by Hannah LaMarine
Michael Lanz, a 26-year-old tutor at the Whatcom Community College Writing Center, leaned in conspiratorially and said, “If you want the story that’ll get the front page…” He glanced around the room dramatically and deadpanned, “We did have name tags, and now we have lanyards.” His colleagues laughed from the other tables and rows of computers that line the walls. Lanz chuckled and said of the change, “It’s like a shockwave went through here.”
At the nearby information desk, the head of a yellow marshmallow bunny stands skewered on an unfolded paperclip taped to the side of the computer monitor. Next to this ghastly display is a yellow note reading, “This is a warning!” Lanz pointed to it and said, “It sort of sets the tone for what we’re trying to communicate in the writing center: fear.”
Far from inducing fear, the Writing Center, located in 112 Cascade, is full of such displays of whimsy. Stuffed animals and coffee cups line window sills, and a drawing of a fat, good-natured-looking dragon adorns the whiteboard. Cerri Burton, the tutor who drew the dragon, is also responsible for the cartoon dinosaur on the lanyard hanging over Lanz’s multicolored, striped sweater. It’s a Tyrannosaurus rex with a bowl cut labeled “Mikey-saurus.”
A young woman came in with her paper held like a shield and Lanz invited her to sit down. She said she wanted help with grammar and making sure the paper made sense. Lanz asked her to read her paper out loud, saying that tutors usually do that because when students read aloud, they pick up on things they wouldn’t normally have noticed were wrong.
She noticed something in the first paragraph, fixed it, and went on reading. Lanz encouraged her, saying that the first paragraph set things up nicely for the rest of the paper. When the two of them finished reading through the paper, she thanked him and said that she’d fixed a lot of mistakes on her own before coming in, but that she wanted the extra input. “I don’t have a lot of feedback,” said Lanz, “Which is kind of a good thing!”
Lanz got started in the Writing Center in autumn of 2010, after his first English class at Whatcom. He enjoyed peer reviews and working with others’ ideas so, when he heard about the Writing Center he applied. A common misconception is that the tutors are different from the students and just looking for a job. However, most of the tutors are enrolled at Whatcom.
Lanz said he’s seen a 10 page paper written about a 30 second Old Spice commercial. When students work on those assignments, “their brains start to fire and go off,” said Lanz. “You definitely see minds blown, and that’s always cool.”
Lanz said the sense of accomplishment that students get from the Writing Center is why he works there. One thing he sees is when a student comes in saying they can’t do something. “Once they say that, they end up doing it right off the bat, knowing that they did it themselves.”
Students have said to Lanz that if it weren’t for the availability of the Writing and Math Centers, they probably wouldn’t stay in college. He said he likes knowing that he’s made an impact and helped to keep people in school. Lanz is graduating in June, and plans to continue working in the Writing Center next year.
Lanz said that it’s important that students know that the tutors in the writing center are genuinely interested in the work they’re doing. “You’re never bothering us,” Lanz said of students who could potentially come in for help. “Please come in and bug us. We’re always into it.”