Undergraduates mentor high school writing students

It’s no coincidence that Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, had the owl as her symbol. Even today we view owls as wise creatures. And it’s also apt that a new program pairing Oregon State students with high school student writers would bear the acronym OWL. The undergraduates are able to pass on their newly acquired writing wisdom to the high school students, and gain a better understanding of the subject at the same time.

During an awards ceremony at Oregon State, Crescent Valley High School English teacher Julie Halsey helps one of her students while CV junior Javiera Wood looks on. Javiera recently arrived in Oregon from Chile. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

The OSU Writing Liaison (OWL) project is a pilot program created by Susan Meyers, an assistant professor and director of writing with the English department at Oregon State. Two hundred and fifty students who took WR 121 courses this spring term were paired as writing mentors with 250 high schoolers to help them as they created a personal essay.

“The goal for this project was to increase students’ awareness of and appreciation for writing,” Meyers said. “On both counts, I have been very pleased with the results. High school teachers report that their students—some of whom were initially nervous about what they would hear back about their essays—were excited by the letters that they received from their peers at the college level.”

Student essays were then entered into a contest intended to be the capstone of the OWL project. They were judged by graduate student WR 121 teaching assistants. The essay winners and their OSU mentors celebrated together at an awards ceremony held May 25 at Oregon State.

The writing peer mentorship adds a component of service learning to the WR 121 experience, Meyers says.

“Given my experience working on related projects in the past, the experience of offering feedback to young student writers—many of whom have quite striking educational experiences—is a an influential one,” Meyers says “It tends to have much more impact that the traditional peer review sessions that WR 121 students conduct with each other in class.”

Meyers thinks the mentor program, which will eventually be expanded to several sections of WR 121, will give students a practical application for the knowledge they’re gaining in class. It may also provide them with a stronger connection to their community.

“Research shows that university retention rates are greatly affected by students’ experiences in their first year of college, particularly their success—or lack thereof—of developing meaningful relationships,” she said. “One goal of the OWL project is to help students at OSU become more connected to their community so that they feel more engaged and integrated into their lives here in Corvallis.”

Meyers also received positive feedback from the instructors who teach WR121.

High schools were awarded OWL prizes for their essays. (photo: Theresa Hogue)

“Many instructors said they felt like their students are now paying more attention to the comments written on their own papers because they better understand the intention and process behind them,” she said.

She also hopes that the high school students who participate in the program will gain a stronger connection to OSU, and possibly consider it as a place to continue their education.

“The long-range benefits of the OWL program include potential contributions to the diversification of campus by attracting and supporting local students who might not otherwise consider a four-year college education.”

Additionally, it is another way that OSU can contribute to the broader community.

“The better that we are able to create linkages to our communities throughout the state, the broader our base of support will be—whether in terms of voter support or student recruitment. My hope is that projects like OWL will ultimately diversify our campus in important ways and help to bolster our public image across the state. “

~ Theresa Hogue

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