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Sometimes help comes from unexpected places. For some developing writers at Lafayette, their help came from the island of Trinidad, by way of the engineering division.

When Fayola Bostic ’05 left Trinidad four years ago, she had dreams of becoming an engineer. She graduated with a B.S. degree in electrical and computer engineering and an A.B. with a major in international studies. She’s now working as an engineer at Reliant Energy in Astoria, Queens. But she selected Lafayette because of the diverse opportunities it offered.

One unexpected opportunity was the College Writing Program, which employed Bostic as a writing associate for her junior and senior years. The program trains selected undergraduates as writing associates, assigning them to specific courses in the College’s general curriculum and in a wide variety of disciplines. Writing associates meet with each student in an affiliated course at least four times a semester in conferences of approximately 30 minutes.

Prior to meeting with her assigned students, she met with the professor, who explained what kinds of papers would be assigned. The students would later bring their drafts, which they’d discuss and develop.

“We don’t look for grammar, things that are low-order concerns, unless it’s really glaring,” Bostic says. “We look for clarity, bigger concerns like organization and structure, things that make a paper easier to read.”

This past semester, Bostic helped a class of 20 students learning the myriad ramifications of weapons of mass destruction. In addition, she met with others who dropped in for assistance on writing projects in different classes.

While engineers are often perceived as focused on math and science, Bostic disagrees with the prejudice against their writing abilities.

“I think that’s a general misconception,” she says. “There’s a lot of writing involved, more than a lot of people expect. We need to explain ideas. We have to communicate clearly the big ideas.”

Such misconceptions, however, present challenges for the relationship between writing student and writing associate.

“It has worked against me sometimes, in terms of students’ expectations,” she admits. “When you work with other engineers and science majors – or, surprisingly, men – they tend to respect you more.”

As any good writer knows, however, “it’s also about reading skills, being able to read critically,” Bostic says. “What can be improved and what you’re looking for when you’re reading, that’s not discipline-specific.”

Being able to develop continuity with students in the program enables the process to work.

“Sometimes being an engineer helped me,” she says. “I was able to pick out more details and look at things more methodically than some of my colleagues.”

Asked what goes into a successful conference with a student, Bostic focuses on the process.

“I gauge that from student to student,” she says. “A successful conference for me is when the student was really engaged and had a lot to contribute. If I got a sense from them that they left with a greater sense of where they were going to go with their paper, then I see it as successful. … They took ideas and really thought about what was to be done.”

In Trinidad, the Caribbean paradise off the South American coast, Bostic was trained under the British-style educational system. “American-English and British-English are more different than you’d think,” she says. For example, Americans write with a different tone and use diction no self-respecting ‘Britisher’ would use in a formal report.

“I found that U.S. students write a lot more informally than students trained in the British system,” she says. “They’re more conversational than a British-trained student would be. [When working with a student] I need to be aware of my own bias.”

The bias can also extend to science. “In British-system scientific writing you always use the passive voice. … For Americans, it’s like the plague.”

With a diverse student population and accessible professors, Bostic enjoyed her years at Lafayette. She also liked the virtually equal male-female ratio in the student body. “At a technical school you run the risk of it being mostly male.”

When determining where she wanted to go to college, Bostic was attracted to Lafayette’s reputation as a school strong in both engineering and liberal arts.

“I feel that you need a whole education, and it’s important to have not just technical stuff rammed down your throat,” she says. “I think there’s more to me than just science.”

Categorized in: Academic News