Spotlight on ARC: Q&A w/ Kelly McDonald (’19)

Eric Dyer recently sat down for a Q&A session with seasoned ARC Student Manager, Writing Fellow, tutor, and graduating senior, Kelly McDonald, to talk about her approach to writing and peer education. Below is a lightly edited transcript of their chat.

“We’re not scary, and we’re not experts. We don’t have the answers to all the questions, but we will work really hard to find those answers with you. We’re learning too!”

Q: What’s your role supporting writing at Bates? 

I’m the Student Manager for the Writing Center in the Academic Resource Commons. I work directly with students, helping them with their papers. The other half is working with the other writing tutors, talking with them about their roles and goals.

Q: What sorts of things come up when you’re working with writing tutors?

Sometimes issues come up about how to navigate students who have become too dependent on writing tutors. We talk about different strategies [and make resources available] for when a tutor might not be an expert in a subject.

Q: Who else are you on campus?

A senior. I’m a Sociology major. I have two minors: Education and Music. I do a cappella, and I’m in a band. So, generally, if I’m not here, I’m making music somewhere.

Q: What’s a really memorable moment you’ve had as a peer educator?

I was helping a first year student with a big final project for her FYS, and her PWSA wasn’t available. She had interviewed a family member as her primary source of data, and she was very invested in the subject matter. She was working really hard to use feminist, inclusive language in the writing, and that was really inspiring to me. After we were done working on the paper, I could tell how excited she was about the subject matter. It was historical and had to do with immigration – very social science-y.

I was talking with her afterwards about her academic plans at Bates, and she said she was going to major in Bio or Chem, but after talking to me about this paper she was really reconsidering that and thinking about going down the sociology or anthropology road. I wasn’t trying to push – of course I’m biased – but it made me really excited to see a student reevaluate their own passions, just from working on a paper from a class. And I’m sure her professor would be proud, too!

Q: How about you and your writing?  Is there a writing assignment you’ve worked on at Bates that you remember as being really great or memorable?

In Sociology, we do two Junior-Senior seminars. It’s a whole big research project, essentially a mini-thesis. I chose to research and write about media representations of youth activists. This was right after one of the mass shootings in Florida, and there were all these teens coming to prominence in the media and social media, and they were very outspoken, very motivated to promote their cause and represent their peers. I noticed a real discrepancy in how different media outlets talked about them, so I did a [comparative] content analysis of more liberal-leaning and conservative-leaning news media outlets.

It was difficult because I had to make a lot of tough decisions about what to include and what was out of my scope, but at the end of the day I was really happy with the final product. I learned a lot about a topic I was interested in and a topic that my professor really wasn’t that interested in – he was learning just as much as I was. It was long. It was tedious. But I was really invested in it the whole time because I had built it up myself. It felt very original and got me ready for thesis.

Q: What do you want someone to know before they come into the writing center, or alternatively, before they refer someone to the Writing Center?

The biggest thing for students to know is that all of the staff here in ARC are students, too. We are not intimidating. We’re not scary, and we’re not experts.  We don’t have the answers to all the questions, but we will work really hard to find those answers with you. I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions — especially about the writing tutors — is that we’re up on a podium. But it’s not really like that; we’re learning too!