Moody Faculty Spotlight: Diana Dawson
As an instructor teaching beginning news writing courses, I recommended struggling students to the UT Writing Center. Often, the students returned with writing that reflected an essay or rhetorical style of writing. The students were not receiving coaching that reflected the language of journalism.
I sought support for a specific writing support program focused on journalistic styles. It began as a pilot program funded by UT’s Student Success Initiatives and, from the start, had enthusiastic support from Moody College leadership. Because of the success of the pilot, the Writing Support Program was expanded to all Moody College degree programs of study.
With a strong faculty partnership, I recruited undergraduate coaches from all majors to support students in the writing styles that reflected discipline-specific skills. We later added graduate student coaches to support the senior undergraduates in tackling screenwriting and personal graduate essays.
Describe a writing support appointment experience from the Moody student perspective.
Students often feel intimidated by writing assignments and lack confidence in their ability to complete them. They feel the need to already be accomplished in the things they came here to learn to do. I had a former student who came to a writing support appointment and said their writing was “troubled.” I reassured the student that “we all start somewhere.” I supported the student to build confidence and later hired her as a writing coach. Since then, she has become a successful professional journalist.
All Writing Support Program coaches are taught to actively help students build confidence as they support development of specific skills. They do this by asking easy questions at first to help the student feel more relaxed or offering them something from our candy bowl. They help students set realistic goals of what can be accomplished in 30 minutes and focus on that main task.
Coaches demonstrate empathy with their peers. They convey messages of their own struggles with the content and writing to help the peer feel heard. The students visibly relax when they know that their coach understands the struggle and they can work together to build skills.
Another way the Writing Support Program enacts empathy is to co-create workshop ideas with students. For example, I wanted to lower the anxiety level for academically struggling students to attend a workshop, so I offered to bring snacks. The students and I decided on my “good” homemade queso as the snack. Small steps like this help create the foundations of a welcoming learning environment to reduce anxiety. Our candy bowl is always full in the cubicle and coaches greet students who arrive for appointments as if they were old friends.
What would you like faculty members to know about the program?
The Writing Support Program will be ten years old in October. Some faculty members are still unaware that there is specialized writing support for Moody College students. In addition to individual writing support services, I would like faculty to know that we also facilitate group writing initiatives. At their request, we visit classes to provide writing workshops on a variety of topics. We have also organized evening workshops focused on specific skills or to support students trying out for student media.
We encourage faculty to let us know what they need and we’ll brainstorm a way to help. We tend to say “yes” much more often than we say “no.”
Our writing coaches are vetted on writing competency and are specifically screened for their ability to demonstrate empathy. Students will leave their writing support appointment with new levels of confidence.
The Writing Support Program has been championed by Moody leadership and has grown to serving thousands of students per year. We are grateful to be a part of helping students see themselves as successful in the field. We can help them work around written communication obstacles so they can realize their plans for the future.