The Michael and Kathleen Clem History Writing Center (HWC) is a little known William & Mary asset making a huge impact on campus and beyond. The HWC is staffed by Ph.D. students with teaching experience and who compete for the privilege of holding a consultant position.
Their focus is to assist students in history writing, but any and all majors are welcome, undergraduate and graduate alike. And while students are typically looking for help with specific assignments, they are gaining lifelong writing skills.
"A lot of students aren't sure, even if they already have a draft written, how to structure or arrange their paper. We get students at every stage of the process. Some just have an outline, some have written a draft and others have just been given an assignment and need to know how to get started," explained consultant Sarah McLennan. Another consultant, Andrew Sturtevant added, "Most are trying to make the transition from high school writing to college writing. And we get students from different disciplines, not just history."
The services offered by the center really do benefit many at the university. "Undergraduates can get help with their writing, at any stage of the process, without the pressure of feeling as if they are being evaluated, and what they gain instills a set of skills for future use in writing both at the university and in their lives beyond; graduate students gain added and invaluable teaching experience; and faculty can spend extra time helping students work out their arguments, knowing that the students have an additional resource for seeking guidance about their prose," explained Carol Sheriff, William E. Pullen Professor of History and the center's director.
How does the HWC measure success? With statistics of course - students complete an anonymous survey at the end of their consult. The center has twice as many visits as visitors. Obviously, students find the center to be an invaluable resource because they keep coming back. But, proof is in the pudding as they say...
Geniya Derevyannykh, senior, double majoring in accounting and global studies - "My professor explained to me that writing historical papers is very different than writing literature papers. I came to the center at the start of a project because I needed help with the structure. The instructions I get are so helpful because I can transfer everything I learn for writing other papers in any subject."
Sydney Tafuri, sophomore, majoring in psychology - "It is a great resource for people to get started on papers and get help staying on track because they'll read your papers 3 or 4 times if you want to go back that many times. I got an A on one paper and a B+ on another so I definitely found them (consultants) helpful."
Justin Clement, history graduate student - "I first visited the center as an unclassified student when I was taking a history class and needed help with writing. I have an undergrad degree in physics so I'm used to writing lab reports but not essays. I hope they continue to receive funding to continue what they do."
But the breadth of the center's impact goes beyond the brick walls of William & Mary. Center co-founder, Kyle Zelner Ph.D. '03, accepted a position in the History Department at the University of Southern Mississippi in the fall of 2004 and soon noticed how much freshmen students were struggling with writing, particularly for history courses. Within a year, he opened a History Writing Lab similar to William & Mary's HWC. "Almost everything we have done (handouts/procedures) came from William & Mary. The number of students using the lab has consistently grown and the evaluations are complimentary."