University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

Kathy Quirk

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Sep 9, 2010 
Writing Center gets major upgrade

UWM Writing Center
  The UWM Writing Center is open for business in its new location, Curtin Hall, room 127.

Cherri Conley and Margaret Mika
Margaret Mika, director of the Writing Center, confers with Cherri Conley, a graduate assistant and tutor in the new, expanded center.

Every writer can benefit from a conversation with a thoughtful reader.

The University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Writing Center has been providing members of the university community with feedback from knowledgeable readers – the center’s writing tutors – for almost 25 years.

On Sept. 9, the center is celebrating the grand opening of its new, more convenient and larger location in Curtin Hall, room 127. The grand opening ceremony at 11 a.m. is followed by an open house from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The 750 square feet at the new location give the center more than twice as much room as it had before, and the first-floor location is much more visible and accessible, says Margaret Mika, director. The center also has a satellite site in the East Wing of the Golda Meir Library.  

“This new space will let us do some things we haven’t been able to do before,” says Mika. For example, center tutors will now have semi-private spaces available. That, she says, helps overcome one of the very few negative comments visitors to the center have had in past – trouble concentrating because of the crowding and noise in the old space.

With the center now serving many more students, faculty and staff, the expansion is vital. In the 10 years she has been director, says Mika, the number of writers coming to the center per semester has more than doubled, and the number of sessions has quintupled, going from around 300 to more than 1,500. Since spring 2003, the center has held more than 21,000 tutoring sessions with nearly 10,000 writers.

While some think the center supports only struggling first-year students, the reality, says Mika, is that many skilled writers also visit, and nearly half the writers the tutors work with are advanced undergraduates, graduate students, faculty and staff.

Tutors work with writers both in person and online. “Writers may find they get more accomplished in less time in face-to-face sessions, but we do try to offer a similarly productive experience online to distance learners,” she says.

Writing Center mural
A colorful mural incorporating the center’s logo makes the new area very visible to students.

This fall’s 22 trained writing tutors work one-on-one with writers on any writing project – from a class paper to a resume, from a dissertation to a personal statement. Although the Writing Center started out serving primarily English Department composition students, it now serves writers in all majors and subject areas, says Mika.

The tutors at the Writing Center can provide writers with feedback, help them generate topics, organize ideas, develop thesis statements, cite sources and revise drafts.

“We can help with any writing task at any level,” says Mika. “It’s an opportunity for writers to talk to other writers.”

She emphasizes that the tutors are coaches rather than editors. They can offer suggestions to help writers develop their skills and improve their writing process, but they don’t do the writers’ work. “We have a conversation. That may change how they look at a topic or the writing.” However, the final decisions on any project are always up to the writer, Mika emphasizes.

“We expect the writers to do their own work. We provide suggestions and feedback from informed and knowledgeable readers.”

The center’s tutors are graduate and advanced undergraduate students who have faculty recommendations and demonstrated academic, writing and interpersonal skills. They also are required to take a course in tutoring writing before beginning work.

Tutors come from all majors, though many are from English. “The tutors are really outstanding…the best UWM has to offer,” says Mika.

The tutors tell her they benefit from the experience also, she adds. Many find teaching others helps them when they become graduate assistants or move into careers. One of the center’s former tutors, for example, just became the coordinator of Purdue University’s well-regarded OWL (Online Writing Lab) program.

Anyone interested in working with a writing tutor can make an appointment by going to or calling 414-229-4339. Walk-in visitors are also welcome to stop by either location to see if a tutor is available. The service is free and confidential.