|The magazine of University of Houston-Clear Lake
fall 2012 | volume 19 | number 1
A Place for Writers
Campus Writing Center Offers Tutoring In Person and Online
Lifelong reader and writer Chloe Diepenbrock had no idea that a two-word response to a request to start a writing center would change her life.
“I said, ‘of course’,” says Diepenbrock, now director of the UHCL Writing Center and associate professor of writing and literature.
Diepenbrock’s response to former Associate Dean of Human Sciences and Humanities Carol Snyder in 1991 started the journey that has allowed her to help others change their world through words.
“Founding and managing the UHCL Writing Center through two moves and many changes over the past 19 years has been the highlight of my career,” says Diepenbrock.
Created to provide assistance for all stages of the writing process, the center offers students, faculty, staff and alumni guidance on idea generation, organization, style, grammar and editing strategies by trained tutors.
Diepenbrock opened the first center in a 400-square-foot Bayou Building classroom furnished with recycled tables and old computers — a space sometimes mistaken for a lab. Later it moved to a 685-square-foot classroom with two computers and several tables.
But when the new Student Services and Classroom Building was completed in 2004, she moved the center to its current location on the second floor, Suite 2105.
Open and light-filled, the center offers 2,000 square feet designed to suit Diepenbrock’s vision of a welcoming environment created to enhance the collaborative atmosphere.
“It was a dream come true,” says Diepenbrock.
Six computer stations, each with space for a student and a tutor, line one wall. Above the workstations, dark wood shelves display books and items that Diepenbrock calls a “museum to the history of writing.” Seating is plentiful and half walls let in natural light yet enclose more private spaces for reading and discussion.
Yet while the inviting space offers an enjoyable place for learning, Diepenbrock says tutor training is the secret behind the center’s success.
Writing Center use increased 250 percent from 1995 to 2010; most from repeat clients. Last year, 53.7 percent of first-time clients returned for additional sessions, giving tutors a 98 percent extremely effective or very effective rating.
But it’s not only the clients who learn there.
“In training peer tutors, I see their work and how it shapes them,” says Diepenbrock. “Sometimes I think my job is almost more about the students who work for me.”
One of those charter tutors was Dagmar Scharold, who joined the UHCL Writing Center in 1993. Scharold is now the director of the University of Houston-Downtown’s Writing & Reading Center and a lecturer at UH-D.
“Everything was so new, it was eye opening,” says Scharold. “Learning to be a tutor and helping her open the writing center helped me to find my passion. I knew after that one semester that this is what I wanted to do.”
Scharold says peer group sharing and feedback is important to the writing process, and something she now provides her students.
Jo Lynn Sallee became a tutor while pursuing her graduate degree in 2007, which included a graduate course in writing center administration with Diepenbrock that detailed the job of a writing center director, a job she felt was her career calling.
“I found myself completely enamored with the one-on-one teaching style of writing centers,” says Sallee.
With director jobs in scarce supply, she took a job as adjunct English instructor and writing center tutor at Lee College. When the director position opened, “she took it on an interim basis. Months later, she was offered the job.”
“I truly believe that a writing center tutor can be one of the most cost-efficient and productive teaching tools offered in colleges today,” says Sallee. “A writing tutor acts as a coach who assists the student with understanding the assignment, brainstorming or just as a second set of eyes checking for errors on the finished essay. It is always gratifying to have a student visit the writing center and announce, ‘I made a better grade on my essay, thanks to you guys!’ ”
Adjunct Professor of Special Education Bernardo Pohl came to the center for help with his book, “The Moral Debates in Special Education.” After revisions suggested by his tutor Michele Harrold, Pohl found a publisher.
“Without their help, I believe that I would continue to talk about ‘the book that I was working on,’” says Pohl. “They helped me to make this book a reality. There are simply not enough words to describe the excellent work that they do.”
Diepenbrock continues her journey to grow the center through programs like COLT, a Center for Online Tutoring, that meets the increasing demand for online services. The software is currently being revised to offer a white board screen where sections of a pre-submitted paper can be worked on while a chat window is open, allowing real-time instruction.
“The most significant challenge we will face in coming years will be expanding our services to incoming first-year students while still providing our customary personal attention for all of the writers who work with us,” says Diepenbrock. “At the same time, we look forward to serving this new group of students, and we are already preparing for their arrival.”
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