The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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Campus Spotlight

Dr. Derek Owens is popular and respected around theQueens campus of St. John’s, and once someone meets him, no one has to wonder why. The director of the new Institute for Writing Studies is a friendly, likeable man who created the Writing Center and helped it become the great institute that it is today.

Owens earned a master’s degree in English and a Doctor of Arts degree from the University of Albany. He taught in the Expository Writing Program at Harvard College before joining the English department at St. John’s in 1994.

Owens has also written two books, Resisting Writings (and the Boundaries of Composition) published in 1994 and Composition and Sustainability: Teaching for a Threatened Generation in 2001. He has written many articles and given presentations on such topics as environmental literacy, writing center theory, first-year composition, service-learning, curriculum reform, and experimental writing.

St. John’s has awarded Owens’ work multiple times. He received St. John’s University’s Outstanding Faculty Achievement Award in 2006, the Excellence in Teaching and Scholarship Award for Graduate Teaching in 2004, and an Innovative Teaching Award in 1996. He also served as Acting Chair of the English Department in 2004.

One of Owens’ biggest achievements at the University is the creation of the Writing Center, where students can receive guidance and critiques on their writing or simply find a quiet spot on campus to work on a paper.

Owens created the Writing Center in 1996. It started out very small in a cubicle in the basement of St. John’s Hall. It quickly grew into a noteworthy project and continued evolving over the next 10 years. The Writing Center operated out of St. John Hall until this year when it moved to the first floor of St. Augustine Hall.

This year, the Writing Center has expanded into something much bigger. Owens is now the director of the University’s Institute for Writing Studies, which includes a number of programs including a First-Year Writing Program, writing centers on both the Queens and Staten Island campuses, and a Writing Across the Curriculum Program.

The center is designed for all students and anyone who wants to learn about writing, regardless of experience or ability. Their goal is to simply help all students who wish to become better writers. Its new space in St. Augustine Hall is a welcoming environment with conference tables, workstations, a comfortable lounge, a seminar room, and offices for faculty teaching first-year writing.

The Writing Center staff is comprised of undergraduate and graduate students who work one-on-one with other students to improve their writing skills. For undergraduates, it is the closest they can receive to one-on-one teaching.

The staff is carefully trained to make sure that they don’t write papers for the students, but help with their organization, grammar, and mechanics. Their jobs are not easy; they must keep summaries and logs of all of the work they do.

“They are amazing,” Owens said of the staff. “They’re doing an incredible job.”

Now that the Writing Center has expanded into the Institute for Writing Studies, in addition to the Writing center, it has two new parts: the First-Year Writing program and a new Writing Across the Curriculum program.

All three sections work together and interact to promote writing culture among the University’s students.

The First-Year Writing program oversees the teaching of the University’s introductory English and writing classes. The faculty that teach these classes work together to come up with class assignments and see that all first year students are getting a quality writing education.

Owens takes pride in his department by referring to his co-workers as “a talented bunch of scholars and writers.”

The 15 newly hired first-year writing specialists all have expertise in composition pedagogy and have offices right in the new institute, making it easy for them to interact with the faculty and Writing Center staff.

Writing Across the Curriculum is a program that works to see that writing is emphasized not only in English classes, but in other areas as well.

“We want to promote writing in all departments. Some students think because they don’t study writing, they don’t need to know how to write,” Owens said.

The Institute for Writing Studies promotes that knowing how to write is important in any profession. Writing Across the Curriculum works hand in hand with the other programs of the institute to spread writing knowledge throughout many different courses. The program plans to coordinate workshops that will help faculty members with writing instruction in various departments.

Owens is very pleased with the progress that the Institute of Writing Studies is making. While many schools have writing centers, not many schools have programs like the Institute does that all work together.

“This is so exciting and pretty unique,” Owens said. “Something like this doesn’t exist at most schools.”

Owens is satisfied with the work he has done at St. John’s and will continue to teach English, creative writing, and cultural studies courses next semester.
“There’s no other place for me than right here,” he said.

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