I remember my WRA 202: Introduction to Professional Writing class. I had just changed my major from Genomics and Molecular Genetics to Professional Writing and English. It was my first WRA course and I went into it with two uncertainties weighing on my mind: 1. Whether Professional Writing was what I really wanted to do with my life and 2. What was Professional Writing anyway? It was that class that firmly cemented my fealty to the field. Listening to WRA 202 instructors Laura Gonzales and Stuart Blythe and their students speak of their experiences for the same course, I can hear the same sentiments in their words.
“One of the goals of WRA 202 is for students to begin learning and understanding the wide range of possibilities that they can pursue as professional writers,” said Gonzales when I interviewed her about the course.
As part of their introduction to Professional Writing, students in WRA 202 partner with an organization to develop and revise materials that can facilitate the communication of information to meet the goals of a client. This year, students in the two sections of WRA 202 taught by Dr. Stuart Blythe and Laura Gonzales partnered with MSU’s College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), which supports MSU students with migrant or seasonal farm work backgrounds. Blythe and Gonzales met with CAMP administrators, Raul Ramos, Luis Garcia, Titun Maiti, and Aleida Martinez to discuss how WRA 202 students could learn from and collaborate with students in the CAMP program. Through this collaboration, WRA 202 students were assigned the task of developing materials that might help students in the CAMP program better understand and navigate their options for getting health-related resources when they came to MSU. Health insurance enrollment and processing is a complicated process for all college students, so this project benefitted both WRA 202 and CAMP students at MSU.
As Stuart Blythe explained, “The job for the PW students was to create materials that would either convince students to apply for health insurance, to get them interested in health insurance, but also potentially develop new materials that would help CAMP students see their options for getting health insurance during their time at MSU.”
Professional Writing students Jack Gould and Katlyn Lindstrom both took Gonzales’ WRA 202 course this past fall. Both had great experiences in the class in general, but especially working with CAMP clients. They felt that the skills they gained from that project where ones that they will carry with them throughout their Professional Writing careers.
Professional Writing and English junior, Lindstrom worked with fellow Professional Writers Hanna Kielar and Katheryn Sullivan to brainstorm a solution that would help CAMP students become more aware of health resources available for them. They needed to find a way to make resources visible to students so that they will utilize it. Lindstrom said, “My group was the most fascinated with the issue of mental health particularly for CAMP students because they have stresses that a lot of typical students will experience like feeling stressed out, paying for tuition, new classes, making friends, and being away from home for the first time. We learned that they have a lot of unique stresses that are specific to their situation [such as] leaving their family and not being that source of income anymore or not necessarily have family support for their leaving home because it might be more seen as being selfish and abandoning one’s family versus going an education to have more career opportunities and there can be a lot of guilt and extra stress.” She continued explaining, “We wanted to provide a way to kind of get rid of this stigma that a lot of times mental health presents not just with CAMP students but with students in general.” Their solution? Providing CAMP students with a fun, useful, and anonymous Buzzfeed quiz. The number of boxes checked determines which personalized response and suggested resources would be presented. “Instead of just saying ‘You’re crazy’ or ‘You’re depressed and you need to go fix this’ its like ‘Oh, you’re experiencing these feelings. It’s totally normal. Here are some things to help you get past that and enjoy your time in college’” said Lindstrom about her group’s solution.
Lindstrom also reported that since she had taken WRA 202, she had been given a position working on a website redesign for the Young Author’s Conference. She proudly explained how her background working with a client for the CAMP project made her feel comfortable and confident in her Professional Writing abilities. “[The CAMP project] was my first opportunity working with a client and it was really fun but it was also really intimidating because the stakes are so high and especially because — particularly with the nature of the project — you want so much to help them as much as possible. You want so much to have what you’re creating for the client to work equality how you want it to and fix everything possible and more. It was also really fun to be able to have that responsibility and it was nice to know that what you were working towards felt like so much more than a grade. It felt like you were working toward helping members of your community and helping members of a larger community, which I felt was important. I felt like it gave me a sense of what Professional Writing is all because it is about helping people tailoring messages to get people the information they need in a way they can understand. It was a really great way to break the ice and feel comfortable working in that kind of professional setting.”
Professional Writing and Comparative Cultures sophomore, Jack Gould felt similarly about his experience with WRA 202’s CAMP project. Together with his classmates Ted Marzolf and Lauren Gaynor, Gould created a poster for their CAMP clients. It compiled healthcare information, as well as a list of ailments and their corresponding symptoms, into a comprehendible poster for CAMP students. Gould said the following about his experience with the project “I had experience in groups before, but I felt the three of us meshed very well. I definitely gained the skill of being aware what an audience is looking for in their product. This project definitely made us all consider our design and subject choices several times during presentation in order to meet CAMP standards.” He also added, “I could definitely see these skills helping me in situations where I have to collaborate with colleagues. I also feel that the design choices we used on this project helped inform me on the importance of proper document presentation, which is an invaluable asset to have when in the workforce.”
While senior Marzolf is an Advertising major, he enjoyed his first PW class and felt he had learned a lot of skills that will help him in his future career. “I thought it was a phenomenal way to segway work into creating communication materials for non-profits. I am currently working on much larger scale communication plans for a 400 level advertising course and the real world interaction and collaboration that the CAMP project provided was beyond invaluable. The challenges I faced were definite finding a scope for the project itself. Figuring out resources, time allotted and group skill sets. These all limited us to scaling back the project from a massive health care analysis and communication plan. Yet this was the beauty of the project. Those challenges aren’t specific only to the CAMP project; they occur everyday in non-profit and NGO communication. Thus being able to navigate and learn those lessons now was a great skill to have leaving this university!” Marzolf said.
Ultimately, WRA 202 students presented their materials to the CAMP administrators, and received positive feedback and suggestions for improvement. Through assistance and resources from MSU’s Creativity Exploratory, WRA 202 students were able to print mockups of their posters and resources, create and deliver a presentation introducing these resources to CAMP, before making revisions and submitting their final products.
“My goal for this collaboration was for our PW students to begin understanding the value of listening…to know that it’s important to listen to your community’s values and needs before designing any document or technology, and to learn from that experience” said Gonzales.
I hope you feel as proud and inspired as I do after reading these students’ testimonials about their first real look into working as Professional Writers. It is so refreshing to hear the passion and excitement in their words. It makes me a little nostalgic, this coming the lady who hasn’t even graduated yet. Lindstrom said something that really stuck with me. She said “I have experienced definitely more in my English and PW classes is that you get a lot of people who are really excited about making the most out of their classes and why they are here. It’s been really fun to be with people who are excited about what they are learning and want to take it to the next level.” She is completely right and it just makes me even more proud to be member of such an amazing community here at MSU.