Karley Holmes, a University of Wisconsin-Marathon County freshman from Boyd, Wis., was skeptical about enrolling in English 099. After all, the course doesn't provide students with any tangible rewards for their work, notably credits they can bring with them when they transfer from UWMC to another university.
However, only two months into her first semester, the 2012 Stanley-Boyd High School graduate has no regrets now about taking the non-credit course. In fact, Holmes is convinced that her twice-a-week, face-to-face sessions in The Wausau Homes Learning Center, located in the UWMC library, with English lecturer and tutor Travis Brown is already paying academic dividends.
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"At first I was wondering, 'Is this going to be a waste of my time? It's not going to be a course that you can transfer so why take it?' But it has actually helped me a lot," said Holmes, who already has sought Brown's help on three English composition papers during the first semester. "Travis is very helpful with ideas. Not only does he help me fix minor stuff like capitalizing, but he helps me broaden my thinking so I bring more creativity to my writing."
Andy Lehman also appreciates the help he receives from Brown when he visits the learning center. "This is a great place to come for help. I like that I can get help from an actual teacher instead of asking peers," said the freshman from Medford, Wis. "I now have a better understanding of how to create an outline, how to format my papers and make sure I'm talking to the right audience."
Since it opened in December 2000, The Wausau Homes Learning Center has helped more than 3,000 UWMC students with their writing assignments. It's named after the Wausau-based construction company, which donated $30,000 to build it.
Andrew Karr is the center's new director. He replaced Greg Venne, who retired earlier this year after running the center since 2004.
Karr, who also tutors students, stressed that the center's mission is to augment the writing instruction that takes place in the classroom and that the support it provides isn't limited to English. "Already this semester, we've worked with students on papers in psychology, sociology, history, biology, anthropology, philosophy and environmental science."
In addition to Brown, Karr is helped by five other members of the UWMC English department and seven students who have been nominated by their English instructors. Collectively, they provide help two ways: "Students may enroll in English 099, a composition tutorial course and meet with a qualified member of the academic staff on a weekly basis. Those meetings are one-on-one or in small groups," explained Karr. "Also, on a drop-in basis, students are welcome to stop in to meet with one of our student tutors. No appointment is necessary."
For those students who come to the learning center, their needs vary. "Often, it seems students benefit most from the reassurance we are able to give them," Karr said. "They want to know whether or not they're doing the assignment right, which, in the end, is really only something their instructors can answer. But we can tell them if what they've written makes sense and if they are following directions correctly. We also discuss things they might expand or change and can help them brainstorm ideas."
Helping students understand their assignments may be the most pressing need for those who come to the learning center. "Talking it out with someone can help a writer not only clarify her ideas but also better understand the writing task," noted Karr, who worked in a similar center for two years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"We regularly meet with students concerned about grammar, and we're usually able to help them out," he added. "However, we can't teach them the rules for subordinate clauses in 40 minutes so we try to jog their memories about what they learned in the classroom or help them recognize which sentences may be a problem."
In addition to implementing new training for student tutors and professional development for writing instructors, Karr said one of his main goals as director of the learning center is to help "foster a campus climate" where it's okay for everyone to talk about writing, inside and outside of the classroom.
Wausau Homes Learning Center director Andrew Karr works with Tracie Knapp on a paper.
"I want to help create a learning environment where instructors who teach writing in any discipline feel like they're a part of an ongoing conversation about the teaching of writing," said Karr. "I want to offer courses outside of the English department a more direct connection to the learning center."
More importantly, he wants this climate to include students. "I always try to make my students more comfortable in talking about writing so it's not such a solitary activity," Karr said. "And the learning center, by design, is the best place for these conversations among faculty, students and staff, to take place."
If Karr is successful with those efforts, more UWMC students like Karley Holmes and Andy Lehman will be eagerly coming to The Wausau Homes Learning Center for help for many more years to come.
The Learning Center offers free one-to-one writing instruction on both an appointment and walk in basis to any student who attends UWMC.
The Center is located in the Library and is open Monday through Friday, staffed with both professional writing instructors and student tutors.
The Learning Center also offers two courses that assist students through direct tutorials scheduled on a weekly basis:
Sign up for English 099 when you take English 098, 101, or 102. Meet with a 099 teacher for weekly tutorials in the Writing Center. Receive help with 098, 101, or 102 assignments. Improve your writing with the help of a professional.
Sign up for English 290 when you take a course (history, botany, political science, sociology, literature, journalism, etc.) that requires writing projects. Work with a 290 instructor to improve your writing on exams and papers in one of these courses. Or, work on an individual writing project. English 290 may be taken for honors credit and may be repeated.
Wausau Homes Learning Center Coordinator