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Villanueva new director of acclaimed writing program

By Beverly Makhani, Office of Undergraduate Education

villanueva-80PULLMAN, Wash. – A professor “passionate about cultivating students’ literacy” is the new director of The Writing Program at Washington State University.

“Because I have devoted my professional career to various aspects of literacy, the program is deeply tied to what I do as a scholar, and that will help me as an administrator,” said Victor Villanueva, Regents professor in the Department of English.

The Writing Program in fall made its 10th appearance in U.S. News and World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition for 2014, in the “Academic Programs to Look For” category. In its 28th year at WSU, the program is the central unit dedicated to helping students and faculty across the university to be better communicators.

“Dr. Villanueva is passionate about cultivating students’ literacy,” said Mary Wack, vice provost for undergraduate education. “He is a renowned rhetorician, an award-winning educator and an experienced university administrator who will be an outstanding leader for The Writing Program.” The program is part of the Office of Undergraduate Education.

Many tasks unified in one program

“The Writing Program has repeatedly earned its place as a national role model and leader, thanks in great part to the research, innovations and outreach efforts of its faculty and staff,” said Villanueva. “It is one cohesive unit that has several successful parts.

“It is the center for the writing assessment function that determines which English composition class a student will enter,” he said. “It provides thousands of hours of peer tutoring to guide students to be better writers in general as well as in their major field.

“Under the auspices of the All-University Writing Committee, The Writing Program works with faculty and facilitates development and review of roughly 300 writing-intensive courses across the disciplines, known as Writing in the Major (M) courses,” he said. “And it oversees the writing portfolio requirement for all rising juniors.

“Every WSU student has many touch points with The Writing Program throughout undergraduate and graduate years,” he said. “Every faculty member accesses its many resources.”

Updating requirements, coordination

Among Villanueva’s plans for the program is working with the All-University Writing Committee to ask faculty members what reading and writing components M courses should require.

“The M courses began more than 25 years ago and suited needs then,” he said. “But with societal changes and technology, contemporary educators undoubtedly have ideas about updating the M courses.”

He also would like to reconsider the junior writing portfolio and find ways to get freshmen and sophomores to think earlier in their academic careers about the writing they could submit. He sees an opportunity for greater coordination between English composition and The Writing Program.

Service and accomplishment

Villanueva didn’t set out to be a college professor or administrator, and he marvels to this day that he is just that. Before earning his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in English at the University of Washington, he was, he said, “a high-school dropout, an enlisted Vietnam veteran and a community college student who was born in Brooklyn to parents newly arrived from Puerto Rico.”

He since has taught and researched at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake, the University of Washington, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Northern Arizona University before coming to WSU as director of the composition program in English in 1995. He returned to Pullman in 2012 following a year as department head of English at Auburn University.

At WSU he has chaired the English department, directed the program in American studies, been interim associate dean of the (then) College of Liberal Arts and held its Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professorship.

In 2004-05, he received the university’s Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award for research, scholarship and the arts. In 2009, he was promoted to Regents professor, WSU’s highest level of international distinction in the discipline that raises university standards through teaching, scholarship and public service

He has led the Conference on College Composition and Communications, been a visiting distinguished professor at Michigan State University and won the Advancement of People of Color Leadership Award from the National Council of Teachers of English. He has published eight books and numerous articles and chapters, received many awards and taught more than 25 undergraduate and graduate courses at WSU.

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