Our definition of the “public” expanded beyond the State College borough for one advanced technical writing class this summer. Students in English 418 composed new engaging handouts and museum placards for the Optical Heritage Museum in Southbridge, Massachusetts. Students encountered complex optical devices and asked:
On July 23rd, a group of English 15 students visited the Penn State Student Farm to explore how writing might bring attention to environmental concerns surrounding food waste, carbon emissions, and the personal choices we make about sustainability.
What did these students conclude?
Together they might compose new tours for Student Farm volunteers that invite farm visitors to think critically about their food choices and the effects those choices have on our environment.
This year, 2019, marks my third year working with the Public Writing Initiative (PWI), but my first year as PWI Coordinator. Initially, I was attracted to PWI through its premise: bringing students to discover the reality of their chosen professions and—most importantly—bringing them in closer contact with their community. What I was not expecting was how much PWI would touch me personally.
As a first-generation college student, I have always worked multiple jobs in order to pursue my undergraduate and master’s degrees. My wide-ranging curiosity resulted in work that extended well beyond my chosen profession (teaching rhetoric and composition). I worked as an ophthalmic technical, a writing tutor, and an event decorator. When I arrived at Penn State and devoted myself—for the first time—exclusively to graduate studies, I quickly realized that something was missing. Those jobs kept me interacting with the public, kept me rooted in my communities. I was missing that connection in State College. Missing it, that is, until I found the Public Writing Initiative.
In my time as a PWI Assistant, I have paired 11 professional speakers with 19 English courses to reach over 500 undergraduate students. Meeting with these members of the community and fellow English instructors proved fruitful beyond their presentations in the classroom. Together we’ve identified two new community partnerships (Mid-State Literacy Council and the Optical Heritage Museum) and recruited five new volunteers to the Guest Speaker Series.
During my term as PWI Coordinator, I have two primary goals. First, I aim to increase the number of commissioned assignments accomplished through our program so that students have more opportunities to see their writing published in the community and experience how that affects people’s lives. Second, I aim to alter the present infrastructure of PWI to make the program a more easily accessible resource for English instructors. For example, many of our guest speakers offer expert advice concerning resume writing and interviewing skills. Such material may be easily recorded and uploaded to our website for open-access viewing. In sum, I hope my time as PWI Coordinator extends the reach of this organization so that it can continue to build bridges from the university to the community for those like me who need and long for them.
For the coming 2019-2020 academic year, PWI also welcomes two new assistants: Miriam Gonzales, a Ph.D. student specializing in queer and feminist theories, contemporary literature, and the environmental humanities, and Layli Miron, a Ph.D. candidate who specializes in rhetorics of immigration and religion. Both have strong activist roots and share a commitment to making every organization of which they are a part better by offering forth the best of their energy, time, and care. This new PWI team is excited to share our vision with you all in the coming year(s)!