“We are more interested in the writer than the product, because as the writer improves, the writing takes care of itself,” said Mrs. Emilienne Akpan, Director of the Writing Center (WC).
Mrs. Akpan was speaking about the successful recruitment of student-tutors under the work-study program.
The Writing Center team vets academic compositions and provides guidance on reading and writing strategies. It also coordinates submissions for the Writing-across-Curriculum program, a critical part of the liberal arts education pedagogy which requires that every course should have a significant writing component.
The Center is considered one of the most important and challenging learning support systems for students at AUN. For those accepted under the work-study program, they first go through a rigorous aptitude test comprising written and oral segments. Mrs. Akpan explained that they also assess the applicant's interpersonal skills, which include, but are not limited to, having a positive attitude, coping with pressure, demonstrating critical thinking and problem solving traits, being a team player, and having a flexible and teachable mindset. She also added that, "A student who works at the Center must be passionate about service.”
English faculty recommended some of the student-tutors, but generally they represent various disciplines--Natural & Environmental Sciences, Business Administration, Computer Science, Law, Petroleum Chemistry, and English Language & Literature.
The large number of students trooping daily into the Center makes it one of the busiest offices at the E-Library. Intermittently, students are seen pacing or sitting with their papers in hand waiting to be attended to by a trained staff member or one of the student tutors.
When WAC was emphasized three semesters ago, most students showed resistance, as it meant that even a course such as mathematics would have a writing component. However, AUN seeks to build students whose versatility includes strong writing and effective communication skills in all departments.
“We are interested in how a student progresses in their academic work and expressive skills, and students have realized that coming to the center does not in any way mean that they are not good, but that it is important and helpful to have someone else go over what they have written to ensure coherence, grammatical accuracy, and a general understanding of what was requested.”
Mrs. Akpan beams as she explains that based on the high demand for the services at the Writing Center and faculty collaboration with WAC implementation, this Spring has recorded the highest recruitment of new student-tutors who joined a team of extremely committed hands.
Impressively, some of the newly recruited students are those like 2nd Semester first year student Ms. Farida Haliru, who, after reviewing (with guidance) a student’s paper, smiled as she walked across the room to submit it for the Writing Center stamp. The stamp signifies that the student’s work has been carefully revised with the author.
Ms. Haliru observed that she was barely two weeks old at the Center but felt a sense of responsibility, giving up her free time knowing that someone needs her assistance.
“It makes me feel special, and it is a big deal for me to gain real work experience.” Haliru agreed that the experience gives her a certain appreciation for her parents’ hard work in providing for the family.
Software Engineering sophomore Edward Rajah has been working with the WC for two years now, and said the job is challenging as it makes him read more widely and broadens his understanding.
Over the time spent at the center, Mr. Rajah said he has reviewed over one thousand student papers. For him writing is not a skill easily acquired, “It is dynamic, and you have to know your stuff.” He is investing his time at the Center in preparation for the life-after-University experience. The soft-spoken Edward recounted experiences that kept him motivated: “I see students with challenges in grammar or other concepts improve, and that is gratifying.”
The work-study program allows students earn a stipend while working on a part-time basis in any department on campus. It is a bridge program between education and employment.
Having student tutors respond to the problems of their fellow students is an avenue that encourages peer-to-peer learning and mentorship, said the Coordinator of Writing Center, Nicholas Achoda. “We have seen it rub off on students who are regular visitors, and we also discourage subjectivity such as having a favorite tutor.”
The student-tutors have shifts of not more than two hours daily or ten hours weekly, and they have periodic in-house training sessions to keep up with developments in tutoring theories, teaching scenarios and strategies.
Peer mentoring is indeed an enriching experience at the Writing Center: it has provided a space where students engage in constructive dialogues, broaden their horizons, and learn from one another.
By Nelly Ating