Making the Most of Her College Experience

Wittenberg University Writer Tutor Excels in Field and On Campus

Jennifer Ryan, class of 2019, might just be one of the busiest seniors on Wittenberg’s campus.

The English major from Upper Burrell, Pennsylvania, has certainly squeezed everything she can into her four years of college, from being involved in a wide array of activities to working three on-campus jobs, including statistician in the Athletics Department, Writing Center advisor, and student worker in the English department, where she manages a LinkedIn page and the Witty English blog.

Ryan is also a supplemental instructor for English 101 and 180, vice president of member education of Kappa Delta, editor-in-chief of The Torch, co-president of the Student Advisory Group for English (SAGE), a member and president of Sigma Tau Delta (the English Honorary Society), a representative on the Matthies Advisory Board, and a member of the honor societies Mortar Board, Pick ‘n Pen, and Alpha Lambda Delta. She has served on the staff review board for the Wittenberg Review of Literature and Art the past three years. If that isn’t enough, while working on a 20,000-word novella as her honors thesis, Ryan has also managed to travel to some conferences here and there and will soon be presenting at the 2018 National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (NCPTW), hosted by the Writing Center at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, on South Padre Island, Nov. 2-4.

Ryan presented at last year’s NCPTW with two other students, Ryan Probst, a junior from Mason, Ohio, and Shane Harris, a senior from Liberty Township, Ohio. NCPTW 2017 took place in New York at Hofstra University, and the Wittenberg trio presented along with their counterparts from Elon University about writing center feedback.

According to Ryan, Wittenberg Writing Center Director Mike Mattison and Elon Writing Center Director Julia Bleakney coordinated their collaboration – called “the Elon Exchange” – so that every student had the chance to give and receive feedback from a peer, a process that can be nerve-wracking from either side. The Elon Exchange was also a way for the tutors-in-training to reflect on that experience.

The researchers arranged for an exchange of essays between the students in their respective tutoring courses. The students read and responded to their colleagues’ writing, a process that enabled them to receive feedback from an unfamiliar source, in much the same way that a student using a writing center would. They then spent time considering and explaining their reactions to the feedback – both given and received.

For her 2018 presentation, Ryan will focus on the emotional response to giving and receiving feedback via email. Unlike some university writing centers, Wittenberg’s Writing Center offers email sessions.

“I feel very strongly about how advisors present themselves through email sessions, as it is essentially our one and only shot to give advice through a non-face-to-face session,” Ryan said. “You never know how a writer will react, so you have to cover your bases as thoroughly as you can in that hour block.

“I was able to interview six students…about their initial reactions to the feedback they received, and then I interviewed them at the end of the semester to see if their initial reactions changed at all over the course of a few weeks. A lot of the students shared original hesitation at receiving feedback, as it can provide anxiety-ridden emotions, especially if writers feel strongly about what they are discussing in their paper. However, almost all of the students were able to agree with the majority of the comments, although some remained adamant about certain comments and their disagreement with them.

“To me, this shows that there is a correlation between being more open to comments received when they are directed at the desires of each student within their writing,” she said. “Our group, both Wittenberg and Elon, are still fine-tuning how we are going to format our presentation, but we are, hopefully, going to have a full 60-minutes to provide a discussion on how the 242 class of students’ reaction to feedback can be utilized to better serve the students. Because the advisors now know how it feels to be on the reciprocating end of feedback, we can use those emotions to craft our responses for the benefit of the student. The directors have also been working on an article that we are hoping to submit in the spring for publication, so I am really excited about that.”

“Jenn’s project is a good example of how we’re able to mentor and work with undergraduates at Wittenberg,” Mattison said. “The Writing Center especially allows students to develop their research skills, asking and investigating questions that affect their work as writing advisors. It’s a workplace and a laboratory, and Jenn has been one of the most engaged advisors in there.”

Ryan received a Burkean Parlor Grant at NCPTW 2017, an award that recognizes promising undergraduate attendees at the conference.

“I will say that as much as I hate public speaking, attending NCPTW this past year was very helpful not only in my communication skills, but in terms of leadership and responsibility.”