where the faculty worked on both their own writing projects and their planned curricular projects. Fifty-two faculty members have taken these trips so far.