2015 Newsletter

Traveling to Detroit to learn more about public art, and writing an analytical paper about the experience; producing a Capstone project that integrates images with written texts; writing about the Lewis structures in an introductory chemistry class—these are just some of the ways that Sweetland helps students push beyond traditional boundaries with their writing. Research shows that writing facilitates learning, and by incorporating writing into a variety of contexts, we help students toward deeper learning.

One area where writing has typically not played much of a role is in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses. Thanks to a large grant from the National Science Foundation (Sweetland may be the only Center for Writing to have received a grant from NSF), we will be able to deepen our understanding of how writing and learning interact for students in STEM courses. Two other grants, one from the U-M’s Transforming Learning for a Third Century initiative and one via John Sweetland will enable us to institutionalize processes that aid student learning.

In addition to its ongoing research projects, Sweetland continues to make curricular innovations. We have added another course for our multilingual and international students. We have created a hybrid course that merges online and face-to-face classes for graduate student instructors. We have modified the course structure for our Peer Writing Consultants, and we have created many new resources for faculty.

As part of our effort to make writing more and more visible on campus, we continue our celebration of the National Day on Writing, our Word2: Writer to Writer series, and our prizes for first-year and upper-division students in writing classes. The work that appears in our annual publications of prize-winning student writing is indeed impressive, and many instructors use some of these student essays as models in their classes.

More details about these projects and several others appear in the following pages. All of this is made possible by Sweetland’s award-winning faculty and staff, who work together to help students at all levels become better writers.

Taking Two First-Year Writing Classes to Detroit

They’d come forty-five miles to stand in the cold in front of a wall. They’d been up since way too early on a Saturday morning. For almost an hour they’d stood listening to a stranger carry on about this wall, and other walls like it, about his thirty-year history with walls and aerosols. These thirty-odd students had to be freezing by now. Their instructors watched for them to lose interest or patience. But then another student piped up with a question, and the speaker launched into a new story, and they all leaned in to listen.


Two Sweetland instructors, Scott Beal and T Hetzel, had loaded their two sections of LHSP 125: College Writing onto a bus and brought them to Detroit’s Eastern Market. Their guest speaker was Fel3000ft, a legendary Detroit graffiti writer who had labored for eight days to complete his newest piece, this vibrant mural on the façade of the Motor City Produce building. Students and instructors alike gawked at his two-story-high woman sprouting feathers and gears as she tugged at the laces of a live heart. Fel3000ft explained how the image represented the city’s indomitable spirit. They would find this theme repeated throughout their day-long exploration of the city’s thriving arts culture: in graffiti spread throughout the Eastern Market and the Dequindre Cut; in the Detroit Industry murals by Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts; in glimpses of Tyree Guyton out making adjustments to the Heidelberg Project despite the afternoon rain.


Bringing students to Detroit struck Beal and Hetzel as a natural fit for their classes. Both of their sections of LHSP 125 have themes that revolve around seeing, and focus heavily on the intersections between writing, place, imagery, and identity. The visit with Fel3000ft began an ambitious itinerary, which included miles of walking, two guest speakers, and at least a half-dozen stops. The trip was made possible by funding from the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program as well as a Course Connections grant from Arts at Michigan.

These students’ experience in Detroit brought them face-to-face with unique and world-class works of art, and highlighted the crucial intersections between arts and communities. Beal and Hetzel hope that an expanded understanding of the possibilities of art in public space can inform the students’ citizenship in the artistic community of the Lloyd Hall Scholars Program and the larger academic community of the University of Michigan. They also expect it to inform the analytical essays students are required to write based on their observations during the trip.

Academic writing should challenge a reader’s vision. Whether it is a scientific article, a policy proposal, or a piece of creative non-fiction, reading it should extend our seeing beyond the current edge of our sight. A trip to Detroit can challenge students’ own preconceptions – about the city, about graffiti, about what Tyree Guyton describes as art’s potential as “medicine” for a community.

Opportunities to take students beyond the confines of the University into different contexts serves to make them wiser citizens and more thoughtful writers. Perhaps the best evidence of this is the questions the students kept asking of Fel3000ft, long after their scheduled time with the artist was up, and the questions they continue to address in the wake of the trip.

(L) Tyree Guyton's People's House (R) Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry (North Wall)
(L) Tyree Guyton’s People’s House, (R) Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry (North Wall)

Learning from Transfer Students

On the national level more than one-third of all college students transfer at least once, and many transfer more than once. While the transfer student population remains relatively low at the University of Michigan, our transfer students still deserve attention and support. For several years Sweetland has been conducting research and making programmatic changes designed to support transfer student writers. Of course, a number of transfer students make the transition to U-M very easily, but our research shows that others face challenges including adjusting to the increased workload, negotiating instructional differences, understanding faculty expectations, negotiating peer relationships, and identifying resources that can aid in their transition to U-M.


Writing 350, a course designed to support transfer students in courses that meet the Upper-Level Writing Requirement, has received considerable praise from students who say that it helped them understand and respond to expectations for their writing. The Transfer Directed Self-Placement process provides students with an understanding of what ULWR courses require at the same time that it introduces them to the resources that Sweetland offers, such as Writing Workshop and the Peer Writing Consultant Program.

We will continue our research in order to learn more about the experiences of transfer student writers. This, in turn, will enable us to adjust our courses and other resources because we believe that the institution needs to make adjustments just as transfer students do. That is, we believe that U-M and its transfer students should engage in a process of mutual adjustments.

New Sweetland Resources for International Students — and Their Instructors

Encouragements are really important. ‘Cause for people who first come here it’s obviously a big shock and everyone speaking English is a little bit overwhelming.

[W]e really want to write the assignment well, that’s the thing we really wish that they could help us.

These are just a couple of the suggestions to be found in a new Sweetland video, “Students Speak: What Multilingual Students Wish Their Professors Knew.” It is one of three new videos focusing on the experiences of multilingual and international students at U-M created by Sweetland’s summer interns Kaitlyn Schuler and Jamie Monville. The other two videos offer advice from returning international students to new ones on campus about ways of making their transition smoother, and about the ways that Sweetland services have been helpful to them and given them greater confidence in their writing.

Now in its third year of supporting U-M’s international and multilingual undergraduate students, Sweetland continues to develop courses and resources to reach these students and the many instructors who work with them in their classes. The videos are one way to reach out, peer to peer, and another is Sweetland’s “Chat Cafés,” casual conversation groups that bring international and multilingual students together to practice speaking English and share tips and ideas about U-M and life in the U.S. (The Chat Cafés were recently profiled in LSA Magazine.)

One of fourteen Chat Cafe groups that meet on campus. Photo credit: Natalie Condon

Sweetland faculty have also been busy creating new courses to support international and multilingual students. The most recent addition is Writing 119: Style and Editing for International Students, a one-credit course that helps students practice the “stylistic elements commonly found in American academic writing” (from the course description) by workshopping and revising papers they are already writing in other classes. Writing 119 is being offered for the first time in fall 2015, and will be taught each semester.

To view all of the courses and resources available to international and multilingual undergraduate students, please see Sweetland’s International Student Support page. And, in the words of third-year student Shiyuan Yin, don’t forget that, “Your opinions matter more than your accent, so definitely speak up for yourself!”

Science Writing Leaps Forward

For several years Sweetland has been working with subgroups of students from large-enrollment introductory chemistry and physics courses to make writing-to-learn pedagogies part of instruction. The goal of this work is to enhance student learning and increase retention in STEM courses. Last year we began using an automated peer review system where students submit essays, respond to those of others, and then revise based on the feedback they receive. We found that student evaluations parallel those of expert readers, and the automation feature makes it possible to incorporate writing into large courses where instructors would not be able to read several hundred papers.

A large grant from the National Science Foundation recently received by Ginger Shultz of the Chemistry Department and Anne Gere, Director of Sweetland, will make it possible for us to begin implementing writing-to-learn pedagogies in introductory biology, chemistry, physics, and statistics classes. This five-year project will enable us to work with colleagues from Duke University and the University of Minnesota, where similar implementations will be carried out. We will meet regularly with Duke and U of MN colleagues to discuss methods, share data, and learn from one another’s experiences. Our collaborative project will begin with surveying STEM faculty across the country to learn more about how writing is currently being incorporated into instruction.

Photo credit: Natalie Condon

In addition, Gere and Shultz have received a large grant from the University’s “Transforming Learning for A Third Century” initiative which will enable Sweetland to lay the groundwork for a sustainable program that integrates writing into multiple large-enrollment introductory courses in LSA and Engineering. We look forward to establishing a Writing Fellows Program, developing systematics ways of employing automated peer review, and using the technologies of natural language processing to provide instructors and students with useful information drawn from student writing.

Thanks to the intercessions of John Sweetland, the Center’s benefactor, we have also received a grant from Robert Day of the Keck Foundation to collaborate with the University of Southern California on using writing-to-learn pedagogies in organic chemistry. The goal here will be to develop and test the efficacy of these pedagogies in two different contexts to find out how variation in the specific curriculum as well as in instructors and students influences implementation of similar writing-to-learn pedagogies.

These opportunities to incorporate writing into a number of STEM courses are made more exciting by the fact that Larissa Sano has joined the Sweetland faculty. With her background as a scientist, Larissa will be very helpful in providing resources to faculty interested in including more writing in their classes, and she will also be able to work with students so that our Peer Writing Consultants can provide greater support to undergraduates in STEM courses.

Introducing a New Faculty Member

larissa-01_640x1096Larissa Sano joined the Sweetland faculty as a Science Writing Specialist, with diverse experience in teaching and writing about science. Larissa earned her Ph.D. in Resource Ecology from UM-SNRE, her M.S. in Marine Resources from Oregon State University, and her B.A. in Human Biology from Stanford University.

Prior to becoming part of the Sweetland faculty, Larissa was a researcher at U-M, where she investigated human impacts on freshwater ecosystems. She has broad experience in science writing, including publishing peer-reviewed articles, developing funded proposals, and writing persuasive pieces for a general audience. Larissa developed her pedagogy of science writing while teaching writing-intensive undergraduate and graduate courses at Eastern Michigan University.

At Sweetland, Larissa is focused on helping students develop skills in writing about the sciences. In Writing 400, for example, she requires students to complete informal and formal writing assignments, to receive and give feedback, and to actively revise and improve their work. Her pedagogical approach emphasizes both the technical elements and central principles of effective science writing. Larissa currently prioritizes teaching students about traditional scientific writing genres such as journal articles and literature reviews. She plans to augment her courses by adding units that teach students to write to a broader audience, including through social media.

In the future, Larissa envisions expanding science-writing opportunities for U-M students. In this regard, one of her top priorities is to engage with faculty to explore possibilities for integrating writing into their curriculum. She hopes that these efforts will lead to improved student experiences and outcomes in the sciences.

Lloyd Hall Scholars Program

In October, the LHSP community attended the UMS production of Antigone, by Sophokles, translated by Anne Carson, marking a partnership with UMS begun by director-on-leave Carol Tell and continued by interim director, Paul Barron. Later in the year, students will attend improv and creative writing workshops with playwright Rob Drummond, and dance workshops with renowned dancer and choreographer Kyle Abraham.

Fall semester also features writer and activist Max S. Gordon, and trips by classes to Grand Rapids Art Prize (Mark Tucker) and to the gallery and street art of Detroit (Scott Beal and T Hetzel). In the newly defined role of Community Artist, filmmaker Donald Harrison will engage the community by setting up a drop-in “greemaxn screen” for students to compose imaginative clips, a camera and lighting set up to capture thirty-second interview selfies, and film takeovers of LHSP social media.

LHSP at Art Prize

This year LHSP has initiated new campus partnerships. Two groups of students will be trained at Wolverine Press in typesetting and printing short poems and works in prose. Students from the Center for Engaged Academic Learning will conduct focus groups in LHSP to gauge the impact of arts and writing programming. And Barron is working with students via the M is 4 U Spotlight at the Detroit Center, in an effort to encourage applications from underrepresented minority students and students from under resourced high schools. Adapted from “Coffee with Carol,” “Pastries with Paul” is a weekly fireside chat with relaxed conversation, baked goods, and occasional hilarity.

Pastries with Paul
Pastries with Paul

Peer Writing Consultant Program

Fall 2015 consultants prepare for opening

This fall, Sweetland faculty member Christine Modey became the new Faculty Director of the Peer Writing Consultant Program. In addition, Michael Zakalik joined the staff as the new Program Coordinator. The program attracts a strong pool of applicants who consistently demonstrate excellent writing skills and commitment to collaborating with others to improve their writing. This fall, having completed Writing 300: Seminar in Peer Writing Consultation, twenty-four new peer writing consultants began their work in the Angell Hall Peer Writing Center and the satellite locations across campus.

PWC-web5One key satellite is the North Campus location. Previously located in a study room on the lower level of the Duderstadt Center, the satellite has relocated to the Mujo Café, increasing its visibility to students. This “pop-up” center is open for walk-in consultations on Sundays through Wednesdays from 7 to 10 p.m.

To equip our consultants to work with diverse students and varied projects, a team of Sweetland faculty (Christine Modey, Lori Randall, Larissa Sano, Simone Sessolo, and Naomi Silver) developed a series of mini-courses this summer. These mini-courses, when approved, will address important and complex writing topics that concern our consultants: scientific writing, professional writing, working on multimodal projects, and working with multilingual writers. These courses nicely balance theory with practical application to writing and writing consultations. They have also been crafted with a broad audience in mind, so that even those who are not writing consultants but who may be education majors, scientists, or job seekers can enroll and be enriched by the subject matter. Eventually, the course content will be available in self-guided, online modules as well, for consultants who want additional training in specific topics, such as tutoring personal statements or designing scientific posters.

Christine Modey presented a paper about the development of these mini-courses and their role in consultant training at the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing, in Salt Lake City on November 5-8, 2015. In addition, she and consultant Aaron Pelo presented a roundtable about an end-of-term survey they designed and piloted in Winter 2015. Consultant Allyson Wright also presented her paper, entitled “We Contain Multitudes: Postmodernism and Empathy in Writing Center Practice,” at the conference.

For several years, Sweetland and Skyline High School’s writing center have enjoyed a collaborative relationship. Jeffrey Austin, Skyline’s writing center director and a former Sweetland peer writing consultant, traveled to Pittsburgh with Modey to speak about this collaboration at the International Writing Centers Association, October 8-11, 2015. They took with them former Sweetland consultant Andy Peters (now Austin’s student teacher at Skyline) and Skyline peer tutor Ella Horwedel.

In February, Sweetland will cohost the first University of Michigan Peer Tutor Summit with the Science Learning Center and the Comprehensive Studies Program. This half-day workshop will invite peer tutors from across campus to get acquainted and to discuss tutoring, including how to conduct inclusive tutoring sessions and how to cultivate a growth mindset. We hope this will be a powerful and exciting cross-disciplinary experience for Michigan peer tutors.

Introducing a New Staff Member

Zak_webMichael Zakalik earned his BA in History from the University of Michigan, receiving a Pipe Dream Scholarship for students of Polish heritage. While earning his degree, Michael took advantage of Michigan’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) and spent his days working on a research farm. He parlayed that experience into a stint researching geladas (a primate species similar to baboons) in the mountains of Ethiopia. After having worked for Michigan on a farm and on a mountain, Michael is very happy to be working for the University in an office behind a desk.

Before joining Sweetland as the Undergraduate Program Coordinator in September, Michael made a career in the once-burgeoning Michigan film industry. He worked on such films as “Red Dawn,” “Scream 4,” “The Five Year Engagement,” and most recently on the upcoming “Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice” as a department coordinator.

Outside of work, Michael is an avid reader, middling tabletop gamer, and novice birder. You can often find him walking around town, exploring the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, or frequenting one of Ann Arbor’s many great public libraries.

Writing Prize Winners

Thanks to a very generous gift from the Granader Family, Sweetland’s prizes for outstanding writing in First-Year and Upper-Level Writing Requirement courses receive a significant monetary award along with having their work published in a series that collects the prize-winning writing in two volumes, Excellence in First-Year Writing and Excellence in Upper-Level Writing. Writing Prize winners were recognized at a ceremony in April 2015.

First-Year Writing Prizes

Matt Kelley/Granader Family Prize for Excellence in First-Year Writing

Anna Silver “The Force of Violence; The Power of Forgiveness” nominated by Carrie Wood, Great Books 191

Ardie Kamran “Keep Walking, Just Don’t Cry!” nominated by Scott Beal, LHSP 125

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Multilingual Writing

Xiaoman Gan “Socializing is Not an Easy Thing” nominated by Scott Beal, Writing 120

Ziyan Yang “The Power of Attitude in Comparative Advertising” nominated by Lori Randall, Writing 120

Granader Family Prize for Outstanding Writing Portfolio

Akemi Tsutsumi “Akemi Tsutsumi’s E-Portfolio” nominated by Gina Brandolino, Writing 100

Kate Vogel “Kate’s Collection” nominated by Jennifer Metsker, Writing 100

First-Year Writing Prizebook (pdf) | Amazon

Upper-Level Writing Prizes

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Sciences)

Anna Clinger “Tracking Seasonal Evolution of Subglacial Transport System at the Lemon Creek Glacier, Alaska, USA” nominated Sarah Aciego, Earth 442: Earth Surface Processes and Soils

Katherine Dougan “Effect of variable reproductive output and connectivity on populations of a host fish and its bacterial symbiont, with implications for future climate change” nominated by Ingrid Hendy, Earth 333: The Inexhaustible Seas? Marine Resources and Environmental Issues

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Social Sciences)

Grace Judge “Detroit Bankruptcy and Redistribution” nominated by Mika LaVaque-Manty, PolSci 381: Political Science Research Design

Erica Mirabitur “Sense and Sensitivity: Theories and Empirics of Inflation Aversion at the Populace Level” nominated by Robert Franzese, PolSci 343: Comparative Political Economy of Developed Democracies

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (Humanities)

Katherine Koziara “President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address” nominated by Shelley Manis, Writing 420: Minor in Writing Capstone

Teresa Mathew “Pulling Off Desire” nominated by John Rubadeau, English 425: The Art of the Essay

Upper-Level Writing Prizebook (pdf) | Amazon

National Day on Writing

In celebration of the National Day on Writing, on October 22nd Sweetland issued its 2nd annual “Iron Writing Challenge” to the U-M community, inviting students to compete for prizes in four writing challenges issued on Facebook throughout the day.


One challenge, “You Be the Professor,” asked students to craft their ideal essay prompts. Entries ranged from creative (“Pick an item or a person inside a prison, and write a fictional story about how it/they got to the prison”) to kooky (“Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Support your argument, but refrain from scientific reasoning”).

For the “Michigan Movie Title & Tagline” challenge, students chose from a list of movie genres and wrote their own titles and taglines for Michigan—“if Michigan was a movie.” Here, the entries were unabashedly punny: “The Maize Runner” promised a dramatic film in which “one man dares to make his way to the Big House with 50,000 other students.” Along similar lines, the “Change a Word, Ruin a Book Title” challenge yielded new twists on old classics like Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Ham Sandwich” and Golding’s “Swallower of the Flies.”

Michigan Movie Poster concept by Rebecca Soverinsky & art by Aaron Valdez
Movie Movie Poster concept and art by Tiffany Huynh

But perhaps the most brilliant gems came from the “Haiku Thesis” challenge, which asked students to “reimagine the thesis for a paper you’re working on or have already written as a haiku.” Professors would surely swoon for theses like “Stuttgart hides its fate / Haupbahnhof kills city space / civvies ruminate,” or “Leonardo read / Alberti. Disagreed and / wrote his “On Painting,” or “so what is good hair? / my mother’s reservations / new growth behind ears.”


Every contributing student was entered into a lottery to win a $20 Literati gift card; challenge winners, determined by number of “likes,” received a $45 Literati gift card. Congratulations to Caroline Petersen, McKenzie Campbell, Brie Winnega, Tiffany Huynh, and Shannon Vail, and all the clever, kooky, creative and punny writers who participated in NDOW!