By Cynthia Rutz, Director of Faculty Development, VITAL


We all know that  VU’s Writing Center exists to help students become better writers. But faculty often do not make full use of this splendid resource. In the following article, student writing consultant Maddie Henry gives us some tips about how we and the Writing Center can better help students improve their writing. Next, Writing Center Coordinator Colleen Morrissey describes the exciting new Faculty Writing Fellows Program. Finally, Carter Hanson (English) tells what he has learned in his time as a Writing Fellow.


Maddie Henry: A Student’s Eye View of Writing 

Maddie Henry is a political science and English double major who has been a Writing Center consultant for two years.  Maddie works 6-8 hours a week (meeting with 6-12 students) and especially enjoys repeat visits by students who want to keep improving their writing. Here are four things that Maddie wants faculty to know about student writing:

  1. Tell them how to write: In your writing prompt, don’t just tell your student what to write on but also how to write it, especially for freshmen. What should their thesis look like?  What steps do they need to take to answer the question or prove this thesis? What is the structure of the essay? Describe the basic parts (even paragraph by paragraph).
  2. Focus on skills: Be sure to tell your students what skills you want them to exhibit in this essay. For example writing an arguable thesis or using quotations to support an argument. If students are not aware of which skills they need to exhibit, they instead tend to focus more on word counts or merely completing the required number of pages.
  3. Process rather than Product:  Break large essays into smaller assignments along the way. For example, early on in the process a writing center consultant could run a workshop for your students on how to construct an effective thesis. Later on, you could hold peer review in the Writing Center.  Near the end, a consultant could hold another session on using quotations from the text to support your argument.
  4. Meaningful Assignments: Maddie works with some students who are merely writing to get the assignment done because the topic has no personal meaning to them. By contrast, Senior Research Professor Mark Schwehn has adapted his essay prompts to ask students to “consider how texts might be deployed in the lives of the students themselves to comprehend or to remedy broken situations.”

Overall, Maddie believes that the Writing Center works best when consultants and writers collaborate on making a paper better, much like peer review.  Through repeat appointments, the consultant can really help your student grow as a writer and learn to self-correct. So Maddie urges you to encourage your students to come to the Writing Center not just at the start or end of the writing process, but especially in the middle. Come early, come often!


Colleen Morrissey: Faculty Writing Fellows Program

Would you like to improve how you teach writing? Then consider applying for the Faculty Writing Fellows Program at the Writing Center. The Fellows work as writing consultants and are therefore treated by students as peers, not professors. So you will get a close up look at students’ struggles with writing.  

Writing Center Coordinator Colleen Morrissey filled me in on how the program works.  Each Fellow receives a stipend to work as a Writing Center consultant for one hour per week. After some initial training, you meet 2-3 more times during the semester with other Fellows to reflect on the program.  

Feel free to ask the current Writing Fellows about their experience. This semester’s fellows are:

  • Mandy Brobst-Renaud, Theology
  • Sara Danger, English
  • Carter Hanson, English
  • Lucas Kelley, History
  • Lauren Sestito, Bioengineering

All faculty who have been trained to teach courses in WID (Writing in the Disciplines ) or WIC (Writing Intensive Course) are eligible to be Fellows.  Keep an eye out for the next call for applications, or reach out to if you are interested.


Carter Hanson: What I Learned from Being a Faculty Writing Fellow

Carter Hanson (English) applied to be a Faculty Writing Fellow because he wanted to work with students who were not in his own classes.  He had expected to be helping students with their papers.  So he was surprised to find that some students arrive at their appointment with nothing written. Instead, they want to brainstorm about the writing prompt. So Carter helps them strategize about how best to address the topic and they often leave feeling more confident about their approach.  Carter now sees this as an important first step to help students figure out what they are interested in writing about, then fitting it into the prompt. 

His experience as a Writing Fellow has shown him the importance of giving assignments that have clearly stated objectives. He plans to review his own assignments to be sure that he is helping students understand the specific kind of writing he is asking them to do.  For example, if he assigns a piece of literary criticism, he needs to not only explain that genre, but also model it or provide examples, especially for 1st and 2nd year students who are new to college writing.

Another thing that Carter learned is what a valuable resource the Writing Center is.  He has seen firsthand the full range of services that they provide.  He has also come to realize how well-trained the student consultants are and how committed to a high level of excellence.

Finally, Carter has found the amount of work to be about right for the stipend provided to Writing Fellows. One hour per week at the writing center is not onerous and he also enjoys the occasional meetings where he gets to talk to the other Fellows about their work.



  1. To find out more about the services of the Writing Center or about the Faculty Writing Fellows Program, email  
  2.  To schedule a writing consultant to visit your class, click here: Request a Writing Center Class Visit.
  3. To have student writing consultants “test drive” one of your writing assignments, contact Colleen Morrisey at the writing center email address above.