An Interview with Dr. Karl Zuelke, Director of the Writing Center

Dateline: student newspaper

File Under: learning center, writing, writing center

With the year winding down, every student is feeling the pressures of crunch time. When is that paper due again? Wait…it has to be how many pages? Finding time to not only write papers, but also revise them is something that is always difficult. Many students realize that the College of Mount St. Joseph has a system in place to help alleviate this stress, but the actual services offered might still be a mystery to you. The Writing Center’s director, Dr. Karl Zuelke is in his tenth year as director and is dedicated to helping students anyway he can. I sat down with Dr. Zuelke to learn more about how students can benefit from the Writing Center’s services.

Q: What can students expect out of a consultation?

KZ: “We will have a brief introductory moment where the consultant and student discuss the parameters of the assignment and the student’s concerns. We’ll read through it, and then we’ll talk about it. What we say will depend on the writer’s concerns, and we’ll point out what we think still needs to be addressed. It’s a pretty interactive, dynamic process.” 

Q: Why do you write down my information? Do you talk to my professor after a consultation?

KZ: “We send a feedback report, a brief written description of what we talked about. That way the professor has some knowledge of what went on.  The feedback always reflects well on the students who come here.”

Q: Are consultants all English majors? How will they know how to help me if I’m, for example, a science major?

KZ: “We actually don’t have any English majors at the moment. Right now we have a double major in art and communication, two education majors, one biochemistry major, and one athletic training major. I just hired a new person from biology for next year. I think she’s going to fit right in. We feel that any of the consultants are qualified to talk about any writing project because the principals of good writing pretty much carry across every discipline. There can be specific approaches, though, that say make science writing, for example, different from what you find in the arts and humanities. Some students like to work with consultants who understand a particular subject really well, and I think that’s great. When you do this long enough, you realize that the line between subject matter and writing is not necessarily fixed.”

Q: Do I have to print out my paper or can I just bring in my computer?

KZ:  “It’s better to print out your paper so we can both write on it if necessary.”

Q: What if I'm not comfortable having another student look over my paper? Are there adults available to consult with?

 KZ: “Well, I’m sort of an adult, so anybody who wants to can work with me. Some graduates students prefer to work with me just because I’ve been through graduate school—twice. That’s fine. It just depends on what the student wants. But our undergraduate consultants are really good, and they know how to write and how to talk about writing. That covers most situations.”

Q: What if I really need help with my grammar? I’ve heard that the Writing Center isn’t the place to go for this. Who can help learning with grammar if I never learned it or if I forgot something?

KZ: “One of the things the Writing Center has strived to do is overcome the notion of writing consultants as grammar checkers. We don’t just fix grammar. We start with the broad issues like focus, thesis, organization, and development first. If those things aren’t in good shape, then it doesn’t make sense to work on grammar right away, because revision has to come first. Once students have the more global issues together, research shows—and our experience in the Writing Center tends to confirm this—that students straighten the grammar out themselves once they’re ready to pay attention to it. But if a student is not sure about grammar or hasn’t learned it, absolutely come to us, and we’ll be more than happy to help with that. We do it all the time. 

Q: Sounds hard. Is it hard? Do you like doing it?

KZ:  “It is hard, actually. If I have to work with three or four students in a row, I know that my concentration and effectiveness can sometimes waver. We all give all we can. But I like doing it because it’s never the same twice. The challenges are always different. And there is always immediate positive feedback, which can be pretty gratifying.”

Q: Tell me about the kite.

 KZ: “We flew it over the Mount several years ago, and it took off and soared beautifully. It’s a champion flyer, a thoroughbred. It has been retired now. It brightens our space with its vibrant color, and it serves as inspiration, reminding all of us of the great things we can achieve if we let the breezes of life lift us skyward. How’s that sound? Maybe someday we’ll take it up one more time, sort of like John Glen riding the space shuttle that last time, when he was 80.” 

Q: Would you rather come in to work at the Mount or go fishing?

KZ: “Let me put it this way: I love the Mount as a great institution with a distinguished academic tradition, I love and honor the students I work with, and I love and respect my colleagues, many of whom I have come to consider friends. But I keep my fishing rod in my car.”

As you can see, the Writing Center has a lot to offer students. It is open Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sessions start on the half hour. Walk-ins are always welcome, but appointments are highly encouraged. If you are interested in learning more about the Writing Center or wish to make an appointment, visit the Learning Center (in the Seton Center, SET 156) or call (513) 244-4202.