Call for Papers: Writing Center Research Conference

at Houghton College, Houghton New York
Saturday, April 22, 2017, 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

 Primary Audience/Researchers: College Writing Center Staff and Directors

Theme--To Be of Use: The Challenges and Rewards of Writing Center Work

In her poem "To Be of Use," Marge Piercy simultaneously acknowledges the commonness and affirms the importance of “work that is real.”  With this poem in mind, numerous questions about the work of our Centers can be entertained, including but not limited to these:

  • Who uses our Centers, and why?  Alternatively, who doesn't use our Centers, and why not?  To what extent is data collection helpful here, yielding what observations and resulting in what changes?
  • Who returns to our Centers, how often, and why?  Who doesn't return to our Centers, and why not—and to what extent can or should our Centers be pro-active in reaching out to this latter group of students?
  • Why do students become consultants in our Centers?  What motivates them short term and long term?  What challenges do they face when it comes to their "usefulness," and to what extent are and/or can these challenges be mitigated?  What incentives are or might there be for them retention wise, both tangible and intangible?
  • To what extent do the faculty and other members of a College see our Writing Centers of being of use to its various stakeholders?  What has or might be done in terms of advertising, workshops, meetings with individual faculty members, etc. to increase the Center's sense of usefulness both in terms of tutoring services and broader outreach?
  •  How does the place a Center is located on campus, as well as its set-up, furnishings, and decor, affect its usefulness, perceived and/or actual?  How much time, attention, and money is and should be given to these practical matters, and to what end(s)?
  •  To what extent is assessment key to evaluating a Center’s usefulness, and to whom?  What forms have these assessments taken; how have they evolved; and how might they continue to evolve, and for what reason(s)? 

Proposals: (200-300 words) should take one of three forms and can include anecdotes and creative work as well as traditional research:

  •  Individual Presentation: Presenters share original work for 15 or 25 minutes each (including Q/A time) and will be grouped with 1-2 additional presenters depending on the amount of time requested.
  •  Panel: Three or more individuals present original work on a common theme.
  • Lab Time: Facilitators devote their time to a discussion related to the start of research or an activities or activities related to the continuation/work-in-progress of Center research. e.g., surveys, brief interviews, or mock consulting sessions to be videotaped. In your proposal, please describe what you want to do, how many and what kind of participants you need (undergraduate tutors? Center administrators? Both?), and how much time is needed to complete your task(s).  If seeking participants among conference attendees for projects resulting in publication or public dissemination, you will need to have institutional review board (IRB) approval as well as Informed Consent documentation.

Proposal Deadline: Friday, February 24, 2017

Notification Date: Friday, March 3, 2017

Cost: $10.00 for faculty and students, to be paid onsite the day of the conference. Lunch will be provided.

Questions?  Contact Laurie Dashnau, Director of the Writing Center at Houghton College, at

Laurie.Dashnau@houghton.edu or (585) 567-9514.

To Be of Use                                                                         

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.

Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.                                           
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

 --Marge Piercy

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