The STEM and Writing Annual Partnership

It’s not often that STEM scholars and English scholars sit down and talk shop. After all, what could these groups possibly have in common?

Writing, that’s what. Writing is, after all, at the core of making and spreading knowledge in both the STEM and Humanities fields. And a new program at NC State is fostering collaboration between these groups to encourage the teaching of writing across the University.

The STEM & Writing Annual Partnership (SWAP) offers STEM PhD students and Postdocs training on how to use writing in their STEM classrooms—as a technology for thinking, teaching, and learning. During a week-long summer workshop, participants gather ideas for assigning and assessing student writing and familiarize themselves with the latest research on writing in STEM classrooms. In the fall, SWAP participants partner with a member of NCSU’s First Year Writing Program to plan a guest lecture in a writing class. After the guest lecture, SWAP participants receive feedback on their teaching from expert teachers of writing; the writing faculty, in turn, get ideas for how to teach about STEM writing in the future.

Now in its second year, this program started small—in just one first-year writing course. Susanna Klingenberg, then a member of the writing faculty, observed a common misconception among budding engineers and scientists in her first-year writing class. Many students who were passionate about STEM fields believed their need to write would conclude with the semester. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth! Wishing to impress upon students the connection of class material to their future careers, Susanna invited friends from STEM fields to guest lecture in her introductory writing classes.

“These friends simply talked about the role of writing in their jobs and answered questions,” she reports, “but the reaction from students was overwhelming: they loved getting to meet real scientists and engineers. And they realized that what they were learning in English 101 mattered beyond just earning a grade. They realized, ‘Hey, I’ll be a better doctor, a better programmer, a better engineer if I’m a better writer.’”

From this simple concept, SWAP was born in hopes of expanding Susanna’s idea to involve more than just her own English 101 classes. SWAP debuted during Fall 2013 as an extension of the professional development services, Preparing Future Leaders, offered through the Graduate School with a mission “to train engineers and scientists to use writing in their classrooms as a tool for thinking, teaching, and learning…[and] to bridge the gap between the sciences and the humanities.”

In designing the SWAP program, Susanna recalls, “I saw two groups at NC State who had lots to offer each other: STEM scholars had expertise in STEM writing, but they didn’t always know how to teach it. The First Year Writing faculty had expertise in teaching writing, but they wanted to lend authenticity to their science writing lessons.” Bringing these groups together to share their talents had the potential for high payoff for everyone involved.

Participants from both groups agree: the collaboration has been a success! Postdoctoral Teaching Scholar Carlos Goller says, “SWAP is a tremendous tool that armed me with the contacts, opportunities, and knowledge to do a better job teaching writing and implement proven writing activities in my own courses.” Laura Waldrep, a member of the First Year Writing faculty, says, “I got to learn just as much about science writing as my students did, and we were all pleased to learn from someone whose voice and presence felt authentic and experienced.”

Now, after Susanna’s countless hours designing and leading the program, working with writing instructors, and coaching graduate students in effective teaching strategies, the SWAP program is being recognized outside of its participant pool. SWAP has been selected to be featured in the North Carolina Symposium on Teaching Writing hosted by NC State February 28–March 1, 2014. The symposium will feature various principles and practices for writing classrooms and programs.

With a successful pilot year behind her, Susanna already looks forward next year. Applications for the 2014 – 2015 collaboration will open to interested PhD students and postdoctoral scholars on February 19, 2014. Applications are due by 5:00 PM on March 3, 2014. Application instructions can be found at go.ncsu.edu/write. Writing faculty wishing to get involved should look for a call for interest on March 1, 2014.

To learn more about the STEM and Writing Annual Partnership or the First Year Writing Program visit go.ncsu.edu/write.


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