Coordinator’s Corner: Reflections on this past year as Hume’s Associate Director

Coordinator’s Corner: Reflections on this past year as Hume’s Associate Director

“I always enjoy the slight productive hum of voices @humecenter – this is how writing comes to be. When we have conversations about writing” This was a tweet I posted midday while in the Hume Center back in 2018. On another day I recall the Stanford Band passing right outside my Hume tutoring room window– admittedly my tutee and I had to pause our session for about a minute while enjoying a good chuckle! I fondly recall another day when a student sang a beautiful soft note outside my Hume office while waiting for her tutoring session to begin.  And then there’s the Hume Center’s small kitchen where lots of friendly chats about one’s latest tutoring session or even perhaps one’s much-anticipated lunch. Within the rooms, lounge, hallways and even copy room of the Hume Center, as Associate Director, I began to learn what makes a writing center hum. For this Coordinator’s Corner, I want to bring to the forefront the essence of the Hume Center. You probably guessed it: it’s the students and the tutors, and their shared trust and passion in discussing written or oral projects.

Fast-forward to Spring 2021, the Hume Center’s building is still temporarily closed due to the ongoing (soon subsiding) pandemic. Nevertheless, we know that hums and collaborative meaning-making while talking over our writing (or oral presentations) can also come in the form of an online tutoring session, albeit in different ways. During this past year, I have been awed by the resilience of our students and their ongoing drive to connect more purposefully with their writing, despite all the daily unknowns. As a tutor I have felt grounded and humbled by the consistent effort exerted by our students.

So, who are the students that frequent the Hume Center? Our tutees range from undergraduates to graduates and occasionally post-docs. This year I am thinking of Frosh, many of whom have not set foot on campus, and yet show a keenness in expressing their thoughts as they carve their way into their Research-based Arguments or final THINK assignments. One aspect I really enjoy when tutoring is that I too get to learn from students. On Zoom this year, there were links galore (and I mean that in a good way) which students sent me to better demonstrate the range of sources they were using for their papers. These links ranged from breaking news, Stanford Daily articles, art exhibits from Stanford’s Cantor museum, tweets and occasionally even music videos such as Beyoncé’s Lemonade or Childish Gambino’s This is America. When students realize you have a genuine interest in their topic and that you are curious enough to learn more about the direction they’re taking in their writing, they light up and become much more relaxed and verbose. While many Frosh students may perceive Hume sessions as a space to discuss polished drafts, their discovery that there is room to brainstorm and experiment with different ideas with their tutor can be very liberating. The key to helping students in such ideation sessions is encouraging them to see that they are already halfway there and that listing an outline and crafting a to-do list gets them many steps closer to a solid first draft.

This year I’m thinking of Seniors too who despite the challenges of this past year enrolled in high numbers for a Hume-led Medical School Personal Statement Boot Camp. Again, I find myself in awe of all the concerted efforts students have exerted to reach this point in their academic journey. During the second hour of this boot camp, I worked with a Hume peer tutor in different breakout rooms and addressed students’ questions about their personal statement drafts. Many Hume tutors will relate to that moment where the writer is trying to connect a personal story with their professional experience but lack a common thread that weaves the whole piece together. As tutors, we need to earn writers’ trust so that they can share with us different angles of their story; and so, in turn, we can encourage them to articulate (in their own words) the stories they want to reflect their best work and their most honest moments. This is no trifling task for students. And it requires for us as tutors to become genuine listeners while keeping an eye on the writer’s purpose and utilizing open-ended questions. Such techniques encourage writers to envision ways to express their intentions to an audience that may have little patience or capacity to read and then re-read. Reciprocating ideas with our tutees and conversing helps writers see the real-world impact of their written work. During such tutoring sessions, students’ written words are no longer abstract but begin to have actual reactions from their readers.

Tutoring techniques as those mentioned above (amongst many others) are amply discussed during the tutoring seminar where recently hired undergraduate/peer and graduate tutors enroll in preparation for becoming tutors. During the quarter-long tutoring seminar, we offer our tutors a selection of tools such as readings focused on tutoring pedagogy, tutoring scenarios, sample student papers for practice tutoring, as well as tutor observations. The tutor seminar aims to help our Hume tutors “develop the foundational knowledge for working with writers across disciplines, identities, and cultures” (PWR195/295 Syllabus). Frankly, I am often impressed by the sagacity of our tutors and the ways in which they generously share their own writing strategies/learning experiences which helps tutees experiment with a diverse range of writing-related tips and tricks. The Hume Center is unique in that it is staffed by lecturers, as well as graduate and undergraduate tutors; it is this vibrant community of tutors that helps students see themselves in our tutors.   

One last group of students I’d like to mention during my work as Associate Director at Hume are the indomitable Dissertation Boot Campers. Every academic year, the Hume Center holds 11 Dissertation Boot Camps where graduate students have the opportunity to dedicate four specific hours daily over the duration of two weeks in community with other graduate students. During Spring 2020, I worked directly with our graduate DBC monitor when we swiftly transitioned to an online format and ever since that transition, the demand for participating in the DBC has remained especially high. Since the online format removed literal space constraints, we were able to increase enrollment from 16 to 26 participants. For the first time, graduate students in different locations (often for research-data collection purposes) were able to join us remotely. While our transition online is likely temporary, the DBC provided a much-needed silver-lining for many of our participants who had found their daily routine disrupted. DBCers shared that the ritual of connecting online at a specific time to a group of encouraging faces (even if in Zoom boxes) and starting the day with writing prompts was a crucial impetus for continuing their dissertation writing. I’ve greatly admired the dedication and sense of camaraderie (at times humor!) displayed by DBCers, many of whom tried out Hume tutoring for the first time this year. A focus on wellness was a key part of the online DBC where participants joined in guided breathing meditations at the start of the day. In addition, there were occasional midday walking breaks where DBCers (each from their individual locations) would take a quick walk around the block. I find it encouraging that transitioning online brought in new ideas for DBC participants to support each other in ways that transcended physical locations. While we are looking forward to returning to campus, I believe we can maintain some of these wellness-focused habits for future iterations of the DBC.

This past year has been filled to the brim with the uncertainties of a global pandemic and ongoing struggles for social justice.  And yet, our tutors have persisted and showed such courage through their commitment to their work and their support of one another and their tutees during these trying times, even while solely meeting online. I can only begin to imagine - given how much we have collectively learned this past year - how much support, encouragement and hope our tutoring community will continue to offer the wider campus community in the upcoming 2021-2022 academic year.