“We don’t have a culture of writing on this campus,” says Drake University’s Director of the Writing Workshop Jody Swilky.
This belief led the English professor to take over the university’s writing program 10 years ago, where he and his group of hand-selected tutors oversee the writings of Drake undergraduates, graduates and even faculty. Since taking over, Swilky has increased the number of tutors and tutees involved in the workshop and has said to be doing ‘four times the amount” of the program’s original workload.
The Writing Workshop opened on Sept. 7. Swilky hopes to see the program’s success continue and for attendance numbers to increase, despite the difficulties imposed by COVID-19.
“We came back last semester after spring break, and we went online then,” Swilky said. “Fortunately, that was a very good thing for me to do because my tutors got to be trained in-person and online in one semester.”
Senior Allyn Benkowich has been working at the Writing Workshop as a tutor since the fall of her junior year, so she witnessed the program’s early struggles with the pandemic.
“Once we went online, I think we died down even more because people didn’t know how to do it. People didn’t know how to sign up,” Benkowich said. “You couldn’t just find a link online anywhere. You had to reach out and sign up for something like that.”
Now, the Writing Workshop can be found with a simple Google search of the program’s name. First-year Ella Schulte, who was required to set up an appointment for her first-year seminar class, enjoyed the simplicity of setting up her appointment.
“It already has all your classes in the system. You just hit submit and get an email right away,” Schulte said. “The tutor I was with touched base a couple days prior with the Zoom link. It was super easy.”
In-person or not, Swilky tells his tutors to act as the “buffer zone” for their tutees.
“You’re the place where your service is for free. How many things on this campus are for free?” Swilky said. “And secondly, you’re not grading them, so you’re on their side. You’re trying to help them do a better job.”
Benkowich elaborated on the program’s methods.
“Making it feel like more of a conversation is going to make them feel more comfortable with you talking about their writing,” Benkowich said. “We are here to encourage them, and we are here to work on some things they can improve on.”
Schulte appreciated the feedback she got from her first writing appointment.
“I think it’s good to have someone else’s perspective on your writing,” Schulte said. “When you get into your own style, having an outside perspective on your flow, aside from your professor, is really helpful.”
Swilky believes the work he and the tutors are doing is important.
“I think the fundamentals of a college education and not a vocational education is reading, writing and research,” Swilky said. “I think we are contributing to improving that on campus, so I think it is honorable and it has an impact.”
Benkowich recalled how vital the Writing Workshop was to her first year as a Drake student.
“I went to the same tutor for most of my papers because I felt like I really learned a lot from her,” Benkowich said. “Some might be afraid of a lot of markups on papers, but for me that was really helpful.”
As a student at Drake’s journalism school, Schulte plans to use the workshop for future writing assignments.
“It ended up being really beneficial,” Schulte said. “It alleviates the pressure of having to know what your grade is and instead focuses on working out the paper’s kinks.”
To schedule an appointment, visit https://library.drake.edu/writing-workshop/.