From the Writing Lab to the Wider World: Consultants Become Published Scholars

Student-authored feature by Mary Stamato, Writing Lab Consultant

Six days a week, on a one-to-one basis, student consultants at the College of Charleston’s Writing Lab, located inside the Center for Student Learning, are helping fellow students. Consultants sit side-by-side with clients, asking questions, probing thoughts, encouraging the writers. But what might not be so well known is that the consultants themselves have also been writing about their work as consultants, composing professional, scholarly essays for publication.

Since 1990, when the first publication appeared, Writing Lab Director Dr. Bonnie Devet has encouraged and challenged her consultants to engage the broader field of writing labs on an international scale, sharing our techniques, thoughts, and research. Standing behind her consultants, watching their thoughts pour onto paper, Dr. Devet allows them–now the writers–to formulate their thoughts freely. Like any good writing lab consultant, however, Dr. Devet is not shy in asking questions to help the writers delve deeper into their own ideas. Once these important concepts are written in black and white, they are often passed along to a fellow consultant for further review and collaboration.

Using this process, Dr. Devet has assisted in the publication of nineteen articles appearing in numerous state, national, and international publications, including The Writing Lab Newsletter, Southern Discourse, The Clearing House, The Post & Courier, The Palmetto State Writing Center Association Newsletter, and Penn State University’s The Dangling Modifier. In fact, Christine Meuschke’s article on her development as a consultant entitled “Eggs and Flour” has even been reprinted in a book focusing on the College’s history: College of Charleston Voices: Campus and Community Through the Centuries (History Press, 2006). By sharing our work, we ensure that the Writing Lab is linked to the long traditions of the school even as we engage the practical and scholarly conversation in our field.

Consultants have also been a part of the history of Charleston itself. An article from the lab–“The Hurricane and the Writing Lab,” originally published in 1990 by the internationally distributed Writing Lab Newsletter–was reprinted by The Post and Courier in its special 20th anniversary on the devastation of Hurricane Hugo (2009). This article has been honored by the umbrella organization for all writing labs, the International Writing Center Association, by being listed on its Web site in 2010 as “featured reading.”

Where do we consultants get our ideas? Each article is a result of passionate College of Charleston students whose interests in the art of consulting have compelled us to share our ideas more formally with others. The topics have commonly emerged from training sessions, writings for master certification, or presentations at conferences. One publication—“International Students and the Writing Lab”—is the collaborative effort of the consultants Susan Burr, Jason Chan, Joshua Farrar, MaryJane Ogawa, and, naturally, Dr. Devet. Originally presented at a Southeastern Writing Center Association’s conference, the piece was published (1997) by the internationally distributed Writing Lab Newsletter. My own recently published piece “From Answer Key to Spirit Guide: Tutoring in a Secondary School and a College Writing Center” (2015) arose from a staff training session I conducted for my fellow College of Charleston Writing Lab consultants.

The consultants’ publications often cover the practical nuts and bolts of writing that consultants notice when helping a client struggling with both logical and grammatical problems. Teresa Goodlett, in her 2001 article “Quotable Tutor Quotes,” has written advice to her fellow consultants around the country, advice about how to help students understand the difference between big-picture revision and the smaller stuff: “Focus on the head wounds first,” she writes, “then, the knee scrapes.” Other articles have been more theoretical, as when Alison Barbiero and Dr. Devet wrote “Dear Labby: Stressing Interpersonal Relationships in a Writing Lab” (2010), which addressed the interpersonal and emotional issues that can emerge at times in the Writing Lab.

Regardless of the theoretical or practical basis for the topics, each publication contains important views, placing it within the scholarship of writing centers and writing in general. For example, Kristen Gaetke and Dr. Devet’s 2007 work on “The Three Organizations for Certifying a Writing Center” is cited by Dr. Francis Crawford Fennessey (Indiana University in Pennsylvania) for her dissertation on certifying writing centers, calling it “seminal to my research.” Melissa Turner’s “Writing Centers: Being Proactive in the Education Crisis” was even nominated, in 2006, for the Outstanding Scholarship Award of the International Writing Center Association.

In publishing our works, the College’s writing lab consultants are contributing to the wealth of knowledge within the writing community, but we are also contributing to our own understanding of writing.  When asked how the publication process benefits her writer-consultants, Dr. Devet replied: “Consultants see the value of their work by having to write about it—they gain deeper understanding of the writing process, too, by having to write and publish about assisting clients.”  When students who collaborated with Devet are asked about the benefits of co-writing an article with a professor, Joanne Cinense, a former student and co-author of “Making a Training DVD of a Consultation,” compares the experience to “a ship’s crew working alongside their captain.” Cinense explains: “In essence, I learned what kind of organization and direction is required when developing a project and co-writing an article that involves a diverse set of individuals.”

As consultants, we have reason to be proud of our published works. We include them on our résumés and post them on our Linked-in and Facebook profiles; I have even proudly hung my article on my refrigerator door. As the consultant Alison Barbiero says, “Writing my article provided me with a tangible achievement, which I am proud of to this day. It also allowed me to share my experience with the Writing Lab community and hopefully help fellow consultants at other schools!”