Faculty on Writing is a series of articles written by NMU Writing Center students over several years.

Professor: Jonathan Allen                                                     
Interviewed By: Matt Mallum
Department: Political Science                                                       
Date: September 26, 2008

Assistant Professor Jonathan Allen may be new to Northern Michigan University’s Department of Political Science – this being his first year – but he certainly is no stranger to writing, which is essential in his professional field.  For example, he has contributed analytic essays to collections such as The One and the Many:  Reading Isaiah Berlin.  This familiarity with critical writing informs Professor Allen’s well-developed expectations for the student writing that he assigns in all of his current classes, which are:  two sections of Introduction to Political Science (PS 101), History of Political Thought (PS 207), and American Political Thought (PS 411).

The broad scope of an introductory course such as PS 101, or a survey course such as PS 207, does not provide many opportunities for meaningful writing assignments.  Despite this, Professor Allen said that he attempts to find proper places and times to sneak them in.  For example, in his midterm examinations, he likes to incorporate an exercise he terms “paragraph identification,” wherein students are given one or two questions and are asked to answer them in short essay form.  This, Allen said, “encourages on the spot, short essay development.”  The crucial element to these essays is that they force students to try to focus their writing on the topic at hand, and reveals the depth of their comprehension.  In political science, Professor Allen believes, essay development is the very best way to gauge a student’s understanding.  He notes that this is true in almost any other field in the humanities and social sciences.

In more advanced courses, such as PS 411, Professor Allen expects a higher level of discipline and product from his students.  He assigns not only a handful of short essays, but a long one as well.  The short essays function in a manner similar to the midterm “paragraph identification” exercise (which he also uses in his upper level courses.)  Additionally, they serve a communicative purpose – allowing him to see how a student’s perception of the course material develops throughout the semester, which gives him the opportunity to better guide those students.  The longer essay (6-7 pages) is announced at the beginning of the term, and due near its end.  The intention is that the students can use the greater length of time to develop their thoughts. 

Professor Allen emphasized that the central qualifications of a well developed critical essay are specificity and concision.  Those two things are what he looks for in a student essay, whether it is long or short.  Both are difficult to achieve.  For an essay to successfully include the former, a student must know his or her topic well.  Also, the student must try to focus on one area of the target subject – he or she must “identify a position [they] want to defend.”  The best way of determining whether a student has achieved an appropriate level of specificity, Professor Allen explained, is to ask the question:  “Can you state your point in one sentence?”  If a student is able to do so, he feels that they have an excellent base to work from.  Additionally, Professor Allen feels that concrete examples from pertinent texts can help solidify, specify and clarify an argument.

On concision, Professor Allen specifically noted that “shorter rather than longer” essays are more effective.  Ultimately, he said, the reader of an individual essay should be able to see a clear progression of thought.  For a student to achieve this, Professor Allen recommends the use of plain language:  “The longer the sentence, the more room there is to digress from your topic.”  He also admitted (a little sheepishly) that he has been guilty of occasionally skirting this advice in his own writing.  It is something he endeavors to avoid.

In an attempt to aid his own students with their writing problems, Professor Allen has developed a detailed packet on writing papers in political theory.  In the packet, he expounds some of the aforementioned ideas, and gives solid examples of an outline or citations.  He encourages his students to use this resource and others like it – such as the Writing Center, which he is highly enthusiastic about. 

Professor: William Bergmann                   
Interviewed By: Jessica Hendrickson
Department: History                                          
Date: September 19, 2007

William Bergmann is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Northern Michigan University.  Dr. Bergmann has been at Northern for two years, and he teaches various early American history courses, from the colonial period through the American Civil War.  Some of the courses Dr. Bergmann teaches include United States History to 1865 (HS 126), Colonial America in the Atlantic World (HS 325), and The American Revolution to the Age of Jackson (HS 326).  Dr. Bergmann also teaches several of the methods courses in history, such as Historical Thinking and Writing (HS 200) and Junior and Senior Seminar (HS 490). 

Writing is a predominant aspect of history, and it is difficult to take a history course without having to write a few papers or essays.  Dr. Bergmann said that he definitely gives his students writing assignments because “writing is not only important in history and other college courses, but it is an essential skill to have for the world in which we live.”  He feels that knowing how to write and how to write well is incredibly important.  “Writing is something we do every day of our lives,” said Dr. Bergmann.  “It is how we express our ideas and communicate with one another.  More importantly, we judge people on how well they write.  Not only is it a mark of how educated an individual is, but it determines how a person is perceived by the world.”                 

When asked what he thought about his students’ writing abilities, Dr. Bergmann responded, “It is a very mixed bag.”  He said some students are better writers than others, and that it is “often challenging to deal with the different skill levels.”  Because there is such a wide range of skill levels when it comes to students’ writing, it can be difficult for professors to choose which part of writing they want to focus on or look for in a paper.  Dr. Bergmann said beyond the content and focus of a paper, he looks to see if the student has “demonstrated good grammar, used interesting and proper language, and used some sense of creativity.”  Dr. Bergmann stressed the importance of proper grammar usage because he feels it is vital for a high-quality paper.

Dr. Bergmann is an avid writer himself as he has composed several conferences papers, an article, and his dissertation, which he will be turning into a manuscript.  “Writing is an ever present part of my life,” he said.  Although Dr. Bergmann writes regularly, he often finds himself struggling with it.  He remarked, “I have always found it challenging to write well, and it is something I am constantly working on.”  He recollected a story from graduate school when he made a tremendous turn around in his life as a writer.  Throughout graduate school, his professors had “always thought [his] writing was atrocious.”  Dr. Bergmann worked exceedingly hard, and by the time he graduated, his professors commented on how well he progressed.  His writing became significantly “crisper and cleaner,” and it was one of his proudest achievements.

Dr. Bergmann first heard about the Writing Center by word-of-mouth through the University.  When asked what he thought happens during a typical tutor session at the Writing Center, he replied, “I assume a student makes an appointment with a tutor, then the student and the tutor work together through the paper, whether that be the structure, organization, or the grammar of it.”  Dr. Bergmann recommends that his students take advantage of the Writing Center, but he does not require them to go.  “Students should take personal responsibility among themselves to go to the Writing Center,” he stated.  “Some students need to go more than others, and for the ones who need to go, they should know to go.  I’m not going to force them.”  Dr. Bergmann feels that students are adults, so therefore they should make the decision on their own.

The Writing Center is always looking for new suggestions and ideas for improving the services it provides.  In order to help students more effectively, Dr. Bergmann suggested that perhaps the tutors should take a grammar course prior to or during the first semester they are hired.  The better prepared and more skilled tutors are in grammar and style, the better they can help explain the rules to other students.  For instance, Dr. Bergmann has noticed that the semicolon is way overused.  “Sometimes it seems like there are assumptions about how to use a semicolon,” he said.  “I often read papers containing misused semicolons, even after the student has been to the Writing Center.”  Other than providing a little more training for the tutors, Dr. Bergmann has a positive opinion about the Writing Center and what it offers to NMU students.

Professor: Marla Buckmaster
Interviewed By: Michelle Marchant
Department: Sociology and Social Work
Date: October 6, 2004

Marla Buckmaster is a part of the Sociology and Social Work Department. Since she is the only one at Northern who teaches anthropology, they couldn’t make a whole department out of it.  She has been teaching at Northern for 33 years, and is a full professor.  The only classes she teaches are anthropology ones.  I actually have her for AN 210. 

Marla says that she usually only gives out writing assignments in her upper level classes.  She thinks it's important for the students to be able to organize and present a large amount of data.  She wants to see if they can pull it all together to make a clear point.  She also used to give out writing assignments to students who did poorly on tests so they could improve their grades.  The students wrote these so poorly though, that she couldn't even read them and soon gave up on the idea.

About the abilities of her students, Marla says that she occasionally has some excellent writers, but that the vast majority of students have difficulty with sentence structure, don't understand paragraphing, have no topic sentences, no understanding of an introduction and conclusion, are vague about footnotes, and don't know the difference between a noun and verb.  In her students’ papers, Marla would count each of these mistakes and allow for as many mistakes as there were pages in the paper.  Therefore, if she was reading a five page paper and there were five mistakes, she would stop reading the paper.

In her students' writing she looks for evidence that they clearly understood the problem they were addressing, and that they can organize what they're saying to make a clear presentation of the topic.

Prof. Buckmaster recently had an article published and is currently writing another one, and also wrote an environmental impact statement.  She says she writes quite a lot but finds it difficult sometimes.  She always writes a strict outline first and sticks to it.  She thinks it’s important to have an outline to follow and not to stray from it.  Marla says that there should be nothing in the paper that isn’t in the outline, and vice versa.

Marla says that writing is very important as a communication skill.  She says anyone getting a job with a college degree absolutely has to know how to write well.

She heard about the Writing Center when it was instituted "a very long time ago."  She has often sent her students there for help on their papers

Her advice for improvements in our work at the Writing Center was to work with students on outlining.  She wants them to be able to build their case, know their argument, and have good content.

Professor Shirley Brozzo
Department of Native American Studies and Multicultural Education
Interviewed by Moira Mosher
Date 10/13/09

What courses do you usually teach?
NAS 204: Native American Experience, NAS 280: Storytelling by Native American Women, UN 100: Freshman Seminar and occasionally EN 317: Native American Short Stories and Drama.

Do you give writing assignments to your students?
Yes, because it is important for students to have good writing skills. I think there are some students who learn best through demonstrating the concepts themselves.

What do you think of your students' writing abilities?
Of course the student's abilities range from not very good to very strong, but all students are different and you should take that into account.

What do you look for when you read your students' writing?
Honestly, the first thing I look for is content, and whether or not the student has made their point. The next things I look for are grammar, and the whole gamut of writing rules.

What kinds of writing do you do?
I write nonfiction and fiction, sometimes poetry. I also write essays and I've written grants in the past.

How do you feel about your own writing?
I believe it is strong, but there is always room for improvement.

Do you think it is important to know how to write?
Absolutely! It is essential, especially in college.

Do you encourage your students to go to the Writing Center?
Yes. I've sent students in the past from all of my classes.

Do you have any suggestions for the Writing Center?
Make sure to give the students good comments that they can use after they leave the center. By good comments I mean information that students can use to make their writing better for the whole time they're at Northern.

Associate Professor: Sandra Burr
Interviewed By: Amanda Riddle
Department: English
Date: October 1, 2007

Professor Burr only teaches English courses – typically 211A composition courses, Introduction to Literature (EN 282), and all of the American Literature classes.

Professor Burr feels that any writing assignment can provide a valuable way to see how students think.  She feels that writing is a way to see how information used in coming to conclusions, bringing in viewpoints about the subject matter, bringing to the table a person’s full intelligence.  Writing provides a fabulous tool to assess how people think and how they support their thoughts.  “What we read is writing … not until we wrestle with writing ourselves … do we start to understand how difficult good writing is.”  Professor Burr believes that in order to develop an appreciation for good writers, we must write ourselves.  Writing can also tell a teacher who and what students are all about.  She feels that even though writing is a communal process, it is, in the end, the individual’s writing, so it must be the individual’s and not the groups’.

Professor Burr frequently wishes the entry level students were at a higher level of development in their writing, but she also realizes that this is a systemic problem.  She feels that teachers don’t get to spend enough time on writing in the classroom.  This leads to huge disparities in writing skills among groups of students, showing up in all levels of classes, from entry level to 400 level classes.  Professor Burr takes this into consideration when creating fair writing assignments.  She also says there are problems with students on campus who blow off writing because it is something they have to do.  She never knows how many of each of these students will be in a particular class, and sometimes it makes creating assignments difficult.

Professor Burr looks for both the big picture and correct grammar.  “Writing is a package – the package has to look good.”  First, the audience deserves and needs an order of communication.  Writing has everything to do with clarity, with the most important thing being clarity of thought.  Professor Burr says the audience shouldn’t have to guess or decipher the information in the paper.  That’s the bigger picture.  On the other hand, she says, you could have fabulous ideas and terrible grammar, which will get in the way of clarity.  Grammar can change the meaning of the paper, but mainly, Professor Burr says bad grammar is just too distracting.

Professor Burr writes for publication and does a lot of editorial critiquing.  She is on an editorial board of online subscriptions where she reads manuscripts and then advises journals whether or not to publish the manuscript.  She also does lots of writing through e-mail and writing for committee work.  Professor Burr says editorials and committee work are not the kinds of writing she would prefer to be doing, but she also puts a lot of effort into them.  Professor Burr would prefer to be doing research writing and sharing it with the community (local community, community of writers, community of the Northern University staff, etc.).

Professor Burr encourages students to go to the Writing Center, but does not have enough time inside of class to talk about the Writing Center or open up time to make a visit.  She also feels that the Writing Center is in a difficult situation because it has to constantly battle misconceptions about the Writing Center’s job.  She also worries about mix-ups and uniformed tutors or writers.  Sometimes tutors might give the wrong kind of advice, for various reasons, or the student might be asking for the wrong kind of advice.  Professor Burr wants the students, and the tutors, to understand that the Writing Center is not a “proof-reading” center.

Professor Burr feels that the Writing Center poster might be sending mixed messages to students who might interpret it as saying the WC is a “proof-reading” service.  Other than this, she suggests having weekly or bi-weekly (whichever worked best) workshops giving presentations on different aspects of writing in order to help educate writers.  Presentations could include thesis statements, history papers, citations, lab reports, etc.  Professor Burr feels this might help draw in people who might not have thought about going to the WC in the first place, and also it might help students, as well as community members, begin to see writing as a process.

Professor: James Cantrill
Department: Communication and Media Studies
Interviewed By: Tom Rich
Date: September 27, 2007

When I walked into Professor Jim Cantrill’s office to conduct this interview, he was putting the finishing touches on an email, and asked me to wait a moment while he proofread it. I patiently waited while he read through what he had written, altered a few words, and finally sent it off. This care, patience, and attention to detail forms the cornerstone of Professor Cantrill’s views on writing.

Holding a PhD in Communication Studies, Professor Cantrill approaches writing from the perspective of a reader. He describes writing as “[the writer] in two dimensions.” To a reader who has never personally met a given writer, the quality of that writer’s writing reflects directly on the writer as a person, fairly or unfairly. In addition, he argued “in most professions” sought out by college graduates they “will have to be writing.” Professor Cantrill understatedly concluded that possessing good writing skills is “very important.”

Professor Cantrill teaches a number of classes within the Department of Communication and Media Studies, a list of which appears below. There is a written element to every course which he teaches, from short-answer essay exams at the one hundred level to written take-home exams and research papers at the three and four hundred level. Plagiarism is discouraged by requiring students to apply concepts from the class to specific problems; the assignments are “designed to make people think, rather than spit out” answers.

While he acknowledges that writing skills vary “from student to student,” Professor Cantrill feels that, in general, students’ writing abilities are “average at best.” He cites a lack of attention to the mechanical details of writing, an inability to structure an argument, and an inability for students to “take the perspective of their reader” as key facets of the problem. In many cases, he contends, students are being “self-centered in their writing,” failing to consider whether or not what they have written will make sense to a reader. Students who are unable to write clearly with the reader in mind will find that their “creativity will fall on deaf ears or, if [they’re] writing, blind eyes.”

Professor Cantrill notes that the problem is not limited to “raw recruits out of high school;” the deficiencies carry on to students who have completed EN 111 and 211. He feels that the classes place too much emphasis on writing as a process of multiple drafts with feedback after each draft; in many classes and the professional world, Professor Cantrill contends, students will only be given one chance to write something well. The writing process becomes collaborative rather than individual, and the student does not develop the ability to produce a polished piece without extensive outside input.

In his own writing Professor Cantrill works in many forms, from textbooks and academic articles to consulting reports for government agencies and bureaucratic paperwork and communication within the university environment. His current writing abilities are, in his own words, “light years beyond where [he] was as an undergraduate,” and he attributes this improvement to the solid foundation of writing he gained in Catholic grade school and the extensive writing he has done in graduate school and beyond.

While he does refer students to the Writing Center, Professor Cantrill feels that the tutors there are misused as a “proofreading service.” Writing Center tutors should be “collaborators” with the students, helping them work through problems of organization or clarity rather than checking for spelling and grammar mistakes. Professor Cantrill feels that such basic concerns are not the Writing Center’s responsibility, and that both students and tutors will be better served by focusing on the higher-order concerns of organization, argumentative effectiveness, and clarity. A firm stance from the Writing Center that it is not a proofreading service, coupled with an increased dedication from the university as a whole to reinforcing basic concepts of grammar and spelling would prevent students from using the Writing Center as a “crutch” for their own poor grammar skills. “We cannot,” he states, “shovel off on the Writing Center work that we, as professors, ought to be doing ourselves.”


Courses Taught

• SP 100: Public Address

• SP 110: Interpersonal Communications

• SP 250: Careers and Research in Communication Studies

• SP 310: Communication Theory

• SP 400: Persuasion

• SP 432: Environmental Communication

Professor: Dr. Alex K. Carroll
Department: Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
Interviewed By: Ben Plaza
Date: September 26, 2008

When I entered Dr. Carroll’s office, I was surprised to see not only Dr. Carroll, but also two of her students who had stopped by to sit and talk. All three of them greeted me, and Dr. Carroll asked me to have a seat. I began the interview by asking her if she gives writing assignments to her students. With a smile, she told me that she has a writing component in each of her classes, including her intro class. Dr. Carroll believes, “Of all the things you learn in college, writing is the most important.” She explained that she felt that strong writing is essential because it is crucial in effective communication. She also uses writing to gauge a student’s understanding on a topic. She gave me an example, telling me that in her AN100 class, she has her students write a journal response every week. Dr. Carroll feels it forces her students to understand the material when they have to explain it. 

Dr. Carroll has a wide spectrum of students in her classes, but she feels, in most of her classes, the writing abilities of her students are bimodal. She has many students who write proficiently and are able to convey the information for the concept they are writing about. On the other hand, she has students who have trouble explaining themselves on paper. As a teacher, she focuses on helping everyone as much as she can – pushing the skilled writers to write at a graduate level, and giving the less talented students the tools they need to become better writers.

Because Dr. Carroll strongly believes knowing how to write is important, she encourages her students to improve their writing. When I asked her why she feels writing is important, she told me that in order for a student to be successful, he or she needs to be able to convey an idea effectively to someone else. She also feels that effective writing is “sharing in a meaningful way” because it shows an understanding for others.

When Dr. Carroll reads a student’s paper, she grades it on two principles: content and style. Primarily, she wants to make sure the students have an understanding of the key concepts. When she looks for writing style, she is judging the organization of the paper. She is also checking for spelling and grammar. She tells her upper level students to write as if they intended to send their papers to a professional journal, because many of them will be doing that in aspects of their jobs. She believes, “College writing is an investment in [yourself],” and that her students should take pride in being able to explain themselves on paper.

Having earned a Ph. D. in sociocultural anthropology with a minor in archaeology from the University of Arizona, Dr Carroll does quite a bit of writing. She is constantly writing articles for scholarly journals on various areas of study. On top of that, she enjoys writing fiction, and is currently writing a fictional book. When I asked her why she writes, she told me, “Writing is power, expression, and creativity. It is a chance to invent ourselves and find ourselves.” She told me that she wants her students to feel the same way; she wants them to find their voices. She said an understanding of writing guidelines is imperative to finding your voice because once you have mastery, you can reinvent the rules to find your own voice and style.

Being a newer professor, Dr. Carroll was not too familiar with our Writing Center; she told me that she had heard about it from her students, and that she thought it was a great resource. I explained that the tutors at the Writing Center are not proofreaders. I told her that we are there to help the students improve their writing for future assignments, as well as the paper they are currently writing. After that, Dr. Carroll said that the Writing Center is an important resource. She feels that it is a right as a college student to have assignments that will help you grow. It is also a right to have the access to expertise to help the student excel, whether it is in writing or any other subject.

Professor: Dr. Alex Carroll-Ruuska
Department of: Sociology and Social Work
Interviewed by: Courtney Schofield
Date: September 23, 2010

Dr. Alex Ruuska has been teaching at Northern Michigan University for the past three years. An assistant professor with a doctorate from University of Arizona in sociocultural anthropology, Dr. Ruuska and her colleague, Scott Demel, are trying to revive the anthropology program in the Sociology and Social Work Department at NMU. She regularly teaches AN 100, Intro to Sociocultural anthropology, and has also offered, on and off over the last few years, People, Culture, and Nature (AN 210), Native Peoples of North America (AN 320), Indians of the Western Great Lakes (AN 330),Health Society and Culture (AN 382), Anthropology of Religion through Special Topics (AN 295), as well as several different directed studies through AN 495. Dr. Ruuska also taught a class abroad the summer of 2009 when she took a small class to Peru through a directed study. Though Dr. Ruuska teaches a wide range of courses, her philosophy on teaching has remained consistent.

Dr. Ruuska believes that writing is important, and that knowing how to write is a necessity. "Writing is an amazing part of being human…it's the way we express ourselves, and reinvent ourselves, and discover new things," she says. "It's important to write and to write well." And that's one of the many reasons she requires her students to write in each of her classes.

This anthropology professor requires writing assignments in each of her classes because she believes it fosters critical thinking and organizational skills. "In addition, I've been told employers will often look for good writers among potential employees," Dr. Ruuska explains.  She advises her students that there are no shortcuts to good writing; the only way to learn to write is by doing it, doing it a lot, and getting feed back to help develop those skills.

That said, Dr. Ruuska does acknowledge that every student is at a different skill level. "I've had students who write at a graduate student level, and I've had students write at an introductory level, and everywhere in between." When grading papers she looks for different things depending on the class, but on a general level she focuses on content and style.  She grades based on "how good the information being presented is and how well the student can present it." Dr. Ruuska looks at the degree to which a student can potentially think about and contribute to a topic. She wants them to build on a foundation and do more, "Undergraduates may not have the experience of graduates, but they all have the capability of thinking, of having an original thought." Dr. Ruuska wants to see that in her students writing.

Dr. Ruuska has made writing an important part of her own life as well, setting an example for her students. Besides emails, and she does write a lot of emails, she writes research articles, grants, and books, as well as some fiction. "I write research papers, but also fiction. Making up all the rules is always fun," Ruuska says, coming back to the concept of discovery through writing. She also considers the process of revision as essential to writing. Dr. Ruuska can distinctly remember when her view on writing changed as an undergrad; she clearly remembers a professor who repeatedly handed back a paper to her, telling her to rewrite it. She didn't understand why she kept handing it back at first, but she realizes now that the teacher was trying to tell her that it wasn't about getting an A on the paper, but about getting it right. She came to realize that the grade was arbitrary and now thinks that students need to get out of thinking about things in terms of As and Bs and Cs and start thinking about the quality of their work.

Dr. Ruuska has heard of the Writing Center. She says she receives an email at the beginning of the semester each year and gets emails every time a student of hers visits the Writing Center, but she hasn't pressed the idea to her students as much as she could. "I think it (the Writing Center) is a great idea, but I don't necessarily remember to tell them to go there," she explains. She's not quite sure how the Writing Center works, but she correctly assumes that more experienced writers guide students with ideas on the papers they've been assigned to write.

Dr. Ruuska is a professor who believes in the writing process. She encourages her students to challenge themselves while they write, urging them to make the most out of their abilities. One of the ways she believes students can accomplish this is to visit the Writing Center. The other way is to write, and to keep writing.   

Professor: David E. Cooper                                                     
Interviewed by: Bobbi Nease
Department of Philosophy                                                       
Date: September 24, 2003

Dr. David E. Cooper has spent a whopping 31 years at NMU. He holds the rank of a full professor in the Philosophy Department, teaching courses such as the Fundamentals of Ethical Theory, the classes which follow it up (such as Medical, Legal, and Computer Ethics), Social and Political Philosophy, and is qualified to teach all philosophy classes. Since Dr. Cooper has spent so many years as a professor, he has practically perfected the curriculum in his ethics classes. A no-nonsense kind of guy, Dr. Cooper knows what works and executes his plans accordingly.

He often gives writing assignments to his students, and states frankly, “I assign them because it would be too time-consuming to give individual interviews.” He feels papers are the best way for students to communicate with him –in organized thoughts- their ethical knowledge and thoughts. When I had him for Ethics, Dr. Cooper assigned journals weekly, and, in Legal Ethics, we were assigned to write three separate papers, each on a different topic we covered in class. In both classes, we were also required to make up our own study questions and answer them thoroughly. That was the reason I chose Dr. Cooper to interview for this project.

When I asked him what he thought about his students’ writing abilities, he threw his hands up in the air dramatically and said, “They’re all over the board. Some students write very well, and some can barely finish a sentence.” He attributes that to the fact that Northern is an open-admissions University. He did make sure to mention that, although he comes across students at all levels, most students are pretty good writers.  

I had assumed that he graded mostly on content, because of the nature of his subject. He readily agreed when I asked, saying, “Yes, mostly content. I’ll correct grammar or spelling as I looks the paper over, but I don’t deduct from the grade for it.” He said he often will point out where he gets confused if the write is losing him. “Sometimes,” he said, “the grammar might affect the messages conveyed, and that might result in loss of points.” Dr. Cooper reassured me that he thought the nuts and bolts of writing (grammar, spelling, etc.) were just as important as the content, and just as difficult for students to nail down. He summarized this common problem well: “grammar can definitely affect the communication of thoughts.”

I mentioned that I was aware he wrote the book he uses for his Fundamentals of Ethical Theory class, and then asked if he did any other writing. Just as I thought, Dr. Cooper said he writes all the time. He has written one other book (it was lost in the sea of papers, books and plates in his office at the time of our meeting) and is in the process of writing a third.  He has also published about 25 articles. Cooper also writes novels and short stories in his spare time, but has never attempted to get any of these published.

“I’ve been told I write well by my colleagues,” he said shyly near the end of our interview. “They’re telling me it’s become too dense, too philosophical. But I feel that’s the nature of the subject.” It seemed to me he wasn’t interested in talking about his own writing, because he wasn’t too concerned with finding me that second book, or talking about his articles. He ended that part of the interview with the simple comment: “I’m … comfortable with my writing.” That was that.
He did get more excited when I asked him if he thought it was important to know how to write. He said matter-of-factly, “It’s the primary mode of communication.” He went on to explain to me that he once critiqued a number of speeches, and noticed that the speakers could get away with knowing much less. This is because, with speech, you can use body language, voice tones and still come away with relatively effective communication. But when you write, you “incorporate concepts” you don’t use in normal speech. “Written language requires organization,” he noted.

When asked if he’d heard of the Writing Center before my e-mail, he nodded and added, “I have been around a long time. I’ve kind of watched it come to be.” He was quick to admit that he didn’t know much about it, though. That seemed to be the understatement of the interview, because when I asked him what he thinks happens in the Writing Center, he said, “I  know there’s one-on-one sessions, it’s free,  and you help students with grammar and structure in their papers.” He very adamantly added, “I know they don’t write the paper for you.”

He also mentioned that he’s “sent students to the Writing Center before,” but then quickly corrected himself: “Well… recommended that students go there.” When asked why he’d do that, when testing is more important in most of his classes than the journals, he told me it’s because the tutors help with organization. Again, Cooper underestimated himself, by answering, “No, I don’t know enough about it,” when I asked him if he had any suggestions for the tutors at the Center.
Overall, the impression I got from Dr. Cooper during my interview was very similar to the one I got sitting in his classroom. Dr. Cooper believes writing is quite important and deems writing as very fundamental and extremely vital to a quality education.  And he should know; he’s been in the field for quite a while.

Professor: Dr. John Covaleskie  
Department of:  Education                                                                               
Interviewed by:  Ashley Allen
Date: 9/25/03

Dr. Covaleskie has been a professor in the Education Department here at Northern for ten years.  He usually teaches Introduction to Education, Dimensions in American Education, Teaching and Learning in the Secondary Classroom, and sometimes graduate education classes (ED 506 and ED 507).  Before coming to Northern, he worked in many different areas of the education field, from kindergarten, grade school, high school, and even administration. 

Dr. Covaleskie is known among the education students as an avid paper assigner.  He gives writing assignments often to his students because he believes that people, in general, should be capable of writing well. "I'm teaching people who are going to be teachers.  They have to be able to write!"  The papers that he receives range in their degree of ability, from sheer brilliance to having difficulty forming a complete sentence.  Coma splice mistakes and fragmented sentences are the most evident problems areas he notices.  When grading, Dr. Covaleskie generally looks first for content and thought development, followed by word choice and mechanics. 

Dr. Covaleskie also happens to write a lot in his spare time.  He frequently is published in professional journals and is currently working on a book about education.  Though he is a fan of writing now, this was not always the case.  In high school, Dr. Covaleskie hated writing, and even in college, it was never a strong suit.  It was later in his life (in his early forties) that he discovered his passion for writing.  The trick, he said, is to, "Write about stuff you like."

He believes that writing is important because in the real world, people will be dealing with colleagues, bosses, and parents, and they need to know how to communicate on paper.  "Having a college degree means having a college education, and educated people need to know how to write." 

He is familiar with the Writing Center and occasionally advises his students to go there (though I have never heard him say that to our class).  According to Dr. Covaleskie, improving writing skills is an important aspect of learning, and even good writers need help sometimes. When asked how he feels about his own writing, Dr. Covaleskie responded, "Well, I wish it was better," thus confirming the fact that even the good writers strive for improvement. 

Hopefully, as a result of this interview, there will be more education majors seeking the advice and knowledge of the Writing Center staff, courtesy of Dr. Covaleskie.

Professor: Brian Cherry
Department of: Political Science
Interviewed By:  Katelyn Gadzinski
Date: October 1, 2008

Dr. Brian Cherry is an associate professor in the Political Science Department here at NMU. This year (2008/09) is currently his 12th year in this position and his 14th teaching at the college level. Besides teaching classes, he also writes quite often for the department. Journal articles, conference papers, and presentations are written and published regularly.

Dr. Cherry requires written assignments in all of his classes, even his 100-levels. To him, writing is very important and a great learning tool. Most of his assignments are research papers, but he also assigns short papers and some reflective essays. These assignments can help his students not only to think about different topics, but also to formulate and convey specific ideas.

Most of the written assignments Dr. Cherry receives back are somewhat weak. He believes that sometimes his students use the “shotgun approach” and just throw together a bunch of facts without really molding them into a coherent and professional essay or paper. In his experience, Dr. Cherry has seen a majority of assignments that focus on grammar, punctuation, and spelling, but not at all on a main thesis, supporting arguments, or research. Most of these papers also lack structure and direction.

The most important aspects to a written assignment, according to Dr. Cherry, are the thesis and solid, focused arguments. He wants his students to tell him something in their papers, not just ramble on to complete them. While the commas, periods, and spelling may be perfect, a paper needs a developed topic and in-depth support of that topic to be considered “good” in his opinion.

Although Dr. Cherry has recommended the Writing Center to his students in the past, he is not always happy with the results: a grammatically perfect paper. He feels that sometimes his students think that all they need to work on is grammar, when in reality, that is a much lower concern. The most important aspects, the thesis and supporting arguments, can get overlooked.

Students who are assigned written assignments in any of Dr. Cherry’s classes should know to focus on content more than making sure every comma is in the right place. The meaning behind the words is much more important than the words themselves. If students spend a little time and don’t wait for the last minute, this can be accomplished much more easily.

Professor: Sonya Chrisman
Department of: Broadcasting
Interviewed By: Monica Zavala
Date: September 29th, 2005

Professor Sonya Chrisman is going on her eighth year here at Northern Michigan University. To my surprise, this is her first year teaching a class. She belongs to the Communication and Media Studies Department. Besides teaching, Professor Chrisman is a producer/director/host with Public TV 13 here at Northern. She is in charge of a weekly, half-hour public affairs program called “Media Meet,” a community calendar program called “What’s UP?” and a program for and about Northern Michigan University called “Northern Notebook.” Professor Chrisman received her Master of Arts Degree with an emphasis on Public Administration at Northern in 2001. Currently, she is continuing to take classes to further her writing and creative abilities. I value her views on writing because not only is she a teacher here, but she is also a student with a mind that is constantly learning.

Professor Chrisman teaches BC 265 Writing and Announcing. Due to the fact that Prof. Chrisman teaches writing, she has her students practice writing assignments weekly. She feels strongly about writing and according to her, “The more you do it, the better you get.” She is a strong advocate for reading others’ work and learning from them as well. As a student in her class, I can vouch that she uses many outside examples in order to lead our thoughts in the right direction.

Professor Chrisman explains that “script writing is a very different type of genre all together.” For me, the class is a different twist on my own writing. I am an English major, but have done little practice in ad and script writing. Being allowed to end a sentence with a preposition has an unusual feel for me; however, Professor Chrisman always offers suggestions on how to improve. A well-written script, she explains, involves many different ear-catching words. Generally, the pieces we have to write are ads ranging from thirty to sixty seconds. Coming from ten to fifteen page narratives, this transition was a bit hard to get adjusted to. When I asked her how she views her students’ writing abilities, she had two words to say, “I’m impressed!”

Professor Chrisman believes that you are never too old to try something new with writing. As a writer herself, she generally writes scripts, documentaries, and different broadcast shows. Recently, she put a twist on her usual writing and decided to try fiction writing. As everything, she believes her writing is evolving.

“If you try different areas of writing, it makes you a better writer in general,” she explains. Chrisman believes that it’s important for everyone to know the basics in English writing.

Professor Chrisman knows the Writing Center well, for she has used it herself. She always encourages her students to have an extra pair of eyes and ears reading and listening to our ads. Quite frequently in class, Professor Chrisman makes the comment of reading our ad’s to our roommates. She believes that others’ ears can hear what we don’t.

Professor Chrisman offered some tips on how to improve the Writing Center. One comment she made was that the Writing Center needs more advertising.

“I believe many students have heard about the Writing Center, but don’t know where it’s located,” Chrisman states. She offered many suggestions on how to improve the Writing Center and to have the Writing Center as one of her topics on “What’s Up?” Professor Chrisman had a good point of advice for students about the Writing Center.

“You are never too old to try something new with writing,” She said.

Professor: Dr. Chet DeFonso                         
Interviewed By: Andrew Hanson
Department: History
Date: 9-15-05

Dr. Chet DeFonso is an associate professor in the History department and has been an educator at Northern Michigan University for fourteen years.  The classes he usually teaches are Western Civilization (HS 101/102), both the upper and lower classman Historical writing courses (HS 200/490), Canadian History and Culture (HS 363), Imperialism (HS 315), Modern Britain(HS 314), and Gay and Lesbian History (HS 273).

In Dr. DeFonso's experience, the students of Northern Michigan University have a wide range of talent with writing, from the students who fear writing to the students who are capable writers.  This, he finds, makes it hard to give a writing assignment that is both challenging and fair.  However, this does not prevent him from regularly giving his students writing assignments.  It is his belief that it is important for all students to be able to write and that good writing skills equates able and critical thinking skills.

The two main things Dr. DeFonso looks for in student writings are the ability to communicate ideas clearly and the willingness of a student to present his/her own ideas.  Of course, he also keeps a sharp eye out for those very few who decide to plagiarize.
Dr. DeFonso is himself an avid writer, specializing in Historical writing—focusing on European and British history—and book reviews.  He also keeps a personal journal that he writes in for recreation.  To him, writing is a way to find the solution to a puzzle, in that the act of writing forces one to think through problems.  He is also one of the few individuals left who prefers to write in longhand.

Dr. DeFonso does know of the existence of the writing center (he gets e-mails about us).  Though he does not know the particulars of the center's process, he does have a vague (and fairly accurate) idea of what we do.  He does encourage students to visit the writing center because he believes it gives students confidence in their own writing.

Professor: Charles Ganzert
Department: Communication and Media Studies
Interviewed By: William Provost
Date: September 30, 2009

Professor Charles Ganzert came to Northern Michigan University in 1992. As a professor in the Communcation and Performance Studies department, he teaches a diverse collection of courses including Media Law, Audio Production (Beginning and Advanced), Intro to Mass Communication, and, as he stated with a smile, "pretty much anything else the department needs." In a department that relies so much on visual and audible media, one might think writing skills aren't as essential to a student's success, but this is far from the case. 

Professor Ganzert makes it a point to involve writing "in every class" he teaches. There is, of course, a good reason for this. For his students to find success after they've finished their years at NMU, writing is going to be of the utmost importance. Professor Ganzert maintains a great deal of contact with professionals in his field and, as he stated, "they seem to all agree that [their] careers require two specific skills: one is speaking publically and the other is writing in a way that others find useful." He further pointed out that he does, after all, work in "communication," so representing your ideas clearly to others is essential.

It's easy to see that writing is important to Communication and Media Studies students, but what kind of writing? According to Professor Ganzert, each class may have different, unique writing assignments attached to them, all with the purpose of helping the students prepare for their future. He said that this approach helps because it "[gives] the students experience doing the things they might run into later on."  From more standard writing assignments, like essays and reviews of course material, to less common pieces, like film scripts, diverse courses call for equally diverse writing. This, of course, requires a broad range of writing skills, and that's where the Writing Center comes into the picture.

When asked about the Writing Center, Professor Ganzert said he's quite familiar with the program and has always recommended its services for any writers that need "polishing." He further stated that the service can help immensely with students who need help with the basics. Professor Ganzert said that occasionally students will hand in work that seems to lack the skills that should be common knowledge in higher education. Things like simple grammar and spelling errors often trip up writers who would otherwise be producing quality papers. Ideally, Professor Ganzert hopes that the Writing Center can be a place for these students to come and receive positive reinforcement as well as a helping hand in focusing on the particular issues they are struggling with. However, he doesn't feel that bringing in one's paper to the Writing Center is the only way to improve your writing skills.

Professor Ganzert encourages students to think of writing as a craft they can work towards perfecting. His most important message to student writers is reassuring, as he stated that "writing is a craft just like media production is a craft and you're not going to be perfect at it the first time you try. You just have to keep on doing it. It's like being a cabinet maker.  Maybe you read a book and learn how to make a decent cabinet, but ten years later after you've perfected it yourself you can really make something that's amazing." The idea of practice and effort producing a solid writer is certainly reflected in his commitment to preparing students for their future by including writing in every course he teaches. With professors like Charles Ganzert encouraging students to write and a welcoming environment like the Writing Center to help along the way, NMU students are sure to build excellent skills in a craft that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Professor: Robbie Goodrich
Interviewed By: Emalea Landgraf
Department:  History
Date: September 30, 2003

Professor Goodrich has found that in his years at Northern Michigan University he has seldom taught a class twice.  He enjoys the variety and exploring the many truths and tribulations of history.  This semester Professor Goodrich is teaching HS 101 History of Western Civilization to 1600, HS 200 Historical Thinking and Writing, and HS 307 Early Modern Europe, 1600-1815: A Thematic Approach. 

He particularly likes teaching the upper division classes, where he can use writing in his curriculum, rather than tests.  He stated that in HS 101 he does not give any writing assignments.  This class is lecture based and because of such large class sizes, he grades strictly on tests.  However, in both his 200 and 300 level classes the focus is writing.  Professor Goodrich believes history is all about argument and these arguments are brought to life best through writing.

Professor Goodrich has found that, especially in 200 level classes, his students often lack the very fundamentals of writing, and many of them have a hard time writing argumentative papers.  He finds himself not only teaching History, but also teaching them English.  This is something he does not mind, but wonders why and how they made it through EN 111 successfully.  He has made proposals to the History department, which would require 200 and 300 level classes to have prerequisites including EN 111 and EN 211.  The students also must be of sophomore or higher standing, he has yet to hear back.

When reading and grading his students, Professor Goodrich always wants to see a, “history thesis driven” paper with a strong argument, as that, in his opinion, is the basis of history.  All of his writing assignments also must be source based, have frequent foot noting, and be very well structured.

Professor Goodrich himself is a writer.  His article about drinking in Germany was recently published in the Cultures of Leisure.  Currently, he is revising his piece, “Confessional Viewing in Cologne:  The Labor Movement and Early German Cinema.”  This is something he had written at an earlier time and is trying now to condense into an article form.  Professor Goodrich is confident in his abilities as a writer, and he has had many good reviews to support him.  He does, however, believe he is not a “finished writer,” as writing can always be improved.

Robbie Goodrich considers writing as a critical aspect of everyday life.  He thinks society today is becoming less skill based and much more visual based than it used to be.  Writing is one skill that seems to be deteriorating.  An example of this is e-mail and instant messaging.  They are very “chatty” and proper writing techniques are not used.  He recognizes that writing is complex and causes critical thinking, and he also thinks to be an informed citizen a person must be able to write.

Professor Goodrich believes the Writing Center is an essential part of a university.  Both St. Augustine and the University of Wisconsin Madison, previous places of employment, had Writing Centers.  And because of the necessity, when he was being interviewed for the Northern position he asked if there was a Writing Center.  He sees writing as a process and product and this is something the Writing Center does through drafting.  Professor Goodrich considers the Writing Center to give direct effort into improving students writing.  He gives much credit to the Writing Center, but at the same time he thinks the Writing Center focuses too much on style; however, in his classes his main focus is on an effective argument.  Many of his students go directly to him, instead of the Writing Center, for assistance.  He says he likes this because he is then able to work closely with his students and can help them to achieve the argumentative style.  One suggestion Professor Goodrich gave to the Writing Center is that it should have writing workshops for their tutors.  Even tutors can improve in writing.

Professor:  Dr. Steve Grugin
Department of Music
Interviewed by:  Johanna Boyle
Date:  October 1, 2004

After teaching at Northern Michigan University for eight years, Dr. Steve Grugin has taught many classes.  In the Music Department he instructs the students in the Marching and Symphonic Bands and is also in charge of several performance classes.  The performance classes are structured as individual lessons for both music majors and non music majors.  In the Music Education Department, Dr. Grugin teaches Low Brass classes, Marching Band Techniques, and Symphonic Band Practicum.  In addition to these courses, he also supervises music education majors as they do their student teaching.

These classes involve very little writing, but there is one course taught by Dr. Grugin in which he does assign regular writing; this class is Music History.  The papers written for this class tend to be short, two to three page essays on topics pertaining to music in a historical perspective.  Grugin stated that he used to assign only one or two term papers for this class, but decided to break them up into several smaller assignments to spread the work over a wider variety of topics.  He has never considered giving writing assignments to his marching or symphonic band students.

While grading the Music History papers, the things that Dr. Grugin looks for are organization, coherent paragraphs, and the logical sequence of introduction, supporting paragraphs, and a conclusion.  Even more important to him are grammar and spelling.  This conversation launched a short story from Dr. Grugin's childhood in which he won an English prize in highschool for having the best grammar.  As strict as he is about correct word usage and spelling, Dr. Grugin is becoming more lenient about the use of first person perspective in papers.  He says that depending on what the assignment is, students are free to use "I" in papers to discuss their own opinions. 

After years of grading papers, Dr. Grugin has noticed several trends in student writing.  The first of these is that as students get older, writing tends to improve.  Assignments received from Juniors and Seniors are of better quality than those written from Freshmen and Sophomores.  Although he did not elaborate on this, I expect the improvement comes from the students having more experience writing.  The second trend noticed is that as years go by, students enrolled at Northern are better writers than those from previous years.  I found it very comforting to hear that the writing capabilities of American students have improved as the years go by.

As for his own writing, Dr. Grugin feels that writing is something that he is accomplished at, but it does not come naturally to him.  Writing takes a great amount of effort for him, but Dr. Grugin is such a perfectionist that he insists upon doing things correctly.  The writings he typically does are promotional materials, such as letters to prospective students, and formal proposals to secure funding for the music programs, the band program in particular.  These writings need to be orderly and coherent as they are read by many professors and other professionals.  Overall, Dr. Grugin feels that writing is a very important skill, especially for communication.

Working primarily as a music instructor, Dr. Grugin was not familiar with the Writing Center.  Although he knew that there was a Writing Center on campus, he did not know the procedures used when working with students or anything about using the Writing Center at all.  After I explained the processes and methods of the Center, Dr. Grugin confessed that he had never advised students to use the services provided, but that is understandable as most of his classes do not directly involve writing.

Although he could not give any advice for the Writing Center itself, Dr. Grugin did however give some advice to students.  He said that the hardest thing when beginning to write something is choosing a topic.  I found this piece of advice similar to what we tell some students who come into the Writing Center having trouble starting their papers.  After choosing what to write about, the best thing to do is just write; just write things down and go back and fix it later. 

Professor M. Haltof
English Department/Film Studies
Interviewed by: Katie Hubbard
October 14th, 2009

Dr.  J. Marek Haltof has been a Professor in the NMU English Department since 2001. He teaches the following courses in film: Introduction to Cinema (EN125), Authorship in Cinema (EN325), Studies in Film Genre (EN364), World Cinema (EN225), Film Theory (EN425), and National Cinema (EN326).

I have taken two of Dr. Haltof's courses, and can attest that writing is an important part of his classes. He assigns in-class writing assignments, as well as short research papers for his upper-level courses. He believes writing to be important because it broadens students' knowledge and personal interests, as well as allowing them to research the directors and background of varying cinema. It also allows the students to incorporate their own field of study and form a unique viewpoint of the topic being researched. In his students' writing, he looks for clarity, content and style, amount of research and effort, and of course, evidence of passion in the subject.

Dr. Haltof is himself a writer—he has written several books, among them Polish National Cinema (NY: Berghan, 2002), Historical Dictionary of Polish Cinema (Scarecrow Press, 2007), The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski (London: Wallflower Press, 2004) as well as several other books (including two novels). He has also contributed chapters and essays to other works.

Though he is comfortable writing in both English and Polish, he tends to prefer writing in his native language. Dr. Haltof speaks English as his third language—his second language is Russian, with Polish being his first. While learning English in high school, he felt as if it would have no practical application in his life, as Russia was occupying Poland at that time and the possibilities of traveling west seemed quite bleak.

Dr. Haltof strongly encourages his students, whether they are freshmen or seniors, to visit the Writing Center. He believes it is a beneficial resource and that it is useful to have such a service available that allows a student to have a tutor review and assist with a writing assignment.

Professor: Patti Hogan                                                                                                  
Department of: Health and Human Performance                          
Interviewed by: Claire Smith
Date: September 2009

List of courses taught by Professor Hogan:

  • HL111 Personal Wellness
  • HL110 Intro to Health and Fitness
  • HL367 Program Planning and Evaluation in Health and Fitness
  • HL368 Programming in Health and Fitness
  • HL440 Critical Issues in Health and Fitness

It quickly became apparent that, for Patti Hogan, being a professor doesn't come down to teaching only her discipline of health and fitness. "I think a lot of teachers see their discipline as the end," Patti told me. "Their job is to transmit discipline specific information. And in some senses that's true, but how do we all align and fit together around a University Mission? If you look at that, our job should be to use the disciplines as a means to accomplish the ends of critical thinking, good communication skills, creative thinking, self directed learning."

Critical thinking and self directed learning seem to be Patti's specialties. I've taken many classes with her, and no matter what the class, critical thinking, creativity, and self directed learning have been central issues. As I talked with Patti the reason for this became clear. Patti doesn't want to train you. She wants to educate you.

 "There's a difference between a trained individual and an educated individual, and an indoctrinated individual," Patti said. "So it comes again, what skill set does an educated person have? What are the goals of education in a free society? What's the mission of the University?"

Communication, she says, is one skill an educated person has. "Communication skills are very important, and writing is an important form of communication. I also branch out into information literacy and design thinking and design presentation, so that the kids are communicating. Writing is a part of communicating with self or with the other. And writing is an important component of that— of organizing your thoughts, communicating."

Patti's belief in the importance of writing comes across in her classes; I know from experience that she gives writing and communication assignments in most—if not all—of the classes she teaches. Every exam I've had with Patti has consisted entirely of essay questions (which, by the way, she grades more by content than grammar errors). I asked her what she thinks of her student's writing abilities.

"Two populations: great writers, poor writers," she said. "All the C's are gone. So you get A/Bs and then you get Ds and Fs."

I asked what the writers who aren't strong lack, whether its problems with grammar and sentence structure or something like general organization.

"I think it's both," she said. "I see kids just throwing up words on paper and leaving it. Not coming back and not being disciplined to come back and refine it. And there's a lot of ‘your,' ‘you're' and ‘you are.'  It's ‘there,' ‘they're' and ‘their.' A lot of problems like that."

I knew Patti had heard of the Writing Center, so I asked if she sends her students there.  The short answer is yes.

 "In [HL]111 (Personal Wellness), I'll say if you're not a good writer and you know it five years are going to pass whether you work on it (writing) or you don't. I recommend you take this to the writing center and work on it."

The thing is, Health and Fitness majors are probably going to have trouble if they don't work on writing. All Management of Health and Fitness majors take Patti's HL367 class. In HL367 you're required to do a very involved project on a heath or fitness issue of your choice. The project is written in a scientific format and integrates everything Patti teaches during your four years in the Fitness Program: design thinking, the scientific model, critical thinking, and of course, writing and communication.  Patti showed me an example of a HL367 project during our interview.

"This one is for cervical cancer in women," she said, presenting me with a three-inch-thick binder completely full of paper. "Kids pick the mission they want, so they're writing about what's interesting to them, and then they do they have to do an introduction, and what their mission is, they have to do written plus pictorial work— so design thinking and writing – then they review the literature, they plan a program, they select a test to measure risk factors or whatever plan a program. So they do a lot of the writing."

Patti has her students do a lot of writing, and Patti also writes herself.

 "Mostly I do write for journal articles. JOFERD JournalMAHPERD Journal, in some sport business journals, and the journal for interdisciplinary problem based learning. And I've written for some thinking journals, critical thinking journals. For example, The Korean Journal of Critical Thinking."

Before Patti wrote in academic journals she'd also written for a broader audience and had some articles in Shape Magazine. But she says, "I'm excessively academic." Patti minored in English literature in college and even though she's an academic writer, her love and appreciation for English and literature in general is very apparent.

"I would love to be good expressive writer like Cortsey," she says, "the guy who won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He wrote a book called "Disgrace. You should get ahold of that."

This is a regular thing with Patti—every time I talk to her another book is recommended to me. Another thing to aid in your development, another tool she wants to share with you. Her enthusiasm to turn you into a more educated person is evident every time you talk with her.

As I left Patti's office it dawned on me that there's a difference between a teacher and an educator—just as Patti said there was a difference between a trained individual and an educated individual. The difference comes down to appreciation, enthusiasm, and curiosity. I think an educator is someone who appreciates the greater goals of a liberal education. An educator is someone who truly cares for students and their enthusiasm and love doesn't lie in a specific discipline. Patti is very much an educator.

Professor: Victor Holliday
Department: Communication and Media Studies
Interviewed By: Linda Sirois
Date: September 22, 2009

As an Associate Professor in the very hands-on world of theatre design ("theater, or theatre?" I asked.  "Well, we theatre people prefer ‘theatre,'" he said with a grin), how does Victor Holliday see writing as a component of his classes?  "You have to be able to communicate ideas, be able to take an assignment, focus down, and do research," he said.  As a 28-year teaching veteran of Northern Michigan University, he has had a lot of experience in understanding how important effective writing is to a college student. 

Professor Holliday's particular area of expertise is scenic and lighting design, but he also teaches Stage Make-up, Introduction to Theatre, and History of Theatre.  He assigns a sixteen-page research paper to his History of Theatre class every semester.  In a course that covers a historical span from 600 B.C. to 1850, Professor Holliday feels there is ample material for the students to find something of particular interest on which to focus.  He thinks assigning the research paper is a good way to encourage students to take a deeper look than his teaching time permits.  Some topics that he has seen come across his desk include: Classic Greek Theatre, Women in Theatre, compare/contrast papers on different eras, or focusing on a particular part of production.  The only topic Professor Holliday discourages is biography.  "The last thing the world needs is one more biography of Shakespeare," he said. 

"[A student from] a 300 level class should be able to research and write a serious paper.  They can spend a little time researching online and at the library; I require both."  He points out that EN 211 is a prerequisite for that class.  Professor Holliday notes that the writing skills vary widely, but in general he thinks the students do pretty well.  "The most important qualities in writing are logic, organization, and focus.  People have trouble with that…my main comment is ‘Narrow it down.'"  He also stresses the importance of knowing how to properly research a subject.

Is writing prevalent in Professor Holliday's daily life?  He answered, "My art is practical production.  Of course I've written, in graduate school, and I will do a comment sheet on each student's paper.  But I do tons of research.  You have to know how to find what other folks have done [in productions], historical details, what's appropriate to a period, and things like that."

Professor Holliday regularly sends his students to the Writing Center.  "People who've been there always have good things to say about it," he said.  In fact, he thinks it is so important for students to be familiar with the services offered at the Writing Center, that the segment of Freshman Seminar that he is involved with has made a visit to the Writing Center mandatory.

"It's important enough that it [visiting the Writing Center] should be required," he said.

Professor: Jennifer Howard
Department: English
Interviewed by: Elizabeth Faucett
Date: September 21st, 2005

Assistant Professor Jennifer Howard is going into her fourth year here at Northern Michigan University. This is her first year teaching as a professor. She recently completed her Master of Fine Arts (Creative Writing) degree from NMU. Professor Howard is currently teaching two classes within the English Department, EN215: Introduction to Creative Writing and EN300: Creative Writing, Fiction. She also has experience teaching EN111: College Composition and EN211B. She also taught classes online through the University of Phoenix during the summer.

Because of the nature of the classes she teaches, Prof. Howard does incorporate a great deal of writing into her classes. Many of the assignments, especially in the introductory class, are used as a way for students to experiment with their writing. She says that she wants to provide an environment where the students feel comfortable being “messy” with their writing and have a chance to try out new techniques and ideas. In order to develop her students’ writing skills, she has daily writing assignments, which focus on different aspects of the writing process. Prof. Howard utilizes writing workshop to allow students the opportunity to give and receive feedback as to what is or is not working in a piece or what to consider during revision, which her students do a lot of.

Prof. Howard is supportive of her students’ writing. She especially enjoys student writing that is fresh and original. A good piece of writing, according to her, is one in which the author has a strong, clear voice and characters that draw the reader in emotionally so that they feel engaged in the piece. And like all teachers, she is looking to see that the writer has successfully incorporated elements of writing (dialogue, setting, etc.) when appropriate. She also likes to see that a student is developing his/her skills. As a writer, Prof. Howard is also committed to strengthening her writing. When she is not teaching or writing e-mails, she enjoys writing short-short fiction, longer fiction pieces and also some non-fiction.

Even though her passion is creative writing, Prof. Howard strongly believes that everyone, English major or not, needs to know how to write well. The ability to communicate ideas through writing has become especially important because of the increased dependence that many businesses have on the Internet as a means of relaying information. As an example, she talked about her experiences with teaching online courses. Because every question, response and assignment had to be submitted via the Internet, her students’ ability to clearly express themselves through writing was crucial to their success in the class.

Because the Writing Center is similar in nature to the workshop environment that she creates in her classroom, Prof. Howard understands the impact that even one session in the Writing Center can have on a student. She admits that she has not been one to overly encourage her students to attend the Writing Center, but she said that she has had some students visit it and that it had a positive impact on their writing. Often, the best thing that we can do as writers is to let someone read our writing and give us feedback.

There is a debate as to whether or not the piece that comes as a result of the collaboration between student and tutor is truly the work of the student. I asked Prof. Howard what her thoughts on this were. Her response was that the more input that a student gets from other writers/editors/tutors the better the student is able to look at his/her writing objectively. She believes that sometimes it takes another person looking at the piece and pointing out something that does not work for writers to see beyond what they have already written and find the heart of the piece. I enjoyed my interview with Prof. Howard. She is encouraging and understanding of her students writing.

Lucy Johnson
Dr. Lehmberg
19 October 2010
Interview Assignment

Carol Johnson teaches in the College of Business. The courses Mrs. Johnson teaches are: Introduction to Accounting (ACT201), Medical Terminology (OIS 171), Health Information Processing (OIS270), Medical Office Procedures and Billing (OIS271), and Computer Information Systems (CIS110). In her courses, Mrs. Johnson incorporates writing assignments in order to improve students writing skills. Mrs. Johnson assigns these writing assignments because she believes currently, her student's writing is typically weak; she notes that "they need more practice and they don't proof read; many students write just to get it done." When grading writing assignments, Mrs. Johnson looks for organization within the paper, grammar, correct completion of the assignment, and the ability to articulate in a concise manner.

In her own personal writing, Mrs. Johnson finds that she feels most comfortable in technical writing. Being a business instructor, she notes that "I work at being clear and concise. I am in business writing, and we get straight to the point." Mrs. Johnson does all different types of writing in her everyday life, ranging from memos to personal letters. She notes that she loves to read and is continually helping her husband revise his paper for doctoral school. As an instructor, Mrs. Johnson stresses the importance of being a good writer, stating that "writing is a form of formal communication."

In terms of familiarity with the Writing Center, Mrs. Johnson notes that prior to our interview, she has received e-mails and was familiar with the Writing Center. She also notes that she regularly encourages students to attend and seek help from the tutors in the Writing Center. In regards to what goes on in the Writing Center, Mrs. Johnson said she believes it is an environment which offers the opportunity for students to seek help with revisions. A suggestion Mrs. Johnson gives to the Writing Center would be to consider there are different types of writing, and that sometimes the Writing Center has the tendency to turn her students business papers into descriptive and "wordy" revisions of what she initially asked for. Overall, Mrs. Johnson believes writing is a critical part of formal communication in everyday life. She strongly supports writing in her classes and encourages her students to use the Writing Center as a tool for improving their writing skills.

Professor:  Dr. Michael Joy
Department of:  Modern Languages (Spanish)
Interviewed by:  Ashley Harwood
Date:  9/25/07

Professor Michael Joy is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Modern Languages.  He has a B.A. from Carleton College and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.  He has only been at NMU for two years.  He frequently teaches SN300 Reading and Writing (three sections this semester) and UN100, which has a writing component.  He hopes to teach a literature course in the future. 

Joy does indeed give writing assignments to his students, and the assignments are always essays.  He begins assigning essays in Spanish to students when they are at the second year level.  To second year and SN300 students, he assigns shorter papers (no more than two or three pages).  He feels it is important to have students write about topics that interest them.  Often he assigns generally relevant topics, topics about pop culture, or other topics that might be of interest to students.  Joy believes in the importance of writing everyday, so during his classes, he usually has students write something such as a journal entry.  These writing samples are not graded, but they force students to write when many students would not write on their own. 

On his students' writing abilities, Joy believes everyone has potential to write well if enthusiasm for the subject is present.  He is aware that many students do not have much experience writing; they simply do not practice writing enough.  Also, he says many do not revise their writing.  This is something I have been noticing in the Writing Center.  Students will write a paper or an essay and not revise it or even read over it.  Professor Joy knows from experience that it takes much revision to produce a good piece of writing.

Enthusiasm in students' writing is extremely important to Professor Joy.  He looks for writing that moves quickly, is lively, and captures the reader's attention.  It is important not to bore the reader, especially if the reader has 80 other essays on the same topic to read.

Joy writes quite often.  He currently writes book reviews but in the past has written some fiction.  He has also written journals and articles, and he is published in Romance Languages Annual volumes 9, 10, and 11. 

Like most writers, Professor Joy is never satisfied with his own writing.  He says he is very critical of it, thinks it is never lively enough or readable, and always wants to revise more.  Joy admits he is a perfectionist when it comes to his writing. 

He believes it is important to know how to write.  When one knows how to write, one knows how to organize thoughts logically.  Writing also forces one to think carefully about a subject. 

Joy has heard of the Writing Center and is an advocate for it.  He mentions it to the students in his UN100 class and says it is a very valuable tool.  He makes sure to tell his students that it is not a place to go for proofreading, but it is a place to go for suggestions.  His students are definitely encouraged to visit the Writing Center. 

The only suggestion Joy offers to improve the Writing Center is more advertising.  He thinks students may not know about it or may just forget it is there.  He says we need to advocate ourselves.

At the end of the interview, I asked if he would like to be quoted and what he would like to say.  After a minute or so of thought, he said, enthusiastically, "The Writing Center should be used by students of all languages!"

Assistant Professor Michael Joy
Modern Languages and Literature
Shauna Neshek

Profe Joy, as his pupils call him, generally teaches Spanish courses on language, literature, and culture; however, he also frequently teaches the freshman seminar, a part of the First Year Experience program. Albeit his usual courses are not English based, he still requires writing from his students, both in English and Spanish, depending upon the course. These assignments may encompass anything from compositions to in-class essays or response papers. He believes, “There is a strong connection between writing clearly and thinking clearly.”

When correcting his students’ writing assignments, Professor Joy tends to focus more on content than sentence-level errors. For him, it is more important that his students are interested in and engaged in the topic than whether or not they have a comma splice. He looks for evidence that the student has thought before he or she wrote. To him, a good writer is defined by his or her prose.  Although, that isn’t to say he ignores grammar completely, “Small errors can add up and keep the reader from appreciating or understanding the larger ideas a writer is trying to convey.” Too many grammar mistakes can hide an otherwise well-written piece.

Professor Joy doesn’t leave all the writing to his students. Although he doesn’t write quite as much as when he was a teenager—at one point he had 30 pen pals—he still keeps in practice. Since last semester he has published two articles to professional journals. Usually, he writes one to two conference papers each year. However, even he hasn’t reached perfection yet, “Sometimes I’ll be pretty sure that a particular paper is going nowhere, and then when I read over what I’ve written, I’ll discover that I’m actually making sense. Frequently the opposite happens, of course.”

El profe encourages students to go to the Writing Center because the tutors help students succeed in all aspects of their writing. In addition, he recommends the Language Lab for help with Spanish compositions. Many of his students have arrived at Northern Michigan University without much writing experience from high school. He believes it’s important for these students, and others, to be aware of the help that’s available on campus. It makes the transition to university life just a little bit easier.

Summary of Interview

Going into this essay, I already had an idea of Professor Joy’s opinion of writing. However, it was interesting to hear his responses to my questions.

The interview was set up via e-mail. I was a little nervous about contacting the professor in person, so I sent him a message the Thursday before, asking his permission to interview him for this paper. The interview questions were attached as well. I had heard no response from him by the next class period on Tuesday so I approached him after class.

He had read my e-mail and was open to the interview. The professor had been interviewed a previous year but was more than happy to be under question again. Surprisingly, he wanted to continue the interview via e-mail. He asked that I sent him a reminder message a couple days before the paper was due.

Sunday, I sent him the requested reminder and reattached the interview questions to that particular message. His answers were sent back, filled in beneath the words of my original message. He also offered to expand on any of his answers. I proceeded to send him a reply, asking him to expand on four or five questions. He did so and ended his response by wishing me luck.

Name: Dr. Keith Kendall 
Department of History
Interviewed by: Jessica Higginbotham
September 21, 2009

Dr. Keith Kendall has been an associate professor at Northern Michigan University since 2003, making this his seventh year. Most students know it is hard to get an A paper in his class, because he expects not only great work as far as writing goes, but also original thought.  Here is what he has to say on writing.

Q: Do you give writing assignments to your students? Why?
A: Yes, because I think it’s beneficial for students to have to formulate their ideas and present them in a formal medium.  Formal writing requires students to integrate information and at least try to present it coherently, and I found that that encourages them to understand the material in a way that more objective tests don’t.

Q: What do you think of your student’s writing abilities?
A: That is one of the most challenging aspects of being here, because the writing abilities vary so drastically. For example, my first semester here I required a paper of my HS 101 students. I had made the same assignment at a previous college at which I taught, and when I had assigned it earlier, I don’t remember having students have difficulty understanding the assignment.
This 101 class was a First Year Experience block, and I didn’t know that at the time. What I realized three quarters of the way through the semester was that this block of students had spent four weeks in their freshman block trying to decipher the writing assignment. At that point, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.

I probably spend a significant amount of time, every assignment I do, making sure people understand the assignment. I also quit assigning papers to my 100 level students for two reasons.  Many of them had not taken EN 111 and EN 211 yet, and my numbers of students are 70 in a 100-level class, and I cannot do an effective coaching with that many students. So my compromise is that I assign them in the 200, 300, 400 level courses, and I try to get students to think critically in the 100 level with short responses. 

On the other hand, a percentage of students come in with exceptional writing skills from High School, and so there is really a wide gap which really does present a challenge to me in coaching writing. Some people need a huge amount of work, others need very little, and often those two poles of students are in the same class.

Complicating this whole picture is some students are taking my 100 and 200 level courses as liberal studies, and they are much more comfortable in the hard sciences, which, at least for what I’m gathering, is a different writing style. 

Q: How do you feel about your students’ writing?
A: My feelings about writing range from absolute frustration, to overwhelming joy, and everything in the middle.  There are certain types of writing, and certain students, who surprise me, and those are perhaps as challenging as anything I have said before in the sense that some students, who have the most surprising insights, cannot formulate those insights into writing that is coherent. On the other hand, there are students who are absolutely coherent, concise, and haven’t had an original thought in their life, and in terms of my job, I have to grade those. Do I award original creative thinking when their English doesn’t make any sense, but I know that they are mentally active, vs. someone who has English that is completely outstanding but I’ve heard it all before? So, the feeling is both a frustration and a joy.

Q: What did you decide in what to award?
A: I try to balance it, and that balance is found in the grading rubrics that I have in my classes. I try to award original thinking, but I think coherence in writing is just as important as original thinking. That may be why the number of A’s in my classes are not real high, as opposed to other professors, because the students who earn A’s in my classes do both.

Q: Do you write yourself? What kinds of writing do you do?
A: Yes I do. I do some journalistic [writing], and I write academic work. Some of my writing is not original because I’m presenting translations, and other key parts of what I do is for research. Most of my writing is aimed at an audience that is professional. So, [I also write for] professional journals.

 I am in the beginning process of trying to get my dissertation into book form, however my high expectations for students inhibits my own writing because I expect myself to be perfect, and so if I can procrastinate writing, I do.

Q: Do you think that it is important to know how to write?
A: Yes, I do.  When I was in college I took a how to write course and got textbooks on how one writes coherently and cohesively. I was an anthropology major. So it’s not just discipline specific. I think writing helps focus thoughts and get them in an order that provokes me to think more clearly about what I am researching. So, for me, writing, lecturing, researching, all kind of reinforce one another, because if I’m researching without lecturing and writing then I don’t have to bring my thoughts together.

Q: Have you heard of the Writing Center? What do you think about it?
A: Oh yes. I think it’s a mixed bag, and I think it’s legitimately a mixed bag. I want to emphasize the positive aspect of that. I think the Writing Center offers one opportunity for students, but especially as Tom has been emphasizing this year, it’s one among many opportunities.  That[the emphasis]  is really something I’ve been pleased about, and I’ve only really heard it in the last couple years. The Writing Center only stands for a couple specific concerns, and professors  can make references for other aspects of the writing process.

Early in my career, what I was hearing here was that you come to the Writing Center to get your paper fixed, and I really appreciate the shift in emphasis. I think it’s appropriate and realistic for The Writing Center.

Q: Do you encourage your students to visit the Writing Center? Why?
A: Yes. Selfishly, because then the students who will accept help from the Writing Center don’t come to me for those issues, and I can focus on content and more discipline specific issues.

Courses taught:

  • HS 101: Western Civilizations I
  • HS 102: West Civilizations II
  • HS 252: Arab-Islamic History
  • HS 295: History of Christianity
  • HS 302: Ancient Rome
  • HS 304: Medieval Europe
  • HS 305: Renaissance-Reformation Europe
  • HS 390: Historians Lab
  • HS 490: Jr. Senior Seminar

Professor: Associate Professor Daryl Kobie  
Department:  Department of Construction Technology and Electronics
Interviewed By: Joe Peretto
Date: October 2, 2007 

In my interview with Associate Professor Daryl Kobie, we talked about his views on the importance of writing for students at Northern Michigan University.  From my experience with Professor Kobie in CN353 Soils and Foundations, I know that he views writing as an important skill for all professions.  Our conversation further confirmed my thoughts on Professor Kobie’s views of writing.  We discussed Professor Kobie’s classes and grading criteria, his views and experiences with writing, and his knowledge of the Writing Center.

Professor Kobie teaches the following courses at NMU:

  • CN151 Introduction to the Construction Industry
  • CN251 Field Operations
  •  CN278 Mechanical and Electrical Systems in Buildings
  • CN353 Soils and Foundations
  • CN358 Bidding Strategies
  • ET250 Electrical Motors, Generators, and Transformers
  • ET252 Industrial Motor Controls

Professor Kobie assigns summaries on articles or concepts presented in class to check students’ conceptual understanding, to improve their communication skills, and to practice writing.  The frequency and difficulty of Professor Kobie’s assignments depend on the class level.  At the 100 level, Professor Kobie’s grading focuses mostly on content, clarity, and the basic use of grammar.  Grammar, professionalism, and punctuation become more important at the 200 and 300 levels.  The most common problem he sees from students is the struggle with organizing their written thoughts.  Professor Kobie works with APA format for the citations in his writing assignments.  The use of industry terminology and higher level vocabulary is important when writing assignments for his classes. 

After talking about Professor Kobie’s classes and grading criteria, we discussed his views and experiences with writing.  Professor Kobie has composed thousands of e-mails to communicate between groups of tradesmen and management within the construction industry. He has written price quotations on projects and packages of work, letters debating job criteria, and the proposal of jobs.  Professor Kobie feels writing is an important skill for students in all fields.  He believes clear writing is needed to convey thoughts and communicate with others.  Professor Kobie teaches e-mail as a serious communication tool and he feels that when communicating through e-mail, a professional tone needs to be maintained. 

Also, I asked Professor Kobie about his experiences with the Writing Center and if he had ever recommended his students use the center for help with their papers.  Professor Kobie’s students usually do not bring their assignments to the Writing Center.  From a class of forty, only one student would use the Writing Center.  He receives documentation of which students visited the center, the date, and how long the student’s session was.  Each semester Professor Kobie sees a couple students use the Writing Center for his classes.  He notes no increase in the number of students using the Writing Center in his classes compared to past semesters.  I asked him if papers brought to the Writing Center were better, on the average, than papers not worked through the center.  He confirmed papers brought to the Writing Center were clearer and more logically structured than papers not worked through the center.  He also noted that grammar and punctuation suffered on the papers that were not brought in for tutoring.  In the past, Professor Kobie has not recommended his students use the Writing Center, but I encouraged him to inform his students about the capabilities of the tutoring service.  He assured me that in the future he will mention the Writing Center in his classes.  Professor Kobie also knows that the Writing Center is located near Starbucks in the Learning Resource Center and that tutoring takes place on a walk-in basis.   

This interview provided me with the opportunity to further my relationship with one of my instructors.  Throughout the interview, Professor Kobie confirmed my ideas of writing’s importance for students in all curricula.  He believes that writers need to convey their meanings in an effective and professional manner.  Professor Kobie views writing as a major communication skill that is used daily by students and professionals. 

Professor: Paul Lehmberg
Interviewed By: Claire Abent
Department: English
Date: September 27, 2007

Professor Paul Lehmberg is at the beginning of his 29th year of teaching at Northern Michigan University. In total he has been teaching for 38 years. He teaches undergraduate and graduate non-fiction writing courses at NMU (EN 302-602). Occasionally, he teaches EN 211B and some American literature courses. He is also the author of various nonfiction pieces and the book, In the Strong Woods.

Obviously, as an English professor, Lehmberg knows how important writing is for everyone. One of the main points he stressed during the interview was that without exception, writing = thinking. He feels that often times students do not even know what they really think until the words are put down on paper. Thinking is the key to all writing. He believes that teachers of writing are also teachers of philosophy, because they are teaching students to think.

Lehmberg expressed concern that the students of this generation don’t have enough practice writing when they come from high school. He also noted that students these days don’t read nearly as much as students in previous generations, possibly due to the advent of such technologies as television and computers. Lehmberg maintains that extensive reading during childhood helped him develop into someone who could write well. Although he believes that there is a direct correlation between the amount a student reads and how well a student can write, he admits that it is still much a “mysterious relationship” to him.

A combination of factors make up a good writer according to Lehmberg. Some people just have a talent for writing. For those who are not so naturally gifted, he feels that about 90% (his own statistics) can learn to write competently. He also notes that while good writing is relative, competent writing is not. He feels that most students “grudgingly accept” the fact that Northern requires 8 credits of composition. He has not received any complaints from any non-English major students to that effect (at least to the best of his knowledge). He also feels that in order to improve in writing, a student must actually want to improve and have the discipline to do so. He feels that this discipline is missing from the current educational element. Also, the longer he teaches the more he realizes that with hard work, even the least naturally talented writer can turn into a good writer. For this he cites the example of James Joyce, who may not have been the most gifted writer among his peers, but through discipline and hard work, he made himself into a great writer.

Even after so many years of teaching the English language, Lehmberg admits that sometimes students still remain mysterious to him. The use, or lack thereof, of EduCat by his students seems to somewhat fuel this opinion. By requiring students to post responses to assigned readings, the theory is that they will gain knowledge from their peers. He says that this does not always work the way he intended. For the best writers, it doesn’t seem to do anything, nor does it seem effective for the worst writers. He feels that there is a middle range of students for which this is actually beneficial. Lehmberg is still trying to work out the kinks in this particular system and develop a way in which it can be beneficial to all his students, regardless of ability.

I also spoke to Lehmberg about an issue that I often face as a writing tutor. Students want to know what is more important to professors: the mechanics of a paper, or the actual content of the paper itself. Lehmberg said that he does not separate the two when grading a paper. Although, he did point out that when teaching a composition class he focuses on what the student writes, including mechanics. In a literature class he might read the paper a little differently, and not focus so much on the mechanics of the paper.

When it comes to his own writing, Lehmberg says that he likes it. He says that his writing has changed a lot over the years. He chalks this up not to trying, but simply to the progression of age. He also operates the theory that he may be smarter now than he was then. He is sometimes not confident in the things he writes, but also feels that most writers never really are. One of the things he learned while completing his own college education was to take the time to do things right. Furthermore, he also learned that about 90% (statistics also provided by Lehmberg) of all writing ends up in the garbage but that the hard work will usually pay off.

Lehmberg urges his students to use the Writing Center. Sometimes he requires them to go and in some cases to go back to get further tutoring. In his opinion, some students benefit greatly from the one-on-one attention they receive at the Writing Center. He feels that it is an affordable way for students on NMU’s campus to get the help they need. Also, he has seen obvious improvement in the students have been to the Writing Center for help. But again, he knows that students have to want to go and get help in order for it to really be effective. He feels that sometimes the students who need help the most are disinclined to go to the Writing Center because they simply do not care. He jokingly suggests that actually “dragging students in” might be somewhat beneficial.

This interview was relatively easy for me to set up and carry out. I had Professor Lehmberg last year for EN 371. I chose Professor Lehmberg because my options were somewhat limited. Of my current professors, not one of them requires any writing. Of my past professors, only a few have required writing, and of those few, most no longer teach here.  I also figured that Professor Lehmberg would have interesting, if not humorous, insight on the subject, especially because of his personal connections with the writing center.

After some serious procrastination, I set up the interview via e-mail and went during his office hours to have a chat. The professor was more than happy to let me pick his brain about the subject of writing. A subject that he seems to both enjoys and is knowledgeable about. He warned me that it would be impossible to fudge any of this assignment because my instructor would already know much about how he feels. All that considered and after having him as a professor, I still wasn’t sure how his answers would go. What I found most intriguing about the interview was his concept of writing = thinking. I feel like a lot of students might not understand that point of view. Personally, it was something I never really thought about and it was not until I sat down to type this out that I realized why. For me writing is thinking. I cannot ever distinguish between the two. The things in my head always seem to come out just the same on the paper. It just felt a lot more profound after Professor Lehmberg pointed it out. I also really enjoyed his theory about how 90% of writing ends up in the garbage. It was nice to hear someone with a little more experience writing say that the same happened to them, because it always seems to happen to me.

This project was actually quite enjoyable for me. I like interviewing people. Usually, people are not given the chance to really talk about themselves. It is always fun to talk to people who are clearly passionate about something. This is the same joy I get out of journalism. I really have a lot of fun just talking to people, observing and learning more.  It is also my opinion that the thoughts of Professor Lehmberg would especially resonate with students who struggle with writing.

Instructor: Steven Leuthold
Department: Art and Design
Interviewed by: Shawn Brown
Date: September 20, 2005

Writing is an art that crosses the disciplines and is important to all majors and concentrations. When interviewed on his opinion about writing and his attitude toward it in his classes, NMU Associate Professor Steven Leuthold was clear in his answer: it is “a real problem in this university that people are not writing,” or at least not writing as much as they ought to.

Leuthold’s professional interests have a broad spectrum within the Art and Design Department. His regular courses include:

  • 17th-19th and 20th Century Art History
  • History of Modern Craft and Design
  • Honors Sequence—Sources of Modern Art
  • Japanese Art and Architecture
  • Japan and the West—Crosscurrents in Art and Architecture
  • Native American Art and Architecture
  • Survey of Western Art and Architecture.

In these classes—apart from the honors sequence—it is an unfortunate reality that the large class size prohibits longer writing assignments. Writing tasks in these classes are limited to one or two paragraph reaction papers. It is an “unspoken problem at Northern that people are not invited to write,” this problem being in direct correlation to the class size: professors are physically unable to grade lengthy papers from 80-95 students per lecture, even if they do wish to assign them.

When Leuthold is able to assign papers, he sees that there is a great variation amongst the writing skills of students in his classes. Some students come in not having written in years, while others are expressive and informative authors. The level of student competence in writing is usually expressed through open-ended assignments. When told to write their response to a piece of art in his class, some students produce two grammatically-unstable sentences, while others write several well-written and thought out paragraphs. Due to the broad spectrum of writing ability, Leuthold’s grading system for writing is based on a combination of grammatical and conceptual issues.

Leuthold’s own writing includes scholarly papers, a published non-fiction book (Indigenous Aesthetics), artist statements, correspondence, and detailed lecture notes (posted online) for his classes. Although his current writing consists mainly of academic non-fiction, he desires to write in a new style: creative essay non-fiction for the general public. Writing comes quickly and easily to Leuthold, though he still takes the time to push himself into new genres. He currently has a sabbatical application in to take time to write a second book.

Writing is essentially a way to “help discipline your thinking.” Its importance in a university setting lies in teaching students to structure their thoughts, and in adding depth and discipline to the concepts taught in lecture materials. “Sloppy writers are often sloppy thinkers,” Leuthold says, decreeing that both afflictions can be improved through instruction and practice. “There is a real danger of writing becoming a lost art… and not just correspondence,” Leuthold stated. With the advent of the Internet and short snippets of information bombarding students from every side, they are losing the fine art of composing a lengthy piece. To write such a work requires a “different level of engagement” and commitment, to work through the difficulties and create something original. Students are lacking in proper instruction, and graduating from universities without the skills they need, leading to their not being taken seriously in a working environment. If students were prompted to undertake more assignments of a greater depth than what they are now required to produce, and were given genuine critiques on those assignments, their writing and critical thinking skills would profoundly improve. Leuthold observes, “If you cannot write, you will never be able to excel in your discipline.”

When students find themselves in situations where their writing skills are not up to par, they have a resource on campus to which they can turn: the Writing Center. Leuthold believes that the Writing Center is a valuable resource for students. It is a place that allows students to come in and feel comfortable sharing their work in a peer environment, where they can receive help for both mechanic and conceptual issues in their writing. The individual instruction that students can receive in this environment is a valuable commodity for the university, and Leuthold states that if he were in a position to assign writing projects as he would like to, he would send many more of his students to receive help. In order to improve the effect of the Writing Center, and emphasize the importance of writing at Northern Michigan University as whole, Leuthold would like to see the university involved in a multi-disciplinary initiative to bring back writing, an effort that must be imposed in every department. Writing must be emphasized not only in English and humanities classes, but through learning, in math, physics, and more.

Writing is a skill that is much needed, and much neglected. It is up to us, as students and faculty of this university, to initiate the change. We need to not only improve writing on a personal level, making sure that we maintain and hone the skills that we have learned, but pass the knowledge of writing and the belief in its importance onto others. Without the art of writing, we are lost as a forward-moving society.

Professor: David Lucas
Interviewed By: Mary Ann Rotter
Department: Physics
Date: September 2007

Dr. David Lucas is a full professor in the Physics Department at Northern Michigan University who teaches introductory astronomy and introductory physics classes in addition to the occasional upper-level physics class. He also serves as the department head for physics while advising medical students who are in the process of applying to medical school.

Physics classes typically involve more calculations than anything else, but Dr. Lucas finds that it can be refreshing to write a paper or two in addition to the rest of the work he assigns. He believes that the most important skill that students can have is the ability to communicate through reading and writing, which is another reason why he chooses to include writing assignments in his classes. Dr. Lucas also emphasizes this skill while he advises students who are writing essays or personal statements for the medical school application process.

When grading students’ writing assignments, the things Dr. Lucas looks for are: a statement of what the student has learned, an obvious thought process, originality, creativity, enthusiasm, and an indication that the student has learned something. He said that the quality of these papers ranges from the extremely well-written to the substandard level, he is bothered the most when students do not put forth a good effort. Dr. Lucas also recognizes the difficulty involved with writing, but he believes that once the student selects a topic and begins to write, the process becomes easier.

In regard to his own writing, Dr. Lucas feels that while he is not an expert, he remains a slightly better writer than the average person. He prides himself on the clarity of his writing and believes that the person who reads what he has written can understand what he was trying to say. This is a vital quality, as Dr. Lucas writes mostly correspondence, consisting of board letters for students going to medical school and lots of e-mail. He also takes great care with grammar and spelling, which allows the intelligence of his thoughts to be reflected in his correspondence. “You want [your writing] to be as good as it can be, because that’s what people think of you,” he said. This thought exemplifies Dr. Lucas’ belief that good writing skills are absolutely essential for everyone. He gave the example of a poorly-written initial correspondence leading to a bad first impression in addition to giving the appearance of apathy. He pointed out that communication is vital, especially through writing.

Dr. Lucas always tries to make his students aware of the Writing Center and its potential benefits, typically passing on the information he receives in an e-mail every semester. He doesn’t push his students to go by any means, believing that progress can only be made if the student is willing to put forth the necessary effort. Dr. Lucas feels that using the Writing Center is a great opportunity for all Northern students, and he was happy to hear that we are open on one weekend day. He plans to continue sending students to the Writing Center with confidence that they will become better writers, if only they are willing to try.

Professor:  Dr. Howard Nicholson                                          
Department of:  History                                                                      
Interviewed by:  Erin Comer
Date: 9/22/10

Dr. Howard Nicholson is an assistant professor in the history department.  He has been teaching for ten years at NMU.  He has been teaching many history classes ranging from US History from 1865 (HS127), Latin American Civilization (HS251), History of Mexico (HS362), The Historian's Laboratory (HS390), and The History Seminar (HS490). 

Dr. Nicholson does write on his own, including a few conference presentations.  He is also in the process of writing a small book about Danish immigration in the Upper Peninsula.  He was like any other college student when he was starting college.  He struggled with his writing and gradually got better over the years.

Nicholson issues writing assignments to his history students.  Writing these papers, he believes, helps students develop analytical and communication skills which are useful for any job that a student could get in the future.  Nicholson says that knowing how to write is a very important skill because people need to be able to express themselves through writing with clarity.  He also thinks that every student's writing skill level varies, whether they are finishing up their degree and are in higher level classes or they are just beginning their college career.  "Upper division students aren't guaranteed to have good writing skills," he said.  When Nicholson assigns a paper he looks for every student's paper to have classic format: structure, thesis, documentation, and a conclusion that takes the reader back to the introduction.

Nicholson has heard of NMU's Writing Center through students who have gone there for assistance.  When asked what he thought happened at the Writing Center, he answered almost perfectly.  He said an English major sat down to read essays and give suggestions on how to get rid of run-on sentences,  identify a thesis,  clean the paper up, and refresh the students on the rules of standard grammar and composition.  He does not tell or require his students to go to the Writing Center because he believes that at this point in a student's life, it is their responsibility to take care of their homework, and that he is here to encourage students to stand on their own two feet, to live without having someone to tell them what to do. 

Professor: Amy Orf
Department: Modern Languages and Literatures
Interviewed By: Jennifer Fong
Date: September 30, 2005


Amy has been an instructor here at Northern for eight years.  She teaches the Spanish language classes 102, 201, 202 and 400, which range from beginning to intermediate Spanish and 400 is Advanced Composition and Grammar.  In her classes, she gives writing assignments as compositions.  Depending on the level of the class, she has her students compose a short paper of various subjects.  These compositions concentrate on the specific grammar and/or vocabulary lesson at the time. 

She believes that these compositions are very important because it is a basic skill of learning a foreign language.  However, because of her students’ academic dishonesty, she has struggled with how to assign them.  In the past, she has tried many ways such as assigning them to do at home.  This allowed many students to use pre-written text and friends that speak Spanish.  As a result, she has switched to giving them as in-class assignments.    

When asked about her students’ writing abilities, she says that within all of her classes, there is a lot of variety.  In reading the compositions, she can see a relation of competence in Spanish to competence in English.  Many students try to compose sentences in Spanish that they are not ready for, in an attempt to write as they would in English.  When grading, she looks first for the student’s own work.  Then she looks at the content, grammar, vocabulary, spelling and overall comprehensibility.  She also hopes for a traditional structure including an introduction, body and conclusion.  These things are also important in 400.

Amy has written personal letters and conference papers in the past, but right now she is working on her dissertation.  She is studying the history of Spanish grammar, tracking the evolution of the progressive tense in Spanish verbs.  In her own writing, she wishes that she could write quicker; instead, she tends to be slow and careful along the way.  Amy believes that it is important to know how to write.  She says that many people write informally in emails (without attention to grammar and spelling), but they need to be able to sound intelligent in writing resumes, job applications, etc.          

Amy has known the Writing Center since she started here (noting that she frequently saw it because it was next to the Language Lab at the time).  However, she has never sent her students to the Writing Center because there are specially placed Spanish tutors in the Language Lab and in the tutoring center. 


This is the third semester in a row that I have had Amy as an instructor.  I started with 102 and have progressed into 202 with her and even traveled to Granada, Spain with her this past summer.  So, when I originally approached her with my idea to interview her for this paper, she welcomed it warmly.  I originally wanted to use her as my subject because of my frustration with the changes that she makes from semester to semester with the compositions.     

The first semester I had her, the compositions were given in class, with no option to revise.  This made it easy to throw out instead of taking a closer look at our mistakes (due to lack of time with 18 credits).  The second semester, we were given the assignments as take-home.  After corrected by her, we were given the option to revise and resubmit.  Out of all of the time I have spent with her and the countless assignments I have done, these are what helped me the most.  I could more clearly see the basic rules of sentence structure and I looked up much more vocabulary in search of the articulation I was looking for.  In my revisions, I could better understand the differences between Spanish and English, even in the simple things such as direct and indirect object placement       

This experience, in addition to knowing that the fundamentals in English grammar are reading and writing, forces me to believe that these compositions and revisions are critical.  Practice makes perfect.  However, I am saddened by the fact that a few students have forced her to enough frustration that she’s had to change her tactics; but I do understand. 

After all of this time spent in her classroom, four days a week for three semesters, I have come to see and respect her passion for learning the Spanish language.  Through her, I have come to love and respect it too; learning Spanish has also heightened my love and respect for the English language.  And in hearing her thoughts about these questions has enlightened me even further.  I was able to hear her side and could definitely empathize with the hard decisions she must make about her lesson plans that are different from professors in other fields.   

In the end, I suggested to her that although we do them in-class again this semester (forcing students to do their own work), and then to allow us the revision process again….she said she’d think about it.  And further, that she would certainly welcome advice or attend a workshop on the plagiarism issue and how to grade compositions more holistically.

Professor: William Ostwald (Adjunct Professor, 12 years )
Interviewed By: Annie Sutter
Department: Education
Date: September 28th, 2004

ED 231: Teaching and Learning in the Secondary Classroom

The interview I conducted with Dr. Ostwald was very informal.  After our ED 231 class together, we sat opposite each other at a table in the classroom and I began asking questions.  Most of the questions I asked him were very basic, thus requiring simple answers.  He would think about each question for a moment before answering, and he didn’t expand on many of them without my prompting.  At times he would say “Am I answering your question correctly?  I’m not sure I understand how to answer that.”  Considering the informal nature of most of the questions, I think he was “over-thinking” a lot of the time. 

Dr. Ostwald talked about the typical writing assignments he gives to his students.  He explained that since he only teaches 231, most of the assignments are write-ups of classroom observation and critiques of professional journal articles.  Due to the early stage in the semester, Dr. Ostwald said he has not yet had a chance to evaluate how well each of his students are writing, but the majority write well.  Content, opposed to grammar or punctuation, is the primary focus when reading students’ papers, because he wants to make sure his students are using analytical skills to explain what they see in educational settings.

Although the emphasis on writing is not the most important element of the course, Dr. Ostwald said he thinks it’s important for future educators to know how to write well.  He said he had two secretaries in his administrative days who proofread letters to be sent home to parents and educational reports he wrote for seminars.  This took sole responsibility off his shoulders to present the written information, so he was always collaborating with others.  It also caused critical evaluation of spelling errors and similar mistakes.  Dr. Ostwald said he feels very comfortable with his own writing, and added that it would be difficult to obtain any administrative position without being confident in one’s ability to express him or herself.  He also attributed this level of comfort in part to the extensive written exams he had to complete in his Canadian high school.  He said when the main assessment in a school is written response, students become prepared for analysis and reflection.

When asked to talk about the importance of writing, Dr. Ostwald said it would be difficult to get any kind of job in today’s society with poor literacy skills.  He said it’s even more “paramount” for teachers in the field of education to have above average writing skills.   Dr. Ostwald was a big advocate of the writing center.  He first heard about it on campus and then received notification that one of his students had gone to get help.  He said when he was struggling with a Statistics course for his Ph. D, the writing center helped him do as well as he did.  Dr. Ostwald also expressed his hope that no student feel embarrassed about going there, and that the tutors create the most positive experience possible.

Professor: Judith Punchocar, Associate Professor
Department: Education
Interviewed By: Shannon Roehm
Date: October 3, 2005

Judy Punchocar is an Associate Professor at Northern Michigan University. Judy instructs classes in the Education Department, particularly ED 231. I asked two questions in which the whole of our interview was surrounded by: How do you feel about writing? Is it important for students to be efficient and clear in their writing?

I knew that writing is important to Dr. Punchocar. She affirmed my knowledge when she explained that her philosophy on writing. She explained that as she sees it, all students are in college to become professionals, whether it be an Engineer or a Professor in English. To be recognized as a professional, one must be able to think, speak, and write professionally. Part of the professional appearance, as Dr. Punchocar explained, is how one is dressed, how one speaks, and how one writes. In order for all students to be true professionals, according to Dr. Punchocar’s philosophy, all students must be able to communicate in both speech and writing professionally.

Dr. Punchocar emphasizes this philosophy in her class and helps students to practice and improve their writing. She is a firm believer that good writers practice. She also believes that writers must receive feedback from instructors on the writing in order to improve: “a scaffolding technique,” she explained. She is afraid that many students are not getting enough practice with writing and are not receiving the feedback crucial to the learning process.

When asked about her experience in writing, Dr. Punchocar admits that as an Undergrad in the area of science, she did not do much writing. She realizes that after that particular time, she needed to hone her writing skills and make herself a better writer through practice. Dr. Punchocar also pointed out that although she did not have many writing assignments in her undergraduate program, she sees that more and more students and classes are taking a more active role in writing improvement. She has observed in area elementary and secondary schools that writing is more common than it was when she was in school.

Finally, Dr. Punchocar had some really great suggestions on how writing can be promoted on campus. She is a very strong advocate for the Writing Center and offers incentives for her students to take their papers to have a peer tutor look over. She also suggested that like the e-mails that Northern Michigan University Faculty and Staff receives on stress relievers and other tips, perhaps a weekly writing tip could be sent to instructors. This will not only remind our faculty and staff that the Writing Center exists, but will also keep writing central to curriculum.

Professor: Dr. Nancy Redfern D.M.A.
Department of: Music
Interviewed by: Andrea Arends
Date: 9/29/10

Dr. Redfern is a full professor in the Music Department of Northern Michigan University. She has been teaching at the University since 1987. Dr. Redfern teaches the beginning piano classes and piano lessons at Northern. She also teaches Music in Society. She does not require any writing assignments for her piano classes, but she does assign five to six writing assignments per semester when she is teaching Music in Society. Dr. Redfern said that she has been "pleasantly surprised by the relatively high quality" of the students' writings in her class. When grading she looks for "grammar and spelling" but she is mostly "interested in [her students'] ability to interpret and apply the information they have gleaned from their reading and research." Dr. Redfern herself writes "memos and letters, as well as tests and class summaries." She believes that she is able to "express [herself] clearly in writing" and that "it is important to know how to write." Dr. Redfern has heard of the Writing Center and is happy to know that there are resources, such as the Writing Center, available to students. Over all, Dr. Redfern had a positive opinion regarding the role of the Writing Center on campus.

Works Cited
Redfern, Nancy. Personal interview. 21 Sep. 2010.

Dr. Laura Reissner
Department of Education
Interviewed by Amanda Kivioja
September 27, 2005

Dr. Laura Reissner is an associate professor in the School of Education, Leadership and Public Service at Northern Michigan University. Having graduated from West Virginia University with her Ed.D. in Special Education, Dr. Reissner has been teaching undergraduate and graduate level courses at NMU for ten years. Currently, Dr. Reissner teaches special education classes that include:

  • Special Education and the General Classroom Teacher
  • Teaching Life Skills to Students with Disabilities
  • Assistive Technology for Students with Disabilities
  • Diagnosis and Assessment in Special Education
  • Introduction to Emotional Impairment
  • Curriculum and Methods for Teaching Students with Emotional Impairment
  • Supervised Apprenticeship in Teaching Students with Emotional Impairment in K-12 Settings
  • Special Education in the Schools
  • Organization and Management of Programs for Students with Learning Disabilities
  • Special Education Student Teacher Supervision

Because of her many years of experience, Dr. Reissner has developed strong views on the importance of good writing skills, professional writing pieces, and the Writing Center.

A member of the academic community for 14 years, Dr. Reissner feels that it is important to know how to write. Not only does writing help a writer share and clarify his or her ideas, it helps a writer make connections to the world around him or her as well. Individually, Dr. Reissner uses several different types of writing in her own work. Along with letters of recommendation and program reviews, she has conference proceedings on Emergent literacy for children at risk for reading difficulty and Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD). Presently, she is working on a journal article on AD/HD. Because of the noticeable writing requests placed upon her, Dr. Reissner will be the first to point out that good writing skills are used far beyond college graduation.

As an educator of future teachers, Dr. Reissner believes that being a good writer is vital to future success. She requires all of her students, regardless of course or level, to complete writing assignments. Each assignment is given for a different reason. For example, Dr. Reissner assigns research papers so that her students are able to increase their own knowledge about a subject. She also assigns assessment reports and other types of writing that are expected of teachers so that her students will have experience writing for their profession. All of Dr. Reissner’s assignments act as preparation for future writing.

Dr. Reissner expects high-quality writing from her students because of the importance of her assignments. She understands that not everyone is an expert writer, but she expects all of her students to put forth their best effort by organizing ideas, revising properly, and following assignment guidelines. Specifically, she expects her students to be able to take ideas from other writers and cite them properly to create professional, non-judgmental pieces of writing. If a student is unable to meet these expectations without some assistance, then Dr. Reissner does not hesitate to recommend that the student visit the Writing Center. 

As a strong supporter of the Writing Center, Dr. Reissner always encourages her students to utilize the services that it provides. Having another person read a writer’s piece can be quite helpful, so Dr. Reissner feels that receiving feedback is a necessity. According to Dr. Reissner, “Feedback helps you clarify your points, helps you see where your case is not being presented clearly, and helps confirm that you are on the right track with an idea or topic.” Furthermore, she believes that organization is a key component to a good piece of writing. Each student should organize thoughts and start assignments early enough to thoroughly develop their ideas. Although Dr. Reissner feels that all of the steps in the writing process are important, she believes that writing multiple drafts is essential to writing successfully. She is aware that the time in-between drafts can help a writer concentrate on the intended audience, what he or she is trying to say, and other ideas that influence the thought process. That time can be put to good use at the Writing Center.  

All in all, Dr. Reissner knows how helpful the Writing Center can be, and she is impressed with students who visit it. Like many other instructors, she appreciates when a student is willing to put effort into writing an assignment for her class. She realizes that students who go to the Writing Center are not only trying to improve their piece of writing for her class, but they are also trying to improve their abilities as a writer in general.

Professor: Julie Risak                                            
Interviewed By: Carrie Carlson
Department: Art & Design                                 
Date: September 17, 2007

As our class started to vacate the room, I set up my computer at the front of the classroom.  Julie soon joined me and the interview was in session.  I began the interview by explaining to Julie exactly why I was interviewing her, telling her all about the ongoing project of putting up a database where students can go to gain a better understanding of their teachers and what their teachers are looking for in terms of writing assignments. My first question to Julie asked if she gave her students writing assignments. She replied with a yes and explained that she gives her students writing assignments because they allow her to assess her students’ understanding of a particular concept.  Writing assignments confirm that her students did not just make a lucky guess in their coursework.  Julie also said that she knows it is very important for her students to be able to speak about their art in a way that gets their artistic ideas across.  She went on to say that she feels writing is very important, especially for students in her Visual Structures course because she is teaching her students the art discourse. In other words, she is teaching her students to speak about their art in a way that other artists will understand.  Being able to do this is an absolute necessity in the world of professional art.  Assigning her students writing allows them to practice using this language and to prove their understanding of it. 

When asked what she looks for in her students’ writing, Julie responded by saying that she likes to see the creativity they present.  Though students may give wrong answers, Julie is still happy when her students are making a creative effort.  Julie also said that she does not mind if her students occasionally incorporate references into their own creativity, so long as the students can prove to her in their own words that they understand what is being asked of them.  I asked Julie what she thinks of her students’ writing and she said she believes that, for the most part, her students possess a solid foundation in writing, in terms of basic skills.  Sometimes, however, she feels that her students can get too caught up in making their paper sound “pretty,” preventing them from clearly expressing their ideas. Julie is one of many instructors who believes that the content of her students’ writing is, in general, more important than the mechanics of the paper itself.   After discussing her students’ writing, I questioned Julie on whether or not she writes herself.  

As a small business owner, Julie said she does a lot of writing in business correspondence.  She also writes many personal letters and e-mails.  Aside from all of this, Julie mentioned that she likes to write poetry.  She uses her poetry to relieve stress, getting all of her thoughts out of her head and onto paper.  Julie joked, “Someday, when I grow up, I’m going to write a novel.”  She would like to write about her life and also include her poems in the novel.  Julie is also considering writing a book that could be used in her Visual Structures course.

Continuing on with the interview, I asked Julie if she had ever heard of the Writing Center.  She said she has heard of it, and when asked how, she replied that she saw an advertisement for it in a place that showed all of the university’s services available to students.  Since Julie deals mostly in the visual area, she has not yet encouraged her students to try out the Writing Center.  She went on to say, however, that she feels it is very important for students to be able to talk with other people about what they are writing. 

Bringing the interview to a close, I prompted Julie for any suggestions she might have on improving our work in the Writing Center.  She had one answer: advertise.  Julie explained that we really need to make students more aware of our tutoring services.  Advertisements that are interesting and fun, but not intimidating, will draw students in.  Julie said that sometimes students get intimidated by going to a tutoring center.  Therefore, we need to make a conscious effort to make sure our advertisements are fun, and not intimidating.  I thought this was very good advice and is something I know we as tutors are aware of, as sometimes it is hard to let students know we are just like them. 

My interview with Julie Risak proved to be both interesting and insightful.  I am sure that this will be a helpful tool for present and future students to utilize.

Professor: Don Robison
Interviewed By: Jaynie Miller
Date: September 29, 2009

When initially assigned to conduct an interview with a professor (from a department other than English) as a part of EN 305 for the Writing Center website, I have to admit I was a bit intimidated.  I have never really asked for a professor's time outside of class and to be honest, all my professor "friends" are from the English department. So I debated and kept putting off the project until two days before the due date.

In the week or so prior that I had to work on it, I just felt plain uneasy about approaching my professors in my environmental classes, which are held in large lecture halls where personal relationships with professors are hard to establish. My only non-lecture class, Spanish, was held at the end of the day and by then I'd just feel too plain exhausted to go up to Senior Robison and try to translate, in an awful accent, that I would like to meet with him to ask a few questions about his feelings on writing and the Writing Center. How do you say "writing center" in Spanish anyway? Well, it was two days before the due date and I just happened to be fumbling around with my books in Spanish 102, the last one to leave class.

"Tu mochila es pequeno, no?" He said as I was packing up.

"Errr..?"  Spanish is not my favorite subject.

"I said, I think your backpack is too small!" He laughed.

I knew that would be the perfect moment to ask for an interview. It was about time I got started on it anyway!  He was speaking English to me, and that was rare!  I was surprised when he agreed to meet with me the next day and although I didn't expect him to be too informed about the Writing Center (obviously, if his students walked in with a paper written in Spanish, most of us tutors would fall out of our seats), I was amazed at some of the things he had to say. I also unexpectedly acquired some insight on what he expected as far as grammar and composition in my own class.

I stumbled into the interview the next day, five minutes late, to find a cheery Senior Robison awaiting me.  Of course, he started speaking with me in Spanish so I just smiled and nodded and seated myself in a chair facing him, which is what I think he told me to do.  Throughout the interview, he seemed quite excited that the questions were going to be posted on a website and gave enthusiastic "spanglish" answers.

So from what I understood, he is quite a talented man, fluent in French, German and Spanish. He has been teaching at the university level for over 15 years and currently teaches Spanish at the 102 and 201 level. He requires his students to complete two pieces of writing each semester, called "composiciones," in which the students write about their lives and other people's lives. He expects exceptional grammar (really? I guess I better study up) and advises his students to visit the Language Lab at NMU and not the Writing Center.

He told me that while he doesn't write often, he is a naturally talented writer and enjoys creating satires and other comical pieces, which really surprised me. When he described the pieces to me, they were absolutely hilarious, which was something I didn't expect for him. But even though writing came naturally to him, it was in his strongest opinion that people be conscious of their writing due to technological advances such as instant messaging, which can instill poor grammar skills. He believes that students should practice writing, utilize campus resources and always get extra help if needed. 

As I thanked him for his patience and was walking out the door, he said "Quote me on this… ‘Writing is too important to be left to just English professors.'"  I found myself agreeing with him completely and admiring his respect towards writing. Don Robison was, in the end, quite a delightful person to interview. I was quite surprised to find that proficiency in both English and Spanish grammar was something he held to high standard and although he didn't see any need for his students to visit the Writing Center, I completely understood. It wouldn't make sense for a professor of his title to send his students to an English based tutoring center.

Although I was nervous and put off the project, I found that professors, even those like Senior Robison who, at times, don't speak the same language as you, can be quite fun to converse with. And perhaps I even established a better relationship with him? That could prove quite useful because I'm pretty sure I'll need help with Spanish grammar in the near future. But if anything, he assured me that writing (in both English and Spanish) takes a little work. In his own wise words: "Not everyone starts out as a Shakespeare." And to this, yo relato, I can relate.

Nine Questions for Don Robison (summarized):

Q: What courses do you usually teach?     
A:  I teach Spanish 102 and Spanish 201. I'm a retired high school teacher here to do a year at Northern. But technically, I've been here longer than any other Spanish professor, fifteen years.

Q: Do you give writing assignments to your students?
A: I give two compositions reflecting the Spanish level of the students at the time. The first one is a reflection about their own lives and the other is to be written about other people. I suggest peer revising or a visit to the Language Lab for help on this. I also have students who will try to complete the assignment by going to a translation website. Let's just say this doesn't end well for them.

Q: What do you think of your student's writing abilities?
A:  For the most part, I've been quite pleased with the level of effort and success students have had on tests and compositions. Their grammar is really exceptional! I find that students do really well with description, like describing characters of a movie. I don't know, maybe the Language Lab has something to do with this?

Q: What do you look for when you read your student's writing?
A: I like originality and coherence. Structure is also very important to me. I'm not completely grammar oriented, but it is taken into consideration when I'm grading.

Q: Do you write yourself? What kinds of writing do you do?
A:  Writing has always been something I've put off, but I'm naturally talented at it. I've written a few satires and comical pieces and I've made a newspaper filled with humorous articles about a German exchange student friend of mine!  I don't really write in a journal, but I have when it's been required for something.

Q: How do you feel about your writing?
A: Let's just say I haven't been displeased with it.

Q: Do you think it is important to know how to write?
A:  Absolutely. Due to instant messaging and other such technology it's important to employ writing because writing is too important to be left to just English professors. And although it can be difficult, students should know that not everyone starts out as a Shakespeare.

Q: Have you heard of the Writing Center? Do you encourage your students to go there?
A: I tell my students that the Language Lab is their best campus resource for Spanish. My knowledge of the Writing Center is quite limited to tell you the truth.

Professor: Marcus Robyns
Department: Archives and Record Management
Interviewed By: Barbara Erickson
Date: Oct. 6, 2005

Q: What courses do you teach? What is the thrust of your duties at NMU?

MR:  I teach AIS 330, which is Management and Use of Archival Information; also I teach instructional workshops on campus on how to use the archives and how to apply critical thinking skills to the analysis of primary sources.  I have several duties, but in general they are, as records manager, to identify, manage and preserve both the active and inactive records the university creates.  As archivist, my duties are to take records that are inactive but have permanent value, and make sure they are preserved and accessible.  My other job is to collect historical manuscript material and primary sources that document the history of the region, make them available to students, faculty and the public, and also to support the curriculum and faculty on campus.

Q: Do you give writing assignments to your students?  Why, or why not?

MR: Oh, absolutely!  I’m a firm believer that, at the college level, students must write and write constantly.  I am appalled with instructors, especially in the social sciences, who give multiple choice questions.  I think that all questions should be essay questions, and answers should be written out.

Q: What do you look for in a student’s writing?

MR: First and foremost, I look to see if a student can articulate an argument.  I look for proper grammar, syntax, and that their prose is readable and clear; but I also look for appropriate thesis statements, clearly stated and unambiguous.  I want to see the body of the paper sorted out in such a way that the points made in the essay are supportive of the argument or thesis that is being made in the paper. 

Q: I know I had a problem with passive voice.

MR: Oh yes (laughing) I remember one of the first things they did in graduate school was to rip right out of my head writing in the passive voice. They did such a good job that when I write now, it’s almost painful to me, in a Pavlov dog kind of way, to write in the passive voice.  I almost write, without thought, in the active voice.  Historians are trained to write in the active voice, and I’m a stickler for that, so when I correct a paper and I see passive voice used, I’m always changing it, harping on it in class.

Q: How important is it to know how to write in the field of Archiving?

MR: Well, like in any other profession, writing is essential.  Not having the ability to clearly articulate a thought or to effectively argue a position…the purpose of writing is to form an argument and support that argument.  I’m appalled that sophomore and juniors don’t have a concept of what a thesis statement is.  If you want to go on to be an archivist, clearly you have to be able to write.  I’m constantly writing, whether it’s Journal articles, grants, or campus articles.  It’s absolutely essential—you couldn’t function if you couldn’t write.  With the budget situation, it’s absolutely essential.   

Q: Have you heard of the Writing Center?

MR: Oh, yes.  I’m constantly referring students to the Writing Center; my student staff is aware of the Writing Center; I think it’s fabulous that it’s there. 

Q: Last but not least, do you have any suggestions for the Writing Center so we can help our students more effectively?

MR: Not really—writing is a process of constant re-writing; having someone proofread what you write and getting feed back is important, because you forget who you are writing for.  One of the most important things I look for is for someone to tell me if I’m clear and I’ve properly supported the argument I’m trying to make.  Get students to stop being “wordy,” teach students to be concise, and to use active voice—active voice because it’s very strong and concise.  Get students to use the thesaurus, start using words that are precise, instead of wordiness and being awkward.  I get so frustrated with convoluted sentences. 

Q: Well, thank you for your time. 

MR: You’re welcome.  It’s a nice project [the interview].  Please say hi to ZZ for me.


Professor: Dr. Jon Saari
Department of History
Interviewed by: Craig Steenstra
Date of interview: 09-22-03

I discovered many things about Dr. Saari during our interview. He is a full professor of History and has been teaching for 32 years. He teaches The Third World, The History of China, Finnish History, and Historiography here at Northern, and he implements writing in all of his classes. Writing is such a high priority for Dr. Saari that it is almost the exclusive way in which he assesses student learning. He utilizes essay exams and papers in ascertaining student's comprehension of course material. One of the things he said about writing was that "it is a more complicated and sophisticated level of responding. It is more involved and students attain a more synthetic, comprehensive understanding of the content being studied." Dr. Saari sees writing as a rich vein of exchanged between student and teacher as it allows for multiple considerations, synthesis of ideas, and multiple levels of thought. He believes that requiring students to write is the best way to help them learn, and the diversity of people's lives and interests that is reflected in student papers makes it more enjoyable for him.

When looking at student papers, Dr. Saari looks for a personal edge. He wants students to have something to say. Proficiency in language and content are also two aspects that he looks closely at in the writing he receives. He prefers precise communication and simplified expression, and he does not appreciate rambling of lofty language in the student work he reads. As far as student writing is concerned, Dr. Saari said he sees a wide range of writing ability. The two problems he encounters most are syntax and mechanics mistakes. He does not give A's if a paper has those problems in it. Unity and structure are also aspects that he sees as problematic in student writing, and he makes sure that his own writing is well structured and unified

Dr. Saari writes extensively. He has published two books: Legacies of Childhood, a book on the life of Chinese children, and Black Ties and Miner's Boots: Inventing Finnish-American Philanthropy. He also writes articles, ecological pieces, memos, reports and evaluations. He feels very comfortable with his writing ability. He is aware of the different styles that are required for different types of writing, and he noted that one has to be conscious of the audience and content of the form of writing that is being done in order for it to be effective.

The depth of insight that can be achieved in writing is a main factor in his promotion of writing. Yes, he thinks that writing is a crucial mode of communication that people will always use, and writing skills can continuously improve over time. That is why he encourages students to visit the Writing Center. He has known of the Writing Center since its conception, and he wants students to get help with their writing in anyway possible. Thus, he promotes the Writing Center as a means of receiving assistance at any stage of the writing process. Dr. Saari knows views the Writing Center as a helpful way for students to become better writers. The only suggestion he had  for the center is to keep the word out so students know where they can get help.

Professor: Dr. Elda Tate
Department: Music
Interviewed by: Amanda Norgren
Date: September 26, 2008

Dr. Elda Tate has been a professor in the NMU Music Department for many years.  She teaches music theory, sight singing, and ear training courses, as well as flute lessons and world music.  She is a familiar face in the Music Department, but also to the many students who take her course MU 325, Native American Flute, for a liberal studies requirement.

If you take a course from Dr. Tate, you will probably do some writing. Creative writing and formal writing are important to her, and she incorporates these in exams and in paper assignments, especially in MU 325.  Dr. Tate believes that writing is not only a good way to practice using musical terms, but that it also helps students organize their thoughts and encourages more responsible thinking and communicating.  One of Dr. Tate’s paper assignments that allows for a lot of creativity is to have students write about their musical background.  She feels that this assignment could allow for a lot of originality; for example, if a student’s musical background is in rap, they could mimic characteristics of rap music in the tone and style of their writing.  

While Dr. Tate encourages creative expression in writing, she also has a great love for grammar.  Growing up, she learned about grammar structures by diagramming sentences –something that is foreign to most of us, but great fun for her.  Dr. Tate likens sentence diagramming to doing puzzles; and while she doesn’t expect her students to enjoy grammar study the way she did, she does expect them to use proper grammar. Her advice to her students is to be careful of prepositions (correct usage of on, in, for, by, etc.), spelling (r-h-y-t-h-m), and word choice (don’t let spell check change the word you meant to use!).  She showed her appreciation for grammar by comparing it to music, explaining that only by following the proper structures can music be truly beautiful, and that the same is true for writing. 

Not all of Dr. Tate’s courses involve the writing of formal papers, but all involve the reading and writing of music; which she views as a parallel art form. She explained that understanding the themes, phrasing, devices, and styles of music can only enhance these same aspects of writing and vice versa.  Dr. Tate went on to say that everything is connected, especially in the arts and she encourages students to draw on techniques from the visual arts and literature to enhance their study of music.

Dr. Tate enjoys writing and wishes she could do more of it.  One of her literary interests is early 20th century experimental French literature, which mirrors the musical experimentations of French music at that time.  She also loves to read literature in foreign languages.  She loves to see the beauty of words in other languages as they are able to express thoughts and images in a different way from English.  Dr. Tate’s thoughts on writing and literature were summed up when she told me that to her, “Words are music!”

When I asked Dr. Tate about her views of the Writing Center, she told me that she is glad that it is available and is always happy to get an email saying that one of her students was working on writing. 

Assistant Professor: Paul Truckey
Interviewed By: Stefan Mittelbrunn
Department: Performing Arts
Date: September 20, 2006

Paul Truckey, an assistant professor in the Department of Performing Arts, had a great deal of insight about the writing world. This is Professor Truckey’s fourth year teaching at Northern Michigan University. Usually Professor Truckey teaches Introduction to Theater, which is an overview course designed to introduce students to the world of professional theater. He also teaches Acting One, which is a performance based class for those interested in acting. In addition, Professor Truckey also teaches Modern Drama, an in-depth class focusing on detailed analysis of numerous plays.

In all three classes, Professor Truckey does assign written assignments. By having students write, even in a class like Acting One, students have the opportunity to show the ability to formulate ideas and opinions in a cohesive and readable manner. Paul receives written assignments from students from the entire spectrum of writing ability. He feels there are deficiencies in some and powerful insight in others. When Paul is evaluating writing from a student, he focuses on seeing a connection of the student to their personal life. He also looks for some kind of emotional bias opinion based on what the student sees in a given play. Some student writing that Professor Truckey encounters carries meaningful content but lacks proper grammar and yet other writing will demonstrate competent grammar ability but lacks self expression on the page. Ironically, there is a general tendency for performing arts students to show great expression on the stage but lack that expression in writing. The reasons for this trend are unknown and this issue of expression is, of course, not true in every case.

Paul has a great respect for people that can make it as professional writers. This is especially true for playwrights, without whom performance art would be difficult at best. Paul engages in memo writing and other usual technical writing as is typical of being a professor at Northern. He has written in the past, but finds little time for it now with all the commitments that come with teaching and directing.

In the past, Paul has worked for his father-in-law, analyzing a play that he had written. Basically, Paul edited the play looking at the flow and pacing. He focused on lines of dialogue that were redundant and unsupportive of the main objective of the play.

The more a person writes, the better that person can be in writing is how Professor Truckey feels about writing in general. Some people can have a completely different personality when they write as opposed to who they are in person and Paul finds that aspect fascinating. Paul had a very personal reason to write in his past with getting to know his father. He felt that he got to know his father much better through writing rather than through conversation. When something is written, it is concrete and allows for detailed explanation.

Admittedly, Professor Truckey hasn’t sent his students to the Writing Center. The surprising outcome of this interview is that after speaking with Paul, I feel that he wasn’t sufficiently informed as to what the Writing Center handles. His perception is that the Writing Center caters mainly to English students and that there is a limited amount of writing in his class so it might not be highly beneficial to send students in. I informed him that the writing center receives much more than English students and it came as a revelation to him. The main point that I made is that the Writing Center tutors assist with organizing content as well as grammar checking. With the additional information I was able to provide, I hope that Professor Paul Truckey sends students to the Writing Center for assistance with play analysis or any other type of writing assignment that he gives to his students.

Professor:  Dr. Margaret Vroman
Interviewed by:  Barbara Hrehor
Department:  College of Business
Date:  Fall 2009

To set up an interview with Dr. Vroman, I searched the College of Business website for her office hours and information, then called and introduced myself and my purpose. She readily agreed to meet with me the following week.  Initially, I felt tentative about asking for a half hour in a busy professor’s schedule, but she assured me of her eagerness to participate and offer her input on a subject about which she had an informed opinion.

Margaret Vroman began working as an associate professor at Northern Michigan University in the fall of 2008, teaching exclusively business law courses in the College of Business.  Previous to arriving at NMU, she taught as an adjunct professor in the College of Business at Michigan State University.  Before she began her teaching career, she practiced law for several years and served as a chief appellate counsel.  In addition, she has worked as a legal journal editor in New York City and written a legal textbook; therefore, she possesses a wealth of writing experience in the business world.

Considering her professional history, it is not surprising that Dr. Vroman vigorously endorses the value of competent writing, remarking, “To communicate effectively in business, it is absolutely necessary to learn to write well.”   She is so committed to this ideal, that a portion of her students’ grades are dependent on the quality of their writing.  Because precision in word choice is of such particular import in the business law area, this is a skill she strongly encourages her students to cultivate; however, there are many other issues she views as needing improvement regarding writing fluency.

Dr. Vroman candidly assesses her students’ abilities as “running the gamut from some who are excellent writers to others who make me wonder how they ever got out of high school.”  The latter category she deems lacking in many respects other than the aforementioned weakness in word choices.  For instance, she sees a dependency on the computer spell-check function tending to cause students to overlook the fact that the inevitable errors can cause the reader to question the credibility of their writing.   Another area that greatly concerns her is the lack of organizational skills evident in many papers she reads, some students being incapable of producing a workable outline of their essay.  She even receives papers that are organized by bullet points, causing her to wonder if they actually understand how to write in essay form.  Other student papers lack an overall sense of organization; for example, they do not provide specific support for each paragraph--instead combining more than one general topic in a paragraph.         

When queried as to what she sees as other significant areas for writing improvement, Dr. Vroman does not even have to consider the foremost concern:  limited vocabulary.  Students ask her the meaning of words that they should have learned by this point in their school career, giving the example of the word “equity” as one that she routinely needs to define.  Correct grammar usage and punctuation continue to be common problems that affect the quality of her students’ writing.

Margaret Vroman writes extensively, due to the nature of her field:  legal briefs, journals, and legal editing being just a sampling of her output.  Despite her many years of writing experience, she feels there is always a need for improvement in any individual’s writing, including her own.  A managing editor in New York City, whom she considers her mentor, taught her always to strive to be better, sharper, making every word count, eliminating that which is not absolutely necessary to meaning.

As to the range of writing assistance available in NMU’s Writing Center, Dr. Vroman is not yet entirely aware; nevertheless, she encourages her students to utilize the services to improve on their papers.  She does suggest that the tutors work with students more on identifying a target audience.  As a result of the current student body’s reliance on the Internet as a major means of communication, she sees too much informality in their writing style, one that might be appropriate for conversational e-mailing, texting, and twittering to best buddies, but not suitable for business communication.  Dr. Vroman would like to see her students adopt more of a formal audience concept such as one would need in writing to superiors and peers in one’s chosen profession. 

I did have some preconceived notions of this interviewee’s views on writing because my husband had taken a business law course in the past year, and he had sought out my proofreading and editing assistance, knowing that she expected clear, concise papers.

After reflecting on the interview, I felt a sense of good purpose in having conducted it.  I think this professor has a strong commitment to fostering good writing, and that is perhaps why she showed an interest in this meeting.  After learning more about the help offered at the NMU Writing Center, I feel confident that she will encourage her students to take advantage of its services.