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James Pellow, executive vice president and COO of St. John’s University, called it the “largest minor project” the Universitycompleted this summer. Countless professors have referred to it as the most impressive space of its kind. The Queens campusnewly-constructed writing center is one of the latest and most expansively impressive landmarks at St. John’s.
“We recognized that if we’re going to build a writing center,” Pellow explained, “we’re going to have the best writing center.”
Not many would argue that St. John’s achieved just that.
“It’s amazing,” said Tom Philipose, assistant director of the writing center. “It’s just an amazing resource. It’s about time, but the University really outdid themselves with this space.”
The Queens campus writing center, located on the first floor of the St. Augustine Hall library, is one of several initiatives that were completed this summer as part of the University’s 10-year-old master plan, which took off in 1996 with the construction of the Queens campus Residence Village.
Other changes included the renovation of the Little Theater and St. Albert Hall ‘s science labs. The writing center is one element in a three-part writing-focused initiative under the recently-created Institute for Writing Studies, which also includes a Writing Across the Curriculum program and the First-Year Writing program.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the renovation is appreciated when compared to last year’s space.
“The old writing center worked really well, but it was too small to meet the demands of the university,” said Derek Owens, director of the Institute of Writing Studies.
“The old space was small, it was run down,” Philipose added. “Instead of renovating a space of about 400 square feet,” Pellow explained, “we took an entire wing of the library and said ‘let’s make that our writing center.’ Let’s hire the best writing faculty we can and lets give students the best chance to learn and get one on one time with writing professors.”
The space that held the writing center last year, located on the second floor of St. John Hall, will now house the math center.With the new writing center space built and an open house planned for Oct. 21 and 22 (in which the writing center staff and English department faculty will be introduced), the only step remaining to complete the University’s writing initiative is to establish the intimate literary environment enjoyed by their old, cozier writing center space.
While the new writing center enjoys countless perks that the old space lacked, including new couches, chairs, tables, an expansive conference room and faculty offices that house 15 newly-hired writing faculty, several members of the writing center staff miss their old, more intimate space.
“I am a little sad to leave the old [space] because it had sort of a clubhouse-type vibe with collages and a huge painting on thewall,” Kerri Fortune, a senior writing counselor, said. “It fostered creativity. Hopefully, we can create that sort of atmosphere in the new one.”
But, as graduate student counselor Hannah Mangione admits, the new venue has made it a lot easier to forget about last year’s “clubhouse.”
“Honestly, the old space just was not big enough to let us provide the services that an institute like this one should,” Mangione said. “This new space will allow us to establish a bigger presence on campus.”
“The purpose of this space is to establish a writing culture on campus,” Owens said. “It’s a place where creativity will thrive. It will be a place for students who work on various creative endeavors, like Sequoya (the University’s student-runliterary magazine) or other similar publications.”
For the writing center, the new venue will help establish the importance of writing in earning a university degree. For the English department, the center bolsters the department and the degrees earned by its students.
“I can’t imagine anything that would help our students’ writing and analytical abilities and the reputation of the University more than the new institution will,” said Stephen Sicari, chairperson of the English department.
It’s obvious that the University has high expectations for their three-million dollar investment. Anything as vast and decoratedas the new writing center would carry high expectations from the institution responsible for its construction.
“The benchmark studies that we did, including places like Harvard and a whole host of other schools…it blows that spaceaway,” Pellow said. “It’s five times bigger and ten times nicer than most spaces. And so we think we’ve done a good job in creating an environment. Now the challenge would be for faculty and students to use that environment to become better writers.”