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Writing Center nears 10,000th visitor

Southwestern Michigan College’s Writing Center should notch its 10,000th visit during September. SMC’s Writing Center observed its grand opening Oct. 8, 2008. The Writing Center is within Tutoring Support Services, which together with Fred L. Mathews Library, make up The Learning Center.

“We got our start at Muskegon Community College’s 2007 Michigan Tutorial Association and Michigan Writing Centers Association joint conference,” according to Tutoring Support Services Coordinator Louis Noakes.

Noakes organized the 39th East Central Writing Centers Association (ECWCA) conference in March — making SMC the first community college in 17 years to host 162 presenters from Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.

“Jane Brandstatter, myself, Raddy Marinova, Irene Canca and Teri Cairns started the Writing Center,” Noakes said.

Supporting Noakes’ fall semester theme, “Names to Faces/Faces to Names,” photos of each tutor hang beside a new appointment station.

With three dozen tutors and writing consultants between SMC’s two campuses — 23 in Dowagiac and 11 in Niles — “We have the deepest talent pool in the 10 years I’ve been here,” Noakes said.

Disciplines represented include nursing, writing, accounting, business, economics, mathematics, English, sociology, psychology, chemistry, physics, biology and environmental science.

An Aug. 30 meet-and-greet with lemonade and cookies wasn’t for tutors to meet each other — although a dozen are new —but to interact with faculty and staff as they showed off new yellow lanyards.

Some tutors are recognizable from news clippings.

Susan Ardon in 2015 won the Darrin Williams Memorial Scholarship, the highest award the SMC Math/Science Department gives.

She presented at the American Chemical Society National Meeting in Denver.

Ardon is seated with Brendan Stewart, who won in 2016 and also presented at Denver, and Tobias Robertson, the 2017 recipient.

All three now attend Western Michigan University.

Robertson, like fellow tutor Matthew Reeves, presented to the American Chemical Society National Meeting this year in San Francisco.

At some colleges, students only access tutors by appointment.

SMC students have an option of dropping in at the center unannounced or making a half-hour Writing Center appointment.

The Writing Center “blitzes” classrooms to meet students in their comfort zones.

Professor Cody Miller, Niles Campus Tutor of the Year in 2016 with degrees in both English and mathematics, employs blitzes three times a semester.

Professor Gail Shirey, SMC’s Fulltime Faculty of the Year winner May 1, requires students to visit the Writing Center.

“They’re mostly fearful of writing,” Shirey said in her March 24 ECWCA presentation. “I noticed students who did consultations scored better on essays and got better grades in my class than students who did not.”

“The Writing Center is an integral part of student success,” Shirey said. “I require at least one consultation on every essay assigned. I don’t grade an essay without one.”

“I support that,” Noakes said. “I know if we can get them to try it, they’re going to come back. We go everywhere and break down walls. We’re SHIELDS (Super Hero Investigators and Explorers of Learning Development). I love change and looking for the next best thing we can do. Even if what we’re already doing is great, if there’s something better, we’re going to go for it.”

Noakes (SMC ’09), who coordinated Niles Campus tutor support services for four years,  came from Lakeshore in Berrien County intending to become a special education teacher.

But SMC “grew on me more and more,” said Noakes, who worked at Western Michigan University’s writing center while finishing his bachelor’s degree.

“I’ve had other opportunities — especially since the conference — but I love what I do,” Noakes said. “There’s nowhere else I want to be. I wake up excited to come here and I’m always thinking about what we can do to improve customer service. I told them at training, ‘If you ever see my enthusiasm or passion go away, tell me. That’s when I need to leave.’ I’m fighting for our students to be successful.”