From the Director

The Gayle Morris Sweetland Center for Writing was founded in 1998, and I was lucky to be the inaugural director. Expectations for the Center were high, for John Sweetland’s handsome endowment made it possible for us to introduce new programs to support and improve writing in LSA.

I am back in the director’s office this year and awed by how much has happened since the Center opened. The Peer Writing Consultant program has existed since the start of the Center, but it’s expanded and gained greater intellectual depth over the years. The peer consultants work with undergraduates from all over the U-M campus to communicate strategies that will improve their academic writing, job and graduate school application materials, and personal writing. MWrite fellows likewise support undergraduates as they learn to write for courses in the humanities, sciences, and social sciences. Another diverse and ambitious group of students pursues a Minor in Writing, for which they engage in research that culminates in complex multimodal projects. When I visit Sweetland consultants, fellows, and minors, I am overjoyed to see their enthusiasm about writing and commitment to their projects.

The Sweetland faculty who support and direct these programs are highly professional and profoundly accomplished in many directions. Some faculty members produce impressive creative publications, and all of the faculty contribute significantly to the scholarship of teaching and learning. As part of their work, they also consult individually with students at every level from across UM. When I observe their sessions, I’m struck by how quickly they discern what help the student is seeking, and I’m impressed with how much they accomplish in a half hour or hour. Sitting in my office, I’m delighted to hear the faculty greet each student with sincere interest in their writing. This is surely just about the best job in the world. I invite you to discover what’s happening here.

— Theresa Tinkle, Sweetland Center for Writing Interim Director

Anti-Racist Task Force

In January, Sweetland received a Faculty Communities for Inclusive Teaching (FCIT) grant from the Center for Research and Learning and Teaching (CRLT) to support the endeavors of our Anti-Racist Task Force to mindfully examine our pedagogy, practice, and curriculum in light of DEI issues. 

(L clockwise) Allie Piipo, April Conway, Louis Cicciarelli, T Hetzel, Scott Beal, Cat Cassel, Simone Sessolo, Christine Modey

What this looks like in practice is that the Task Force meets on a monthly basis to reflectively journal and discuss readings related to writing center work, particularly examining racist structures within institutions. We have read texts by Adrienne Marie Brown, Bell Hooks, Asao Inoue, Ibram Kendi, Ijeoma Oluo, Claude Steele, and more. These texts are usually paired with a reflection prompt that allows us to think through how racism and white supremacy emerge in the writing center and instructional work we do, and how we might respond to those emergences. For instance, when we read excerpts from Oluo’s So You Want To Talk About Race, we responded to a prompt about when and how we first became aware of our own racial identities. When we read excerpts from Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist and Matsuda and Cox’s “Reading an ESL Writer’s Text,” we journaled about how the texts resonated with experiences in our Writing Workshop and instructional work thus far in the semester. 

The FCIT grant will also support Sweetland faculty attendance at a 2.5-day workshop in February on analyzing systemic racism, held by ERRACE (Eliminating Racism and Creating/Celebrating Equity). 

Cat Cassel (L) & Naomi Silver (R). Click image or here for detail view of poster.

Faculty News & New Writing Workshop Coordinator


Raymond McDaniel

Raymond McDaniel was named Collegiate Lecturer for 2018-2019 in January of 2019. Collegiate Lecturer titles are awarded to faculty who demonstrate a sustained record of excellence in teaching and learning, or in service or other contributions to the university. Lecturers retain these titles throughout their careers at the university.


Julie Babcock

Julie’s poetry collection, Rules for Rearrangement, won the 2019 Kithara Book Prize and will be published next year by Glass Lyre Press. She also attended the Minnesota Northwoods Writers Conference where she had the opportunity to work on hybrid writing with Aimee Nezhukumatathil.

Cat Cassel

Cat Cassel went on the Michigan Road Scholars tour in May, and participated in the CRLT Inclusive Teaching Program for Lecturers. 

Shuwen Li

Shuwen Li published an article at the IEEE International Professional Communication Conference, titled “Dwelling on Vlogging: A Case Study of Amaetur Technical Communicator.” Using a rhetorical cluster analysis, she presents a preliminary case study of a type of tactical technical communication—vlogging and elicited seven techniques that were projected in those videos to unpack how the vlogger constructed her ethos that ultimately advanced her status from an amateur technical communicator to a young entrepreneur.

Shelley Manis

Shelley Manis received a Summer Fellowship from the Institute for the Humanities to start her book on using theater techniques to teach writing.

Christine Modey

Christine Modey received a Summer Fellowship from the Institute for the Humanities to work on her project, an ethnographic study of preachers’ composing processes.

Simone Sessolo

Simone Sessolo was awarded two grants, one from the Office of Academic Innovation and one from the Office of the Provost, to develop The Graduate Coach, a messaging tool to aid graduate students in writing their dissertation. The Beta version of The Graduate Coach launched in the Fall 2019 semester and was developed by Sweetland faculty Simone Sessolo, Louis Cicciarelli, and Larissa Sano, with the help of Marisol Fila, a graduate student in RLL. In June, Simone also presented his research at the Computers and Writing conference in Lansing MI.

Naomi Silver

Naomi Silver received a Course Development grant from the University Musical Society to incorporate performances into her Writing 100: The Practice of Writing course. The class focused on the theme “Performing Citizenship,” and students saw productions of the Isango Ensemble performing A Man of Good Hope, about a Somali refugee migrating within the African continent, and Stew and the Negro Problem performing Notes of a Native Song, based on James Baldwin’s essay collection Notes of a Native Son about race in America.

New Faculty

Four new faculty members joined us for the fall semester.

April Conway

April was a Writer-in-Resident for the Conference on Community Writing in Philadelphia this October. Though in her third year teaching writing at the University of Michigan, this is her first term teaching writing workshop and The Practice of Writing. Across her writing classes, she teaches multimodal composing, the dynamics of language and power (especially regarding race), and writing research methods. She uses a labor contract as a means to assess writing from an anti-racist pedagogical standpoint.

Dina Karageorgos

Dina’s research and teaching interests include twentieth- and twenty-first century African-American and anticolonial literature, visual culture and theory, antiracist pedagogy, and community-engaged learning. She’s incorporated the decolonial strategy of “remixing” in her writing courses. She recently published the essay “Toni Morrison and the Black Radical Tradition” in Jacobin Magazine. Another essay will be coming out in The Cambridge History of the U.S. South:  “Reconsidering Du Bois’s ‘Central Text’: W.E.B. Du Bois, Sarah Wright, and the Problem of the Black Worker.” 

Allie Piippo

Allie Piippo has been teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages for the past 17 years. She has taught in the US, Japan, and Turkey, but she is delighted to be back at her alma mater this term! Allie attended the Michigan TESOL conference in Grand Rapids on November 1st and 2nd, where she presented with colleagues on a Diversity and Inclusion workshop for international students, and on a reading/writing collaboration for English Language Learners. She then flew to Milwaukee for the NAFSA Region V Conference November 4-6, where she presented on topics related to an online orientation for international students, a peer mentor volunteer program that she had started at Eastern Michigan University. She also presented with colleagues on alternative advising strategies for international students. 

Hannah Webster

In addition to teaching a section of Writing 100 at Sweetland, Hannah serves as Managing Editor at MQR, teaches poetry in Dearborn public schools with InsideOut Detroit Literary Arts, and helps organize with the Ypsi Gathering Space at Riverside Arts. This year she also facilitated a poetry workshop at the Room Project in Detroit entitled “The Impossible is Our Paradise” and had poems published in Stone Canoe, 32Poems, Fairy Tale Review Online, and No Tokens. 

New Writing Workshop Coordinator

Mahal Stevens earned her BA in Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan, but took the leisurely route to her degree. She has attended every undergraduate institution in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti except for Concordia University. As a student she participated in various historical research projects, one of them being a Michigan In The World Fellowship where she studied some of the first Black women students at the University of Michigan.

When not working, Mahal is usually hanging out with her dog Simon, a miniature schnauzer mix.

Outside of being a dog mom, Mahal loves reality TV — for enjoyment and as a source of analysis. Her favorite shows are 90 Day Fiancé, Real Housewives of Atlanta, and the Flavor of Love (a classic). She also has a childhood fondness for murder mysteries such as Murder She Wrote, Matlock, and Diagnosis Murder.  In her free time she also dances, crafts, hangs out with her large family, and reads up on astrology.

Besides work related things, feel free to come to the front desk to chat with Mahal about: pets, reality TV, astrology, gender studies, history, or to celebrate Friday Eve.

Writer to Writer…to Writer to Writer? Sweetland Interview Series Spawns more Writing

We’ve been busy at Sweetland this year growing our Writer to Writer offerings, including continuing to host interviews between a Sweetland faculty member (Shelley Manis) and a prominent U-M faculty member and writer once a semester. These are held at Literati Bookstore in November and March, and are recorded for later broadcast on WCBN radio and podcast on Sweetland’s website. Last November we welcomed Pulitzer Prize winning historian Heather Ann Thompson. March’s guest was Associate Professor in the departments of Middle East Studies and History Ellen Muehlberger, whose interview coincided with the publication of her newest book, Moment of Reckoning: Imagined Death and Its Consequences in Late Ancient Christianity (Oxford).

You can listen to the audio of Heather Ann’s, Ellen’s, or other previous guests’ interviews here!

Shelley Manis (L) with Ellen Muehlberger (R)
Shelley Manis (L) with Heather Ann Thompson (R)

Meanwhile, the Minor in Writing students launched a Minor-led student literary journal and blog named after and associated with the series, Writer to Writer. These intrepid students dropped their “Zero Edition” e-journal in the Winter of 2018 and published their first print journal (also available online here) in the spring of 2019. The W2W executive board continues to build Writer to Writer’s visibility and engagement with rolling submissions for the ejournal and blog, and a second print edition in the works for spring. They’re also expanding their reach to host community events, such as a November “Writers’ Jam,” which created space for people to do prompted creative writing and share their work, and they’ve planned a writing workshop for January of 2020.

New Sweetland Initiatives in Dissertation Writing

This past year saw Sweetland increase its academic initiatives to aid graduate students as they write their dissertations. Sweetland has long offered a graduate course, Writing 630, that provides instructional support to graduate students writing in their discipline. Experience in the classroom revealed that, at times, a peer interaction between graduate students who were focusing on writing shorter pieces, like a conference presentation or an article for publication, and graduate students who were writing a dissertation chapter, were not the most advantageous, since the rhetorical conditions for the two enterprises were abundantly different. Therefore, Sweetland designed a novel course specifically answering the needs of dissertation writers: Writing 631, “Dissertation Writing.”

This course, while supporting doctoral candidates in completing one or more chapters of their dissertation, primarily aids students in gaining self-awareness as writers. The course engages doctoral students in planning, managing, and improving their writing process, as well as in solidifying practices that writers can apply to their future writing beyond the PhD. The format combines discussion meetings, peer-review sessions for effective revision, and reflective writing activities that prompt students to define what it means, in an academic setting of research and teaching, to be a writer.

Sweetland also received grants from The Office of Academic Innovation and The Office of the Provost to develop a digital messaging tool to assist graduate writers remotely: The Dissertation Coach. This tool takes advantage of an existing and successfully tested product in undergraduate education (ECoach), and reconfigures that platform to target graduate students in the dissertation writing phase. Following current practices in behavioral science, the Dissertation Coach aims at influencing positive writing behavior, especially when dissertation writers encounter challenges in productivity. The Dissertation Coach has been launched in its beta version during Fall 2019 as an addition to the interdisciplinary Sweetland/Rackham Dissertation Writing Groups. Sweetland faculty Louis Cicciarelli, Larissa Sano, and Simone Sessolo have developed the platform. They have been helped by Marisol Fila, a PhD student in Romance Languages and Literature.

The Peer Writing Center has moved to 2160 Shapiro!

After many years in the lower level of Angell Hall, the Sweetland Peer Writing Center has moved to the second floor of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library.

The new space is the culmination of nearly two years of planning, supported by the work of a small committee of peer writing consultants, led by consultant Regina Chen ‘18, who focused her Minor in Writing capstone project on writing center design. Her work included research into effective learning space design, as well as surveys of writing center clients and focus groups with writing consultants about their needs and preferences for the space.

Accessibility was a key consideration in the space design, with adjustable-height tables and some quieter spaces where noise and light levels can be adjusted to meet students’ needs. There are a variety of seating options, and our handouts are within easy reach of students using a wheelchair. The center includes a reservable multimodal collaboration room for students working on digital group projects. After Sweetland consulting hours, the center remains open to provide additional study space.

We share the new space with the library Peer Information Consultants, who support students with research projects. It’s a logical collaboration, and one that will continue to grow, as our consultants get to know each other better.

Because of our new location in the library, our staff development focus this fall has been on campus collaborations. We’ve hosted presenters from the English Language Institute, the Trotter Multicultural Center, Services for Students with Disabilities, the Department of Public Safety, LSA Academic Advising, and Wolverine Wellness.

Also this fall, the Peer Writing Center opened a new satellite in the Trotter Multicultural Center on State Street. We’re excited to be part of the programming in that building and to learn more about cross-cultural communication from Trotter staff.

Math + Writing = Learning

Math + Writing = Learning. This is the premise of Sweetland’s current offering in the large-enrollment course Math 216 and is part of M-Write’s ongoing process of fostering writing-to-learn across disciplines and departments at U-M. 

What started in 2016 as an effort to pilot writing-to-learn assignments in a few undergraduate courses has evolved into a much larger initiative involving 14 faculty members and over 20,000 students. Sweetland continues to support faculty across campus in using writing as a means of learning and simultaneously trains and supports dozens of undergraduate Writing Fellows each semester who work with these faculty.

Winter 2019 M-Write Fellows (morning class)
Winter 2019 M-Write Fellows (afternoon class)

Beginning in Fall 2019, Sweetland expanded its support of writing-to-learn to include Math 216, Introduction to Differential Equations. This course already included writing assignments designed to help students explain mathematical concepts and make connections between computer labs and course work. What was missing, however, was an opportunity for students to engage in a writing process designed to reinforce learning. 

Sweetland worked with Gavin LaRose, the course coordinator of Math 216, to find ways to improve the writing process for some of these assignments. This collaboration produced modifications to the assignments to allow for feedback, peer review, and revision. The goal of these changes is to encourage students to generate a low-stakes draft, to receive feedback on it and respond to the drafts of others, and then to use this experience to revise their own drafts.

The changes to the assignments in Math 216 reflect the core principles of the M-Write Program. One of these is that student learning can be improved by writing in response to assignments that include several essential elements – a meaning-making task, an assignment with clear expectations, and an interactive writing component that includes interacting with peers through a feedback process. 

Sweetland will continue to expand the number and type of courses it supports in Winter 2020, as we help faculty adopt writing-to-learn approaches in Political Science and Kinesiology, two areas new to M-Write. Throughout this expansion, we continue to focus on understanding how writing-to-learn assignments affect student learning by conducting research that identifies and measures student outcomes. The long-term goal is to create a new U-M equation: all courses + writing = learning.