Featured Center

Geek-to-Geek Tutoring: The New Mexico Tech 
Writing and Oral Presentation Center

How do you know that you go to a geek school?

When your school’s homecoming theme is “Zombies.”

When the school’s Society for Creative Anachronism uses the athletic field for a post-Thanksgiving medieval melee (in full armor).

New Mexico Tech is a geek school, which gives its Writing and Oral Presentation Center (WOPC) a very distinct personality and allows it to occupy a unique niche on campus. NMT has also in recent years become a very forward-thinking school, and the WOPC has assumed a central role in NMT’s efforts to update instruction and improve students’ experiences.

The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (New Mexico Tech) is a small but focused science and engineering research university in Socorro, NM. Recent tallies place student enrollment at 2100—1560 undergraduates and 540 graduate students. The small enrollment provides both undergraduates and graduates with hands-on opportunities to participate in cutting-edge research. NMT has strong programs in mechanical engineering, petroleum engineering, astrophysics, and earth sciences. It hosts numerous labs and research facilities utilized by students who visit the center, including the Very Large Array (the radio telescope apparatus Jodie Foster used to talk to aliens in the movie Contact), the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, and a laboratory at an active volcano in Antarctica. NMT also has a prominent energetic materials research facility, which makes it a popular filming location for the hit show Mythbusters and makes for some interesting writing center conferences, to say the least.

Opened in 1995, the New Mexico Tech Writing Center served as a small, undergraduate peer tutoring center affiliated with the Humanities Department (now known as the Department of Communication, Liberal Arts, and Social Sciences). In 2010, the center received a reboot thanks to its participation in a Department of Education grant for Hispanic-serving institutions.[1] The WOPC now offers a full-range of workshops and services for undergrads and grads, on-campus and distance students, and native and non-native English speakers.

The revitalized NMT Writing and Oral Presentation Center occupies the basement of Fitch Hall, utilizing two rooms and the department’s Technical Communication computer lab. All three rooms are heavily stocked with an array of technology:  computers and laptops (in Windows, Mac, and Lynux), large LCD screens for group work, iPads, and Distance Education technology. Currently, it employs 5 undergraduate tutors and 3 graduate tutors from departments all across campus. It still functions as a site for drop-in and by-appointment writing consultations (on-site and off-site), though recently the WOPC has started to wear a few more hats.

Graduate students at work in the technical communication lab

A writing conference in one of the consultation rooms

[1] Title V: Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans

For example, the WOPC has become the spot for graduate student communication support. Beyond graduate writing consultations, the WOPC offers two one-week dissertation boot camps for graduate students in the throes of writing their theses or dissertations. In addition to providing a quiet, coffee-rich place to write, boot camp staff offers workshops on time management and technical editing. Guest speakers from around campus provide additional information on everything from simple yoga techniques for stiff-necked dissertaters to formatting a thesis in LaTex, a code-based document-preparation program used in many disciplines across campus. Also, in Fall 2012, the WOPC launched a graduate STEM Communication Fellows program. In this program, writing center staff train graduate students from departments across campus in peer tutoring techniques. These students then spend half of their time in the writing center and half of their time in their home departments creating writing groups or other needed communication resources.

Further, the WOPC now offers oral presentation consultations. Undergraduates come in with presentations for class or with their senior capstone design projects. Graduate students have used WOPC services for complete dry-runs of their thesis or dissertation defense presentations. Writing consultants are able to record presentations with Adobe Connect and provide students with a simple link to their recording when they leave.

Beyond in-house tutoring services, The WOPC participates in numerous campus events. For example, writing center staff provides a series of workshops on creating research posters and PowerPoint presentations for students involved in NMT’s student research symposium (an event linked to the school’s reaccreditation process). As the campus’ sole resource for ESL students, the WOPC regularly partners with international student services on international student events. This year, the WOPC co-hosted the school’s first ever international student green chile roast, which brought in more than 50 international students. (Note: for the word buffs among us, “chile” is spelled with an “e” in New Mexico). The WOPC also hosts  monthly Conversation Cafés for students seeking more conversational English practice. November’s Conversation Café, held in conjunction with the school’s recognition of international education week, was a “game night,” which involved a rather animated session of Apples-to-Apples.

Over the past couple years, the New Mexico Tech Writing and Oral Presentation Center has established a presence on campus and has since been invited to participate in other student retention and STEM education initiatives on campus. The WOPC’s goal is to be more than just a drop-in center; writing center staff hopes to generate a campus-wide, writing-rich, creative environment to support the next generation of scientists and engineers.

 —Steve Simpson, New Mexico Tech

A thesis boot camp mini-yoga session

Green chiles on the grill at the International Student Green Chile Roast