Rhetoric, “the art or using words effectively in speaking or writing”, was one of the original liberal arts taught in medieval universities, and today remains at the heart of the liberal arts education offered by the College of Letters and Science. Key to the teaching of writing at UCSB is the UCSB Writing Program, which provides instruction to over 8000 students every year, in courses ranging from basic approaches to university writing to graduate-level courses.
The UCSB Writing Program, which this year welcomes a new director, Linda Adler-Kassner, is known to almost every UCSB student, because it offers the foundation courses in writing required of all students in the Colleges of Letters and Science and of Engineering. The program offers first-year courses that help students develop a foundation for critical writing, reading and thinking at UCSB, more specialized courses rooted in academic disciplines at the upper-division level, and a highly competitive writing minor in professional writing. This is one of the things that attracted Adler-Kassner, who previously was Director of First-Year Writing and of the University Writing Center at Eastern Michigan University, to UCSB. “Eastern Michigan had a great writing program she says, “and UCSB has a great one too, with the added dimension that it continues throughout a student’s entire college experience and offers the minor in professional writing.”
Professional Writing Minor
The minor in Professional Writing offers students the opportunity to focus on one of three distinct tracks: professional editing; multimedia communication; and business communication. Admission to the program is highly competitive and limited to 25 students per track per year. The experience is considered to be an apprenticeship in the world of professional writing, and includes an internship with local businesses, publications or media companies. Students must complete a final portfolio of documents and projects relevant to their particular track.
Students interested in the Professional Writing minor submit an application in the fall quarter of their senior year, after having completed a series of prerequisite courses. See the Writing Program's website for details.
Students interested in creative writing may enroll in courses taught by the College of Creative Studies
The UCSB Writing Program is staffed by faculty who have a range of training. All have graduate degrees. Some, like Adler-Kassner’s, focus on composition and rhetoric; others are professionals (attorneys, economists, and others) who have had training in the teaching of writing. Once students have completed the Program’s foundation courses (Writing1 and/or 2, Writing 50), they may choose to take courses that focus on writing for different contexts (technical or magazine writing, for example) or writing for various academic and professional disciplines, i.e., the social sciences, humanities, science and technology, health professions, global careers, the visual arts, etc.) The latter are often required for students completing related majors, and prepare students to fulfill an additional writing requirement of 4-6 courses chosen from a variety of disciplines. Says Adler-Kassner, "we want our students to learn about the choices that they as writers need to make in order to succeed in various courses and majors. We want them to learn about what's seen as ‘good writing’ in chemistry and how that's similar to or different from writing in, say, History 17B.” (A complete list of the courses offered by the Writing program is available on its website.)
Teaching students to write in different contexts is one of the main goals of the UCSB Writing Program, according to Adler-Kassner. “UCSB students know a range of things, are interesting people, and have lot of abilities. They know how to write. The explosion in social media means that they write all the time, but using different forms and contexts. We help them to learn what works in different contexts, and to move flexibly between them, so they understand the language used in a text message to a friend might not work well in class.”
In her courses, Adler-Kassner focuses first on helping her students work on developing their ideas, and then polishing their work. “First, say something smart, then make it look good,” is one of her mottos. For 2010-11, she will teach a full course load, including a “linked” section of Academic Writing (Writing 2), one of the foundation courses usually taken by first-year students. In “links” sections, the 25 students enrolled in a Writing 2 section are also enrolled in a large lecture class in another department. Adler-Kassner’s students will be enrolled in a history class taught by Professor John Majewski, The American People (History 17B, where they will study the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Like all sections of Writing 2, in this section students will use writing and reading to analyze the expectations of different audiences and purposes for writing in the university. This class will focus on historical writing, looking at the ways that historians create meaning as they construct historical texts by making conscious decisions about focus, shaping, representation, purpose, and audience. The linked courses are an example of UCSB’s interdisciplinary culture, which encourages faculty and students from different disciplines to work together in creative ways that enhance teaching and research in both disciplines.
Adler-Kassner will also teach two graduate courses, beginning in fall with Academic Research Writing (Writing 251). In this section, graduate students learn to write for audiences outside their disciplines. In the spring quarter, she will teach a course in the graduate course in the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, where she has an affiliated appointment. The class, Writing Program Administration (ED 202H), is for Ph.D. students specializing in language, literacy, and composition studies. It is closely related to Adler-Kassner's own research interests, which focus in part on issues connected with writing assessment, public policy, and strategies for writing instructors and program directors to engage in discussions about writing with audiences on and off their campuses. She is currently President of the Council of Writing Program Administrators, an organization for individuals with an interest in developing and directing postsecondary writing programs. Her most recent book, The Activist WPA: Changing Stories about Writing and Writers, received the Council's 2010 Best Book Award.
Asked about her vision for the UCSB Writing Program, Adler-Kassner says she wants to raise its visibility so that more people - on and off campus - know about its many strengths. As she gets to know the campus and the faculty, she will continue to explore UCSB's interdisciplinary culture and look for new ways of collaborating. “The UCSB Writing Program provides a terrific opportunity for students and faculty alike,” she says. “On the one hand, we have a tremendous faculty dedicated to helping students develop the writing, reading, and critical analysis strategies that will help them succeed in college and beyond. On the other, we have a campus interested in fostering these talents among all students. It’s a win-win.”