On Tuesday afternoons, Iryna Johnson, a Saint Rose student from Ukraine, sits down for an hour with Jessica Callahan, a tutor in the College’s Writing Center. Johnson is studying for her advanced certificate in adolescent education and Callahan is helping her become better acquainted with some of the finer points of the English language.
It is a collaborative process, with the tutor reviewing the student’s writing and offering suggestions on word choice, clarity, grammar and usage. And when Johnson asks for clarification, Callahan might follow her answer with a question, a strategy to keep the conversation going.
“Writing was always hard for me and educational psychology and adolescence development are very complex subjects,” said Johnson. “Jessica has always helped me write clearly.”
Saint Rose now welcomes close to 200 students from more than 50 countries — students who are fanning out across the disciplines. Along with a range of academic interests and geographic origins, they reflect a range of abilities in – and experience with – writing English.
“Even countries that use English as a primary language might vary in terms of spelling or punctuation,” noted Colleen Thapalia, director of the Center for International Programs. “Sometimes, students need help with primary things like punctuation or spelling and sometimes it’s heavier things, like word choice and phrasing.”
Responding to the growing international population, the Writing Center has intensified the training of its tutors, motivated graduate assistants or interns. Each one attends a nine-hour orientation and mandatory weekly sessions to learn how to help students from other countries strengthen their English.
Writing Center Director Shirlee Dufort stays current through reading, conferences and collaboration with specialists in the field. Their discussions center on the challenges and the best practices for addressing writing needs of the increasingly global college campus.
And now, the College has hired two more tutors, Claudia Carlos and Nevine Ahmed, who have advanced credentials in teaching English to adults from all over the world. For a combined ten hours a week, they help students through all aspects of writing, from selecting a topic, outlining, organizing and writing a draft, to making revisions.
“All of the Writing Center tutors are trained to work with both native speakers of English and those who are further acquiring and developing their English language skills,” Dufort said.“The added expertise and experience Claudia and Nevine bring fosters a sense of confidence in our international students and lets them know that we value them and are sensitive to the challenges they face.”
Carlos, who has a Ph.D. in rhetoric and a master’s in teaching English as a Second Language, said she acquaints students from overseas with cultural practices along with the tools of grammar and usage.
“For example,” she said recently, “knowing how to address a professor properly or write a an appropriate e-mail can be a challenge to a newcomer.”