In the modern workplace, writing skills are more important than ever. From a study of millions of U.S. job advertisements, Burning Glass Technologies found, “Clear communication, particularly writing, is at a premium in nearly every occupation." Research by Hart Research Associates on employer priorities also found written communication to be highly valued; 82% of employers rated writing as an important skill for new graduates (2015). UGA's Writing Intensive Program’s Public Writing Initiative (PWI) allows students a look into the world outside of academia and gives them the chance to hear firsthand how local professionals, alumni, and leaders in their fields use their writing skills in their careers.
In Fall 2017 and Spring 2018, nine Writing Intensive Program faculty members from across the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences participated in the initiative, opening up their classrooms to visits from professionals from all over the country. These visitors spoke about writing and the role effective communication plays in their day-to-day working lives and throughout their careers. The experience meant students in fields ranging from linguistics to women’s studies, from cognitive science to statistics were granted a sneak peek at writing in their future careers.
Each visit was highly customized based to the guest speaker’s experiences and the field. In Dr. Vera Lee-Schoenfeld’s generative syntax course, for instance, guest speaker Mariah Parker— perhaps better known as Lingua Franca, a local hip-hop artist—discussed getting started with a writing task, anticipating readers’ questions to strengthen arguments, leaving enough time for editing, and feeling proud of one’s work. By focusing on persuasion in the humanities, students saw stating, anticipating, creating, and editing a project as a set of skills not solely tied to writing papers for class. Alex Laughlin, social media editor for The Washington Post, spoke to Dr. Cecilia Herles’s introduction to feminist theories class about the necessary yet difficult task of writing about controversial topics, as well writing as an active tool in career development. For Herles, this visit reinforced the value of WIP courses and provided students with practical ideas they could put to use. She reflected, “The students were very inspired by this speaker, and I was too! It was a wonderful opportunity to learn how the speaker has used her Women's Studies classes that were writing-intensive to guide her in her career path. She offered lots of useful tips for writing. Loved it!”
This spring, Sarah Wright’s introduction to cognitive science class welcomed Connie Hayes, Executive Director of GeorgiaFirst Robotics, who shared her personal experience with writing and the way it has changed over time depending on the different jobs she has held. When Jo Craven McGinty of The Wall Street Journalvirtually visited Nicole Lazar and Lynne Seymour’s statistics capstone class in the fall, she talked to students about writing about numbers as an act of translation. Lazar explains this as “how to ‘translate’ the technical material from a research paper published in an [academic] journal into every language.” Indeed, most PWI speakers introduced students to the world of writing beyond the university classroom. In turn, these visits encourage students to consider writing in public spaces for diverse audiences.
All together, these visits break down classroom walls and create a dialogue about writing between students and professionals. Such a conversation is vital to helping students make connections between their academic, professional, and personal lives. According to Lee-Schoenfeld, “It's certainly important for students to remember that the writing they are doing for the class has a larger impact on their academic career and lives that they are going to be thankful for later.”
Co-authors: Lindsey Harding, Writing Intensive Program director, and Anna Allen, English graduate student