Life, Love, and Leadership in the Two-Year Center

This year marks my tenth anniversary as the writing center coordinator at our college. I’ve been doing this gig so long that many faculty and staff here think that I founded the center, that I got the whole enterprise started.

On the contrary. Like most women in academe, I stood on the shoulders of someone else.

I was hired tenure track in English in 2005 and soon befriended by Julie Rodakowski, a North Dakota woman with a passion for composition teaching and a deep belief in the power and value of two-year colleges. I was fresh from defending my dissertation, my head was still solidly in the university realm, so much so that I thought it was sacrilegious to miss a year of CCCC’s. I needed to figure out if community college teaching was going to satisfy me, and more importantly, if I could make a difference in a place where the entire student body turned over every two or three years and job placement and transfer defined student success.

Julie had the answer to both questions: let’s start a learning center. A comprehensive one that includes all the major disciplines that students must take for gen ed requirements, and let’s roll in the writing center. In fact, let’s create a collaborative model in which the writing center, math lab, and sciences all partner… all talk to each other! Oh, and we should probably add ESL, reading, computer applications, speech, and foreign languages while we’re at it.

If the idea of running a regular ol’ writing center was not sexy to me at the time, the Comprehensive Learning Center sure was… and it would emancipate the current, struggling, sad-in-the-library-basement writing center from English department politics and turf battles (as well as the aforementioned basement). Genius!

The rest is history. Julie was the visionary and I was the logistics person, thankfully. I needed someone older and wiser to show me–not tell me, but show me–how change can happen when you believe in your mission, can convince others, and have a game plan to make it work. People on our campus never said “no” to her. She got us a state legislature grant; she got us ongoing college level funding. She got us prime real estate on the third floor of the campus epicenter. I just took notes.

I watched in mute admiration as she waltzed into the office of the college president and said, “Come with me. I want to show you something.” He had no choice but to leave his desk and follow. The something was our new learning center, bursting at the seams with busy students and busier tutors, hopping from table to table, answering questions, but also posing questions and offering alternate perspectives. Seeing is believing! Julie made a believer out of everyone, even me, the one who was scared to grow anything too large because it might become unmanageable.

I’m happy to say that I’ve outgrown that fear. I am no longer afraid to ask for money, to move furniture around, to push back when the administration pushes in the wrong direction, and to speak out for our marginalized students. I learned from the best.

What am I afraid of now? That the administration won’t approve our request for another fulltime tutor, that my tutor training class won’t fill this fall, that we’re not serving developmental writers as well as we could. These are nice problems to have; they are second or third generation issues in a writing center.

Working in a community college means being tied to assessment, assessment, assessment. Retention is the boogeyman that keeps our superiors up at night. The learning center can help on both fronts. Front-end loading services for students improves pass rates, retention rates, and graduation rates. It contributes to student success and job placement. More importantly, sitting down and working one on one with a tutor can change a student’s perception of learning, how knowledge is made, where agency resides, and what is important in education. Dialogue is key; collaboration is crucial. We use those tools to make education more effective.

Julie Rodakowski knew that; she lived it every day, with her students, with her colleagues, as overall coordinator of our CLC. Even our leadership model—one faculty coordinator for each discipline—was based in social constructionism. Whenever we get a new dean (and lately, that has been annually), I tell her, “We have a collaborative model here. We work as a team and don’t make any decision unilaterally.”

I’m proud of that fact. I’m proud that we have dreamed, built, and sustained a model that is the antidote to so much that is authoritarian, hierarchical, and judgmental in higher education. We are the space that students enter to engage in inquiry, to talk to their classmates, to figure things out.

Figure Things Out. If that’s not a life skill, I don’t know what is. Every day, our tutors are figuring things out too. So am I. We’re all learning together.

Thanks, Julie.

~Pam Whitfield, Ph.D.

Rochester Community and Technical College (MN)


#IWCA15 Conference Update!

A message from Rusty Carpenter, IWCA 2015 Conference Chair:

IWCA Conference Attendees,

We’re looking forward to seeing you in Pittsburgh in just a few days! For those of you making your way this week, we have travel information, including transportation to and from the airport as well as a restaurant list, posted online at:

All meeting rooms will be equipped with a projector. Presenters should bring their own computers; Mac users should bring an adapter cord.

To prep for the conference, we’re providing you with a list of ten things to look for at the conference, from beginning to end. Don’t miss out on these fun and informative events!

(1) Wednesday Evening Registration Table
Wednesday, Oct. 7, 5-7pm
Beat the Thursday morning rush by getting to the registration table on Wednesday evening, 5-7pm. The conference starts early Thursday morning, so get a head start by grabbing your conference materials on Wednesday night!

(2) Newcomers’ Welcome Reception
Thursday, Oct. 8, 7:30-8:30am
First time at the IWCA Annual Conference? New to writing centers? This interactive orientation session, hosted by members of the IWCA Outreach Committee, is for you! See more at:

(3) Keynote
Thursday, Oct. 8, 8:45-10am
Come listen to conference keynote speaker Dr. Ben Rafoth, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, as he starts the conversation about writing center (r)Evolutions!

(4) Special Session: International Peer Tutor Networking
Thursday, Oct. 8, 10:15-11:30am
Join Brandon Hardy, East Carolina University, as he facilitates a Google Hangout conversation with peer tutors from Europe.

(5) Regional & Affiliate Meetings
Thursday, Oct. 8, 5:45-7pm
IWCA regional and affiliate organizations, as well as NCPTW, have been provided meeting space on Thursday night. This is a great chance to conduct business and/or network.

(6) Two-Year College Meetup
Thursday, Oct. 8, 7:30-9:30pm
The Upper Scenes Lounge will be the spot for a social gathering of two-year college writing center directors and tutors.

(7) Mentor Matching Program Reboot
Friday, Oct. 9, 7:30-9am
Are you a new writing center director who wants to be paired with an experienced writing center director? Are you interested in becoming a mentor and sharing your writing center expertise? Then the IWCA Mentor Matching program is for you.

(8) IWCA Reception
Friday, Oct. 9, 6-8pm
Join us in Ballroom 1 for a social gathering! Awards will be announced, grant recipients will be recognized, and announcements about new IWCA initiatives will be made!

(9) IWCA Town Hall
Saturday, Oct. 10, 7:30-8:30am
Want to know more about what’s going on with the IWCA? Want to learn how to get involved? Join us for this Town Hall-style conversation with IWCA Board Members.

(10) Conference-Concluding Featured Session
Saturday, Oct. 10, 6:30pm @ the Bricolage Theater
Dr. David Sheridan will offer a featured session on Saturday at 6:30pm at the Bricolage Theatre, near the Wyndham. Light food and drink will be provided. Please reserve your spot online at

Also, this year, the IWCA Outreach Committee would like to invite you to become a more active participant at IWCA by sharing your ideas and experiences via social media. The official conference hashtag is #IWCA15, and all sessions and events in the conference program have been assigned their own hashtags. Follow IWCA at and on Facebook at And keep up with our blog for information about conference happenings, including several contests:

You can download a copy of the 2015 IWCA program at

See you in Pittsburgh!

Rusty Carpenter
2015 IWCA Program Chair

Research Grant Winners Announced!

FireworksIWCA is pleased to announce the winners of our July Research Grants.

The July 2015 IWCA Research Grant has been awarded to Dawn Fels, Clint Gardner, Maggie Herb, and Lila Naydan for their research on the working conditions of non-tenure line, contingent writing center workers.

The July 2015 IWCA Ben Rafoth Graduate Research Grant has been awarded to Rebecca Hallman for her research on writing center partnerships with disciplines across campus.

Congratulations to our winners, and thanks to all who applied!

IWCA Elections Are Open — Vote Today!

Vote!The IWCA is currently holding an election for three open positions: Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer.

These terms begin at NCTE in Fall 2015 and are two-year terms. The VP is a six-year commitment: VP becomes president in Fall 2017 and then past president in Fall 2019.

Duties of each office are described in both the IWCA constitution and in the bylaws (

The election will begin at 12:01 am on Monday, August 17, and ballots must by cast by midnight Eastern Daylight Time on Monday, August 31, 2015. Votes will be cast electronically and anonymously.

Only current IWCA members are permitted to cast votes. If your membership has expired, now is a good time to renew so you won’t miss this year’s election.

Visit to vote or to renew your membership and vote.

#IWCA15 Keynote: Warhol in the Writing Center with Dr. Ben Rafoth!

Be sure to join us at #IWCA15 on Thursday, October 8 at 8:45am for the conference keynote,“Faces, Factories, and Warhols:  A r(Evoluntionary) Future for Writing Centers” given by Dr. Ben Rafoth of Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Ben Rafoth
Dr. Ben Rafoth

The combination of revolution and evolution, the theme of this conference, invites us to think expansively and even radically, and today I would like to do just that. The annual meeting of the IWCA offers a fresh perspective on the particulars of our lives and work–the kind of fresh perspective you sometimes feel when you experience great art. The extraordinary creativity of an artist like Warhol is easy to take for granted, in part because Warhol and his followers helped to shape the world we live in today. That is the amazing, and terrifying thing about revolutions and revolutionaries–they never leave the world as they found it. And so if we want to make a difference, it pays to study those who have done so. What can we learn about writing centers from Andy Warhol?

#IWCA15 Featured Session: Makerspaces with Dr. David Sheridan!

Be sure to join us at #IWCA15 on Saturday, October 10 at 6:30pm for this featured talk, “We’re Making It!: What Can Writing Centers Learn from Makerspaces?” given by Dr. David Sheridan of Michigan State University. 

Dr. David Sheridan
Dr. David Sheridan

Recent years have seen the emergence of makerspaces: community gathering spaces where people can access old and new tools for making things.  At makerspaces, one often encounters the latest digital fabrication technologies, like laser cutters and 3D printers. But one also finds more traditional making tools as well, including kilns, looms, and sewing machines.  It’s not uncommon to encounter traditional writing technologies, like movable type and letterpresses.  Even more important than these technologies, however, is the fact that makerspaces are populated with people devoted to helping each other put these old and new tools to creative use.  What can writing centers learn from these spaces?  This presentation builds on some striking commonalities that writing centers and makerspaces share: a commitment to peer-based learning and collaboration; a desire to create a safe space for risk-taking and experimentation; a healthy disregard for more formal educational structures; and, of course, the goal of nurturing processes of making themselves (variously referred to as “composing,” “designing,” “creating,” and “inventing”). Indeed, writing centers have always been a kind of makerspace.  At the same time, I argue that these new spaces can teach us something.  I examine practices of play, spontaneity, and technology-use found in makerspaces in order to suggest some lenses for refreshing our vision of writing center work.

#IWCA15 Registration Deadline is August 8!

IWCA_logo_2015_revised_300dpi10inches-300x300The 2015 IWCA conference is going to be exciting, and you won’t want to miss it! We hope that you will plan to join us in Pittsburgh to examine the theme, Writing Center (r)Evolutions. With a fabulous program of sessions and Ben Rafoth as the keynote speaker, this year’s conference will create many opportunities to share and imagine innovations in writing center pedagogies, practices, spaces, and programs. We hope you can join us and participate in these dynamic and exciting conversations.

The registration deadline to appear on the conference program is August 8. To accept an invitation to appear on the conference program, please make sure to register before the deadline.

To register for the conference: Login or create an account at Once logged into the system, you will see an option to register under “Available Conference Registrations.” Click “Register for this conference.”

Make sure to reserve your room at the Wyndham Grand Pittsburgh Downtown soon, as we’re expecting a great crowd:

You can follow the 2015 IWCA conference updates at #IWCA15 and @IWCA_NCTE.