Effective communication skills are fundamental to competent functioning across the undergraduate curriculum and in life beyond graduation. Improving writing skills contributes directly to the development of other communication competencies, including reading and public speaking. 

The newly opened University Writing Center (UWC), located on the renovated first floor of Sterne Library, is a key resource faculty may use to help their students become more proficient writers and effective communicators.

“Writing is crucial to critical thinking, effective problem-solving and communicating knowledge,” says Marilyn Kurata, Ph.D., director of Core Curriculum Enhancement. “The ability to write effectively is a key skill that contributes to professional advancement, successful personal relationships and responsible civic involvement.” 

Nichole Griffith, Ph.D., assistant professor of English and interim director of the UWC, says the ability to write clearly, concisely and convincingly is a key component to the future success of students — both in academia and as professionals. Griffith believes this so much she often challenges her freshman and sophomore English students to find a career in which they don’t have to be competent writers.

“Nobody really has come up with a profession where I couldn’t tell them why they needed to be able to control their presentation on the page,” Griffith says.

Griffith aims to develop instructional workshops for faculty and students that best meet their needs. In addition, tutors will be available in the UWC for 20 hours per week this semester to help students or faculty in one-on-one or group settings.

This semester, the UWC will be open:
• Monday 11:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
• Tuesday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
• Wednesday 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
• Thursday 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

When completed, the UWC will have more than 12 work stations with desktop computers for individual tutoring, three small conference rooms with large-screen television monitors that can accommodate up to six people and a classroom that seats more than 40 people that can be used for faculty development or writing workshops.

Examples of workshops for students are citation or writing-process workshops that examine introductions, conclusions, coherence and using sources.

Griffith says the possibilities for faculty workshops are many. She wants to learn from faculty the areas in which they desire help or any interests they want to explore.

“I’m going to go talk to different writing instructors in the disciplines and ask them what they need,” Griffith says. “We’re soliciting ideas for what we can do with the combination of small conference rooms, private tutoring and classroom space, including faculty and student development. My job is to find out what faculty want, not tell them what to do. They know where they need support.”

Part of QEP
The UWC was established as part of the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), which sets goals for student learning and outlines steps the university will take to reach them. A Writing Committee comprising mostly faculty has taken a leadership role in identifying effective means to integrate writing into the classroom. Sixty-five courses have been approved as writing-designated courses.

Griffith hopes faculty will view the UWC as a resource as they develop their course changes to reflect the new writing component.

“There might be a biology course, just for example, that is now a writing-designated course, and they’ve been asked to put in a day on working on introductions or a day working on paragraph coherence,” Griffith says. “We can do some of those things for faculty if they’re unsure how to do it or want to improve their teaching of any part of the writing process.

“The task of this center is to highlight the importance of good writing and to improve writing across the disciplines,” she adds.

The UWC will not replace the English Resource Center (ERC), located in Room 224 of the Humanities Building. The ERC will continue to focus on helping developmental English students and students in sophomore English courses.

“We’re going to complement each other,” Griffith says.

No task too large or small
Griffith hopes all professors will inform their students the UWC is available to help with any writing task, including application documents for nursing, business and medical schools, working plans for semester-long projects or help with generating ideas.

“People might not think to come to the writing center for help on their school application documents or a project they will need to complete during the course of a semester,” Griffith says. “No writing task is too small or too large for us. And, hopefully, with this great location on the first floor of Sterne Library there will be plenty of organic moments when students look up and see the writing center and say, ‘Wow, I’m in the middle of this and don’t know what to do with it. Let me walk over and ask for help.’ That’s why we put the UWC in the library.”

To discuss your ideas or needs with Griffith, contact her at nicholeg@uab.edu or 996-7178.