Monday, April 16, 2018
Stephen Pendergast '18
The Siena College Writing Center is an unassuming little place on the lower-level of the Standish Library. Yet, in its nearly thirty year history, it has served as an essential resource for students, faculty, and staff seeking help with writing and communication skills. Their tutors are driven by a desire to engage with the community. As recent alum and Writing Center leader Beth Rucinski 17’ notes, “Everyone in the Center has the same goal--to help students reach their full potential.”
For the last few years Rucinski has worked alongside the Center’s Director, Anne Godson-Glynn ’98, to infuse high impact service learning opportunities into the existing tutor training program. The premise is simple enough: Siena’s Writing Center Ambassador Program aims to create sustainable, satellite writing centers at local secondary schools. Siena tutors are currently working at Cohoes High School, and Albany Leadership Charter High School for Girls. Administrators at both institutions hope the tutors will help their high schoolers prepare for college and future leadership roles.
Godson-Glynn and Rucinski see a community-engaged writing center as a natural extension of Siena’s strategic plan, Tradition.Transformed. “My team is incredibly talented and proactive in their knowledge of social issues,” said Godson-Glynn. “They’ve studied inequity in education and want all students to have access to specialized literacy and writing support. It seemed logical to build upon our long tradition of service in a new and innovative way.”
After graduating last May, Rucinski applied for a position with the Americorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) Program.
A great deal of the theoretical work for these writing centers falls on Rucinski, the Americorps Vista assigned to the Writing Center Ambassador Program. Not only has she been the primary liaison between Siena and both Cohoes and ALH, she has been working to show how the Siena model can be used for other university writing centers looking to expand to secondary schools.
“The University Assisted Writing Center would not be successful without the incredible devotion to social justice that the tutors exhibit every day through their work”, said Rucinski. She notes a few current tutors who have impacted this process during her time there, namely Serena RIzzo, a junior English major, and Kayla Allbright, a sophomore Psychology major.
The Cohoes Writing Center functions just as Siena’s does- their students, like Siena’s, can come into the Center and receive one-on-one peer tutoring with a Siena student. These tutoring sessions range from simple conversations about English conventions to in depth conversations on thesis statements- all working towards improving individual writers as a whole- working to change the entire culture of literacy on Cohoes’ campus.
“The core idea of the Cohoes Writing Center is how can we, in a position of privilege, boasting excellent communication skills, take our studies in literacy and composition and bring it to places of inequality and underprivileged in our education system?” Godson-Glynn’s focus on addressing inequity in education and literacy issues in the community is designed to reflect Siena’s Franciscan values.
The Cohoes Writing Center, likewise, is not a one sided relationship- Cohoes students get the benefit of working with a higher-ed supported writing center, while Siena’s tutors gain experience and skills through running this program which, in turn, creates compassionate leaders who are prepared for a global workforce. They gain leadership and professional development in their undergrad years.
The tutors working at Cohoes reflect Godson-Glynn’s sentiments. Kayla Albright and Samantha Jaeger both expressed that their times at Cohoes have presented them with the opportunity to develop their tutoring skills through compassion, respecting the multiplicity of perspectives, and respecting the dignity of others. They noted that the collaboration challenges Siena’s Center to change the way it thinks about its place in education, the Capital Region, and the world.
The work that the Saints do allow them to come into contact with high schoolers from different backgrounds, classes, experiences, and walks of life. These tutoring sessions not only foster compassion and empathy with the Siena tutors, making them more experienced, but also opens their eyes to the different walks of life that surround our college community.
Godson-Glynn said that the students working on the satellite centers displayed tenacity and persistence, as partnering with Cohoes and ALH was not always easy.
“To have someone like Beth on board, to have Samantha choose to keep going back to ALH to working in the classroom despite uncertainty and an administration change, it’s incredible and it’s what allowed us to sustain our commitment with these schools and move on to the next steps.”
Looking at the Siena College Writing Center, tucked away in a quiet part on the lower level of the library, it’s hard to fathom that this little office is sending waves of justice, democracy, and respect throughout the Capital Region. But, with Saint Francis as a model, it’s hard not to imagine such an office has such monumental importance and a stunningly passionate drive for service, literacy, and community.