The annual First Year Writing Conference was held in Bessey Hall from 9:00am-3:00pm on Friday, April 24th, 2015.
This conference, now in its fourth year, has seen a vast increase in student participation in the form of both presentations and attendance. This year the First Year Writing Conference held five sessions with eight presentations per session and, according to First Year Writing Director Joyce Meier, there were over 100 undergraduates involved in the conference. The line to sign in was down the hall and each classroom, where the presentations were held, was packed. Meier explained, “When we did the first one, we only had 50 or 60 participants. We have tripled or quadrupled in size. We have many more participants now and we want to keep growing.”
Meier said, “It is so affirming and validating for our own students to be able to share what they do with other people. They’re so proud! They have been rehearsing all week, they have been practicing all week, they’ve been in our classes, doing presentation for us, they’ve all been critiquing each other.” Meijer added, “I’m so proud of my students who are participating and all the students I see here and my teachers who have been so welcoming and supportive of making this event happen.”
Celebrating and giving First Year Writing students’ the opportunity to practice and get professional experience by sharing their products and the things they’ve made with another audience is only one of the purposes of the First Year Writing Conference according to Meier. The other purpose of the conference involves opening a conversation with high school teachers and students.
“They start the day doing a cultural artifact query, which is part of our curriculum, so they learn a little bit about how we teach First Year Writing. Then they attend a couple of the panels to see how our students make some of that initial work into products. Then there is a Q&A session with college students. We separate this out so that college students with college and high school teachers with high school students. After the Q&A over lunch, the final thing they do is have another session that a couple of our instructors will run which will give them a sense of how we do online peer review and reflection here. They both taste the curriculum and they get a sense of what are students doing in college. A lot of it is providing spaces then for high school teachers and their students to talk with our students and our faculty about First Year Writing.”
Meier added, “It’s great to dialogue with high school teachers and students. To talk with them about what they’re expectations are about First Year Writing and what they think it might be and how it might be different than what they expect or similar. It kind of makes a welcoming space for them.”
Professional Writing Junior, Becca Rohde, worked closely with Meijer to redesign flyers, pamphlets, create a promo video for the WRAC website and “We got surveys last year that she had me go through and organize to understand what people got from the conference last year, what they liked, what they didn’t like, to hopefully make it better this year. More cohesive.” Rohde continued on to add, “I’ve also been researching First Year Writing Programs at different universities in Michigan to compare them to ours. I’m hoping to do a research project or maybe even an article about it.”
One thing Rohde found in her research was, of course we have to pick on our rivals, that the University of Michigan’s First Year Writing Program is focused solely on academic writing. They teach their students just enough to get them through college (i.e crafting the perfect essay). However, how often do people write academic essays in the workforce today? Outside of the academia field, very few. Yet, Rohde found this was a very typical First Year Writing program among different universities. “The other First Year Writing Programs I looked at solely taught students the kind of writing they need to get through college. They weren’t trying to expand writing horizons like what we are trying to do here by showing different avenues of writing,” said Rohde. When she compared these programs she found a huge difference. “We have so many powerful adjectives on our website and the way we talk about writing is so different and it was really cool to look at.” Rohde added, “Our first year writing program is geared toward teaching, showing and making sure our students understand that there is more to writing than the stereotypical college essay. They basically say ‘Yes, here is what you are writing now but here is how you can transform it into all the cool different things’.”
When asked what she would want conference attendees to leave with, Rohde explained passionately, “I want them to come away with the knowledge of all that Michigan State has to offer when it comes to writing and editing. I feel, for me, that that was especially important for me to get across because I came here for the business college. My parents wanted me to go here for the business college, to do the whole business thing and be that person and I tried to be that person but it wasn’t me. Finding this program and finding the people who I now surround myself with was like huge and awesome. The fact that I can still do it here and feel like I am accomplishing something is 100%. I wanted high school students who come in to know that ‘Hey, if you like writing, it’s not a waste of a major. Do this’. You know what I mean? Because I feel like that is how everybody thinks.”
Many people share the same story of stumbling upon MSU’s writing programs and being so happy they did. I am one of them. My entire life, I loved to write. My mom tells me frequently about all the stories I wrote as a child. However, high school taught me that the only career for a writer was as an author and unless I was a young Toni Morrison or Jane Austen then I had no chance of making a living writing. They said that writing could always be a part of my life, but only as a side hobby. If I made it one day, by sheer luck, then just maybe I could make a career out of it. However, until that day, they recommended I work in the stable science and healthcare industries. I trained to become a histotechnologist for three years and began MSU on the Genetics and Molecular Genomics track. I felt empty. I lost my passion for the fields long ago. I was lost and was afraid to let go of the security blanket of a guaranteed job when I graduated. It took a life changing email from one of my IAH professors recommending I look into MSU’s writing programs for me to take a new look at my lost passion for writing. I have been loving my majors and my life since. Thanks to MSU’s amazing writing programs, I am now able to pursue my passion for writing.
The First Year Writing Conference could serve as some high school student’s IAH professor. This conference gives First Year Writing students the opportunity to show college and high school students alike that the world of writing is so much more than crafting the perfect academic essay. That they can be authors, film script writers, technical writers, writers for public relations and marketing higher ups (someone has to write their speeches and press releases), freelancers, and so much more. We just need to get the word out about this amazing writing program here at MSU for all of these reasons and that is why we have the First Year Writing Conference.
Next year’s First Year Writing Conference will be held April 2016. However, it’s never too early to begin preparing! To volunteer or learn more about the conference check out the WRAC website or contact First Year Writing Director, Julie Lindquist (firstname.lastname@example.org).