Tucked into Sterne Library is one of UAB’s best kept—and most powerful—secrets: the University Writing Center.

By Kathleen Kryger, Shelby Morris, and Nick Reich. Photos by Nik Layman and Shannon Robinson.

Tucked into Sterne Library is one of UAB’s best kept—and most powerful—secrets: the University Writing Center.

Illustration of a hand holding pen, in a powerful fist pose. Staffed by Department of English faculty, including director Dr. Jaclyn Wells, and a slew of professional writing majors, the Writing Center last year offered more than 5,000 tutoring sessions to more than 1,700 students from across the entire campus, including those from the graduate and professional schools. From understanding an assignment for a freshman paper to tweaking a dissertation, the team at the Writing Center offers a vast array of support to all UAB students, ensuring their academic success along the way.

We asked three staff members: Kathleen Kryger, Shelby Morris and Nick Reich to talk about their work and what it’s like to provide so much support to so many students. What follows is their conversation.

Nick: I guess the best way to start a conversation about the University Writing Center would be to talk about what we do as tutors. What kinds of roles do you think we play?

Kathleen: I see my role as constantly changing—some days I feel like a coach helping students discover their individual writing processes or gather their ideas, while other days I feel like a translator enabling students to better understand their assignments. Either way, I try to make the student’s concerns my top priority—my responsibility is to help the students become better writers and self-editors, not necessarily to perfect one piece of writing. Students are often most anxious about their grammar, which is definitely an area where we can support growth, but that’s not all we do. So many students come in for brainstorming and outlining sessions! But being mindful of, and attentive to, students’ expressed goals is what I believe to be the most important part of my role.

Nick: Yeah, while there are definitely times I have to play the grammarian, obsessing over sentence structure and living up to all those notorious English major stereotypes, I prefer to act as more of a facilitator with students. Sometimes students really just need help steering all their knowledge, language skills, and ideas in the right direction. Sometimes, this includes understanding the expectations of specific kinds of writing assignments. I once met with a non-traditionally aged, English-as-a-second-language (ESL) student who wrote beautifully in English. He was working on a literacy narrative for a composition course, constructing this vivid poetic landscape with colorful, fascinating language. Unfortunately, the essay was not really working within the boundaries of the assignment. It became my job, then, to help him figure out how to address the prompt more directly – something he said was not a common approach in his native language – without losing his unique writing voice. That is the type of role I value most. We met several times more and he produced a really great essay.

The University Writing Center at Mervyn H. Sterne Library. Shelby: I totally agree that while we can certainly help students with the details like helping them to proofread or fix citations, we also spend a lot of time on the bigger picture stuff, like helping students make sure they are fulfilling the requirements of their assignments. I would add too that some of the most important and common feedback students need is being told that they are a good writer. A lot of people come in with no idea of how to start or what their assignment is asking of them. Many of my sessions consist of brainstorming paper ideas or directions to take papers in. I know I’ve done my job when a student leaves the center knowing what the assignment is asking of them and with a clear idea in their mind of what they want to write about. Also, we’re not here just to help them with a particular class, but to empower students with the ability to communicate through words. Writing reaches across all disciplines so it’s imperative that they hone these skills to be successful in their area or field.

Kathleen: Writing is definitely a transferable skill. Nick, you just mentioned a non-traditional student. Can you talk about the kinds of diverse students we typically assist at the University Writing Center?

Nick: It may sound like we’re throwing a wide net, but we are here to help any UAB student at any level in any field. Yes, we work with a great number of freshmen. We help them transition from high-school writing to college-level writing. But I have also had shifts of just a couple of hours when I have met with a junior or senior chemistry major working on lab reports, a graduate-level nursing student writing out practice clinicals, and a PhD candidate editing a dissertation in mechanical engineering. Many people don’t realize there is actually a strong emphasis on writing in the sciences, and what we know at the UWC is that writing can be challenging for everyone—not just students who are only beginning their academic careers. Whether you’re a doctoral student or first-year undergrad just getting started, turning profound ideas into coherent, approachable writing is easier said than done. We may not always understand the advanced discipline-specific concepts some students are working on, but we can always help sentence-to-sentence and paragraph-to-paragraph. How about you, Kathleen, have you worked with a lot of upper-level students?

Students in the University Writing Center. Kathleen: I have! It’s always a pleasure. The graduate students who see us at the UWC are especially goal-oriented. I have worked with graduate students on papers for their coursework, but I have also helped with several scholarship, admissions, and conference applications. If these students want to work through multiple drafts of a high-stakes document like a personal statement, it can sometimes take three or four sessions. Graduate students often have a lot at stake—their personal goals are inextricably tied to their writing goals. When writers are deeply invested in their writing, paying attention to their expressed concerns is vital, but so is keeping an eye on other potential issues. Many of the graduate students I’ve worked with are also second-language writers. I love working with second-language writers because they have such rich global experiences and because they remind me that during every session, I can learn as much from students as they learn from me.  

Shelby: I definitely think it’s best when a student can continue to work with the same tutor over the course of an assignment or project. It’s like having a conversation that can be picked up right where it left off. Do you two have a lot of regulars?

Kathleen: I do! And I agree—when we have “regulars,” it’s often easier to provide indications of their progress, which encourages the students so much. The fact is that students who visit the UWC multiple times a semester or even throughout their time at UAB often see that reflecting positively in their growth as writers. We also develop bonds with them that allow us to help them more effectively and efficiently. I see a lot of the same students, and they usually come for reassurance about specific assignment requirements. My goal is for them to leave our sessions feeling confident in their ability to, at the very least, complete their current writing task. I feel like it is important for students to visit often because regular one-on-one sessions are really productive learning environments; as tutors, we can personalize our sessions to focus on each student’s unique literacy needs. Don’t you guys think that’s the case?

I love the UAB Writing Center! I always get very helpful feedback. I wish I would have started using it a lot sooner. It is such a great asset for students! — Student Feedback

Nick: I think so. I feel it’s especially important for students who still learning the language. UAB has a strong ESL population. Our campus is one of the most diverse in this area of the world. The writing center has become a rock for many of these students. They know we will always be there to help with writing problems big and small. I feel the best thing to do when meeting with a student whose first language isn’t English is to keep an open mind – their native language may work quite differently – and encourage return visits. American academic English is not a lingua franca. It’s difficult enough for native English speakers to navigate scholarly genres and especially so for someone who is still learning the language. This is why we go through training and hire specialists – so we can be there to help UAB’s considerably diverse population. Shelby, you’re part of our online tutoring team. I guess the whole point of that system is to cater to UAB students on a national scale – if that’s not too much to say?

A student using a computer in the University Writing Center. Shelby: No, I don’t think that’s too much to say. UAB has many distance programs and online courses, and enrolled students are located all over the country. Online tutoring and E-tutoring allow us to help students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to make an appointment in our physical center in Sterne Library. With online tutoring, I can chat with students in real time, which can be helpful for understanding what they are trying to say; this type of session mimics the conversational nature of our in-person sessions. In E-tutoring, students simply upload a paper for me to comment on, which is another great option that allows me to leave clear and detailed feedback. Plus, because students can download the feedback I write at their convenience, E-tutoring is really convenient for our distance students who work fulltime in addition to going to school. In both kinds of distance tutoring sessions, I can link the student to other online resources, like the research and citation guides from UAB Libraries. I find that’s a really great way of not only helping them with their writing, but also reminding them of all the great resources UAB has to offer. I really love tutoring online because I get to see a range of students from every department, just like during our face-to-face sessions in Sterne; we get English, engineering, and a huge portion of nursing students. And just like with face-to-face sessions, we can help students from the brainstorming stage to the final edits during distance appointments. 

Kathleen: Online and E-tutoring offer great opportunities for distance students to have someone else look at (and discuss) their work. I wonder how many students know about our online options—we do lots of classroom visits here on campus, but we can’t exactly do that for online courses. Shelby, how do you think we could spread the word?          

Shelby: Since we can help with writing from any course, professors from all over campus can recommend our services to their students. Everyone needs feedback on their writing, and nearly every paper will improve with the kind of helpful feedback we provide. I can’t tell you how many students come in surprised that we’ll assist with an engineering essay or a personal statement. While we post signs around campus about us, and we did just get added to the UAB app, it’s during our class visits that we can address concerns students or teachers have regarding our services. The best way to get the word out that we’re here to help with any type of writing assignment is through faculty members. When faculty tell students about us and our services, I think it really helps encourage students to come in for help with their writing.

Kathleen: UAB faculty are instrumental in helping students reach out to us. Nick, since you started teaching in the fall, quite a few of your students have visited the writing center. You must be mentioning the UWC in your classroom all the time. Have you noticed a big difference in the writing of students who use our services?

Nick: Yes, I certainly do talk us up, endlessly. And the difference I see in the writing is extremely validating. Repetitive errors decrease and the students’ writing styles become cleaner and more precise. They address writing assignments more clearly and elaborate on their ideas with more detail and confidence. I’ve never had a student tell me visiting the writing center was not worth it. In fact, a majority of the students who go tell me their visits helped them conquer the anxiety they feel toward writing. Proficiency leads to confidence. We’re here to help students become proficient and confident writers, and we love what we do.


The UWC offers many services to support UAB writers. Our services are open to all UAB students and include: 

  • Face-to-face tutoring: In a session of 30 or 60 minutes, a tutor will sit down with a student and assist at any stage of the writing process.
  • Distance tutoring: Online and distance students can chat with a tutor in real time or upload a paper for feedback.
  • Classroom visits: In 15-minute presentations, tutors introduce the UWC’s services. We generally visit classes, but we are also happy to present during program orientations and other events. 
  • Ask-a-tutor: This email service is perfect for quick questions. Students can expect a response with 24 business hours.

To schedule a face-to-face or distance tutoring appointment, students log onto our online scheduling system with their Blazer ID and password. To schedule a classroom visit, faculty can email our director with the time, location, and preferred day(s) for a visit.


The UWC is directed by Dr. Jaclyn Wells, an assistant professor in the English Department. Tutors are graduate students and adjunct instructors from English. Beginning in fall 2017, we will also have a small group of undergraduate tutors. All tutors receive training in working one-on-one with students on all kinds of writing, and several specialists have additional training in areas like teaching second-language writers and tutoring online. The UWC is also staffed by three undergraduate work-study students who welcome students with a friendly face. 

Writing Center staff. Where can you find and contact us?

Physical Location: Mervyn Sterne Library, Room 175

Phone Number: 205-996-7178

Website: www.uab.edu/writingcenter

Facebook: www.facebook.com/UABWritingCenter

Twitter: www.twitter.com/UABWritingCntr

Ask-a-Tutor (for quick questions): askatutor@uab.edu


The UWC’s usage has grown dramatically over the past several years. From August 2015-July 2016, the UWC: 

  • Held 5,258 tutoring sessions.
  • Assisted students during 3,055 total tutoring hours.
  • Worked with 1,701 unique clients.
  • Helped students from all majors and colleges at UAB.
  • Offered numerous workshops, with 235 attending students.
  • Received “highly satisfied” or “satisfied” from 98% of students who were asked to rate their consultation experience.

This year’s numbers suggest that UWC usage will only continue to grow. The fall 2016 semester, for example, saw an 18% increase in tutoring sessions from fall 2015, as well as a 24% increase in the number of freshman clients. 

  • Fall 2018: Letter from Robert E. Palazzo, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences
    If you haven't been to campus lately, I can't stress enough how different the environment is from what you may remember from your student days.
    posted a while back 254 K2_VIEWS
  • Spring 2018 events in the College of Arts & Sciences

    Catch up with some of the big events sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, from Spring Flings to an exhibit at AEIVA.

    posted a while back 282 K2_VIEWS
  • Award winning: What it takes for students to win major scholarships and awards

    The number of College of Arts and Sciences students who win major national and international scholarships and fellowships grows every year. What does it take to win one of these major prizes?

    posted a while back 776 K2_VIEWS
  • Alumni honored at the 2018 UAB Excellence in Business Top 25 event

    We are proud to announce that eight College of Arts and Sciences alumni were honored as members of the 2018 class of the UAB Excellence in Business Top 25.

    posted a while back 396 K2_VIEWS
  • Understanding Aquaman: The science and philosophy behind the superhero

    With the latest Justice League movie coming to theaters this Christmas, we ask: what does Aquaman represent? And could he really talk to sea creatures?

    posted a while back 425 K2_VIEWS
  • Common threads: The value of interdisciplinary partnerships

    Our university enables faculty to make connections across various disciplines, schools, and centers, and being a part of the College of Arts and Sciences provides my colleagues and me with a broad platform to support this kind of effective interdisciplinary work.

    posted a while back 422 K2_VIEWS
  • The Life-Long Learning Endowed Scholarship Honoring Ruth J. and Robert J. Colvin

    The Life-Long Learning Endowed Scholarship Honoring Ruth J. and Robert J. Colvin has been established in the departments of English and Foreign Languages and Literatures that will support deserving students and relieve them of their financial pressures.

    posted a while back 282 K2_VIEWS
  • Data driven: Computer science meets the biological sciences in the new bioinformatics program

    New degrees in the College prepare students for emerging fields of personalized medicine, advanced manufacturing, and more.

    posted a while back 450 K2_VIEWS
  • Dr. Mike Wilson and Professor Becky Trigg Endowed Award

    Friends, family, colleagues, and admirers of Dr. Michele “Mike” Wilson and Professor Becky Trigg have made generous gifts to create an endowed award in the Department of Sociology.

    posted a while back 287 K2_VIEWS
  • The Henry E. Bates, Jr. Scholarship: A Blazing the Way Scholarship

    Johnny “Rusty” Edward Bates, M.D. has established the Henry E. Bates, Jr. Scholarship in the Department of Mathematics—one of UAB's new Blazing the Way Scholarships.

    posted a while back 272 K2_VIEWS
  • Dr. Larry Krannich Endowed Student Research Scholarship

    The Dr. Larry Krannich Endowed Student Research Scholarship was established to recognize Dr. Krannich's decades of distinguished service to UAB and to provide opportunities for young scientists to gain valuable experience in the research environment.

    posted a while back 354 K2_VIEWS
  • A servant's heart: Social work alumna Jeanne Welch gives back to UAB
    Jeanne Welch never really saw herself as college material. But a desire to help others, and an interest in mental health technology, helped her find her way to UAB.
    posted a while back 370 K2_VIEWS
  • Letter from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences

    While we have any number of outstanding male faculty members, students, and alumni who deserve recognition and are included, by and large this issue is about the women of the College of Arts and Sciences.

    posted a while back 908 K2_VIEWS
  • Events

    Catch up with some of the big events sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, from Homecoming to an exhibit at AEIVA.

    posted a while back 981 K2_VIEWS
  • Building a Legacy

    When UAB broke ground on the new Arts & Sciences Building in September 2017, the excitement was palpable. “There is no doubt that this new building will provide our campus community with a state-of-the-art facility in which they can work and learn,” said Dean Palazzo.

    posted a while back 988 K2_VIEWS
  • AEIVA Receives Significant Gift of Works by David Levinthal

    The Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts (AEIVA) Permanent Art Collection has received a generous donation of a number of works by David Levinthal, one of the most prolific and acclaimed photographers of his generation.

    posted a while back 1102 K2_VIEWS
  • A Legacy of Love

    Jeannie Feldman has established both an award and a scholarship in the Department of History to honor her late husband, Dr. Glenn A. Feldman.

    posted a while back 1111 K2_VIEWS
  • Capturing Success

    Palo Alto Networks' Cyber Competition for High School Students.

    posted a while back 1042 K2_VIEWS
  • Paying it Forward

    Alumna Dr. Ana Maria Crawford has created an endowed scholarship to be used to support deserving students based on merit and financial need.

    posted a while back 1395 K2_VIEWS
  • They Persisted

    Despite complex social, cultural, and professional trends that keep women from academic careers in the sciences and mathematics, a small percentage of female research faculty stay the course.

    posted a while back 3030 K2_VIEWS
  • Taking a Leap

    Psychology and Public Administration alumna Ann Bridges Steely says her biggest career risks brought the greatest rewards.

    posted a while back 982 K2_VIEWS
  • Stellar

    Physics alumna Christina Richey has built a successful career in the competitive, and mostly-male, field of planetary science.

    posted a while back 1923 K2_VIEWS
  • Across the Spectrum

    Four female faculty members in the Department of Psychology study and treat Autism Spectrum Disorder.

    posted a while back 7071 K2_VIEWS
  • Everyone has a story

    “How did you end up in Alabama?” I get that question a lot, both here and abroad. I suspect that every immigrant is frequently asked the same question out of genuine curiosity, maybe interest.

    posted a while back 1578 K2_VIEWS
  • Letter from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Our fall semester is in full swing and the momentum is building in the College and across the university.
    posted a while back 1919 K2_VIEWS
  • Finishing Strong

    We finished the academic year with a major exhibition at the Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts and celebrated another joyful, thrilling commencement ceremony, at which more than 2,000 UAB students graduated.

    posted a while back 1825 K2_VIEWS
  • College Alumni Community

    Our former graduates have had a great year of events and celebrations, all organized by our Alumni Board led by president Wes Calhoun. 

    posted a while back 2043 K2_VIEWS
  • Faculty Receive University Awards

    Renato Camata, Roger Gilchrist, Samiksha Raut, and Nitesh Saxena were all recognized this year for their excellence in teaching, mentorship and advising.

    posted a while back 2438 K2_VIEWS
  • New Chairs, New Faculty Join the College

    This fall, we welcomed several new faculty members, a new chair for the Department of Sociology, and three interim chairs. We are proud to have all of them in leadership and academic positions and are excited to see what they accomplish at UAB.

    posted a while back 2913 K2_VIEWS
  • Nine Departments Welcome New Faculty Members

    This fall, new faculty members join the Department of Communication Studies, the Department of Computer Science, the Department of Criminal Justice, the Department of English, the Department of Music, the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Social Work, the Department of Sociology, and the Department of Theatre.

    posted a while back 2826 K2_VIEWS
  • New Degrees, New Department Names

    At recent Board of Trustees meetings, two new degrees and two new department names were approved.

    posted a while back 2273 K2_VIEWS
  • New Building Groundbreaking

    Dean Palazzo, along with President Ray Watts and Provost Pam Benoit, joined several invited guests to celebrate the groundbreaking for our new arts and sciences academic building on Tuesday, September 19, 2017.

    posted a while back 2453 K2_VIEWS
  • Remarkable Generosity

    Donors establish five new endowments in the College—the most ever received in one year.

    posted a while back 2255 K2_VIEWS
  • Personal History

    Love and learning are the two recurring themes of Sol and Rita Kimerling’s incredible story.

    posted a while back 3419 K2_VIEWS
  • Strike Up the Band!

    Under the leadership of new director of bands Dr. Sean Murray, the marching blazers are ready to retake the field this fall.

    posted a while back 4050 K2_VIEWS
  • Risk Takers

    From changing majors to changing sports, these former football players, cheerleaders, majorettes, and Blazerettes stepped outside their comfort zones and transformed their student experiences–and future careers.

    posted a while back 7012 K2_VIEWS
  • Just This Once, A little Health Advice

    Am I the only one who feels bombarded by unwanted health advice? You can’t open a newspaper (remember those?), a magazine, the internet, or turn on the television without stumbling across someone dispensing tips for living a longer, healthier life.

    posted a while back 2244 K2_VIEWS
  • Message from the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences
    Right now is such an exciting time on campus, and not just because the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing. With the approval of our new Arts & Sciences building, scheduled to be open in Fall 2019, we are embarking on an exciting journey to construct a stunning space for our faculty and students.
    posted a while back 4600 K2_VIEWS