Saunders Writing Center: Celebrating 25 Years of Helping Students

Few things cause students more headaches and sleepless nights than writing essays or term papers. After two decades of supporting student writing and helping students sleep easier, the Saunders Writing Center will celebrate 25 years of service to the UT community on Thursday, September 28 at 4:30 p.m. The event, which will take place in the Board Room of the Ninth Floor of the Vaughn Center, is a way of “celebrating the Saunders Writing Center’s history of student success.”

The anniversary ceremony will be a reflection on the past and a positive look towards the future, according to Mark Putnam, Director of the writing center since 2003.

Since its establishment, thanks to a grant from the Saunders Foundation in 1981, the writing center has remained a free service that allows trained students to assist their fellow classmates to improve their writing. The grant funded two tutors to operate out of Plant Hall 323, originally providing service only to students in English Composition courses. Since then, the staff has grown to eight tutors with a mission that includes supporting students in all campus majors and courses.

English professors Frank Gillen and Mary-Jane Schenck collaborated to initiate the creation and organization of the Saunders Writing Center.

“The writing center was part of our department’s overall vision of helping our students be better writers [through individual instruction] in response to specific student needs,” said Gillen, chair of the English Department in 1981.

Part of the philosophy of the writing center is to help students become more introspective and involved in their writing.

“[Gillen] was completely committed to students and wanted to have a place beyond the classroom where students could develop their writing,” said Schenck.

In turn, tutoring at the Saunders Writing Center can yield intensely personal moments when discussing the work of students. Writing center tutor Chris Janus recalls one experience where a woman cried during a session.

“Because of how powerful her words were, she was reduced to tears. It was a moving experience,” he explained.

The focus of the writing center has not changed since 1981, but “advances in the study of peer tutoring and writing have contributed to shifts in tutoring,” said Putnam. More than ever, active participation in the writing process is the driving force of the Saunders Writing Center.

“The writing center has given me [an opportunity] to connect to students in a unique way,” said Liz Fidler, a writing center tutor and Writing major.

The Saunders Writing Center experience is just as important to the tutors as to the students they assist.

“It is through critiquing the work of others that you truly learn how to better your work,” said Liz Fidler.

In recent history, writing center tutors have studied abroad at Oxford and Ireland, led student publications, taught English in China and attended law school.

“The writing center will always play a key role in that individualization [of instruction] for writers at all levels,” said Gillen.

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