By: Mark Currie

Pittsburgh: steel town of America, land of French fries on a salad, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Penguins, and Steelers, and birthplace of Andy Warhol.  It was also where the International Writing Centers Association held its annual conference this October 8–10.  The conference theme –Writing Center (r)Evolutions – attracted over 800 participants from around the world and, for the first time, three of them were from UPEI’s Writing Centre: Dr. Robin Sutherland[1], Mark Currie[2], and Chris Thompson[3].  The trio presented their paper-in-progress, ELLE of an Opportunity: Writing Centre Staff Volunteer their Time & Expertise for the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation.

Image courtesy of Mark Currie. Chris Thompson (L) and Mark Currie (R) at the IWAC
Image courtesy of Mark Currie. Chris Thompson (L) and Mark Currie (R) at the IWAC

The conference attendees offered questions and congratulations as Robin, Mark, and Chris challenged the unbefitting stigma of writing centres as places of remedial-level writing assistance. The UPEI Writing Centre works with the philosophy that writing is integral to not only the university experience, but also the post-university world.  Indeed, ELLE of an Opportunity strongly outlines how UPEI’s writing partnership with the H&S Foundation can exemplify garnering professional development and civic engagement through writing centres.  For the past two years, WC tutors have volunteered their time and writing expertise to craft the creative copy for the live and silent auction items sold at the annual H&S fundraiser, Norton’s Razzle Dazzle Red.  The WC tutors wrote text for roughly 120 auction items for the 2014 gala – helping the H&S Foundation in PEI raise the highest amount of money since the fundraiser’s inception – and another 130 auction items for the 2015 event.  The H&S Foundation has requested that the partnership continue for the 2016 fundraiser next February.

While in Pittsburgh, the three UPEI representatives met writing centre directors, coordinators, and student tutors from around the world – USA, Brazil, Colombia, and Iran, just to name a few – and it became apparent that the UPEI Writing Centre, while coming from a smaller school, was able to stand tall as an equal and, in many cases, as a leader when compared to fellow writing centres.  Both in and outside of sessions, Robin, Mark, and Chris learned about the great diversity that exists in writing centre practice: the many ways the writing centres operate, are institutionally situated and staffed, and how they mandate their work.  Panels and workshops explored theories of writing pedagogy, and addressed the debate between tutor practises – direct and indirect revision, as well as the best institutional location of writing centres in universities – department-related or distinct entity.  They returned to PEI with much to ponder, and certain of their commitment to pilot new ideas and revolutionize the status quo perceptions of academic writing.

Mark and Chris would like to thank the people at UPEI who provided encouragement and financial support to make this journey possible.  In particular, they would like to acknowledge and thank Dr. Christian Lacroix (VP Academic), Dr. Robert Gilmour (VP Research & Graduate Studies), Dr. Nebojsa Kujundzic (Dean of Arts), Ms. Treena Smith (Manager of UPEI Student Affairs), and the UPEI Student Union.

[1] Dr. Robin Sutherland is the UPEI Writing Centre Coordinator

[2] Mark Currie is a Master of Arts in Island Studies Candidate at UPEI and the UPEI Writing Centre’s Project Manager

[3] Chris Thompson is an Honours Bachelor of English Candidate at UPEI, one of UPEI Writing Centre’s Senior Tutors, and the 2015-2016 Editor in Chief of the UPEI Arts Review