Writing Across the Curriculum Program Receives High Marks From Top Educator in the Field

The University of St. Thomas’ Writing Across the Curriculum program recently received high praise from internationally recognized Writing Across the Curriculum specialist Dr. Chris Anson.

Anson is University Distinguished Professor at North Carolina State University, where he also is director of the Campus Writing and Speaking Program.

Dr. Chris Anson spoke to St. Thomas faculty at a Writing Across the Curriculum workshop in July. Photo by Usman Waheed.

In a letter to Dr. Erika Scheurer, director of St. Thomas' WAC program and associate professor of English, Anson called St. Thomas’ program “distinctive,” adding that it “rises to … a high level of excellence.” He also noted that the program “has all the characteristics of being a national leader in the effort to incorporate writing in all courses and curricula.”

Scheurer takes Anson’s commendation as a sign that the program is on the right track. “This program is a tremendous undertaking for St. Thomas, and knowing that we’re doing everything that can be done according to the best practices of the field is reassuring,” she said.

Anson, who travels the world leading WAC workshops, has led five-day seminars here twice yearly since the program’s inception three years ago. He will teach his sixth seminar at St. Thomas this January.

Through St. Thomas’ program, faculty have the flexibility to develop three kinds of WAC courses − Writing Intensive (focus on writing as a process and product in core courses), Writing to Learn (informal writing as a process for learning course content) or Writing in the Disciplines (writing in students’ major fields of study) − tailored to match the curricular level, learning goals and disciplinary needs of the course.

Dr. Diane Anderson (left), Modern and Classical Languages Department; Dr. Erika Scheurer (middle), English Department; and Dr. Michael Naughton, Catholic Studies Department. Photo by Usman Waheed.

It is this tripartite model of implementation that Anson finds notable and unique in U.S. higher education; moreover, he told Scheurer, he is so impressed by it that he cites St. Thomas’ program as an example of how to implement WAC into curricula when he leads workshops at other colleges and universities.

Scheurer believes that WAC has a unifying effect on university curricula “because the need to write effectively is a common denominator for work in every academic discipline, from accounting to zoology.” University administration agrees with her, and Scheurer is working to prepare enough faculty in WAC eventually to make it a requirement for graduation, much like the diversity requirement.

However, she points out that although WAC is not yet a formal requirement, St. Thomas professors who have taken Anson’s workshops are already implementing WAC in their courses: “Faculty across campus are doing a truly outstanding job of supporting student writing in engaging and innovative ways. Our end-of-semester surveys show that students really value this pedagogy.”

Dr. Kendra Garrett (left), School of Social Work; Dr. Heather Bouwman, English Department. Photo by Usman Waheed.

The guiding principle behind Writing Across the Curriculum in general is that students do not learn to write through one or two courses in English; rather, learning to write takes time and practice, and because effective writing is context-specific, this practice must happen in a variety of courses across the academic disciplines.

Two staff members and 90 faculty members from 15 departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as the School of Engineering, the School of Social Work and Opus College of Business, have participated in the workshops.

Faculty and staff interested in learning more about St. Thomas’ WAC program may contact Dr. Erika Sheurer.