Tuesday, August 20, 2019

At Trinity and around the world: Prof. Tennyson O’Donnell

Serena Elavia
Features Editor

After teaching all over the U.S. and spending the first 25 years of his life in Hawaii, Professor Tennyson O’Donnell has finally landed at Trinity and embraced his role as the new Director of the Allan K. Smith Center for Writing and Rhetoric. As Director, O’Donnell oversees the Writing, Rhetoric and Media Arts minor and writing curriculum, the Writing Associates Program, the writing center, and writing engagement in other academic majors across the school. In addition to his duties as Director, O’Donnell teaches RHET 302: Writing Theory and Practice, the course that trains qualified students to be writing center associates.

After being here for only a few months, O’Donnell says that his favorite thing about Trinity is how there is an even blend between friendliness and academic engagement; Trinity students and faculty are simultaneously very academically driven and pleasant. He says that he feels like he is in a different world every day when he steps onto campus.

O’Donnell received his undergraduate degree in writing at Brigham Young University in Hawaii in 1997. He then received his masters at California Polytechnic State University in 2000 and completed his academic study in 2005 when he graduated from Syracuse University’s Ph.D program for writing and composition. For the last seven years, O’Donnell was the Director of the Writing Center at Mississippi State University. With his broad knowledge in writing tutoring and administration, O’Donnell grew Mississippi’s writing center from a mere 300 visits a semester to approximately 3,000 to 4,000 visits per semester. O’Donnell has the ability and experience to “harness energy and put it in its proper instructional place,” he says. Confident and ready to take charge, O’Donnell has a hearty to-do list for the writing center here at Trinity.

Many of you reading this are probably unsure as to what the Allan K. Smith Center for Writing and Rhetoric even is. O’Donnell describes it as an abstract item with many entities and components. The Allan. K Smith Center is a non-physical item that includes the writing and rhetoric minor, Trinity’s writing and rhetoric curriculum, the writing center located at 115 Vernon, and writing engagement across all academic departments at Trinity. O’Donnell’s first goal is to make students aware of the different areas of writing on campus and differentiate the Allan K. Smith Center from 115 Vernon. What many students do not understand is that the abstract Allan K. Smith Center extends beyond the writing center and influences how writing is taught in classes all across Trinity, including first year seminars, economics classes, history classes and all other departments. His second goal is to make the writing center a place where “if you write, you belong in the writing center.” This means that anyone on campus who writes, which is everyone, should visit the Writing Center to become better writers. The Writing Center aims to grow students as writers and provide them with feedback; what it does not do is serve as a quick fix-it shop for proofreading papers. When writing, students should view the process as “a social activity, and not a solitary one,” says O’Donnell. So whether you’re about to start a paper, are in the middle of writing, or have finished an essay, visit the writing center and engage in a dialogue with a writing associate, turning your former solo activity into a discussion with someone else.

Many students may think that writing is not important or that it does not apply to them, but O’Donnell aims to prove students otherwise. He says that writing is important and crucial for students whether it determines a letter grade, or distinguishes them among hundreds of cover letters in a job application. Even with the rise of technology and short writing forms, writing will still be an important and differentiating factor for students in all areas of life, according to O’Donnell. He says that “once students have the smallest experience of seeing how writing has consequences (possibly by receiving a poor grade) then they will learn that good writing is essential.”

The Writing Center this fall will undergo many exciting changes including a new online scheduling system and a facelift. Starting on Sunday, Sept. 16, students will be able to make an appointment online at http://trincoll.mywconline.com/ with a Writing Associate during regularly scheduled hours. The online scheduling system will allow students to make 30 minute appointments, and see which Writing Associates are available, their class years and majors. The Writing Center has also opened two satellite locations, one in the library on Tuesday nights, and the other at the newly renamed NUTT center (formerly known as MCEC) on Sunday nights. With two new locations and available hours, students have no reason not to visit the newly revamped Writing Center. During the fall, O’Donnell plans to work with the Writing Associates to change the décor of the Writing Center and aims to give the space a Starbucks feeling. 

O’Donnell says “Trinity’s Writing Center is like a kitchen. It has all of the ingredients necessary, and they just need to be baked.” Welcome to Trinity Prof. O’Donnell and the students are eager to see what baked goods and treats are in store for the Writing Center!


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