By: Shoshy Ciment and Benjamin Koslowe | News  | 

Beren Writing Center Sees Increase of Over 100 Appointments from Fall 2016; Wilf and Beren Fluctuations and Trends Analyzed

The Commentator has learned that the Beren Writing Center (BWC) held 445 appointments this past fall 2017 semester, a nearly 45% increase from the fall 2016 semester, which saw 312 appointments. This marks the first time in at least three semesters that the Beren Writing Center has overtaken the Wilf Writing Center (WWC) in the number of appointments. This increase follows the recent increase of on-campus undergraduate students at the Beren campus, which jumped from 909 students in fall 2016 to 981 students in fall 2017. The WWC held 347 appointments this past fall semester.

In contrast with the BWC, the number of appointments in the WWC dropped by 137 from fall 2016 to fall 2017. In fall 2016, the WWC held 201 Syms appointments and 221 Yeshiva College appointments; in fall 2017, the WWC held 137 Syms appointments and 167 Yeshiva College appointments.

“We held fewer appointments last fall due to a number of complicated reasons,” explained Dr. Lauren Fitzgerald, the current director of the WWC and co-chair of Yeshiva College’s English Department. These reasons had “to do with funding, staffing, and the number of hours we were able to offer.”

Despite the increase in Beren appointments, the amount of tutors on Beren (9) was less than half the amount of tutors on Wilf (21) for fall 2017. The BWC has consisted of nine tutors for the past three semesters; the WWC has numbered between 18 and 21 tutors in the same time period.

Both the Beren and Wilf writing centers offer students free, one-on-one tutoring sessions that focus on all stages of writing, from brainstorming to proofreading. Tutors are generally undergraduate students and are specially trained before they begin tutoring. The BWC is located on the 7th floor of 215 Lexington Ave. The WWC operates in room 202 of Furst Hall, located at the far corner of the building’s second floor.

“Many students enter Stern with apprehensions about their writing, and meeting with experienced peer tutors is an excellent way for them to discuss and develop responses to class assignments,” said Professor Gina Grimaldi, the BWC coordinator. “They can vent, too, and just talk through what’s going on with their writing processes alongside somebody who’s been there.”

The current nine Beren tutors are all Stern College for Women students. The vast majority of the current 18 Wilf tutors are Yeshiva College students; three are full-time Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) students, and two are faculty tutors pursuing advanced English degrees outside of Yeshiva University.

While the WWC has an official hiring season in late spring, the BWC accepts applications on a rolling basis. The interview process for prospective tutors is run by experienced tutors at Wilf and by the directors of the writing center at Beren. Once hired, new tutors on both campuses undergo training before they can begin running sessions.

“In order to become an official writing center tutor there is a long process of training that ensures that each tutor feels prepared and confident in their tutoring skills,” explained Stern College junior Alyssa Wruble, a tutor in the BWC.

Each new tutor at the BWC must complete mandatory readings from the Writing Center manual, observe other writing center sessions led by more experienced tutors, conduct a co-tutoring session, and lead a tutoring session while being observed by the head of the writing center.

“In addition to the training process to become a tutor, there are monthly meetings in which we discuss any issues that come up during our appointments, such as tips for tutoring ESL students,” Wruble added.

“We emphasize ongoing training and tutor development so our tutors can share best practices, support one another through tough problems, celebrate each other’s breakthrough sessions, and inspire one another to keep learning to be the best tutors - the best teachers - we can be,” remarked Dr. Joy Ladin, the director of the BWC.

The WWC conducts a similar training process for its tutors. New tutors complete mandatory readings (from The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors, co-authored by Dr. Fitzgerald, as well as from other academic publications) and observe actual writing center sessions. At the start of each semester, both new and experienced tutors prepare for and participate in an orientation workshop. “At training, we read several academic articles about tips for being an effective writing tutor,” said Yeshiva College junior Matthew Silkin, a WWC tutor. “A few of these tips were self-evident, but most really taught me a lot about writing and editing, not just within the realm of tutoring but in academic writing as well.”

Wilf tutors are also required to participate in ongoing training over the course of each academic semester. “Tutor-led meetings provide an opportunity for collaboration amongst tutors,” explained Yeshiva College senior Moshe Bochner, another WWC tutor. “They are a forum for us to exchange feedback with other tutors as we discuss issues that arise in our tutoring sessions as part of an effort to continue our training so that we improve from one session to the next. My tutoring skills have improved as a result of these meetings and my appreciation of the value of the work we do at the writing center has been enhanced.”

Compared to the Beren campus clientele, the client constituency at Wilf generally includes a higher percentage of students from YU’s graduate programs than at the BWC. In fall 2017, 87.6% of the WWC appointments were with Yeshiva College and Syms undergraduate men; the other 12.4% of appointments were with graduate students from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, The Katz School, RIETS, Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. “I’m especially proud,” wrote Fitzgerald, “that we continue to serve students from so many programs at YU, because it means we remain a kind of crossroads for the university.” At the BWC, only 2.7% of appointments were made by graduate students in fall 2017.

First Year Writing and English Composition students constitute the largest percentage of appointments in both writing centers. In fall 2017, 37.6% of the WWC appointments were for First Year Writing assignments. The next most common appointment category was for applications, personal statements, and resumes—these constituted 11.8% of the fall 2017 appointments at the WWC. In the same semester, 29.0% of appointments at the BWC were for English Composition assignments, followed by English 1010 assignments, which made up 16.4% of appointments.

At both writing centers, the remainder of appointments comes from a panoply of departments across disciplines, from those in the Core curriculum to the humanities and sciences.

The 347 WWC appointments in fall 2017 were scheduled by 136 different students. That semester, 62 students visited the WWC once, 26 visited twice, 13 visited three times, 17 visited four times, and 18 visited five or more times. At the BWC in fall 2017, the 445 appointments were scheduled by 169 different students. 88 students visited the BWC once, 28 visited twice, 10 visited three times, 15 visited four times, and 28 visited five or more times.

The length of each session varies for each writing center. The BWC centers offers hour long sessions, while the WWC offers 45 minute sessions. As of fall 2017, the BWC operates from 9:00 AM until 6:00 PM, Sunday through Thursday, as well as Friday mornings. The WWC operates from 12:00 PM until 8:00 PM, Sunday through Thursday. Both centers open their doors roughly two weeks into the academic semester, and operate through the end of Reading Week.

During the fall 2017 semester, Tuesday was the busiest day for the WWC. 30.6% of all appointments took place on Tuesday, followed by Monday at 22.4%. Dr. Fitzgerald explained that these statistics, in large part, reflect when most Wilf tutors want to work. That same semester, 32.8% of appointments in the BWC were made on Tuesdays and 26.7% on Thursdays, the second most popular day at the BWC.

Both writing centers exhibit sharp spikes in appointments during midterms season, in October in the fall and in March in the spring. Finals season on both campuses is also relatively busy in both writing centers.

Both Yeshiva University writing centers were inaugurated in September 1986. Professor Richard Nochimson, the founding director of the then-titled Yeshiva College Writing Center and Stern College Writing Center, and current professor of English at Yeshiva College, told The Commentator that his “goal, from the first, was to help undergraduate students at Yeshiva University improve their effectiveness as writers. This goal applied to the tutors as well as to the students who were receiving tutoring.”

Jonathan Reiss, who later became YU Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yona Reiss, was the first writing center tutor hired by Yeshiva University. “The early days of the Writing Center glistened and glowed with an enthusiasm shared by both the tutors and the tutored for both the novelty and the necessity of the enterprise,” Rabbi Reiss told The Commentator. “I remember feeling a sense of pride and responsibility when I would make careful notations in the charts prepared by Dr. Nochimson of each student’s challenges, achievements, and gradual progress. I have remained in touch with some of my original students, and we all share only fond reminiscences of the Center from that formative and formidable period.”

Rabbi Reiss added, “a couple of my Writing Center students eventually became my Daf Yomi shiur students.”

“The original tutors,” described Nochimson, “were all Yeshiva University undergraduate students.” That initial semester, four or five writing tutors worked at each of the two YU undergraduate campuses. By spring 1991, the staff numbered “35 tutors, some of whom were college graduates who came from outside Yeshiva University.”

“The writing center has guided and expanded my mind to think of ideas that were unknown to me before,” remarked Atara Solomon, a sophomore in SCW who frequently uses the Beren Writing Center. “The writing center staff is genuine and patient, wanting to do everything they can to help each student accomplish their goals and succeed.”