2014 Newsletter!


“Before taking this class, I always considered writing in English as one of the most annoying things. Whenever I needed to finish a writing assignment, my inner feelings of weakness and helplessness came up incessantly….The Writing 120 class was just like a quick acting drug that relieved my stress of writing effectively.”

This is how Chen Yutong describes her experience in Writing 120: College Writing for Multilingual Students. She goes on to say, “In my DSP essay I made roughly 8-10 grammar errors per 200 words…in my third assignment in Writing 120, there were about 2-3 grammar mistakes per 200 words.” And she concludes, “I have built my confidence in English academic writing, which will help me a lot for my future upper level writing.” Responses like these are common among international/multilingual students enrolled in Writing 120.

In the pages that follow you can hear more from Chen and Xiaohe as well as many other students. You might, for instance, read about Xiaoman Gan’s experience in Chat Cafe, a Sweetland initiative to help international/multilingual students develop confidence in their conversational English. Xiaoman expresses the feelings of a number of her peers when she says, “Fast speed and strong accent sometimes make the content of conversation a mystery for me,” and students like these find it helpful to meet each week with a few peers and an experienced upperclass student to talk about many aspects of their lives at the University.

You might want to read about why Allison Raeck, Jake Lourim and Brendan Montgomery decided to apply to Sweetland’s Minor in Writing. Although each of them had different reasons for joining this community of writers, all of them agree that the Minor in Writing enables them to achieve their goals. As Neeyati Shah says about the eportfolio, required of all Minors, “I’ve written the person I am today into existence.”

Or you might want to learn more about the experiences of seven Sweetland Peer Writing Consultants who recently attended the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing in Orlando.

It’s about the students. Sweetland supports student writers from the first semester to the end of the dissertation, and as I look ahead to a sabbatical during Winter Semester 2015, I know I’ll miss seeing students. I’m confident, though, that David Gold, who will serve as Interim Director in my absence, will take good care of them.

Revised Upper-Level Writing Requirement Guidelines Approved

In October 2014, the LSA Curriculum Committee approved updated guidelines for the Upper-Level Writing Requirement (ULWR), the second writing course required of all LSA undergraduates, and generally taken in the major. Sweetland oversees the Upper-Level Writing Requirement, and approves the courses that fulfill it. The previous guidelines described the ULWR as designed “to help LSA students recognize and master the writing conventions of their chosen discipline, so that, upon graduation, they are able to understand and communicate effectively the central concepts, approaches, and materials of their discipline.” The Curriculum Committee approval marked the final step in a process that began with Sweetland’s review of the ULWR program, initiated in 2010 at the request of then-Dean of LSA, Terence McDonald.

The review study drew on institutional data about the departments and instructors offering ULWR courses, and students’ patterns of fulfilling the ULWR, as well as survey data from 1703 undergraduates and 252 faculty and GSIs who took and taught these courses, reporting their experiences with the ULWR—including students’ rationale for their course choice, the kinds of writing and number of pages written, whether or not courses included new media writing, and open-ended questions about what it means to “write like a member of the discipline.” Based on responses to the surveys, Sweetland conducted interviews and focus groups with students, GSIs, and faculty, which were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed. Additionally, a subset of ULWR syllabi dating back to 1978 were analyzed to learn more about the amount and type of writing assigned in ULWR courses.

Among the more salient findings from the study were that a significant percentage of students fulfill the ULWR outside the major, for a range of reasons, many of them pedagogically driven; many faculty do not feel that it is appropriate for undergraduates to learn to write like academic experts in the given discipline, since only a small number of them will pursue graduate degrees in the field; and relatively few ULWR courses use digital media, which is rapidly growing in importance as a mode of writing in many fields and professions. Accordingly, the revised guidelines affirm that the ULWR may be completed outside the major; allow more flexibility about disciplinary conventions; and include specific reference to new media. They also strengthen the affirmation of the ULWR commitment to sequenced assignments, feedback, and revision as core components of an advanced writing curriculum. The full, revised ULWR Guidelines may be found on our website.

New Instructional Resources for Teaching Writing

To support faculty developing and teaching ULWR courses – and all faculty teaching writing at U-M – Sweetland has continued to build out its instructional resources on the Teaching Resources page of its website. Over the summer, a working group of Sweetland faculty, including Shelley Manis and Jennifer Metsker, developed new resources on Effective Assignment Sequencing for Scaffolding Learning and Integrating Low-Stakes Writing in Large Classes.


The group also substantially expanded existing resources on Giving Feedback on Student Writing, by adding a new section on grading rubrics, and Using Peer Review to Improve Student Writing, with a new section on full-class peer review workshops. Additionally, the summer working group on multilingual writing, composed of Sweetland faculty Simone Sessolo, Jing Xia, and Lori Randall, developed resources for faculty on Providing Grades and Feedback to Multilingual Students, along with resources on several other topics.

Visit the Teaching Resources page to browse all of these materials. Writing resources for students (including handouts for use in classes that assign writing) are available on the Writing Guides page of Sweetland’s website.

Sweetland Airs New “Word2: Writer to Writer” Interview Series

As part of its ongoing effort to make writing more visible on campus, Sweetland launched “Word2: Writer to Writer,” events that pair a Sweetland faculty member with an esteemed U-M professor for a conversation about writing. As the publicity states, the “series lets you hear directly from University of Michigan professors about their challenges, processes, and expectations as writers and also as readers of student writing.” The series features the collaboration of Ann Arbor community organizations and businesses: the events are held at the Literati Bookstore, an independent bookseller in downtown Ann Arbor, and are broadcast live on U-M’s radio station WCBN. The first “Word2,” in February 2015, brought Maria Cotera, U-M Associate Professor of American Culture, Latina/o Studies, and Women’s Studies, into conversation with Sweetland faculty T Hetzel. For the second iteration, in November, Sweetland faculty Shelley Manis interviewed the poet and novelist Laura Kasischke, Allan Seager Collegiate Professor of English at U-M. You can listen to the podcasts of these broadcasts on Sweetland’s website. Stay tuned for the next “Word2” event in winter 2015!

Directed Self-Placement for Transfer Students

One of several findings of Sweetland’s review of the Upper-Level Writing Requirement (ULWR) is that transfer students on average receive lower grades in ULWR courses than continuing students. In an effort to provide more support for transfer students, Sweetland developed Writing 350 in fall 2013, a course designed to be taken alongside a ULWR course. While this course has proved to be helpful to transfer students, a number of students indicated that they were not sure whether or not they should take Writing 350.

In addition, surveys, focus groups, and interviews showed that many transfer students were taken aback by the amount and type of writing expected of them when they arrived on campus. Even though they had done well in writing courses at their previous institutions and were excellent students overall, they were challenged by the discipline-based writing in ULWR courses.

In response, Sweetland created a Directed Self-Placement (DSP) process for transfer students. Like the DSP required of all matriculating first-year students, the transfer DSP conveys the message that writing is highly valued at the University of Michigan, and it also gives students a clear idea of the type of writing they will be expected to do. There are, however, some significant differences between the two DSP processes.

The first-year DSP asks students to read a relatively complex article and write an evidence-based argument in response to the article, similar to essays students are asked to write in First-Year Writing Requirement courses. The resulting essay is forwarded to the instructor of the student’s first writing course where it can serve as a diagnostic for the instructor and a benchmark for the student.

In contrast, the transfer DSP is framed in more disciplinary terms. Students are asked to identify which of the three divisions of LSA – humanities, social science or natural science – will be their disciplinary home. Then they are directed to an actual assignment prompt from a ULWR course within the chosen division, and are asked to write an explanation of what the assignment expects students to do, with particular attention to the disciplinary conventions highlighted. A sample student response to the prompt is also provided, and transfer students are asked to write a brief evaluation of the writing, indicating the ways it does or does not address the assignment and disciplinary writing conventions. Finally, transfer students are asked to evaluate their own preparation for responding to assignments like the one they have just read. The transfer students’ responses generate a recommendation about Writing 350, and all transfer students are invited to visit Sweetland during the first weeks of the semester to discuss their experiences with writing and to learn more about the resources Sweetland can offer them.

The transfer DSP was initiated in the spring of 2015, and several hundred students have already participated in it. Researchers at Sweetland are currently analyzing students’ written responses in order to improve this DSP process and to develop an understanding of how transfer students’ prior experiences with writing can be most effectively mobilized to help them meet the challenges of ULWR courses.

Automated Peer Review of Writing in Science

In the continuing effort to increase retention among students who begin as STEM majors and to help deepen the conceptual understandings of all STEM students, Sweetland Director Anne Gere and Ginger Schultz from the Department of Chemistry have begun incorporating automated peer review into their ongoing project on writing in science.

The first phase of the project focused on developing writing prompts about key concepts in STEM courses, based on the hypothesis that writing fosters deeper learning, especially for under-represented populations in STEM. With support from a U-M Third Century grant titled Digital Writing to Learn Introductory Chemistry and Physics, Gere and Schultz developed a protocol in which students write in response to these prompts, receive feedback from peers, read and respond to the writing of others, and then revise their own writing using a commercially produced automated system.

Nearly 400 students participated in this first phase, and the data gathered shows a number of encouraging results. Participating female students outperformed non-participating female students and performed as well as non-participating male students. Given the gender imbalance in most STEM courses, this finding suggests a potential benefit of the project. Students’ evaluation of their peers’ writing paralleled that of experts in STEM. Although the student-generated evaluations were higher than those of the experts, students’ evaluations produced the same rank-ordering of responses to prompts. This result confirms that automated peer review can be an effective means of responding to student writing in large classes. In addition, analysis of the writing produced by students in response to prompts showed that it will be possible to identify syntactic structures and uses of terminology that characterize more and less successful pieces of student writing. Analyses like this can provide useful information about misconceptions of key concepts – information that can be valuable to STEM faculty.

The next step in this project will be to develop a CTools-based system that will support automated peer review as well as natural language processing. With this system in place, the project will be able to expand into multiple STEM departments as well as other areas of the curriculum where large introductory courses are offered.

Peer Writing Center Makeover and a New Interim Faculty Director

Sweetland’s new Peer Writing Center celebrated its Grand Opening on Friday, September 12, with yummy snacks, exciting raffle prizes, a collaborative art-and- writing project, and a crowd of faculty, staff, and students who came to check out the newly renovated space on the ground floor of Angell Hall. The renovation was intended to open up the old center, which had been divided into several smaller rooms, and to gain additional footage from adjacent offices that were folded into the new design. The removal of several walls and the exposure of exterior windows has resulted in an airy, light space that allows for an organic flow of activity and the possibility of greater collaboration among consultants as they work with students on their writing. Indeed, the plans for the space – which, in addition to the open floor plan, feature round work tables, ample writing materials, reference books, games, computers, and a large blackboard with neon pens for note-taking and drawing – were developed in line with recent research on writing centers and learning spaces that foster creativity and engaged learning.


In addition to its new space, the Peer Writing Center has expanded its hours: from 12 p.m. until 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and more hours on Friday and Sunday. As interim faculty director Christine Modey notes, “We’re open almost fifty hours a week in Angell Hall, and we’ve been very busy. It’s exciting to be able to provide consultations to more writers who want to talk with us about their writing.”

Photo_ChristineModeyThis is Modey’s first semester directing the peer writing consultant program. She’s taken over for Lila Naydan, who left Michigan this summer for Penn State, Abington. Modey brings plenty of experience with peer tutoring pedagogy to the role, having taught several iterations of the peer writing consultant training course (Writing 300) and serving on the peer writing consultant program committee for three years. In addition, she has conducted empirical research on writing tutorials, studying the questions writing consultants ask and how writers’ revisions of their papers are affected by such questions. Modey works in the Peer Writing Center on Tuesday afternoons. “I love being there,” she said. “Our consultants have such good energy, and it’s a beautiful space, a really great atmosphere for working on writing. I like the buzz in the room and the collegiality.”


In late October, Modey accompanied seven Sweetland consultants to the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing in Orlando, where they presented panels on “Performing the Self,” “Style Shifting,” and “The Writing Center as Subculture.” Other activities include ongoing collaboration with Skyline High School, which launched on October 24 when Sweetland consultants and Skyline tutors got together in the Peer Writing Center for a morning of workshops and conversation about tutoring best practices. Visit Sweetland’s new Peer Writing Center in G219 Angell Hall.


Perspectives on Writing 120: College Writing for Multilingual Students

In the year since Sweetland took responsibility for supporting multilingual undergraduate students several new offerings have been developed. The section below describes them, and includes students’ views, as well.

Chen Yutong


As part of its service to international/multilingual students, Sweetland began offering Writing 120 in the fall of 2013, and it has now become an established part of the curriculum. In the section below, students who took the course explain how it has helped them.

My name is Chen Yutong and I found Writing 120 very helpful because it helped me learn about academic writing. Taking Writing 120 is one of the best choices that I have made after entering the university.

Before taking this class, I always considered writing in English as one of the most annoying things. Whenever I needed to finish a writing assignment, my inner feelings of weakness and helplessness came up incessantly. I couldn’t help thinking about the grammar mistakes I would make. I couldn’t even help thinking that I might have misunderstood the topic. The Writing 120 class was just like a quick acting drug that relieved my stress of writing effectively. Following, I list some improvements that I made by taking this wonderful class.

First of all, I learned how to write diverse types of academic papers in Writing 120. For example, now if my professor asks me to write a research paper, I won’t feel panic or confusion about how to write an introduction or what is an implication. Secondly, the number of grammar mistakes I make has been continuously decreasing. In my DSP essay, I made roughly 8-10 grammar errors per 200 words. Surprisingly, in my third assignment in Writing 120, there were about 2-3 grammar mistakes per 200 words. Last but not least, I have built my confidence in English academic writing, which will help me a lot for my future upper level writing.

Honestly, this writing experience has encouraged me to continue my path of writing. And I genuinely believe what I learned from this course would be beneficial for my entire university life.

Xiaohe Yu


Hi, I am Xiaohe Yu, a transfer student from China. I took Writing 120 in fall 2013 during my first semester at the University of Michigan. Writing 120 is a course especially designed to prepare international students for more advanced Writing courses. Now, I feel so lucky that I did not miss the course since Writing 120 is one of the best courses I have taken at the University of Michigan.

First of all, the course exposed me to some fundamental rules and basic writing knowledge. For example, it was in this course that I first heard and learned about MLA format; logical fallacies; and the difference between argument, evidence and example. Later, when my classmates used those terms in my first year writing class, I could confidently join their discussion without feeling like a blind person.

What is more, the course guided me to the correct way of using certain words and phrases, which helped to make my papers more native.

Last but not least, I liked the course because my instructor Lori really cares about the progress of each student. When I got Lori’s feedback on my first paper, I was deeply moved because her comments were so detailed. And she pointed out the mistakes as tiny as the misuse of punctuation.

Generally speaking, Writing 120 is indeed an excellent course. If you want to have a gradual and smooth transition to academic English writing, you should definitely take the course!

Writing 240: Academic Communication for Multilingual Students

In the year since Sweetland took responsibility for supporting multilingual undergraduate students several new offerings have been developed. The section below describes them, and includes students’ views, as well.

The first brave volunteer steps gingerly onto the brightly lit stage, takes his place before a festive blue and gold bouquet, looks with obvious trepidation into the dark cavern of Rackham Auditorium, adjusts his glasses, unfolds his notes, and proclaims with waxing authority and confidence a passage from one of the speeches of American President John F. Kennedy. As the last echoes fade, the audience pauses in appreciative silence, then bursts into the warm and well deserved round of applause that prompts the speaker to take a bow. With a smile of relief and pride, the student steps off the stage and resumes his seat to enjoy the proclamations, improv comedy, and songs of his fellow classmates, each of whom performs boldly in a foreign language.

What is this foreign language and who are these talented U-M students who are courageous enough to get up and perform on the big stage at Rackham Auditorium? The language is English, and the class is Writing 240: Academic Communication for Multilingual Students. In this one-credit course, students explore the rhetorical structure of American academic lectures as well as the cultural and linguistic expectations of discussion-based university classes, so that they may become more skillful listeners, speakers, and note-takers in their second language. Along the way, they develop confidence in speaking through participation in activities that focus attention on linguistic concepts such as stress, timing, vowel quality, and the mechanics of both vocal production and vocal projection.


When not delivering speeches on either the big stage or in the classroom, students in Writing 240 spend a good deal of time both discussing and writing about the qualities of effective academic oral communication. Lecture analysis reports prompt students to think, for example, about the importance of providing one’s listeners with a clear thesis statement, a roadmap, and appropriate transitions. Reflective essays help students set realistic long- and short-term speaking and listening goals. Interviews with peers who use English as their first language provide, perhaps, one of the most important learning and confidence-building activities of the class. That is, through interviewing others about their listening, note-taking, and classroom participation strategies, students come to realize that these elements of academic life must be learned and practiced by all students, not just those who call English their second language!

Writing 340: Advanced Writing for Multilingual Students

Writing 340 is a 3-credit advanced writing course for students who feel most comfortable conducting academic writing in a language other than English. Students are encouraged to take this course prior to or after an Upper-Level Writing Requirement course to fully develop their professional and academic writing skills through an extended period of time. It is a particularly useful course for transfer students who just arrived at the university from another institution and need preparation for advanced writing. This course develops upper-level multilingual students’ ability to communicate complex and discipline-specific materials clearly and effectively to an academic and professional audience.

The components of this course, which include regular class discussions, workshops, reading assignments, forum posts, annotated bibliography, conference proposals and research papers, are designed to help students develop written fluency and improve their command over the rhetorical and linguistic conventions of English that are common to a variety of academic disciplines. To address students’ needs to work on topics in their discipline, this course includes workshop sessions where students gather in small interest groups where they analyze research articles in their own disciplines. This course also stresses the increased significance of revision to become effective academic and professional writers.

While this course focuses primarily on the continued development of academic reading and writing skills, it also recognizes the need for effective oral communication and public speaking skills in students’ academic and professional success. Ways to engage with the audience, the craft of making successful presentations and the etiquette of interacting with peers and professors are also discussed in workshops.

This small-sized class also has a strong emphasis on meeting students’ individual needs. Students receive individual attention in this course, and they also participate in a supportive class community.

Chat Cafe: Sweetland’s New Conversation Piece

Language challenges faced by multilingual students at the University extend far beyond the classroom. As Xiaoman Gan, a first-year student from China, writes: “Fast speed and strong accent sometimes make the content of conversation a mystery for me…. It is also not easy to find a way to express my idea precisely and colorfully, which I can easily complete with my first language.” In an essay for Writing 120, Xiaoman describes how lack of confidence in spoken English can inhibit students’ social lives and navigation of daily tasks.

To address these challenges, this fall Xiaoman is taking part in Chat Cafe, a Sweetland initiative begun in 2014 to help multilingual students develop confidence in their conversational English. Chat Cafe arranges casual conversation groups of up to five multilingual students with an experienced upperclassman. In weekly meetings, participants discuss everything from American football to Hollywood values, as well as day-to-day experiences and cultural differences. In its second semester, Chat Cafe has doubled in capacity to serve more than forty multilingual undergraduates.


Chat Cafe leaders enroll in Writing 302: Global Communication to help prepare them to be effective facilitators. Students in Writing 302 receive practical advice from experienced conversation leaders, gain understanding of the various challenges faced by international students, and explore theories of conversational practice in multicultural contexts. By implementing these ideas in their weekly meetings, Sweetland’s Chat Cafe facilitators create a space where students like Xiaoman can build confidence in English for success inside and outside the classroom.

Voices from the Newest Minor in Writing Gateway Cohort

Allison Raeck


For Writing Minor Allison Raeck, choosing to apply didn’t require a second thought. One day early in her sophomore year, Allison was crossing the Diag lost in a whirl of conflicting interests and passions. Undecided on a major, she didn’t know which path to take in life. Then, a particular bulletin advertisement caught her eye: “What goes with every major? The Sweetland Minor in Writing!” Allison knew that, regardless of what path she would follow, she would always continue to write. And so, she applied.

Today, Allison is about two months into the Gateway component of the minor, and, while many of her classes require memorization and recitation, Writing 220 is an escape from the norm. Class projects are largely self-directed around a central theme, so she is able to focus on an area relevant to her own interests. In this way, when writing for the Gateway, Allison challenges and enjoys herself, rather than seeking specific approval or a specific grade.

For the first time, Allison has been encouraged to look deeper into the craft itself, asking herself exactly why she writes. After reflection, she concluded that she does not write because she is forced to; rather, as the Writing Minor emphasizes, she writes to understand her world, to express herself, to remember, and to release.

Jake Lourim


Jake Lourim decided to minor in Writing to broaden, sharpen and hone his writing skills as he works toward fulfilling his dream of becoming a sports writer. He is majoring in Economics and Statistics, but he has a passion for writing and saw the minor as the perfect way to improve his work.

Jake has been interested in a career in sports writing since he was little, but he really started to pursue it in high school and continues now in college, writing for The Michigan Daily. He finds great fulfillment in telling the stories of others—stories of their triumphs, setbacks and redemption. In today’s high-speed world, he believes that it has never been more important to write well. As he embarks on this path, he sees the Minor in Writing as the perfect way to foster his goals.

Brendan Montgomery


Brendan Montgomery decided to become a Minor in Writing when he realized he needed something more than the heavy quantitative and analytical work he was doing as an economics major. He thoroughly enjoys discounting cash flows and reading about financial markets, but he began to feel like he was being locked away in a cage, with his creative thoughts confined to the inside of his head. Writing allows him to escape this feeling. During English 230: Introduction to the Short Story and the Novel, with instructor Tim Hedges, he was hesitant when asked to introduce himself as a writer. That is no longer the case.

As a member of the Fall 2014 cohort and a student in Writing 220, Brendan has found the freedom to let his thoughts run wild and to explore his creative side on a daily basis. Whether it is posting on the Minor in Writing blog, collaborating with classmates on unique projects, or reading articles with an interesting perspective on writing, he is almost always immersed in inspired thought and discussion. He also loves the close-knit environment of his class, which is a fraction of the size of his other classes. Even though his journey as a writing minor is just beginning, he could not be happier with his decision to become a part of this community of writers at the university, and he looks forward to the open road ahead.

A Sampling of Minor in Writing Capstone Projects


Neeyati Shah’s eportfolio provides compelling evidence that writing is integrally linked to thinking and that as writing evolves our sense of ourselves and our world does too. Her portfolio title “Writing into Being” highlights this connection between writing and identity in a complex and engaging way. In the introduction to her site, she notes that “I’ve written the person I am today into existence; the best parts of me—feminism, writing, Indian culture—take shape on paper before I can fully claim and own them off the page.”

If you visit her site, you will also find a project that includes surveys and interviews with young Indian American women about “the ways they negotiate different, sometimes contradictory cultural forces when it comes to relationships.” In her eportfolio Neeyati positions herself in this project by devoting a specific part of it to her own life. Listening to the brief conversation excerpts with her mother and grandmother provides a warm and genuine experience that shatters stereotypes and replaces them with something much more vibrant and dynamic.

Capstone_SalA double major in Spanish and Biomolecular Science, Sal Aiello made his Minor in Writing capstone project an hour-long series of podcast segments inspired by This American Life. The project, Homemade, examines its theme from a variety of narrative perspectives, including first-person accounts, multiple interview styles, fiction, and audio archive materials.

Homemade is ambitious, inventive, and thorough. Technically well-executed, and employing a number of modes, it communicates not only a personal history of things homemade, it situates the desire to make and the relevance of making within a broader social and economic context. Like This American Life, it’s also extremely entertaining.

Capstone_KiraKira Curtis, who graduated with a Minor in Writing in the winter of 2014, majored in philosophy, and in that discipline she found herself preoccupied with questions of ethics and the relationship between a society and its members. Philosophy concerns itself with abstractions and principles, but Kira pursued a Sweetland Minor in Writing because she wanted to bring the precision and analytical acuity of philosophy to real-world contexts and to do so in a way that could reach many different audiences.

Kira’s Capstone project investigates the wave of horrific murders that have plagued Juarez, Mexico for the last several years, and while it is informed by philosophical inquiry, its presentation in the form of a deeply researched magazine feature allows Kira to focus on very specific human costs. Her project represents an exemplary marriage of disciplinary skill and tailored, crafted writing that opens up that discipline and uses it to communicate with elegance and passion.

2015 Sweetland Fellows

The Fellows Seminar brings together Faculty (Senior Fellows) and graduate student instructors (Junior Fellows) from multiple disciplines who share a commitment to integrating writing in their courses. Fellows confer with local and national visiting speakers, learn ways of helping students become better writers, discuss concerns about teaching in the age of the internet, learn how to integrate writing in their courses, and examine approaches to incorporating writing across the disciplines. For more information visit the Senior Fellows or Junior Fellows pages on our website.

Senior Fellows / Faculty
Julie Boland, Psychology
Paul Conway, School of Information
Petra Kuppers, Women’s Studies/English Language and Literature
Adam Simon, Program in the Environment
Karla Taylor, English Language and Literature
Jing Xia, Sweetland Center for Writing

Junior Fellows / Graduate Students
Deborah Forger, Near Eastern Studies
Zac Garlets, Organic Chemistry
Ayse Neveser Koker, Political Science
Francesca Minonne, Romance Language and Literature
Will Nediger, Linguistics
Elizabeth Nijdam, Germanic Language and Literature

Sweetland New Media Writing Course Focuses on “the Rhetoric of Memes”

The ability to process and employ information in different media is an essential aspect of education, and offering resources that can help students to sharpen their analytical power has beneficial effects on learning. The website Simone Sessolo and his Writing 200 students developed, The Rhetoric of Memes, facilitates innovations in studying and approaching new media. The website was published in issue 5.2 of TheJUMP (The Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects) in June 2014. As Sessolo and his students claim in their publication:

Internet memes not only entertain, they also make claims about our world and how it does, could, and should work. They are a form of communication that is becoming more and more important in the new media world, and they have an unrealized potential for understanding rhetorical strategies. […] The combination of the visual and the verbal in memes, and their ability to build up separate elements into a connected whole, offer insights about how ideas can develop, mutate, and be replicated.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.44.04 AM
The Rhetoric of Memes site is the end result of a course in new media writing offered at the University of Michigan in Fall 2013. The website claims that using memes in the classroom can become a writing practice that fosters success for students of all academic backgrounds. This novel application of technology can offer a more sophisticated kind of learning, helping students to practice analogous thinking between academic concepts and their connection with popular culture.

Students in the class actively contributed to the creation of the website, where they “published” their contributions. They created all the meme entries that appear on the site and are listed as contributors, along with student Nadeem Persico-Shammas, who revised the website and serves as its managing editor, and Dr. Sessolo, who is the webmaster or administrator.  This student-created project demonstrates the excellent work students can do in new media classes. View Sweetland’s current offering of new media writing courses on our website.

Meet the 2014-2015 Digital Rhetoric Collaborative Graduate Fellows

Hosted by the Sweetland Center for Writing, the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative (DRC) is an online, community webspace by and for scholars and teachers working in computers and writing and digital rhetoric, and a born digital book series with the U-M Press. Two forthcoming projects from the book series include Digital Samaritans by Jim Ridolfo and Making Space: Writing Instruction, Infrastructure, and Multiliteracies by Dànielle Nicole DeVoss and James P. Purdy.

This summer, the DRC welcomed its second cohort of graduate student Fellows! The program aims to recognize graduate students around the country currently working in digital rhetoric who want practical experience in online publishing and website development. Fellows are selected on a yearly basis by the editors and board of the DRC, and receive an annual stipend of $500 as well as recognition on the DRC website.

DRC Fellows commit to attending monthly online team meetings to plan projects that extend the DRC website and its contributions to the community of computers and writing. They work independently and collaboratively to complete two projects within the year of their term. Last year’s Fellows created several new DRC features, including Webtext of the Month, the Hack & Yack Conversations series, Digital Lessons Resources, and a Google Forum.

In their first few months, the new Fellows have continued this tradition of energetic creativity by expanding these new features, and also building out the DRC Wiki, adding Tool Reviews, hosting the site’s first ever Twitter chat connected to its biggest ever blog carnival on the relationship between multilingualism and multimodality, and boosting DRC social media presence across the web. Hosts and followers of the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative can’t wait to see what else they will innovate between now and next August. This year’s fellows are:



Jenae Cohn is a Ph.D. student in English, pursuing a designated emphasis in Writing, Rhetoric, and Composition, at the University of California, Davis. She is currently researching the rhetoric of loss around the shift from print to digital culture, but she is also interested in hybrid and online learning and instructional design. Beyond serving as a fellow for the DRC, she serves a graduate writing fellow in UC Davis’ Writing Across the Curriculum program, manages the UC Davis undergraduate student blog, Aggie Voices, and blogs intermittently at jenaecohn.net.



Lindsey Harding is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Georgia. Her research and writing interests include composition and rhetoric, creative writing, and digital humanities. She currently works as the Assistant to the Director of the Writing Intensive Program at UGA. Her critical essay on multimodal reflective writing appears in Teaching English in the Two-Year College, and she has an essay on Pinterest and mothers forthcoming in Harlot. Her stories have appeared in Soundings Review, Prick of the Spindle, The Boiler, Xenith, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Stray Dog Almanac. In May 2011, she graduated from Sewanee University’s School of Letters with her M.F.A. in creative writing. She lives in Athens, Georgia, with her husband and three small children. You can find her online at lindseymharding.com.



Heather Lang is a Ph.D. student in the Rhetoric and Composition program at Florida State University, where she is also the assistant director of the Reading and Writing Center. Heather earned her M.A. in Rhetoric and Professional Communication at New Mexico State University in 2012. Her research interests reside at the intersections of embodiment, activism, and digital spaces. On any given day, Heather uses Windows 7, Windows 8, Linux Mint, and Mac OS.



Brenta Blevins is a Ph.D. student specializing in rhetoric and composition at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She has previously served as Assistant Director of the UNCG Digital ACT Studio and worked in the software development industry. Her research interests include digital pedagogy, wikis as a genre and a learning tool, digital literacy, and digital literacy learning centers.



English Ph.D. candidate and Teaching Associate Matthew Vetter is the 2014-15 Claude Kantner Research Fellow at Ohio University, where he has served for the last two years as Assistant Director of Composition. His research interests circle around questions related to digital culture and rhetorics, composition pedagogy, critical theory and activism. He’s also something of a Wikipedia fanatic and his dissertation focuses on the opportunities for writing pedagogy afforded by the encyclopedia. He has published scholarly work in Computers and Composition Online, Composition Studies, Harlot of Hearts and Research Library Issues. Vetter also holds an MFA in creative writing from Spalding University and has published poems in numerous national and regional journals. See more of his creative and scholarly work at mattvetter.net.



Paula Miller is an English Ph.D. student specializing in Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy at The Ohio State University. Her research interests include the intersection between writing center studies and digital literacies, interests informed by over a decade of writing center work.

Granader Family Prizes for Writing

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 now carry a significant monetary award. The first group of students to receive this new level of award were recognized at a ceremony in April 2014.

In addition to receiving the award, each of the winners is published in a series that collects the prize-winning writing in two volumes, Excellence in First-Year Writing and Excellence in Upper-Level Writing. Hard copy versions of these collections are also available on Amazon.com (First-Year and Upper-Level). PDF versions of both of these collections of outstanding student work are available below.

First-Year Writing Prizes

Granader Family Prize for Outstanding Writing Portfolio
Christopher J. Zysnarski – Writer’s Home
Writing 100 (nominated by Liliana Naydan)

Neila Fraiha – neila100
Writing 100 (nominated by Liliana Naydan)

Matt Kelley/Granader Family Prize for Excellence in First Year Writing
Sin Ye Hwang – The Struggle of a Lonely Banana

Comparative Literature 122 (nominated by Hilary Levinson)

Callie Chappell – Oedipus Tyrannus on Causality, Determinism, and Identity
Great Books 191 (nominated by Matthew Cohn)

Upper-Level Writing Prizes

Granader Family Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (humanities)
Rebecca Bonner
Women, Family Policy, and Consumption in Cold War Germany
History 496, Germany in the Cold War Era (nominated by Rita Chin)

James Nadel
Camel Songs: A Comparison of the Tuareg and the Bedouin
History 496, Nomads: Nomadic Factor in History (nom. by Ellen Poteet)

Granader Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (social sciences)
Maximilian Huppertz
A Fair System of Education
ECON/PHIL 408 (nominated by Frank Thompson)

Sarah N. Cunningham
Record Keeping in Ancient Civilizations
Anthrarc 386, Archaeology of Early Civilizations (nominated by Carla Sinopoli)

Granader Prize for Excellence in Upper-Level Writing (sciences)
Alexandra R. Berns
Increasing Crop Growth: The Effect of Compost on the Growth of Ryegrass, Lolium perenne
EEB372, General Ecology Lab (nominated Lynn Carpenter)

Nicholas Kern
A New Class of Supergiant Stars?
Astro 429 (nominated by Sally Oey)

Faculty Highlights

photo_brandolinoginaGina Brandolino was recognized by the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts with an Individual Award for Outstanding Contributions to Undergraduate Education in Fall of 2014. She also presented the paper “Super(Plow)man” in a session titled “Teaching Piers Plowman” at the 49th International Congress on Medieval Studies in May 2014.

photo_juliebabcockJulie Babcock’s first poetry collection, Autoplay, was published in November from MG Press. Her work appeared in various journals including The Rumpus, Weave, Harpur Palate, decomP, and Western Humanities Review; and her poetry manuscript Rules for Rearrangement was a finalist for the St. Lawrence Book Award. She is looking forward to her Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) panel in April.

photo_simonesessoloSimone Sessolo published a multimodal project in The Journal for Undergraduate Multimedia Projects (TheJUMP v5.2), The Rhetoric of Memes, with his students from a Writing 200 class on meme culture. He also published an article in The Journal of Popular Culture (August 2014, 47.4), “An Epic of Riots: The Multitude as Hero in Handsworth Songs.” This academic year, he is working with his current Writing 200 students on another multimodal project about using selfies to practice character presentation.

photo_jennifermetskerJennifer Metsker’s “The Plastic Ocean” was published in an anthology by Motes Books titled Seeking It’s Own Level. This long poem explores The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a flotilla of discarded plastic in the Pacific Ocean said to be twice the size of Texas and growing. The prose poem “A Boat Named January” was published in the journal Star82. Two poems are forthcoming in the Seattle Review.

photo_paulbarronPaul Barron participated in the LSA Institute for Diversity and Campus Climate last spring; he also presented on the Minor in Writing at the Association for Authentic, Experiential and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL) regional conference. Last summer he received a Course Connections grant to have book artist Barbara Brown lead his fall LHSP 125 class in making books.

photo_scottbealScott Beal’s first book of poems, Wait ‘Til You Have Real Problems, was published by Dzanc Books in November 2014. His poems appeared in Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, Southern Indiana Review, Sonora Review, and Glassworks.

photo_kodischeerKodi Scheer’s story collection Incendiary Girls (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) was recently named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon.

Graduate Student Research Assistants

photo_annaknutsonAnna Knutson is in her second year as a doctoral student in the Joint Program in English and Education, and her first year as a GSRA for Sweetland. Due to her interest in self-assessment, reflection, and eportfolios, Anna is particularly engaged with Sweetland’s Writing Development Study, as well as research on Directed Self-Placement. In her doctoral research, Anna is currently exploring whether/how students transfer literacy and rhetorical knowledge obtained in extracurricular contexts into the postsecondary composition classroom.

photo_benkeatingBen Keating, a second year GSRA and third year in the Joint Program in English and Education, spent the summer and early fall working on multiple projects at Sweetland, including Directed Self-Placement and the coding of interview data for a longitudinal study on undergraduate writing development. Ben’s own research is focused on issues of equity in college writing classrooms. Over the summer, he completed a paper that used critical discourse analysis to examine how high school-to-college bridge programs position students. He also had some fun preparing for a language exam in Old and Middle English. This meant brushing up on Beowulf and Gawain and the Green Knight, respectively.

photo_lizziehuttonThis marks Lizzie Hutton’s third year as a Sweetland GSRA and fourth year in the Joint Program for English and Education. With Ben and Sarah, Lizzie presented at the Council of Writing Program Administrators conference last summer, reporting on Sweetland’s continuing research into both our First-Year Directed Self-Placement and our newly implemented Directed Self-Placement for Transfer Students, two projects she worked on closely over the winter. Lizzie also continues to contribute to Sweetland’s longitudinal Writing Development Study data collection and analysis, with a particular focus on qualitative coding. Now a PhD candidate, Lizzie has additionally transitioned into dissertation writing. Her research focuses on a moment of interdisciplinary energy in the 1920s and 30s consolidated by the reading theorist Louise Rosenblatt; it traces the overlaps between modernism and progressivism and between literary studies, the social sciences, composition and education studies; and examines the shared conceptualization of literacy emerging from these fields for the making of critically minded citizen-students.

Sweetland 2014 National Day on Writing Celebration


Sweetland celebrated the National Day on Writing in October by sponsoring an “Iron Writing” contest on Facebook and Twitter. Challenges asked contestants to write a six-word memoir, a haiku version of the thesis from one of their papers, a limerick about writing, and a response to the statement, “If I were to teach academic or creative writing at U-M, I would _______,” then tweet and post them throughout the day.

Entries ranged from the funny

I open a blank page in Word, Then suddenly, “oh, look, a bird!”, My mind’s out the window, I’ve got lots to write, though; I wish I was a better writing nerd!

to the serious

When morals are lost Our sense of humanity Follows close behind

to the wistful

Are Athletic-Hippy-Nerds wanted here?

to the provocative

Encourage students to write more about the things that bother them and the things that move them. Writing in high school and college is often so focused on interpreting or reiterating what others have to say. I would want students to speak for themselves through writing.

The entries with the most “likes” or retweets won gift certificates to the Literati Bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor Sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the National Day on Writing was instituted by a U.S. Senate Resolution in 2009. To learn more about the history of the Day, tune into a podcast on Sweetland’s Digital Rhetoric Collaborative with past-NCTE president Kathleen Yancey, and read all of the “Iron Writing” contest entries on Sweetland’s Storify transcript.