Professional Millennials in the Writing Center

Posted: December 10, 2013 in Writing Center
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It’s Not Easy Being Millennial

Young adults who are between the ages of 19 and 33 and born on the cusp of the 21st century face a daunting reality: a high number of highly-educated young adults who are unemployed (Thompson). Economics might be to blame. The 2008 recession continues to delay their career pathways and retirement savings. Well-being might be another cause. These unsettling times means Millennials are surrounded by fear, uncertainty, and doubt because they “lack stable close relationships, a feeling of safety, and a simple path to adulthood and the workplace” (Twenge 136). Perception might also be a reason. Some Baby Boomers view Millennials as being the entitled “Me” generation that appears cocky rather than confident when networking or interviewing.

Facebook Status: Job searching…again.

Although Millennials face numerous challenges, they are more global, more connected, more resilient, more self-reliant, and more adaptive than any previous generation (Burstein 95-96; Woodruff). Social media is the great leveler for this generation. It equalizes access to culture, politics, and social justice. Information’s free flow, social media’s vast transparency, and technology’s inclusiveness creates an innovative spark that is interspersed with millennials’ personal, academic, political, and professional lives.

Millennials as digital natives are more prone to express their views online, connect online, and communicate online, making them more open to innovative possibilities that get published on a large, globalized scale (Burstein 54-59). In order to obtain employment in difficult job market, Facebook, Pintrest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Prezi, Instagram, and blogging platforms are tools for constant networking.

Logically then, millennials rely on technology 1) to make life easier, 2) to access information quickly, 3) to play a greater role in political activism, 4) to create a more efficient use of time, and 5) to develop closer bonds between friends and family (Taylor and Keeter 26-27; White 11). As a result, these easily personalized, customized, and individualized tools foster the Millennial generation’s resourceful, innovative, and connected spirit (Kelm 507).

Social media equips Millennials, and they want to use their skills to find the right balance for the multiple obligations that fill their busy schedules (Lancaster and Stillman 55). They have a strong commitment to actionable and realizable goals that can be reached in practical increments. Creativity and communication and collaboration speak directly to the literature surrounding writing centers’ pedagogies, tutors’ transferrable job skills, and employers’ hiring demands.

Assessing Professional Development in Writing Centers

In the writing center, tutees are not only gaining skills; tutors are as well. However, tracking peer writing tutor professional development did not begin until 2000. Wright State University created a survey, distributed it to their writing center alumni, and received the small sample size of 29 respondents. One of the questions was “What, specifically, did you learn from Writing Center training and tutoring?” Writing center alumni responded with the following skills: improving communication, increasing flexibility, prioritizing others’ needs, and adapting problem-solving techniques (Macklin, Marshall, and Law 14).

PWTARP

This finding was formally determined in 2004 by Harvey Kail, Paula Gillespie, and Brad Hughes, creators of The Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project (PWTARP) (“The Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project”). PWTARP surveyed 126 alumni from University of Maine, Florida International University, and University of Wisconsin-Madison to tackle the question, “What do students take with them from their education and experience as peer writing tutors that would account for this continued engagement?”

The results from the PWTARP’s open-ended/Likert-scale survey demonstrated determined five categories: a new relationship with writing, learning collaborative learning, critical and analytic reading ability, the value of listening, and joining a community of knowledgeable peers. These categories factor directly into the workplace, demonstrating “that the influence of being a peer tutor is strong, and that its effects endure—two years and ten years and even twenty years beyond graduation” (Hughes, Gillespie, and Kail 39).

The PWTARP fostered an interest in the literature surrounding tutors’ career development. Two articles, “Shaping Careers in the Writing Center” and “Putting Your Writing Center Experience to Work,” focused on identifying the workplace skills tutors could promote in a job interview (Welsch, 1-8; Whalen, 9-10). These categories, which were similar to PWTARP, included: administration, public relations, interpersonal/client communication, analytic skills, pedagogy, technology skills, and professional development (Welsch, 1-8; Whalen, 9-10).

Sue Dinitz and Jean Kiedaisch from University of Vermont replicated PWTARP with 135 alumni in 2009. From their survey results, they identified the following four categories of transferrable job skills: interpersonal skills, various writing skills, mentoring, and general thinking skills (1-5).

Writing Consultants are Ready to Work

A Millennial writing consultant already has the ability to be successful in client relations, written/oral communications, and interpersonal interactions because of the time spent solving problems, analyzing tasks, and adapting tutoring techniques. The writing center community has prepared them with leadership abilities by encouraging research presentations and mentoring new tutors. Accurate record-keeping and plagiarism prevention means writing consultants possess strong ethics and integrity. Overall, college graduates who have tutored are willing to tackle problems with professional decorum.

Transferrable Workplace Skills

Writing centers, according to the PWTARP and other anecdotal evidence, create a dialogic, relationship-based culture. Communication through collaboration, through writing and reading, and through a well-established community creates necessary workplace skills employers are looking for. In 2006, an in-depth survey titled Are They Really Ready to Work was distributed to over 400 human resource representatives and senior executives to determine workplace readiness for the 21st century.

The results of Are They Really Ready to Work identify an ideal worker as one who has a professional presence and is willing to collaborate with others to solve problems in an innovative way. The report identified deficiencies that are considered very important but needed improvement: written communications, writing in English, and leadership (Casner-Lotto and Barrington 41). The results also predicted that in the next five years creativity/innovation was expected to be most critical workplace skills (Casner-Lotto and Barringon 50).

More recently in 2012, the Center for Professional Development at York College of Pennsylvania surveyed 415 college faculty members nationwide to establish professionalism traits in college juniors and seniors. The professors’ responses revealed a series of skills that set professional students apart from their peers (Center for Professional Development 18-26).

Professionalism is demonstrated by accepting personal responsibility for their decisions, displaying a sense of ethics, and exhibiting an attentive focus. Time management, thorough preparation, and dependability are also important factors as well as appearance and appropriate dress. Verbal and written communication goes hand in hand with interpersonal skills. Students who are respectful and considerate do not have the negative association of being entitled.

The Writing Center Consultant Project

Assessing transferable job skills aligns with a long trend of collaborative learning, knowledge sharing, personal transformation, and networking. The Writing Center Consultant Project (WCCP) started in September 2013 replicates the PWTARP with a new population—undergraduate tutors—in order to meet the goal of assessing the transferable job skills they gain before entering the workplace.

The Likert-scale/open-ended survey was sent to York College of Pennsylvania, Shippensburg University, University of Maryland, Loyola University, Salisbury University, and Towson University. The sample for WCCP’s pilot study was small (15 out of 100 sent surveys were returned); however, the impact of this research is filled with potential. The WCCP revealed that tutors are incredibly enthusiastic about the positive impact of their writing center experience. Participants pointed out the broad brushstrokes that make up the portrait of a writing center. They identified that tutoring is creativity and communication in coordination. Others recognized that tutoring broadens a person’s perspective on reality, on language, on the writing process, on conflict resolution, and on relationship-building. The tutors’ narratives and Likert-scale ratings revealed the trends outlined below; however tutors also identified that they lacked strategic professional development skills such as interviewing strategies and career planning, which would ensure future job placement.

Client Relations

Occurred when tutors prioritized tutees’ needs by approaching a hierarchy of concerns through active listening, genuine praise, and non-directive questioning dependent on the stage of the writing process. Meeting students’ needs varied from drafting, crafting a thesis statement, organization, brainstorming, and writer’s voice. Many tutors were able to identify the personal and professional value of their work because they enjoyed helping people with writing. For others, building confidence was memorable because the act of doing so was a two-way street: writing consultants get confidence by giving the tutee confidence.

Interpersonal Skills

Demonstrated when tutors improve communication by valuing listening, learning to collaborate, or increasing flexibility when problem solving. The results revealed that the undergraduate tutors favored the conversation and rapport-building aspects of their tutoring experience. One writing consultant identified communication as a significant ability because she had to verbalize her thoughts to different types of people “clearly and concisely so anyone [could] understand my feedback.” A specific skill area was working with ELL students, which proved to be especially rewarding.

Professional Development

Consisted of various skills: administration, marketing, critical and analytical reading/writing/thinking skills, pedagogy, diversity training, conflict management, technology use, and mentoring. The tutors found that tutoring taught them patience and confidence. The tutors seemed especially empowered when they could help their peers become better writers by meeting their needs and providing them with praise.

Joining the Writing Center Community

A lasting skill writing consultants would take with them. Language in the literature speaks to tutors viewing writing as conversation, developing a new relationship with writing, or engaging with their knowledgeable peers. The tutors surveyed pinpointed an improvement in their own personal writing processes because they are able to look at their writing, identify common mistakes, and critique critically for grammar and style.

Prioritizing Professional Development

Administrators who ask consultants to complete the WCCP’s Likert-scale/open-ended survey at the end of each semester will gauge their professional development needs. Additional support can be established by distributing a checklist of options provided via the college career center or collaboration with writing center alumni. Some sample options include:

College Career Center Professional Development

  • Resume/cover letter reviews and mock interview sessions
  • Job search strategies and social media branding
  • Graduate school application advising
  • Career interest surveys and career counseling

Writing Center Alumni Networking

  • Provide voluntary community service opportunities
  • Locate internships to strengthen professional development
  • Mentor tutors to help them identify and sell transferable skills
  • Review research presentation applications for national and regional conferences

Promoting Further Study

The WCCP pilot study does not seek to provide writing center administrators a concrete answer as to why undergraduate tutors are unemployed post graduation; rather, it provides insight as to how tutors see themselves as future professionals in the workplace. Research like the WCCP has never been implemented before. Knowing tutors’ perceptions of their workplace readiness in a quantitative form makes implementing career development interventions for an easier transition out of academia. Any continuation of the WCCP will generate growth in writing centers’ grassroots movement of professional development and workplace readiness. For more information or to obtain the survey tools associated with the Writing Center Consultant Project, please contact Emily Raffensberger by email at eraffens@gmail.com.

Works Cited

Burstein, David. Fast Future: How the Millennial Generation is Shaping Our World. Boston: Beacon Press, 2013. Print.

Casner-Lotto, Jill, and Linda Barrington. Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of New Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce. USA: The Conference Board, Inc, 2006. Print.

Center for Professional Development. York College of Pennsylvania. 2012 Professionalism on Campus. York: Polk-Lepson Research Group, 2013. Print.

Dinitz, Sue, and Jean Kiedaisch. “Tutoring Writing as Career Development.” The Writing Lab Newsletter 34.3 (2009): 1-5. Print.

Hughes, Bradley, Paula Gillespie, and Harvey Kail. “What They Take with Them: Findings from the Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project.” The Writing Center Journal. 30.2 (2010). 12-46. Print.

Kelm, Orlando R. “Social Media: It’s What Students Do.” Business Communication Quarterly 74.4 (2011): 505-520.

McKinney, Jackie. Peripheral Visions for Writing Centers. Logan, Utah: Utah State University Press, 2013. Print.

Taylor, Scott and Paul Keeter. “The Millennials.” Pew Research Center. 2013 Pew Research Center. 10 Dec. 2009. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.

“The Peer Writing Tutoring Alumni Research Project.” The Peer Writing Tutor Alumni Research Project. 2013. Web. 2 Sept. 2013.

Thompson, Derek. “How to Write the Worst Possible Column About Millennials.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. 4 Nov. 2013 Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

Twenge, Jean M. Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before. New York: Free Press, 2006. Print.

Welsch, Kathleen. “Shaping Careers in the Writing Center.” The Writing Lab Newsletter 32.8 (2008): 1-8. Print.

Whalen, Lisa. “Putting Your Writing Center Experience to Work.” The Writing Lab Newsletter 29.9 (2005): 9-10. Print.

White, Holly. “Gen Yers shift choices, process, leadership styles.” Central Penn Business Journal. 28.15 (2012): 3-11. Print.

Woodruff, Judy. “Millennials Study Captures Snapshot of Young America.” PBS Newshour. MacNeil/Lehrer Productions. 24 Feb. 2010. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

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