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Published in CenterView on March 18, 2013
Susan Hicks
Susan Hicks

SHRP partners with Ole Miss to offer writing assistance online

By Matt Westerfield

After 13 years of working as a dental hygienist, Susan Hicks of Tupelo decided to shift gears and pursue a new career in teaching.

In January, she enrolled in the online Health Sciences Program offered by the School of Health Related Professions to earn her bachelor’s with the aim of taking an alternate route to teaching certification. But after being out of school for 12 years, it wasn’t surprising that she needed some extra help on a paper for her cultural competencies class.

Her professor suggested she make an appointment with a student tutor at the newly minted Virtual Writing Center.

“She was awesome,” Hicks said of her virtual tutor. “She didn’t tell me what to do, but helped me make the paper flow better.

“When you’ve been out of school that long, it’s hard to get back in the flow.”

Her tutor, Jennifer McNair, a sophomore at the University of Mississippi, was 40 miles away from Tupelo. But McNair was able to provide support online through a partnership between SHRP and Ole Miss’ Center for Writing and Rhetoric. And thanks to her help, Hicks managed to boost the grade of her final paper by 23 points.

“We had a writing lab at Gulf Coast Community College, and it was one of the things I knew was a hallmark of that particular community college,” said Terry Pollard, assistant professor and director of instructional development and distance learning in SHRP.

An expert in teaching writing, Pollard came to the Medical Center last spring after teaching at MGCCC and serving as director of training and professional development for the Mississippi Community College Board.

“I knew what they had to offer, so when I found out about this (the Center for Writing and Rhetoric) in the context of my role here in the school, I thought maybe we can form a partnership with them,” he said. “They are a fantastic group of people. They work hand-in-hand with faculty at Oxford to develop new courses and infuse best writing practices throughout the curriculum.”

Dr. Terry Pollard and Ole Miss student tutor Jennifer McNair
Dr. Terry Pollard and Ole Miss student tutor Jennifer McNair

Working with Ole Miss faculty members Dr. Robert Cummings and Dr. Alice Myatt, Pollard spent last fall helping set up the technical part of the writing center, an online forum where SHRP students can book appointments with student tutors at Ole Miss. The service just became available to students on Jan. 31.

The student tutors, recruited by Ole Miss faculty, aren’t just good at writing, Pollard said. They also have an interest in allied health. Some are even pre-UMMC students.

“The training process is sound,” he said. “The center trains the tutors to use the Socratic method. Through this questioning the student begins seeing their presentation of ideas in a new light. They might receive sentence level help, too, or guidelines for APA usage.” McNair, who helped Hicks with her paper, is hoping to enter the Occupational Therapy Program in SHRP soon.

She said health-care professionals need to have strong writing and literacy skills to be able to apply the latest evidence in their practice and for accurate documentation for insurance purposes.

SHRP has long placed a premium on writing skills. Instructor Dana Hairston has been teaching a health sciences writing course for four years and hosts occasional workshops to teach students APA Style (the American Psychological Association, a style most often used in the sciences) and the expectations for writing improvement.

“We know there’s a connection between writing and discovery of ideas,” Pollard said. “Our students may end up being involved in policy initiatives and policy writing. They may be involved in research.”

He adds that he encourages all the other schools on campus to reach out to the Center for Writing and Rhetoric. 

“Within our programs at SHRP, we recognize that the ability to express oneself in written form is a marketable skill that is developed over time and with much practice,” said Dr. Jessica Bailey, interim dean of SHRP. “I’m pleased that Terry Pollard has discovered innovative ways we can collaborate with Ole Miss and has taken the initiative to provide this unique benefit to our students.”