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Lafayette’s College Writing Program impressed Maggie Oberrender ’07 (Bridgewater, N.J.) when she toured campus as a prospective student. The fact that the program is primarily run by students dedicated to helping their peers become better writers was pivotal in her decision to attend Lafayette.

“I was one of those people who loved all of the schools I visited, and I was looking for a unique aspect to each one to help narrow down the decision,” says the double major in English and French. “The program is something that other schools didn’t have. Getting to work with students is a unique aspect to it all and something that helped sway my decision to come here.”

As soon as she was eligible, Oberrender applied to the program. Now in her third semester as a writing associate, she has already tutored more than 40 of her peers on the importance of strong writing skills.

Established in 1987, the writing program helps integrate the practice of excellent writing into courses. The program trains selected undergraduates as writing associates, assigning them to classes representing a wide variety of disciplines. Lafayette students must complete a written application, grammar test, and interview process to become writing associates. In addition to meeting with students in affiliated courses, they run a drop-in service for those who need help in other classes.

Oberrender’s job includes meeting with faculty to discuss writing assignments and outline professors’ expectations for each assignment. This fall, she is working with the class Shifting Perspectives: The Influence of Western Scientific Thought on Japanese Art. She holds four individual conferences with each student during the semester.

“Depending on the stage of the assignment, [my conference with the student] ranges from discussing topic ideas to final drafts or semester-long research papers,” she says. “My main goal of every conference is to get the student talking about his or her writing.

“I don’t want to come off as the authority, and a lot of times we just give suggestions. We’re like sounding boards that they are able to bounce their ideas off of.”

As a first-year student, neuroscience major Lauren Finder ’08 (Ridgewood, N.J.) turned to Oberrender for pointers on technical writing. They met frequently to discuss writing style, grammar, and other issues. After a semester of working together, Finder noticed great improvement in her writing.

“She seemed genuinely interested in my work and helped me to feel confident as a writer,” Finder says. “She was helpful and very friendly.”

Marquis Scholar Richard Krebs ’08 (Kennebunk, Maine) worked with Oberrender during his First-Year Seminar on international conflict and became a writing associate himself this semester.

“The great thing is that no matter how strong you are as a writer, you can grow with the help of a peer who is trained as a writer and reader,” says the government and law major. “[It] made me more confident in my abilities and skills.”

Krebs adds that one of the most beneficial aspects of the program is hearing another writer’s perspective.

“I found that there is always room for improvement, and that’s what the program strives for,” he says. “It’s not designed only for weaker students; it’s a program for all students because you have this personal relationship and know this individual’s thoughts, and that’s really nice.”

Oberrender enjoys watching students like Krebs become stronger writers.

“With Richard, the time was spent fine-tuning his writing into really clear, detailed writing of a higher order,” she says. “His writing went from good to more confident. With many students, over the course of one semester, you can really see the actual progress they’re making. In just four meetings, you can see drastic advances in things they really had to focus on in the beginning.”

To those less familiar with the fine points of high-level writing, Oberrender tries to focus on the importance of writing a clear paper that meets the professor’s requirements.

“I talk to them about getting their ideas down, and I try to help them not be so grade-oriented,” she explains. “Especially for the first paper that first-year students have to write, they tend to be concerned about grades, and I tell them, ‘This is just one paper out of four, so the most important thing is to focus on the assignment and whether you’re answering all the questions the professor asked.’ I’ve had students come in and completely change their topics after they talk with me.”

In addition to making a major commitment to their assigned classes, writing associates staff an after-hours drop-in service where students of all class years and majors can seek advice on assignments.

“Once I started working with the program last year, I realized how much it helps my own writing,” Oberrender says. “I’m able to go back and read my own papers removed from them, as if I was reading another student’s paper, and that’s helpful. Being aware of everything I point out in their papers helps with my own.”

Although she is not clear on the specific field she’d like to pursue, Oberrender wants to continue her work with writing. She plans to get a master’s degree in English, publishing, or editing.

Oberrender is president of Le Cercle Francais (French Club) and a member of Arts Society, College Choir, Experience Lafayette Committee, and Madrigal Singers, an a cappella group. She is a graduate of The Pingry School.

Categorized in: Academic News