Lena Stypeck

Most students end up at the University of Maryland’s Writing Center for help on a paper or because of the promise of extra-credit from their teachers, but what most don’t realize is there is a growing Writing Center field and community that conducts research and conferences around the country and has celebrities of its own.

The Mid-Atlantic Writing Centers Association, MAWCA, sends out a monthly newsletter and recognizes tutors and their accomplishments in their “Tutor Spotlight.” The spotlight was shone on one of our own, Lena Stypeck, a senior English major, this March because her work was chosen for a presentation at the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in Indianapolis.

It’s hard to tell which is more impressive: being featured in MAWCA’s Tutor Spotlight, or being accepted to present at the undergraduate poster session at the CCCC, a prestigious conference that showcases only the “premier undergraduate researchers and their projects,” according to the newsletter.

Stypeck’s poster, titled “Expanding Our Own Thinking: Using Mnemonics in Tutoring Sessions,” illustrated her research on the benefits of using analogies when tutoring in the writing center.

 Stypeck realized the benefits of using analogies when she was tutoring one of her regulars and trying to explain the difference between a comma splice and a semi-colon, she said.

She described the comma as being Elmer’s Glue and two independent clauses as being too heavy to be combined with that type of glue. So, she explained that you need the extra dot of super glue (the semi-colon) to keep the heavy clauses together.

“That really worked because she was not only able to visualize it, but she was also able to understand why instead of me just dictating a rule to her that she had to memorize,” Stypeck said.

Her performed her initial research with now-graduated Shirelle Ellis, and they presented the concept of using mnemonics at the MAWCA conference last year.

At the University of Maryland Writing Center, sessions are only 30 to 60 minutes long with people the tutors might never see again. Stypeck wanted to find a way to increase what students learn and retain in that short period of time, so she started looking into analogies by asking other tutors if they ever use them.

She found that tutors do use them, but “they are usually thought of organically and not written down,” she said.

Sabrina Asad, a tutor in the writing center, does use analogies in her tutoring sessions, usually when trying to teach students how to organize their thoughts for an essay, she says.

“A lot of times, students will try to just memorize something without understanding it fully,” she said. “But with analogies, a student can better understand what’s being said.”

After the CCCC, Stypeck realized that using analogies is the start of us bridging our writer-selves and our everyday selves, she said. Analogies don’t exclude people from the “writerly” world with solely writing terminology, but allow people to blend it with, for example, their athletic selves by using basketball terminology as well.

“Analogies encourage people to see writing incorporated into their everyday lives,” she said. “Without our everyday selves, writing wouldn’t exist.”

Ellis says that even though the writing center field isn’t huge, it’s growing, and is big enough that it’s very notable to be recognized.

“I think that’s pretty impressive,” she said. “But that’s totally Lena.”

While most tutors go through the training course and then move onto becoming tutors in the writing center, Stypeck branched out and did more, according to Ellis.

Stypeck is the vice president of Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honors society, and is very interested in secondary education. She tutors at local high schools that don’t have writing centers of their own and brings members of Sigma Tau Delta and her ideas, like the mnemonic idea, with her, Ellis says.

“She’s deserving of the recognition because she didn’t just come in to become a tutor, but she took her tools out into the community,” she said. “She’s really trying to move out into the field and become a part of that.”