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Drawing from her own experiences, Kirby Waldinger ’07conducted independent study research to better understand how to prevent burnout and improve programs in professions that concentrate on helping people.

Waldinger, who was a writing associate for five semesters, chose to focus on the feelings and experiences of burnout among writing associates in the College Writing Program and compare them with similar feelings and experiences of burnout among writing assistants in another writing service group at a similar sized college.

“I’ve had a lot of hands-on experience with peer tutoring in writing,” says Waldinger, who graduated May 19 with an A.B. English. “It was meaningful for me to learn about the academic treatment of writing centers, as well as examine what it is our program does that is helpful in preventing burnout and what we can change to make the College Writing Program even better.”

The College Writing Program at Lafayette helps integrate the practice of writing into courses throughout the College. 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 students and help them formulate tough questions about their own writing. They also provide faculty with feedback on assignment design, student progress, and evaluation of written work.

Waldinger’s research was guided by Beth Seetch, coordinator of the College Writing Program, who reveals that the project stems from reviewing pop psychology treatments of burnout that originated in the 1980s in conjunction with more recent writing center theory. According to Seetch, Waldinger also studied sophisticated conceptual models of professional burnout in the helping professions. The results produced recommendations for the best practices to prevent burnout among these pre-professionals.

Seetch adds that Waldinger’s work attracted the attention of professionals in the field who wish to expand on her study. Waldinger presented her work at the National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing in Ann Arbor, Mich. this past November. At the conference, she gained valuable presentation experience and obtained constructive feedback for her project.

In addition to praising Lafayette as a supportive environment for her research, Waldinger emphasizes the expertise and personal attention of her mentor.

“[Seetch] was great to work with,” she says. “She has a great sense of humor that allowed for a really nice balance of business and fun in our interactions. She was also a really qualified mentor, as I believe she’s been at Lafayette for 19 years now as coordinator of the College Writing Program. She’s really passionate about writing assistants and student writing.”

Seetch was equally impressed with her student.

“Kirby demonstrated an exceptional blend of patience, perseverance, and intelligence in this project,” says Seetch. “Her initial ideas for where her project might lead met with dead-ends at first. However, her persistent brainstorming and her ability to reflect upon her own experience as a writing associate allowed her to conceive of new, productive directions.”

Reflecting on recent student independent study projects that she has supervised, Seetch believes Waldinger’s work offers immense value to the College Writing Program and more broadly for other peer tutoring or writing center research. The students she worked with now realize more clearly the unique qualities of the program in which they work and the wealth of theory and knowledge upon which it is based.

After graduating, Waldinger plans to pursue a career in book or magazine publishing.

Waldinger presented research on women as consumers in today’s society at the 12th annual Undergraduate Conference in Women’s Studies last spring. She tutored GED students at a weekly writing workshop at ProJecT of Easton. She also tutored English as a Second Language students and volunteered at Northampton County Prison and the SPCA through the Landis Community Outreach Center. She is a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority.

Independent studies are among several major programs that have made Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. The College sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year; 21 students were accepted to present their research at this year’s conference.

Categorized in: Academic News