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WSU-wide program focuses on writing in STEM

Emma Ledbetter and Phil Mixter pose for a photo.
Emma Ledbetter, left, a recent College of Veterinary Medicine graduate, and Phil Mixter, right, an associate professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences, pose for a photo in the room in the Spark building where WriteSTEM, a new program aimed at helping undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses improve their writing skills, will meet beginning later in the month.

A new program aimed at helping undergraduate students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) courses improve their writing skills has been launched at Washington State University.

According to the federal government’s 2021 National Assessment for Educational Progress report, as many as three-quarters of high school students about to enter universities cannot write at a basic level. While the WSU Undergraduate Writing Center already offers peer support for students needing help with writing, the new program, WriteSTEM, has a particular focus on improving writing skills in STEM fields.

“The spectrum of students we see is so huge, from those who were ready to be professional science writers to students who struggle to write a sentence to everything in between,” said Phil Mixter, associate professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences. “The WSU Writing Center has a long history and is a really well-oiled machine using a peer model, but if you happen to walk in there and there isn’t someone who understands the science language or the nuances of a lab report compared to other kinds of reports, that’s the niche we’re really trying to fill.”

WriteSTEM is open to all students, and participants will have access to writing web tools and instructional videos online, in addition to one-on-one time with peer coaches. STEM instructors and teaching assistants are encouraged to direct students struggling with writing to the center. The program will meet 5-7 p.m. Tuesdays in SPARK 208 and via Zoom for students on other WSU campuses or who are unable to attend in person. In-person attendees will be provided snacks.

Mixter worked closely with Michael Dunn, an assistant professor in the College of Education at WSU Vancouver; Martina Ederer, an assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine; and Emma Ledbetter, a recent College of Veterinary Medicine graduate to establish the program. 

​“Students can struggle with science writing, and often those who would benefit from help do not ask for it,” Ederer said. “We hope providing a source of consistent writing and editing help at a scheduled time might entice students to participate.”

WriteSTEM got its start during the 2021-22 academic year in the College of Veterinary Medicine as a pilot program funded by an Educational Research Grant from the college’s Teaching Academy. 

Twelve students participated in the program, and preliminary results indicate students found the writing web tools and videos helpful, although students rated the direct input of an experienced editor as the most helpful. 

Now open to students across all WSU campuses, the program is being funded by a Smith Teaching and Learning Grant through the Samuel H. and Patricia W. Smith Teaching and Learning Endowment, established in 2000 when WSU President Samuel Smith retired.  

“With time we anticipate the program will grow and eventually become self-supporting by enabling students that come for help to later step into a mentorship role and provide help for subsequent students,” Ederer said. “This is a great opportunity for creating community.” 

Students interested in additional information or in participating in the program should email Mixer at pmixter@wsu.edu. Students with strong STEM writing skills interested in becoming a peer coach can also contact Mixter. 

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