Cultivating a Culture of Writing
Dr. Scott Stevens is the John and Linda Seiter Endowed Director of Writing
In the era of Tweeting and texting, we read and write more than ever. But for much of the writing we do, urgency has replaced precision, and brevity eclipses thoughtfulness.
However, Dr. Scott Stevens is one professor whose sole focus at the University of Redlands is to ensure that writing effectively remains central to a liberal arts education. It is a job he relishes.
As the John and Linda Seiter Endowed Director of Writing, Stevens said, “My immodest goal is to have Redlands graduates be recognizable by the quality of their writing.”
Stevens’ directorship—the first of its kind at the University—addresses concrete challenges such as developing instructional approaches for writing across the curriculum by treating the entire Redlands campus as a laboratory for literacy study.
How do chemists represent their expertise to others? How do geographers turn reams of GIS data into publically accessible information? Stevens’ role requires studying how writing is used and learned from musicology to marketing, GIS to government.
“Currently I am working to find ways to enhance writing development, from the first year to the capstone experience, without adding more coursework—transforming writing from a mere requirement to equipment for living,” Stevens said.
“Most American students leave high school clinging to two damaging ideas about writing: that it can be learned early and once, and that writing is an event rather than ordinary work we do every day. To help students learn to embrace the idea that communicating in writing is at the heart of their personal development during college, we have to create an environment and an expectation of continual self-development. We have to remind them daily that college isn't about collecting information, but about searching for ways to transform yourself into the most imaginative, responsive, intelligent person you can be.”
Redlands has a long tradition of excellent writing instruction across the disciplines. The writing across the curriculum initiative helps strike a balance between expertise and expression, between knowing how to do something and being able to communicate what one is doing.
“Redlands faculty have been tremendously dedicated in developing student literacy through their courses. When one cares on a personal level, it’s easy to forget that we are a collective enterprise, a relay race of sorts. Part of my job is helping to clarify how each of us runs only part of the race and working to refine approaches to our individual portions. More targeted assignments, research-based methods, and clearer objectives—in short, smarter uses of writing—will create a coordinated, sustainable model to make Redlands graduates uncommonly good writers in the worlds beyond our campus.”
Stevens said a central initiative has been redesigning faculty development through a semester-long Faculty Seminar in Teaching Writing.
“Most universities try to address teaching writing in one- or two-day workshop. Through the generosity of our Dean, faculty chosen for this seminar are awarded a $1,000 stipend for their concentrated attention on writing pedagogy during the semester. Seminar alumni will go on to serve as advocates for an enlarged conception of writing in their departments and across the campus.”
Other key initiatives involve revising curricula to revise how writing is represented on campus, working with the English department to redesign the Academic Writing Seminar and to create the Redlands Writing Studio.
“The newly redesigned Seminar promises to give entering students the foundation they need to adapt to the varied demands of courses and careers to come,” he said. “The Writing Studio, our greatest innovation to date, is a one-unit collaborative workshop led by a professional writing mentor to help student with writing in and beyond their coursework. Instead of presenting writing as a requirement, as a hurdle to get over, the Studio creates an opt-in model for personal growth, giving students greater responsibility and control over their education at Redlands.”
As longtime advocates of giving back, John ’63 and Linda Seiter wanted to be a part of that transformation. The Seiters, who married before John’s senior year at Redlands, share a fondness for the University which they consider to have played an important role in the development of their family. Vet’s Village, in fact, served as their first home as newlyweds.
Several years ago, John and Linda made a concerted effort to pass along their philanthropic philosophy to their daughters and grandchildren by creating The Seiter Family Foundation. The gifts made by the Foundation are the direct result of a request coming from one or more of their family members—giving to hospitals and schools that hold personal meaning in their lives, starting with the University of Redlands.
The establishment of the John and Linda Seiter Endowed Director of Writing is a gift that will make it possible to engage students in scholarly and creative work that extends far beyond the classroom, paying dividends that will serve them throughout their lives.
Posted: March 10, 2014