Middle Tennessee State University’s Margaret H. Ordoubadian University Writing Center recently celebrated its 45th anniversary with center changemakers both past and present in attendance to honor not only the center’s decades of service supporting students and other writers across campus but also the relationships it has sparked along the way.
“I think it’s a testament to MTSU’s commitment to supporting students and ensuring student success,” said Erica Cirillo-McCarthy, the center’s current director, about the milestone. “It’s also a testament to the work of previous administrators and tutors who were committed to providing this resource for all MTSU writers.”
The Oct. 24 event featured master of ceremonies Jim Hamby, the center’s associate director, remarks from Cirillo- McCarthy and Leah Tolbert Lyons, dean of the College for Liberal Arts, readings by former tutors and a spread of refreshments and other goodies.
Cirillo-McCarthy’s remarks invited attendees to “celebrate yesterday, today and tomorrow’s relationships here at the writing center” and first overviewed the center’s founding in 1978 by Bené Cox, English professor emerita and former director, and the work of other former directors Larry Mapp, Margaret H. Ordoubadian and Jimmie Kane.
Attendees included Ordoubadian, who became the center’s namesake after her retirement in 2001, Kathleen Schmand, dean of the James E. Walker Library where the center is located, and other faculty members, advisors, students and former tutors.
Cirillo-McCarthy’s speech also outlined the importance of the myriad of connections fostered through the center — from one-off meetings between a student and a tutor for a single assignment to weekly tutoring sessions, the partnership with faculty who funnel students into the center and the lifelong friendships created between tutors.
Lyons’ address focused on the center’s work serving students and staff from all backgrounds and areas of study across campus and doing so through liberal arts frameworks and practices such as collaboratively engaged learning, audience awareness and more.
A place of connection, growth
“It (the center) was really significant, honestly, just in terms of like acclimating me to the university process,” said Percy Verret, a former tutor and English graduate alumna in attendance who now works as a library associate at Motlow State Community College in Smyrna, Tennessee. “I did my undergraduate degree online, so it (graduate school) was my first time like on the ground taking classes in person for the university…. There are so many people who I met through the writing center. There were students. There were faculty members.… and everyone was working on something different.”
Morgan Stence, another former tutor and current graduate public history student who attended the event, became a peer writing tutor during COVID restrictions and said the center served as a point of connection for her in a time of isolation.
“It got me to push outside of my own comfort zones,” Stence said. “And that actually led me to the program I’m in now with my interest in archives.”
Verret and other former tutors Catherine Barresheim and Emiliya Mailyan presented their published work from the center’s “Off Center” magazine throughout the evening in between attendees enjoying conversations and dinner.
Verret wrote about the act of writing and a response to Edgar Allen Poe’s famous narrative poem “The Raven,” Barresheim delivered stories about working as a teenager in a truck stop diner and the death of her pet bird, and Mailyan shared a depiction of her cultural roots through food.
With the celebration behind her and the fall semester still in full swing, Cirillo-McCarthy, a Long Island, New York, native, looks to the center’s future and hopes to continue providing support that meets student and staff needs, bringing tutors an engaging professional experience and acquiring additional support from the university.
“Right now, our funding does not allow us to offer enough hours to meet demand,” she said. “Students often have to be put on wait lists (we had 18 students on the waitlist for last Sunday, for example). In my five and a half years here, we have increased our hours offered each year, and yet, the more hours we provide, the more students make appointments!”
Learn more about the University Writing Center at https://www.mtsu.edu/writing-center/.
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)