Jean Preston & The Writing Center

Have you ever wanted to learn more about Jean Preston and Carthage's Writing Center? You've come to the right place! Her Campus sat down with Preston to discuss all our burning questions.

HC: How did you come across this job?

I was hired by Carthage in 1994 as a Faculty Secretary for the Natural Science Division (later that title was changed to Administrative Assistant). While in that position, I completed my undergraduate degree at Carthage at night, majoring in English/Creative Writing, and minoring in Women’s and Gender Studies and Classics. I had no “career” in mind at that time – I simply wanted to learn and to achieve the college degree I’d started 25 years earlier. In May 2002, I graduated but remained in my Administrative Assistant position. I will say that interacting with enthusiastic and talented faculty, who included me in many conversations and shared many perspectives about teaching and scholarship, led me to give serious thought to the possibility of teaching myself someday. I was also passionate about creative writing, especially poetry, and so I decided to seek a Master of Fine Arts degree through the University of Southern Maine’s low residency Stonecoast Writing program. In 2005, I graduated with my MFA in Creative Writing, again remaining in my Administrative Assistant position.  

What changed then was that, with my new MFA degree, I began teaching Heritage in our Adult Ed program.  I also was being prodded by my family (my daughter, in particular) to “put my credentials to use.” To that end, despite the sad possibility of leaving Carthage, I decided to apply for a position at the College of Lake County for an Assistant Writing Center Director position.  Before I was invited to interview for that position, the Writing Center Director at Carthage, Anne Shaw, took a position at another institution, and I was invited to apply for the Directorship. I was ultimately hired as the Writing Center Director, and I tell everyone who will listen that I have the best job on campus.  The position is a perfect mix of administrative work, teaching, and service.

HC: How has the Writing Center changed since you first started?

The previous Director had the bones of a strong Writing Center solidly in place and the Center was ready to grow along with the College’s commitment to writing across the curriculum.  The semester I started in the position, there were seven Writing Fellows, and the number of sessions tutored the previous semester was about 340. This year, I am supervising 25 Writing Fellows (and ten trainees who will begin working next fall), and we conducted just over 1,000 tutoring sessions in Fall 2017.  

We also adopted the tutor training program of the College Reading and Learning Association and achieved accreditation of our training program though that organization.  

We have added programs to support various campus populations – science students, international students, athletes, nursing students, Greek organization academic chairs, and students in need of assistance with basic writing skills.  We conduct class visits and in-class workshops, assist with Freshman Orientation, and collaborate with the Library staff and Tutoring services for many activities.

We also participate in community outreach by volunteering at Kenosha’s annual “Readers are Leaders” event, conducting an annual writing contest with Reuther Central High School, and donating funds to educate a little boy in Haiti.

We also have a (fairly) new and bigger space than when I started, which we love!

HC: What has been your best memory of the Writing Center?

There are so many, I don’t think I can choose just one!  Every day in the Center is pretty amazing – I never get enough of overhearing the Writing Fellows working with clients, and seeing how clients benefit from Writing Center sessions.

I will share that twice over the past few years, two “sets” of Writing Fellows (one pair and one group of three) have been invited to present at International Writing Centers Association conferences.  In both cases, the presentations were extremely professional and well-received.

I am also proud that from 2011 through this year’s awards, eight Writing Fellows have been awarded Fulbright Fellowships.

HC: What makes the Writing Center so unique?

I have to say the sense of community we share is unique.  The Center becomes a second home for Writing Fellows. They step up to the plate every time I need someone to take on something “extra,” they share their expertise with one another, they fill in when someone is ill or unable to cover a shift for some reason, they treat with dignity and respect every client who comes to the Center, they support one another during stressful times, and, most importantly perhaps, they have fun together doing this most important work.

HC: How much goes into hiring your tutors? 

A lot! Here is the process as outlined on our website:

Writing Fellows are recruited and hired toward the end of fall semester. Training of new Writing Fellows takes place during spring semester for the following academic year. Training is paid.

What are the requirements?


To be a writing fellow, one must:

  • Be a strong writer

  • Enjoy working with people

  • Be responsible and reliable

  • Be able to work up to 10 hours a week

  • Be committed to helping others

We encourage students from all majors to apply to become writing fellows.
The application process has several steps:


First:

  • Faculty recommendations are requested, or students may self-recommend.  

  • Recommended applicants are invited to submit a sample of their best academic writing.

These writing sample are assessed by the Writing Center Director and (anonymously) by three experienced Writing Fellows. This assessment is based on the Carthage College Writing Rubric.

Next: If a writing sample meets our criteria (3.5/5 or higher on the Carthage College Writing Assessment Rubric), the applicant is invited to complete an application form, submit a personal statement, participate in a personal interview with the Writing Center Director, and conduct a short observed mock-tutoring session.

Finally: Applicants are required to submit two letters of recommendation, including at least one from a current Carthage faculty member.


Once hired, new tutors begin training. This requires attendance at an all-day workshop in February and 2-3 training hours per week for the balance of the spring semester. Training includes reading, observing, and conducting tutoring sessions, keeping a journal, and meeting with the Writing Center Director.

The good news is that with very few exceptions, students who are hired as Writing Fellows work in the Writing Center for their entire tenure at Carthage.

HC: Do you have any advice for readers who are apprehensive to make an appointment?

If you are really apprehensive about coming to the Writing Center, you might ask the Director to arrange for you to observe a session or two.  You will find that our peer led sessions are non-evaluative, non-judgmental, and focus on helping you learn to improve your current writing project and to improve your writing skills overall.  Give us a try – you will be glad you did!

HC: What kind of resources does the Writing Center have?

We have a wide selection of hard copy writing manuals, style guides, graphic organizers, Legos (yes, Legos!), highlighters, whiteboards, and many brochures that clients may take with them after sessions. Writing Fellows utilize online resources like the Purdue OWL during sessions as well. Our most valuable resource, however, is our peer tutoring staff – Writing Fellows rock!