Every fall, the WRAC first-year writing team organizes a highly popular symposium that showcases 600-plus students from WRAC's first-year writing classrooms. This year, the symposium will be on Friday, December 1st, from 9:00am to 2:00pm in Bessey Hall in forty-plus rooms. The purpose of the symposium is not just to have students present their work, but also to create generative discussion and dialogue between students and faculty.
Students present their projects (such as posters, web sites, infographics, videos), describe their processes in making them, and tell stories. The symposium typically features over 162 panel and 65 poster presentations. Judging from the surveys completed by the student participants, faculty planners have come to believe that the event serves as the opportunity for cross-cultural understanding, as it celebrates Michigan State University as a vibrant, intercultural learning space. Typical student survey responses include: "It gives me a chance to watch how different students from different countries to show their ideas for one assignment which is interesting," and "It [the conference] gives me a chance to watch different students from different countries to show their ideas." Moreover, the conference's multi-modal emphasis gives participants the opportunity to "see the thoughts of other students," as one student put it; the presentations help surface the variety of student cultures represented at MSU; they make students' cultures visible to other students. As one student put it: "I loved seeing others view on different aspects of culture and seeing the personal touch that people put on their presentations."
The symposium is free, and many people from various MSU departments, units, and organizations—such as the Office for International Students and Scholars, the English Language Center, MSU Libraries, and deans—come for the whole day to engage with the students, presentations, and projects. Many teachers get their classes to either come to the event and present or just attend to see presentations. In turn, teachers benefit too. While program faculty at all levels serve as moderators for the event, and encourage discussion among the participants, they too learn from the experience. As WRAC Ph.D. student Bree Strayer-Gannon put it: "I always get new teaching ideas from coming to the conference, because it's like watching someone else's teaching from the inside." Because participating students are also encouraged to tell stories of how they came to make their products, the conference has a distinctly conversational tone. As the First-Year Writing Program's Assistant Director Joyce Meier remarks, "dialogue is one of the most beneficial parts of the event."
This year, the symposium is organized by a core team of program faculty including Meier, Strayer-Gannon, David Medei, and Cheryl Caesar. This team explains that in recent years, participating students are creating more experiential projects, a positive and welcoming practice. For example, students now include live demonstration (break dancing), dress (for a project involving the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead), and taste testings (for a project that examined coconut products). Deriving from the program's cultural artifact project, these presentations analyzed aspects of community culture-making and knowing. As Dr. Caesar puts it, "the symposium is becoming increasingly multimodal."
The submission deadline for student participation is November 13. But even if you don't submit something, please save the December 1 date to attend, enjoy, and even learn from the stories and presentations of our First-Year Writing students. Teachers interested in participating in the conference as moderators or serving at the event's registration desk may contact Joyce, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
October 20th, 2017