I Struck Gold: My Job as a Community College Writing Consultant
“You opened a door for me.” These words were spoken to me by a student, a gentleman in his 60’s, about twenty years my senior, after I had guided him through the revision of an essay, teaching him how to analyze the lyrics of a Beatles’ song, “Eleanor Rigby,” for his English assignment. I’ll always remember this expression of gratitude and the gentleman’s excitement at the end of our meeting, especially because he had come in bewildered. Encounters such as this one are a regular reward of my job. I work as a consultant in the Writing Center of Cuyahoga Community College (Tri C) in Cleveland.
I provide one-on-one writing help to an extremely diverse population of students, who hail from various points on the globe including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Nigeria, Kenya, El Salvador, Peru, Nepal, Bhutan, India, and Puerto Rico. I work with middle-aged lifelong Americans who are currently in blue-collar jobs and determinedly climbing toward something new and different. I occasionally work with deaf students who communicate with me through an interpreter. And I work with inner city Clevelanders, whose early education was lacking, some of whom are overcoming adversity, pursuing college studies as a means to brighter futures. Often, the struggles, stories, and cultural practices my students share illuminate different worlds for me.
The diversity of Tri C’s student body is matched by the diversity of assignments I see at the Writing Center. While English classes generate the majority of essay assignments, I coach students in developing papers for a range of disciplines—History, Sociology, Psychology, Geography, Law, Business, and Nursing, for example. Regardless of the topic, I assist students with all stages of the writing process, starting with dissecting the assignment instructions, making sure students understand them. Once they have a handle on the assignment, I support them in brainstorming and developing their ideas—asking probing questions to challenge their assumptions, perhaps suggesting they consider alternate angles on a subject to stretch their thinking, modeling the difference between summarizing and analyzing material. After they have arrived at substantial ideas, I guide students in organizing those ideas; identifying evidence that supports their ideas, when needed; and expressing those ideas coherently. As students struggle through the messy, complex, arduous process that is writing, I encourage them and cheer their efforts. It’s exciting and extremely gratifying to nurture someone’s thinking.
While the majority of my consultations involve academic papers, I also frequently work with students who are writing personal narratives for English classes, scripts for drama or film classes, and other creative pieces, including poetry, short stories, and memoir. I have worked with two young Palestinian women who broke free of arranged marriages or engagements, each of whom elected to write about the experience, one in essay format and the other through poetry. Helping these students find the words to express their torment, liberation, and joy was a unique privilege. There are countless diverse examples of personal writing projects that I’ve supported.
I especially enjoy helping students who are writing application essays for scholarships and contests that hold monetary prizes, intended to help defray tuition costs. One such student was a young Bhutanese man who had grown up in a refugee camp in Nepal. Seeing numerous people die of tuberculosis, he has embarked on a mission to become a pulmonologist with the intention of returning to Nepal one day to help combat the disease. He currently works at a Cleveland hospital as an orderly, both earning money for his studies and immersing himself in the medical field. I helped him develop an essay for a scholarship application, relishing the opportunity to give him a tiny boost toward the pursuit of his dream.
Working as a writing consultant at Tri C has been one of the richest experiences of my life. I am grateful to have landed a job that is meaningful to me; that requires both intellect and heart; that has expanded my understanding of humanity; and that has deepened my appreciation for growing up in the U.S. and being nurtured by a loving family. Although I’m not able to remember all of my students’ names, the impact they’ve made on me will endure.