Writing program to expand student support

The newly announced permanent leader of the University Writing Program will work to tailor its support to non-native English speakers and students with disabilities, with the ultimate goal of crafting GW’s services into a national model.

Associate professor of writing and religion Derek Malone-France – whose hire was announced April 24, after he spent two years as the program’s interim head – plans to strengthen partnerships with Disability Support Services “to examine issues related to the support of disabled students as writers and learners.”

After overseeing what he called an “overwhelmingly positive” move to the Mount Vernon Campus this spring, Malone-France said outreach to students with disabilities would top his agenda.

“We’d like to put GW on the cutting-edge of innovation in terms of developing best practices related to such support,” Malone-France, who joined GW in 2005, said. “As we learn more about how to best support disabled students, we’ll not only adapt our own practices here at GW, we’ll push that knowledge out into the wider world of higher education in various ways, so that we can have a broad positive impact beyond our own campus.”

He also wants to offer additional help for the growing number of international students looking for writing support by developing ties with the University’s English for Academic Purposes Program.

He said the GW Writing Center has seen an 80 percent increase in appointments over the last two years, with more students proactively seeking help for their writing. Christy Zink, director of the GW Writing Center, said tutors have seen 1,800 appointments this year from students whose first language is not English.

Because all freshmen must take a University Writing course in their first year, and because those classes are small, Malone-France said the program is “well-positioned” to identify which students need an extra hand in succeeding academically. Through stronger partnerships with existing services for international students and students with disabilities, he said professors can lead students to the right resources.

“I feel very strongly that the University has a moral obligation to support whatever students it admits. That’s always a challenge,” Malone-France said.

Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean Peg Barratt said Malone-France’s pursuit to help students would strengthen the writing program.

“Derek is especially interested in broadening GW’s support for students who face special challenges with regard to writing or transitioning into the University,” Barratt said. “We will continue to look for new ways to not only improve the writing skills of our students across the disciplines, but also strengthen the Writing Center, which provides critical tutorial services.”

The program started fortifying its relationship with Disability Support Services last fall by creating a faculty-staff position that balances time between that office and the writing program. Next year, the writing program will co-sponsor a series of symposia with Disability Support Services to look more closely at supporting this population.

“We really want to continue to partner with them, because so much of what we do is preparing students for their larger journey through the curriculum,” Malone-France said. “If we can be an initial point of contact, it helps them figure out what resources are there.”

Malone-France earned his Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from Claremont Graduate University in 2001. He also won the University’s top undergraduate teaching award – the Morton A. Bender Teaching prize – in 2008.

Roy Guenther, Columbian College’s executive associate dean, said Malone-France surfaced as the best candidate after a national search for a writing program leader because of his “expertise in writing and rhetoric.”

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