This year we’re taking you behind the scenes to see how PWC operates and hear from key people on the administrative and teaching staff. Professor Suzanne Bowness teaches PWC’s Writing Principles: Introduction and Writers Identity courses in first term and the Developing Form and Repurposing Writing course in second term. She also helped to develop PWC and consults on program content as its Curriculum Lead.
How did you get started in writing? What has been your career trajectory so far?
I started out with a Bachelor’s degree in English and History, and then began my career with an internship at the former Saturday Night magazine. I was lucky enough when the internship turned into a job as the magazine’s first Online Editor, and then unlucky enough when the magazine folded. At that time I started freelancing, and have been a freelancer ever since. My business name is CodeWord Communications and I’m a generalist writer/editor with a handful of specialties including higher education, technology, careers and business.
I also furthered my education with an MA then PhD in English, where I wrote my dissertation on the role that nineteenth-century Canadian magazines played in establishing a Canadian literary and journalism scene.
What do you like about teaching writing?
I like introducing students to the wide-ranging media landscape and the different approaches to storytelling. I like helping them to think about their place within the writing world, and teaching them to be bold in trying out new forms. I like see students pursuing their own story ideas for the first time, and to see them take the same enjoyment as I do in structuring articles and putting sentences together.
What is your best advice to students as they enter the writing world?
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Keep pitching. Keep writing and building up your 10, 000 hours. Try not to work for free, and trade up to paying gigs and then higher paying gigs wherever possible. Read widely.
What is your favourite grammar or writing rule?
I am an advocate for the almost universal eradication of the semicolon. And I’m always repeating the suggestion to never use a big word when a small one will do.
What do you do in your role as Curriculum Lead?
I was involved with PWC from the very beginning, researching the landscape of writing programs out there and helping to develop courses and create what is basically the program that I wish I had taken when I was starting out. As curriculum lead, I gather notes from the industry professionals on our program advisory committee, feedback from students, and tips from the writing world in general, to update the course outlines to reflect the most current standards that students need to know to succeed in the writing field. I also help more generally with program administration, with tasks such as updating this blog.
This year we’re taking you behind the scenes to see how PWC operates and hear from key people on the administrative and teaching staff. Trevor Arkell is PWC’s new Program Coordinator, managing the administration of the program. In this post, we asked him to reflect on the way writing curriculum has evolved over his tenure at Humber, and the PWC program so far.
I came to Humber College in 1997, teaching part-time. I was hired full-time in 2002. Since 2012, I have been the coordinator for all English courses at the Lakeshore.
This past fall I took on coordinatorship of the PWC program, a position I am very excited to undertake.
I see the PWC program as the latest evidence that the English department is pushing into new realms and ways of educating students about writing.
To give you a sense of this trajectory, I thought it would be helpful to reflect on our evolution so far.
When I first arrived, Humber’s writing courses were already distinct in a number of ways. The program offered two distinct streams, one for native speakers and one for speakers of other languages (ESL). The program had exams, and it offered upgrading courses for those who needed extra help. It was great to have all those options.
Since then, the department has innovated in other ways:
developing a technical writing stream for students in technical programs, for both native and other speakers
establishing a much stronger link between what is learned in the first and second semesters
moving away from current-traditional models of writing instruction, to emphasize the overt relationship between reading, writing, and thinking
focusing in its second-semester courses on project-based learning
displacing traditional textbooks with faculty-developed course materials
We’ve also moved into the literary realm with our new journal, The Humber Literary Review, whose work is being noticed in very significant ways.
And then we created PWC!
With the establishment of the PWC program in 2015, the department has further developed its commitment to student writing success.
In developing a professional writing program, we knew that it was important to stay aware of changes in the professional writing world. The PWC program is fortunate to have very knowledgeable teachers with lots of industry experience. They help the students to shift their writing skills from the academy to the workplace.
As professional writers, students need to know about project management, digital, writing principles, repurposing, strategic writing, editing, storytelling, research, and freelancing. We teach all of those topics.
To prepare PWC students for the world outside the classroom, we also created industry networking events such as the one we had last fall, and mock employment interviews with help from the Humber Employment Centre team. After two semesters of course work, students are ready to get out there into the writing world, with internship opportunities facilitated by our placement coordinator Nicole. And of course, our student advisor Beth-Anne is always there to help the students navigate all of it.
All in all, it’s a very exciting program, and I hope the students are enjoying it. I look forward to seeing them progress as the year goes on.
This year we’re taking you behind the scenes to see how PWC operates and hear from key people on the administrative and teaching staff. Vera Beletzan is our associate dean and the originator of the PWC program. We asked her about everything from starting the program to the benefits of an advisory committee to why she likes teaching grammar.
Tell us about the origins of the PWC program. What need did you see in the marketplace for a program like this?
The Professional Writing and Communications program is part of the Department of English at Humber. We deliver academic writing and professional writing courses across most of Humber’s programs. As part of the work we do, we get to interact with people from a whole range of industries. We began to notice how often, in program advisory meetings for example, the issue of writing and communications skills came up as an identified gap in the workplace.
There was a spotlight on these skills in the media as well. For example, the Conference Board of Canada was publishing results of a study asking employers to give feedback on the preparedness of students coming out of college and university. And what kept coming up as a real need was communication and writing skills, as well as problem solving and critical thinking skills.
So an idea was born. We organized a forum of industry leaders and professionals in the field of professional writing and communication to get feedback on the skills that were needed. We heard that communication departments are ever more critical in the information age, and that there was a growing need for writing expertise, from digital literacy and repurposing content down to the basics of impeccable grammar and punctuation. We also heard a lot about the challenge of finding this expertise.
After doing our research, we developed a detailed curriculum proposal, secured college and then ministry approval, and ran the first cohort last fall. We had a very successful first year. Our students all had great internships across a wide variety of workplaces, and some are still there.
You teach the program’s Grammar Bootcamp (held at the beginning of the year). What do you like about teaching grammar?
I really love exploring language structure – it’s endlessly fascinating that humans can do this amazingly complex cognitive thing that we call language (grammar / syntax, etc.) and communication. The challenge for me is to help students understand how to look with awareness at language – which is hard, as language usually operates on an unconscious level.
I like to figure out ways to help students see structure objectively and develop the tools to notice when things go wrong – edit their own work and other people’s work. The more they can notice – the more they can control – the more tools they have for putting text together appropriately for the context. That’s a powerful skill.
You also recruited the PWC’s advisory board, a group of professional writers and editors who provide guidance to the program. What is the value of such a board?
The role of our Program Advisory Committee is crucial. We are lucky to have a great group of professionals who have the expertise and experience to provide feedback and support for the program. They come from public and private sectors and are really representative of the world of communications. We meet twice a year and always emerge with new ideas and directions. Our PAC members also give generously of their time by helping us secure internships and by meeting with our students in networking events.
How do you think the world of writing is changing today? What opportunities do you see?
Technology is going to keep driving us to be ever more flexible – we are going to have to get faster and better at assessing audience and medium, and packaging information in appropriate, clear, and tight text, sometimes switching “code” multiple times a day. People who can do that will be in demand.
What’s your favourite grammar or writing rule?
If you think you love a rule, make sure it’s a real rule and not a bogus ‘prescriptive’ rule. For example, “don’t split an infinitive” is a schoolroom rule that actually makes no sense in reality. We don’t say “they waited for the pumpkin more than to triple in size before entering it in the competition.” On another note, I like the Oxford comma, I just do.
This year we’re taking you behind the scenes to see how PWC operates and hear from key people on the administrative and teaching staff. At and as the heart of our operation is our student advisor, Beth-Anne Chansavang, who helps students navigate the program from application through orientation and any other time in the year that students need her! We got her to sit down and reveal a bit more about her role.
What does the student advisor do?
A little bit of everything, which is why I love being an advisor!
I’m the first point of contact for any questions/concerns that the PWC students have–if I’m not the right person to talk to, I’ll usually direct you to the person that is! I’m also here to provide the PWC students with academic and general support.
Additionally, I work very closely with the Placement Advisor to ensure that students are placed with host organizations that are mutually suitable for both the student and the host organization itself. The Curriculum Lead and I also work closely together, and we both give each other weekly updates as to how the classes are going and how the PWC students are doing. We also work together to create marketing materials for the program and strategize marketing ideas to expand our program’s reach.
I also organize all of the PWC-related events, including orientation, information sessions, networking session, and holiday events. If you came to one of our open houses or attended a university post-graduate fairs, you probably met me there as well!
What are some of the more common issues that students come to you about?
If it’s in the handbook, it’s been asked, which is partially why the handbook exists!
Students are welcome to come and talk to me about (almost) anything, but some of the more common questions are usually about what Humber services are available to them and to clarify what to do about absences and lateness. Students also frequently ask me for advice about how to approach their professors regarding a variety of issues (and what the proper protocols are).
Some students come and talk to me about their workload and how to best balance competing assignment deadlines. Sometimes students also ask me how they should balance the competing priorities of school, family, and part-time jobs.
When it comes to placement time, many students stop by to ask if they think a certain posting would be a good fit for them, and I’m always happy to provide constructive feedback (and a confidence boost!).
My favourite part of my role is that some students come just to chat about the program and their lives, and I really love being able to forge meaningful connections with students because these are the experiences they’ll remember and take with them when they graduate from Humber.
Are there any things that students are surprised they can talk to the student advisor about?
A lot of students are very surprised when I say that I want them to check in with me throughout the program, even if it’s just to say ‘hi’. Many post-graduate students are coming out of a university environment where survey-classes and large lecture halls are the norm. The PWC cohort is purposely smaller than a typical post-graduate program, and this is to ensure that we’re able to provide students with the best learning experience possible and to ensure that they feel supported throughout the program.
What’s your favourite part about your job?
I’m fortunate in that I’m able to teach business English at Humber, and one of the reasons I love teaching so much is because of the interactions I have with students and the privilege of seeing students’ ‘lightbulb’ moments.
As an advisor, I’m able to forge connections with the students outside of the classroom. I’ve been called the ‘Mother Hen’ of the PWC program, and I think that’s actually quite fitting!
What’s your favourite grammar or writing rule?
Oooh, that there aren’t really any hard and fast rules depending on the context/genre! (<—notice my use of a fragment to answer a question? I’m okay with that because I’m writing in a more informal context!).
However, I really love finding and correcting misplaced/dangling modifiers–not because I’m good at correcting them, but because I am guilty of making this error, too. Also, I am loving the fact that popular usage has turned our steadfast grammar rules on their head (notice how I used a stative verb in the present progressive/continuous? Neither would most people — because it’s 2016, and our language is beautifully organic and ever-changing).
One thing that I’ve learned is that most grammar rules shouldn’t be called ‘rules’ but ‘strict guidelines’. I’ve had to tell myself not to be in love with a guideline but to be in love with writing, and I try to remind myself and students of this every day. I’m happy to work with students to make the guidelines work within their writing, or at least give them the tools so they understand when these guidelines can be broken.