Volume 97 Issue 2 News

Changes in CWS lab

by Klaus-Peter Profus

College Writing Seminar (CWS) lab, which is required for first-year students, was changed prior to this academic year with strategic assessment and future planning in mind.

Senior Anna Bistline, who has been a CWS lab leader for three years, said, “This year we started doing a group service project at the beginning of the year, and I think that was a really good idea. I’ve seen it in articles about liberal arts colleges across the U.S. that here has been an increase in popularity to get the incoming class to do a service project together.”

Senior Lauren Lesser, Juniata College associate for first-year programs, said, “I just feel (service projects) are good team building exercises that give students an opportunity to go out into the community and explore what else is around here. It’s great to get to know other people, and it’s awesome to build the ties with the community because this is where you are going to be living.”

Over 300 of Juniata’s first-year students made cards for retirement homes or picked up trash along Fairgrounds Road, and people from the Huntingdon community were recognizing the students’ beneficial work. “We had a couple of folks just stop and say, ‘Are you guys from the College?’ and our students said, ‘Yes, of course,’ and they said, ‘Thank you, that’s really nice to see students out there doing good things,’” said Interim Assistant Dean of Students Ellen Campbell.

In addition to the service project, further changes have been implemented in the CWS lab. “This year we had a diversity facilitator come into the lab, which had never happened before, and I thought that the idea behind that was really good. It was solid to help explain some of the more diversity issues to freshman coming in and getting them thinking about it early on,” said returning lab leader Eric Merrell.

“I think the change from a diversity panel of students to a more official public speaker to come and speak about diversity issues was a nice change because he wasn’t part of the Juniata community, but from a similar type setting at another school. I felt he was able to speak more honestly about things,” said Bistline.

Changes in the CWS lab result from assessment by the lab leaders and the students. “We’re relying on our lab leaders to be able to give us that ‘on-the-job’ feedback. We will take the assessment that students will fill out based on their CWS experience–we did a pre-test and a post-test–and make sure that those will hit the marks that we want,” said Campbell.

“It’s a very open relationship with adequate communication. I have always felt they have been very honest with us and very good at preparing us for what we have to then relay to our students,” said Hannah Jeffrey, who is a first-time lab leader.

Besides student assessments, Lesser has played a major role in developing the CWS lab from a student’s perspective. “My sophomore year I was a CWS lab leader, and the next year I got asked to be the Juniata Associate, which is really cool because I get to have a more hands on the approach of how things go. I came in this year knowing what worked and some things that didn’t work and was able to go from there,” said Lesser.

Despite the current changes and the long-term assessment, there is potential for improvement with regard to the CWS lab. “I think it’s good in theory, but in practice it needs some help. It’s just like going over slights and things that have been repeated a billion times about college life and drinking for example,” said freshman Jeff Oplinger.

In addition, Oplinger said, “My biggest critiques would be different lab groups for international students, who I think should be in a separate group than the freshmen because a lot of international students are significantly older and at a very different maturity level. They have experienced very different things through their socialization in other countries than college freshmen in the U.S.”

The purpose of CWS labs is to make sure all of the first-year students are transitioning successfully to the College. “It’s a useful way to make sure everybody is doing alright and transitioning alright. So what the lab leaders do is to make sure that nobody is overly homesick or having a rough time. We can point them to places like health and wellness, advisors, academic support, and it’s a helpful way to make sure everyone is having a good time adjusting and succeeding at Juniata,” said Merrell.

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