Undergraduate Student Profile: Sam Turner—If the Fourth Major Fits

December 3, 2018
Sam Turner

Original story posted at: https://english.osu.edu/news/undergraduate-profile-sam-turner

Story by Michaela Corning-Myers


For many new college students, choosing a major is a daunting task. Not only will this be your life for four years, but it will likely determine which career field you will enter and remain in for the rest of your life. And what if you don’t pick the right major and you have to switch? And what about again after that? It all can seem unbearably stressful.

This is the story of how one student, the indelible Sam Turner, turned a series of major academic and career changes into an opportunity to find a job, a research opportunity and a leadership position; work with faculty within Ohio State and elsewhere; and discover a path to the perfect career.

I sat down with Turner in Denney Hall on a sweltering afternoon. We had just escaped the blazing sun and were unwinding in the overactive AC of room 447. We began by talking about Turner’s academic history at Ohio State, to which, she revealed that she had switched her major not one, not two, but four times. During her final year of high school, Turner considered being a music major (she plays the bass with vigor and excellence). Next, she decided to major in evolutionary ecological biology. In Turner’s first semester, however, it became clear that a STEM path—tinged with green equations—was not the path for her so she switched to the University Explorations Program. And then there was communications. But alas, communications would not be for forever. She then added a minor in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, which would soon blossom into her second major…and then her only major, when she dropped communications to a minor. Finally, Turner added English as her second major, and she has remained with these two majors (English and WGSS) up to this point.

When Turner became an English major, she enrolled in English/CSTW 3467S: Issues and Methods in Tutoring Writing, taught by Associate Professor of English, Beverly Moss. This course is offered every autumn. Upon completion, students have the opportunity to interview for a job at the Writing Center, which Turner did; she is currently in her sixth semester as a writing consultant and her third semester as a writing center assistant coordinator, a position that was created specifically for her based on the remarkable administrative work she had begun.

Writing Center consultants collaborate with writers from across the entire university—graduate and undergraduate students, post-doctoral researchers, faculty and staff. They provide in person, online and walk-in sessions and have three separate locations. As a consultant, Turner meets with her clients and talks about their writing—whether that be completed work, drafts or prewriting. Turner highlighted that the goal of a writing consultant is not to “fix” their clients’ work; this is a common misconception. For example, grammatical errors are not the focus of a session unless they are so pervasive that they would obscure meaning or if the stakes of the writing are very high—for example, if someone left a sentence fragment dangling in their personal statement for medical school. Instead, writing consultants empower their clients with the skills and knowledge they need to become better writers for the long-term. This doesn’t mean grammar isn’t important, however. Turner views grammar as a rhetorical opportunity to express meaning rather than a set of rules that is crucial to follow: “Grammar is political in that there is a particular set of rules to which we are all adhering, and that set is of Standard Academic American English. We try to talk about grammar in a way that expresses that having bad grammar doesn't make you a bad writer, and really, it doesn't mean ‘bad’ grammar. It simply means that one is not adhering to a certain set of socially constructed standards.” Writing consultants also point clients toward relevant resources and provide the “listening ear” that can serve as a wall to bounce ideas off of.

Turner was hired at the Writing Center in the spring of 2017. She described her first week as “kind of crazy” and revealed that she cried after her first shift because she felt that she wasn’t doing a good job. It was in these early days that Turner developed a curiosity about the Client Report Forms that the consultants were required to complete after each session. What was their purpose? What are the most effective methods of completion? Turner felt that the consultants should be completing the forms in the same way, especially because these forms were being sent to clients. As such, Turner went to Writing Center Director Genie Giaimo and shared her concerns. To Turner’s surprise, Giaimo encouraged her to use her free project hours to read about the forms online and report back what she found out. And so it began.

As it turned out, there wasn’t a lot of literature about the Client Report Forms, which was both difficult and exciting because Turner had the opportunity to add to something that hasn’t been already explored. Of the literature she did find, there were two main camps: One theory, penned by Michael A. Pemberton, debates whether writing centers should be “sharers” or “seculsionists” (writing and keeping CRFs for internal purposes or writing them for others, i.e., faculty, clients). The other camp asks whether or not doing the CRFs is a worthwhile practice at all. The general consensus is that clients, administrators and faculty generally believe the forms are worthwhile, while consultants rarely do. Turner, on the other hand, argues that using reflection to build a better practice in one’s job is always worthwhile. However, Turner also noted that while these readings did interest her, they really only examined how people feel about CRFs rather than outlining what writing centers should and should not be doing with client report forms.

When Turner reported to Giaimo what she had found, Giaimo immediately encouraged Turner to create a training for all employees of the Writing Center. Turner was surprised that such a responsibility could fall into her hands— after all, she’d only been working there for three weeks! Because every writing center is different, the training had to be shaped to work for Ohio State specifically. Turner and Giaimo discussed what they wanted the client report forms to accomplish and soon, the training was created and deployed. Turner began visiting each mentorship group at the center to describe her findings and what explain what she and Giaimo had decided the tutors should try to accomplish with the forms. Facilitating reflection and mindful practice in writing centers helps consultants to be better at their jobs and therefore to be more effective with clients. If a consultant is able to talk about what happens in their sessions and how they will approach that same situation in the future more effectively, that consultant will be remarkably better able to serve clients. Turner was doing so well that Giaimo suggested that she apply to present at the ECWCA (East Central Writing Center Association Conference).

Turner’s proposal was accepted, which meant that Turner would be presenting in Michigan in 2017. She was terrified. She purchased a new business-casual wardrobe, but when she got there, everyone was wearing tennis shoes and jeans! Her presentation was intensely popular, and afterward, listeners had many questions. Turner felt so supported and encouraged that she was excited to return to Ohio State and continue working. Her increasing interest spawned a larger research project, and now Turner is currently working on a large-scale discourse analysis of all of the CRFs at Ohio State. At the time she started the project, Ohio State had about 9,000 client report forms. Unfortunately, before she began her research, no one archived CRFs, and no one knew how to access them. The completion rate of forms was a mere 20 percent when Turner began, but when her training was implemented, the completion rate jumped up to 95 percent.

This past spring, Turner presented once again at the Denman Research Forum at Ohio State as a representative of humanities research. In November 2017, Turner gave another presentation, this time at the International Writing Center Association in Chicago which boasts an attendance of over 1,000 people. Turner was voted to be the undergraduate representative for the ECWCA, and therefore is an active member of the ECWCA board. She has also submitted a piece to the Journal of Writing Research, which is current under review. At present, Turner is working on coding. After graduating, Turner is considering doing her research at a graduate level, and is considering pursuing a Ph.D.

Though Turner entered college not sure of what direction she would go, much less which path she would take, she is now on track to graduate with research experience, a solid network of scholars supporting her work, and an idea of what she’d like to do for a future career. Especially at a school like Ohio State, where there are innumerable opportunities to get involved in research pertaining to one’s interests, it is almost a waste to shirk those opportunities—what I’m trying to say here is, get involved where and when you can. Don’t be afraid to throw off your training wheels and try out something new—it can lead you in unexpected, but ultimately rewarding directions.