Get to Know Your Campus: The Jacobson Center

Tyra Wu ’19
Contributing Writer

The Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching and Learning provides a plethora of resources ranging from writing assistance to public speaking courses. Founded in the mid-1970s, the Center has been assisting students with writing since  its conception. With time, the Center’s services evolved and now include peer tutoring, academic coaching and workshops for academic success. Though most colleges now have writing centers, the Jacobson Center remains unique because it provides writing help from professionally trained writing counselors.

“The arrangement we have here is still very unusual,” Julio Alves, director of the Center said. “It’s something that many of my colleagues at other institutions wish they could have but don’t have yet.”

The Center has five writing counselors and a learning specialist available to meet with students individually. In the past year, the writing counselors conducted over 3,000 individual writing conferences. A key part of the Jacobson Center’s philosophy is that writers of all levels can benefit from feedback. Students can bring in any assignment at any stage of the writing process to be revised.

“We work with students to help them get to know themselves as writers and to help them become better and more independent writers,” Alves said. “Our goal is not so much to make a particular paper an A paper but to help the student writer become an A writer.”

The Center provides peer writing tutors Sunday through Thursday from 7p.m. to 10 p.m. They are nominated by professors and undergo training to learn how to conduct tutoring sessions.

“I think the benefits of being a tutor like this is that you get the interpersonal skills, and you get to be that friend or cheerleader for somebody,” said peer writing tutor Sarah Casey ’16. “It then translates to yourself because if you’re telling everybody else to calm down, then you think, ‘maybe I should too.’”

Apart from writing and academic tutoring, the Jacobson Center also provides workshops for academic success on Wednesdays during lunch. The Center also offers a one-credit public speaking course in the spring semester in which students practice writing and delivering speeches.

“That was a course that I actually wrote the proposal for about 17 years ago,” said Debra Carney, writing counselor and mid-semester assessment specialist. “After each speech, [the students] meet with me individually, and we go over the speech and all the different elements of speech craft and delivery.”

The Jacobson Center conducts a mid-semester assessment program that informs faculty of opportunities to improve their courses while the course is still in session. In the middle of the semester, an MSA specialist conducts focus groups with students and compiles the data. Based on this information, the professor can then make improvements to the course.

“The belief is not that Smith instructors need help but that all instructors, like all writers, benefit from feedback,” Alves said.

The Jacobson Center emphasizes feedback as a method of improvement applicable to writing as well as academic courses. All of the many services it provides is free of charge and confidential. The services all aim to enhance the learning experience at Smith.

“Individualized tutoring has amazing benefits for learners…no matter how good of a writer you are, you can always be better,” Alves said. “It’s a way of working that sometimes takes a little getting used to, but the benefits of working with a writing instructor individually on a regular basis for four years can be pretty phenomenal.”

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