Hello, everyone! Having participated as a leader in the first Writing Center Summer Institute here at Madison in 2003, I’m really excited to return to where it all began. As was the case for probably many of us, my introduction to writing centers came when I was an undergraduate English tutor at a small liberal arts college in mid-Michigan. My tutoring work was part of a service learning requirement, and I was assigned to work one-on-one with a handful of people who I was simply told were “struggling developmental writers.” Those three words served as the only “training” for the work I was about to do, and I had no idea what the term “developmental” meant in this context, only that it sounded somehow derogatory, as if these students were in an earlier stage of evolution than the rest of us. But I wasn’t concerned. I was an English major, after all, and I figured this meant I was a fairly decent writer. I knew not to fix the students’ papers for them, but I thought tutoring would be easy, and that I could rely on the next best (or worst) thing: Just telling them how to fix their papers, themselves. I learned a lot over the coming weeks about the complexities of tutoring and the tutoring relationship, and it sparked my interest in doing some research in the area. This was in 1990, when there wasn’t nearly as much writing center literature available as there is today, but I did uncover the term “writing center” in a good deal of what I was reading; I also began to understand the difference between a “tutor” (which is exactly what I was) and a “coach” or a “consultant.” By the time I graduated the following year, I had worked with a faculty member in the English department to help write a proposal for developing a writing center. Whenever I get a chance to visit my alma matter, I always make it a point to stop into the college’s writing center, which is now housed comfortably in the library.
Eighteen years later, I still feel my interest in writing centers is a genuine one. I feel, as I did then, that writing centers are a necessary part of an institution that cares about student writing and supporting student writing. Working in a writing center has, therefore, never felt like a “job” to me. Even when I’ve felt we didn’t have enough staff or space or other resources, it has felt like a privilege for me to be part of something so central to student success. I feel it is also a privilege to be a part of this year’s summer institute—to be one of many voices from around the world to participate in what promises to be a rich and useful conversation about how we do the work we love.