Featured Center

Student Led and Student Fed: The University Writing Center
at the University of Nevada, Reno

How is your center funded?

In a lot of ways, this question can be quite remote from the day-to-day activities of a normal writing center. That, however, is not the case at UNR. In 2009, the University Writing center was closed, along with the Math Center. The Tutoring Center remained open, but only partially. That was one of a series of dramatic budget cuts that plagued UNR. One year (that year), non-degree granting programs were cut. Another year, vertical program cuts were made. In yet another year programs were scrutinized on the basis of how many degrees they were granting. Before too long, the pain of severe cuts became so numbing that it was almost like it didn't matter anymore--cuts were coming again and it was just a question of how many and when.

Amidst all of the slashing and the worry it produced, the undergraduate and graduate student organizations made a bold statement. A new student fee was voted in that would provide significant funds for the Math, Tutoring, and University Writing Centers. The students brought them back. I have never seen this in another center, and I have to say that it created a wonderful and unusual context for our work. We report to administrators and students on our work, our progress, and our budget. Most importantly, students are directly involved in all facets of our work, and we are always eager to see what they want us to do, what they will think of what we want to do, and what they and the leadership of our university see as priorities going forward. This structure makes it easy to remember in our day-to-day work that the students are our priority, because they are so thoroughly a part of everything we do.

Since the University Writing Center reopened in 2010, we have completed more than 15,000 writing consultations (UNR has approximately 13,000 undergraduates and 5,000 graduate students). The University Writing Center has also become the foundation for UNR's developing writing-in-the-disciplines program. Both a director and assistant director have been hired.  

We have had approximately 35 writing consultants on staff for the past two years, both graduate and undergraduate, from across the curricula. We have been providing support through our primary site and multiple satellite locations. We are expanding our support to include not only writing but posters, presentations, digital compositions, and oral presentations, as well. We have been invited to provide workshops and other kinds of direct support for courses in Core Writing, Education, Engineering, Health Sciences, Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, and other disciplines. We have a working Writing Fellows program, sponsor a series of Faculty Writing Retreats, lead brown bag lunches for faculty who teach with writing and have just recently developed direct support for 12 sections of an introductory Biology course this semester. We are also collaborating with the Office of Service-learning and Community Engagement to provide workshops and luncheons that focus in part on reflective writing and its importance in service-learning. We are developing on-line support to accompany new online writing courses. We are collaborating with the local public school system as well as the local National Writing Project affiliate. Certainly, we have found plenty of ways to support student writing.

Now, our challenges are primarily about setting boundaries, about learning how to say no, not because we are satisfied to stop where we are but because we are having to balance maintaining the quality of what we are doing against taking on new projects and challenges. Our funding has been generous and our resources numerous, to be sure, but we are now coming to the point where we have to make big changes to our infrastructures if we want to take on any substantial new projects. We know that there is a lot of good work to be done. There is demand for grant-writing support in the community. Creative writing is of interest at numerous venues across Reno and Sparks. There is always demand for writing support in the transition from high school to college, as well as in the transition from other colleges to UNR.

We have already begun rethinking some of our existing projects toward both greater impact and wider distribution. For instance, we are working to provide training for TAs and lab assistants in the teaching and tutoring of writing. This will allow us to expand our writing fellows program in a scalable way that will draw on existing resources and engage other departments in the work of supporting writing. They "have skin in the game" and we get to play a direct role in the support of writing across much more of the curricula. We have been providing writing support to high school students who are beginning the transition to college; we extend that work by also working with their teachers to build vertical teams.

In terms of where we will go in the future, we are always looking for partners. In fact, one of my own priorities is to engage with area K-12 teachers as often as I can toward in/formal vertical teams. We need to break down the barriers between levels by one another and our students with the transition from one level to the next. I would love to see our center host a local annual event that focused on the Common Core State Standards and the work that we share in promoting literacy in our local schools. This same thinking motivates our plans to host a conference in Reno that brings together multiple regional writing program and writing center organizations (because, in no small part, Reno is on the western-most boundary of Rocky Mountain regionals and the eastern-most boundaries of northern California regionals--and there are a number of other regionals that are not too far away, either).

So, the University Writing Center at UNR was a victim of budget cuts and then resurrected by the students. Since then, we have done some important and big things, all in service of our students. As we move forward, we are getting better and better at developing scalable projects and programs. We see more and more opportunities to reach out, to change some of the dynamics of the past. There is no shortage of opportunities and, as much as our successes have enabled, they have helped us to think very carefully about how best to serve student writers. It really is the best of both worlds and we wouldn't change it for the anything.

William J. Macauley, Jr.
Director, UNR University Writing Center