To Include is To Excel: Writing and Research Tutor Program
In the first two years of the To Include is To Excel initiative, St. Olaf College faculty and staff members have developed nearly 50 grant-funded projects to support inclusive teaching and learning. We’re highlighting these projects in a new series — and we hope that hearing about this work in the words of fellow faculty and staff members will inspire you to think about how you can be part of creating a more inclusive and equitable campus community.
In the fall of 2017, Research and Instruction Librarian Maggie Epstein, Associate Director of Writing and Academic Support Bridget Draxler, and Multilingual Student Language Support Specialist Anne Berry collaborated to develop a peer tutoring program that would integrate research and writing support. Collectively, they wanted to better support first-year students as researchers and writers, particularly students who are multilingual, low income, and/or first generation.
The grant from To Include is To Excel allowed them to grow their own expertise as program leaders and develop inclusive training curricula for Writing and Research Tutors on topics such as cultural humility, linguistic diversity, and educational privilege.
They share what they learned in developing this To Include is To Excel project and what they hope the community takes away from it:
What led you to develop this project?
Skills in research and writing are essential for success in courses across academic disciplines. As instructors who teach writing and research in the first-year writing preparation courses — Writing 107 and 110 — we serve students from underrepresented groups, including recent immigrants, refugees, first-generation and low-income students, students from racial/linguistic minority communities, and multilingual international students. Through our connection with these students, we recognized a need to provide increased support not only for their writing and research skills, but also for their developing identities as writers and researchers. By pairing students in these courses with Writing and Research Tutors (WRTs) for weekly individual tutoring sessions, we were able to expand personalized support for writing, research, and the “hidden curriculum” of success at college.
We intentionally hired tutors who were representative of the student populations enrolled in Writing 107 and 110 or who had successfully completed those courses. Along with providing crucial student support, this high-impact work-study position also created new opportunities for underrepresented students to gain leadership skills.
What did you learn — about yourself, your students, your colleagues, the St. Olaf community — as you began working on this project?
Support from To Include is To Excel allowed us to organize a learning retreat and consult with Dr. Nimisha Barton, an independent consultant on diversity and inclusion in higher education. Through these efforts, we developed our own expertise and generated materials that will sustain our training in inclusive tutoring practices for years to come. We were also able to invite Professor Barton to campus to lead a faculty/staff development workshop titled “Teaching Research and Writing: Inclusive Practices for All Disciplines” and a workshop for Writing and Research Tutors on cultural humility. These opportunities deepened our understanding of how student research and writing is shaped by their identity and experience, and supported our ability to help all students thrive.
These opportunities deepened our understanding of how student research and writing is shaped by their identity and experience, and supported our ability to help all students thrive.
The To Include is To Excel grant also supported 16 hours of pre-semester tutor training, and having this time with the tutors was transformative. We came to see how committed they are, both to helping their classmates succeed and to embracing St. Olaf’s goals of inclusion and equity. Their perspective and the insights they shared were fundamental to the success of the training, and their dedication and understanding was evident during a closing activity when they articulated their group vision statement: “We include, respect, and empower all writers and their ideas. We aim to help them develop the tools to express themselves confidently so that their voices can be heard in a U.S. campus context.”
What do you hope students and other members of the St. Olaf community take away from this work?
In a post-training survey, one of the tutors said that Dr. Barton “provide[d] insight and allowed me to think critically about my interactions with diverse populations.” We hope that our student staff will continue to reflect on the way that their background and experience affects their approach to academic writing and that ongoing training will help them continue to develop their skills as tutors, mentors, and leaders.
We regularly return to the texts and materials that were part of our original learning retreat, and we reference those ideas when we collaborate with other writing faculty and other offices that hire and train peer tutors. We hope that these formal and informal interactions will contribute to a culture of racial and linguistic inclusivity on St. Olaf’s campus, and that we will continue to engage with the guiding questions posed by Dr. Barton:
- How do students from historically underrepresented backgrounds experience a college campus socially, culturally, and academically?
- Given their perspectives and experiences, how do we create classrooms that are welcoming and inclusive spaces for these students in order to improve our outcomes?
- What kinds of best practices can faculty develop to navigate difficult moments and maximize student learning and teaching outcomes?
How can the St. Olaf community support your project?
The ability to write and research well is essential for success in every academic and professional endeavor. Support for students who are developing their writing and research abilities and identities is critical, and we have been grateful for support from so many in the St. Olaf community, including To Include is to Excel, the Center for Advising and Academic Support, and the St. Olaf Libraries. We are especially grateful to the Writing 110/107 faculty members and tutors who helped us pilot and grow the Writing and Research Tutor program.
The ability to write and research well is essential for success in every academic and professional endeavor. Support for students who are developing their writing and research abilities and identities is critical, and we have been grateful for support from so many in the St. Olaf community.
We invite all faculty at St. Olaf to consider partnering with us to provide writing and research support for other first-year courses. We are eager to expand our embedded tutoring programs and invite conversations on how we might scale the program to support more emerging researchers and writers. We also would like faculty and staff to nominate promising students for a Writing and Research Tutor position. The high-impact student work position provides training, mentoring, and the opportunity to gain valuable skills.
We invite all students to take full advantage of the writing and research support available at St. Olaf. First-year students taking Writing 110/107 are paired with a tutor automatically, but trained tutors at the Writing Desk and Research Desk are available to help all students.
Where does your work go from here?
We have presented this work at conferences and through journal articles and received positive feedback — sharing has also given us opportunities to reflect on where we might go from here. Our next goals are to expand tutor-based writing and research support beyond Writing 107 and 110, and broaden the inclusivity tutor training beyond the Writing and Research Tutor program. We continue to use the training modules we developed for our own tutors and hope that faculty and staff who supervise tutors, peer leaders, or student staff may find space for this curriculum in their own training programs.