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“Last Minute” Event A Success for Library and Writing Center

With only weeks left to go in the Fall 2014 semester, many students were certainly feeling the pressure of their various writing assignments and term papers, due dates soon approaching. Thankfully, the Library and the Wilf Writing Center came together on Monday, December 15th, for a new and innovative event, “The Last Minute,” supported by both the Yeshiva College Student Association (YCSA) and the Wilf Student Life Committee (SLC), two student government organizations on campus. Designed to assist students for all their writing needs, this four-hour event was staffed by a dozen tutors from both the Wilf and Beren campuses, in addition to several librarians – “Leah Adler, Shulamis Berger, Linda Miles and Shulamis Hes – who were all on hand throughout the event to help students directly” with researching through the library catalogs and citation assistance, as Dean of Libraries Pearl Berger explained. Almost seventy students attended, including Syms sophomore Ofir Afenzar, who really enjoyed “the individualized attention he received from the tutor he worked with. “Of course," Afenzar continued, "my elevated grade helped me appreciate the event as well."

Though this is only the first time an event of its kind has been hosted at YU, such types of “last-minute” sessions are common around college campuses nationwide. Many colleges host programs like “Exam Cram” or “The Long Night Against Procrastination,” which offers students resources including one-on-one tutoring opportunities and other assistance for their writing projects. First proposed at YU by Electronic Collections Librarian Shulamis Hes, the event marked the first time the Library and the Wilf Writing Center collaborated on an event to help students out during the hectic last weeks of a semester. Though the Writing Center offers its assistance throughout the academic year through dozens of available weekly appointments in its headquarters in Furst Hall 202, as well as helping out with the First Year Writing introductions at annual Orientation sessions, it truly expanded its reach by establishing a central location in the library, taking over the third floor of the Mendel Gottesman Library.

In addition to serving as professor in the YU English department, Dr. Lauren Fitzgerald has also been Director of the Wilf Campus Writing Center since 1997. Fitzgerald thought “it was a fantastic event, both for students and tutors, and also a terrific way for [the Writing Center] to collaborate with the Library's excellent staff. Without them, by the way, this event would never have happened. They were instrumental in providing space, snacks, PR, and enthusiasm!”

With the third floor of the library completely rearranged, tables reorganized to facilitate the largest amount of student-tutor pairings and extension cords for laptops provided, the floor buzzed with intellectual excitement from 8 pm until midnight, as each student writer met with a tutor for a twenty-minute session. After signing in and filling out raffle tickets for freebies provided by the library’s vendors, students were invited to wait on the side for the next available tutor. Coffee, tea, cookies, and candy were provided for students, as lines filled up and word spread about the event; “there was a fairly high turnout,” tutor Nathan Denicoff (YC ’16) recalled. “As soon as I finished with one writer, there was another waiting.” The twenty-minute sessions, though half the regular forty-minute appointments during scheduled hours in the Writing Center, “enabled us to accommodate more writers,” Denicoff continued. “The lack of a fixed schedule allowed for greater flexibility in the length of each appointment.”

Both the SLC and YCSA assisted in planning the workshop. Etan Neiman (YC ‘16), the SLC’s representative for library services, assisted ‘The Last Minute’ team with determining how the event could be of the most benefit and appeal to the students. “We decided that an emphasis on Writing Center tutors and a fun, relaxed environment with snacks were the two most important components to making a great event,” said Neiman. In addition to figuring out its logistics, students also helped advertise the workshop, from sending out daily y-stud emails informing their fellow students about the event which “offered general guidance, workshops, and individualized assistance” to hanging up flyers throughout the college’s school buildings and dormitories. YCSA Secretary/Treasurer Josh Nagel, who is also a tutor, clarified that although the Library and Writing Center staff took center stage, students helped “explain to the Library the nature of the student body and what would attract them.”

The event also offered the opportunity for the Wilf and Beren Writing Centers to pool their resources, as four tutors came up from the women’s campus to help out with the tutoring. One tutor, Stern senior Maddie Zimilover, who “thought the event was a fabulous success.” Zimilover continued, “It was great to see the two writing centers combine their resources to produce an event that benefited so many students.”

Indeed, despite its location on the Wilf campus, a large contingency of Beren students attended “The Last Minute” as well, including senior Michelle Levine. “The workshop was very convenient,” Levine explained. “Many of the writing center slots are completely booked; this event provided a way for each student to meet with a writing tutor.” Though students from either campus are welcome at the Wilf Campus Writing Center, most are not aware of this arrangement and were surprised to learn that they were welcome and invited to schedule appointments. One attendee promised to do so immediately after she left the event, in order to take advantage of the remaining week of the Writing Center’s semester.

The Writing Center has often recognized that while many students who first venture into Furst 202 return for additional tutoring, many never get that first foot in the door and are unaware of the benefits of peer tutoring. All in all, the seventy sessions racked up during the four-hour period, according to Fitzgerald, was “more than the Wilf Center usually sees/holds in a week!” Instead of feeling overwhelmed, however, Fitzgerald assures that “every tutor I've talked to/heard from really enjoyed the event and said that every student they talked to thought it was a great idea and that we should have more events like this.” Neiman of the SLC agrees. “The students had a great time and, more importantly, made some serious headway on their paper. For the first attempt at this type of event, it could not have gone very much smoother.” Perhaps offering an initial glimpse of how the Writing Center works at “The Last Minute” workshop will inspire more to book appointments in 2015, as another semester filled with essays and research reports progresses.

Yadin Teitz (YC ’16), another Wilf tutor who helped with tutoring as well as writer registration, related over some of the reactions of student attendees and tutors. “One person came up to me and asked why we do not have more events like these over the course of the semester, because he found them so beneficial for his own writing. Another person told me that in twenty brief minutes, we had together transformed a C paper to an A paper...I think that several of the tutors and I were skeptical about how much could be accomplished in such a short session, but we were able to prioritize and really make a difference. I'm so proud of all that we accomplished.” Nagel, echoing Teitz’s praise, remarked that “we had men from uptown and girls from downtown using our service; there was a healthy work vibe that spurred everyone forward… and an overwhelming sense of success.”

As far as future plans for the workshop itself, all involved hope that it will continue onto next semester. Levine, who found that “all of the tutors were attentive and effectively challenged my ideas in order to elucidate the main thesis or structure,” gave her wholehearted recommendation for continuing the workshop each semester. Fitzgerald confirms that there will be a meeting with all concerned parties at the end of January; hopefully the event will happen more times in the future, with a revised sign-up strategy and additional tutors. Until then, Dean Berger “encourages students to take advantage of [the Library’s] help in whatever manner is most convenient, from [scheduling] a one-on-one appointment…to simply stopping by the reference desk in any of our three libraries to get help.” As students continue to realize and appreciate the benefits of such kind of events, “the Student Life Committee will be pushing for it,” confirms Neiman. “With that said, I anticipate this was the first installment of an event we can hope to see at the end of each semester.”