Making better writers of LAU students
The university’s Writing Center marks its five-year anniversary and doubles the number of students benefitting from its services.
In the five years since LAU’s Writing Center first opened its doors, the number of students benefiting from its services has increased annually. “In the last year alone the number of students who have come to the center has doubled, to twelve hundred,” says the center’s director Paula Habre. That figure, however, only reflects the number of students who made appointments or walked in seeking one-on-one sessions at the center’s Beirut and Byblos branches, both of which are manned every weekday by specially-trained tutors. Hundreds more eager young writers have attended one of the numerous workshops the tutors and Habre have designed with student needs in mind.
“Our focus at inception was training students taking the English 102 course in the application of APA writing guidelines. We have since reached out to students and faculty to develop workshops tailored to the needs of students of various majors,” explains Habre. Students of journalism, for example, have benefited from tailor-made language workshops, while those majoring in nutrition have been trained in the etiquette of writing emails to better their chances of success when contacting companies requesting internship opportunities.
“We also offer workshops and support to all students writing CVs and personal statements while applying to jobs or postgraduate programs,” adds Habre, who enjoys hearing from students she has helped after they have received letters of acceptance. “It’s easy to become passionate about this work once you see a change in the students, and you really feel it when you’re guiding them one-on-one,” she adds.
Her first experience establishing a writing center goes back to her pre-LAU years. Over twenty years ago, as a postgraduate student of the Department of Education at Boston University, she was asked to assist students majoring in management. “They had a lot of foreign students, and professors didn’t want to have to focus on language skills when reviewing papers,” recalls Habre, noting that the focus of writing centers differs from one academic institution to another, depending on the needs of their students. “Our students at LAU are not native speakers of English, so we’re often approached by students who want help improving the quality of language in their papers.”
Other students need help with structure and format. “I once tutored a student of drama who wanted to check the format of her dialogue-based script. Another student, majoring in education, needed advice on how to include references to Arabic lyrics in her thesis,” says Habre, who enjoys the variety.
Having expanded the reach and student awareness of the center in recent years, Habre is hoping to widen its range of services: “I would like to see specialized workshops for postgraduate students … I am also exploring the possibility of offering online tutoring to students who have completed their course load and are writing their thesis while abroad.”
Habre and her team have also been active in promoting the establishment of writing centers at Lebanese high schools. Having given an introductory session on the subject to forty teachers at the invitation of the education department, they plan to offer a two-day workshop to teachers considering the move. “It would be invaluable for young students to come to university having already had the experience of their writing being critiqued.”