UC Merced’s writing program has a misleading name.
The program isn’t just about writing, said Director Robert Ochsner. Sure, students will learn to be better writers. They’ll learn how to properly construct essays, term papers, and exposition and argument papers. But they’ll also learn how to read and think critically, analytically, on a whole different level than they are probably used to.
Few students test so well in high school that they are exempt from Writing 1, and nearly everyone has to pass Writing 10 before they graduate. That means most students are going to participate in UC Merced’s writing program.
Students in even the most elite universities are in writing programs, Ochsner said. The first writing program began at Harvard, in the late1800s, he said, because even back then, professors recognized that students needed help understanding college-level writing.
Ochsner said his goal is to make sure students see the connections between reading, writing and critical thinking.
While each college’s writing program is its own, UC Merced’s is particularly unique because some of the 19 faculty members help teach in the freshman Core 1 and the junior Core 100 courses. And they don’t just teach writing - they also teach basic math, statistics and algebra.
Students need to apply many of the same skills to math studies as to reading and writing, Ochsner said. There’s a connection between ‘numeracy’ and literacy.
Hired last summer, Ochsner said his first year with the writing program at UC Merced was one of the best experiences of his nearly 30-year teaching career.
The students were the most highly motivated and committed I’ve ever seen, he said. There’s resilience there.
At the end of a writing course, students come away with a portfolio of college writing, and a better understanding of what’s expected in college writing, from organization and clarity to analysis of what’s said and what’s written between the lines. They are intensely evaluated and, meeting one on one with teachers to review their work, they learn the whole process of developing their writing.
There’s a level of engagement with the teachers that most of these students aren’t used to, he said. But even the students who are apprehensive about writing apply themselves. We have a lot of students who recognize how important writing is in college and in their lives.