A Two-Way Street: Learning from Clients in the Writing Center

Scott Lasley, Consultant

With my first semester at the writing center complete, I call up the images of all the students I’ve worked with and surprisingly, find more faces of science and business students than English major students.  In the few months of my infancy as a writing consultant, it was especially daunting to work almost exclusively with students in fields of engineering, business, and chemistry because what could this lowly English student help with outside of mundane grammatical and surface-level concerns?  This sentiment was a mere manifestation of my “newness” anxiety that was barely a whisper by the end of the first month.  I became entranced with what work the non-English major students brought in to the writing center.  I found myself learning ideas and concepts that I never dreamed would cross my path from deformable models regarding imaging software to simpler things like how to write business letters and memos.  It was as if I had become the student, my eyes wide as I listened to the teacher inform me of some new piece of knowledge. 

I remember reading a student assignment about some new findings regarding a hominid species that supported the possibility of co-evolution in Southeast Asia.  Staring down at the pages of pictures and blocks of text on this new hominid, I found myself getting lost in the circled and highlighted prints and lines, entranced by the unexpected nature of this newly found knowledge.  What if it were true?  What if this changed our very understanding of world?  Dramatic, I know, but being presented with something I had never considered or even thought of made such findings like a stop sign of sorts in that I must wait and take notice of what lies in front of me.  Even though I knew next to nothing about evolutionary studies, I could not help but absorb all that could from what I saw, like a young boy does when listening to his father.  I craved to know more and found myself taking mental notes of names like homo floresiensis and co-evolution as I worked through the session.  As I sat down in front of my computer after the session, I quickly brought up Google, typing my mental notes into the slender search bar, excited less by what I may or may not find and more by the shear possibilities of what might be found.

This experience, like many others so far while working at the writing center, has demonstrated the importance ofScott consultants not only tutoring and teaching students in order to help them become better writers, but learning from them as well.  That’s not to say that we have to play the role of the engaged student or that we will always enjoy and want to know about what our clients are working on.  Desire and curiosity have their limits.  However, by being intellectually curious of the world outside the English department, we not only see what other writers are doing, but we also open our minds and by extension, our writing, to new areas of intellectual exploration.

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