How to Write

by Cutter Kilgore

Horizon Reporter

In the bowels of Cascade Hall, adjacent to the murmur of vending machines and the shuddering slaps of slammed doors, a free personal tutor awaits. This is Whatcom Community College’s Writing Center.

          “We like to keep it really informal here,” said Justin Woodum, a young Writing Center tutor who is considering a career in teaching. “The most important thing is to have a comfortable place to discuss writing and throw ideas around. Just stop by with an open mind.”

            The Whatcom Writing Center is part of the greater Learning Center, which includes two separate rooms for writing and math tutoring. Students can fill out a yellow “Request for Tutoring” form from an open-top index box and get started with improving their writing within minutes.

            “Some people come by, and they’re really shy,” Woodum said. “They just stand in the door.” He sighed. “People have a certain expectation about what we do, and sometimes they don’t come in because of it.”

            But the center itself, and the jobs of the people who work there, depend on the number of students who use the place, said Rose Wagner, part-time front woman and desk operator at the Learning Center.

            “I hate it being part-time,” Wagner said. None of the paid positions in the center are full-time. “Typically, it’s been harder to find jobs with so many people going back to school.”  But she clarified that she’s not worried, because the Writing Center has been around for at least 13 years and will continue to survive.

            “It’s a very positive place,” Wagner said. “It’s not too stressful, and I like to support the students.”

            “We help with pretty much any writing at Whatcom,” Writing Center tutor Melissa Peacock said. “We can do essays, resumes and college applications too,” she said. “Sometimes people want us to just proofread.” She shook her head. “We don’t do that.”

            What they can do is something called “Jing,” an online form of writing feedback that includes what Peacock calls “a screen video with commentary.” Within 48 hours of submitting a paper, students can view their writing on a computer screen along with helpful tutor audio commentary and advice.

            “The only downside with online,” said Peacock, “is that it’s not as interactive.”    

            But, online or in person, the tutors in the Writing Center are great at providing helpful feedback, said Brandon Bryning, a Whatcom student who found the place almost by accident.

            “I come here for finals,” he said. He used to do math homework in the room next door and saw the sign for the Writing Center. Bryning said that the tutor feedback helps him correct a lot of errors in his writing. “They bring a lot of suggestions,” he said.

            “Sometimes we focus on grammar,” said Woodum, addressing a cluster of students, “but mostly we focus on ideas.

“The Learning Center is a great resource,” Woodum told his small, attentive gathering. “As you guys can see, it’s kind of an informal place,” he said. “We’re all students who like to write. Our doors are open. Feel free to come by.”

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