Monday, January 30, 2017

Week 2: Research University

My general, sort of 10,000 foot view of higher education is from a more liberal education approach: that college is meant to help you become an adult person. What I mean by that is that higher ed is a place not just where you learn about math, science, writing, history, engineering, art, and so on, but also where you find yourself, your interests, what motivates you, what gets you out of bed in the morning, and what kind of person you want to be. The motto of my undergrad institution is, "Make a life. Make a living. Make a difference." It's a private, liberal arts university, and I think it partially made me who I am today. Of course, I didn't see myself coming back to school after that, and certainly not for a PhD after getting my MFA.

Having worked at a community college, I have a lot of feelings about how the community should be served by higher education institutions. I think first and foremost is serving students, which might sound stupid to say, but there have been plenty of times in my own experience that it seems students are forgotten in the big picture of higher ed. We get wrapped up in institutional memory, "how things are always done," and forget that students are the #1 priority in any higher ed institution. Community college students often have different needs and experiences than do ones in a four-year university, so it's important to understand what challenges and opportunities are present for them. Helping students learn best in my discipline is pretty much my life's purpose. I feel strongly connected to education, pedagogy, and writing, and when I found that such a job existed, I had to have it. But in order to have it, I found I pretty much needed a PhD. So here I am. When it comes to research, I think that has to benefit students and how they learn also because a first priority in a community college or even land-grant university should be serving students. Whatever I research, I want it to have impact and importance for my students and future ones. Otherwise, I feel like it's pretty useless. I'm sure plenty of people feel differently, but that's because they have a different purpose in life than mine. This is my ut prosim.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Week 1: Introduction

Hi everyone, I'm Allison Hutchison, a second-year PhD student in the Rhetoric & Writing program. I've taught reading and writing at community colleges and an online university. My research interests are writing centers, sonic/sound pedagogy, and learning management systems.

The Principles of Community are interesting to me in that they pertain to a previous research project I did on writing center mission statements. I am interested in how writing centers may or may not reflect the larger institution's mission statement in their own. Like writing centers, I see these principles as guides for how one is expected to behave in the VT community. I'm actually really impressed that the Principles statement recognizes previous "bias and exclusion" because it's a way of admitting that the university has made mistakes but is willing to learn from them. It's like admitting that you come from a place of privilege that alters how you see the world, what in my field might be referred to by Kenneth Burke's notion of the "terministic screen." 

I'm drawn to the inclusion of VT's motto because I think service is an integral part of a land grant university's mission. Last semester, Rosemary Blieszner, Associate Dean of the graduate school, came to speak in our Field Methods class, and I was so impressed and inspired by her dedication to service. In our field, service is sometimes looked down upon because our field often gets reduced to an emblem of service; in other words, teaching writing is viewed as a service to the university and, therefore, not very important. Of course, I think that's a load of crap. At the same time, I value service very much. I think it's possible to teach writing, serve your institution, and not be reduced to "that department that teaches students where to put commas." That ain't what it's about. So naturally, I'm drawn to "the right of each person to express thoughts and opinions freely" and how, specifically, that expression comes into being.