Student writing tutor shares her experiences in new publication
An essay by St. Olaf College student Clare Wongwai ’22 titled “How Gratitude Informs Tutoring: Finding Comfort in the Unknown” will be published this June in the collection Student Writing Tutors in Their Own Words: Global Voices on Writing Centers and Beyond.
Putting together personal narratives from writing tutors around the world, the book fills a gap in research on writing center theory, first-year writing pedagogy, and higher education academic support resources, providing evidence of students’ experiences in learning assistance discourse communities.
Wongwai has been a tutor at the St. Olaf Writing Desk since her first year on campus, and her essay reflects on her unique experience as a writing tutor, especially during the pandemic, with a focus on gratitude, empathy, and what she terms “the lasting smile.”
With the goal of creating better writers, not just better papers, there is a collaborative, focused, and explorative atmosphere in St. Olaf Writing Desk tutoring sessions, which inspired Wongwai.
“In high school I pictured tutoring as you go, you ask a question, they give you an answer — like an exchange,” says Wongwai. But as she worked at the Writing Desk, she realized that tutoring, especially at St. Olaf, is so much more than that.
“It was a new experience to me, but in a good way,” Wongwai says. “This is how teaching should be — an even power dynamic and student-driven perspective is important.”
Everyone’s writing has its own strengths, Wongwai says, and the Writing Desk provides a space for students to learn the value of their voice. The self-confidence fostered through that space and validation is invaluable, she adds.
When Writing Desk tutors aren’t with students, they’re doing trainings or team projects, where they learn and develop skills to serve the St. Olaf community, enrich their experience, and prepare for their future vocation.
Associate Director of Writing, Speaking, and Academic Support Bridget Draxler approaches her training sessions with tutors in a holistic way, improving not only their tutoring skills, but also building their empathy and preparing them for their future vocations.
One training session focused on tutoring with gratitude that occurred in March 2020, directly before the onset of COVID-19, really resonated with Wongai, whose research interest is largely focused on positionality and awareness of how we impact others through our interactions with them.
The training inspired her essay, which highlights the positive impact she hopes to make on her tutees by incorporating elements of gratitude in her tutoring sessions.
We will not always see the impact we have on other people, says Wongwai in her essay, “but we can strive to create spaces and foster interaction with the intention to have lasting and positive impacts on those we work with.”
Draxler says that Wongwai is one of the most thoughtful tutors she has had the opportunity to work with, and “seeing her write about her work as a tutor and to want to share it with others makes me beyond proud of her.”
Now that she’s been running tutoring sessions for years, Wongwai is skilled at listening intently, understanding what people have to say, and articulating and asking guiding questions. She plans to pursue clinical psychology work.
Wongwai is in the process of submitting her work to another publication. After presenting about Standard Written English, anti-racism terminology, and pedagogy and praxis in relation to their positionality as writing tutors in November 2021 for the National Conference for Peer Tutors in Writing, Wongwai and two fellow Oles, Pajai Vue ’22 and Zoë Miller ’23, were approached by a journal editor and asked to write an article.
“I’m really grateful to have all these opportunities to lead on-the-ground projects and pursue these Writing Desk research opportunities and publications through St. Olaf and the Writing Desk,” says Wongwai.
Beyond her work at the Writing Desk, Wongwai is an executive board member for the Asian-American Student Union and helped plan Asian American and Pacific Islander Visibility Week and the Lunar New Year performances at St. Olaf. She also went to China and Japan with the Asian Conversations program, and studied in South Korea at Yonsei University.
Wongwai also interned with a refugee resettlement nonprofit organization, and has collaborated with St. Olaf Associate Professor of Asian Studies Ka Wong and six other student researchers — Mila New ’22, Ling O’Donoghue ’21, Yinglin Sun ’21, Mai Xee Vang ’22, Anabelle Xiong ’22, and Dez Young ’21 — on a project about Asian American visibility in higher education.
Wongwai says the small, close-knit community at St. Olaf, along with her close friends and mentors like Wong and Draxler, have been instrumental in her success on the Hill.
“All of these people and experiences have helped me take things from different disciplines and add it to my own skill development,” says Wongwai.
Draxler says she’s proud of all that Wongwai has achieved. “I am so happy for her. This is entirely her doing — it’s one of my dreams to see tutors take ownership of their work and to see the Writing Desk as their own,” says Draxler. “And Clare has done exactly that.”