Putting It in Writing: Newest Gift from Mellon Aims to Make Better Writers out of Freshmen

A $750,000 gift from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundationthe largest yet from the foundation to CMCis going to sharpen the writing skills of first-year CMC students. The money is being invested in faculty salaries, academic writing mentors, curriculum, and also programming, for the next couple of years, to improve student research, writing, and presentation skills. It’s all scheduled to start in fall 2011, andin a case of fortuitous timingthe new writing mentors will be headquartered at the College’s Writing Center, now under the direction of associate professor of literature Audrey Bilger, who is developing a list of Center enhancements.

“For several years we have been working to enhance the connections between our outstanding humanities offerings and our traditional strengths in economics and the social sciences,” says Abigail Flores, director of foundation and corporate relations. “This grant will help us shape our first-year curriculum and expand the range of liberal arts courses available to CMC students well beyond the grant period.”

The grant runs through spring 2014 and builds on a previous one from the Mellon Foundation that developed the first-year humanities requirement for students. The new gift from Mellon zeros in on improving freshman writing abilities by: employing graduate fellows to serve as mentors for first-year students and work directly with them on writing, research, and communication skills; hiring three tenure-track faculty (who share expertise in writing and communication) in the areas of philosophy, religious studies, and government to teach in the Freshman Humanities Seminar program; and hosting workshopsthrough a partnership with the Writing Center and Honnold Libraryon writing and research strategies.

Bilger will manage several key aspects of the Mellon grant including the new academic mentoring fellows. Beyond helping students with writing, the mentors will introduce their freshmen designees to Honnold Library’s vast resources, guide students through basic research strategies, and help them settle into academic life at CMC.

The grant also makes it possible for Bilger to develop a distinguished speakers series that would work in concert with Athenaeum programming.

“We are targeting major figures who will talk about the craft of writing and public intellectualism,” Bilger says. “The speakers will meet with students and faculty to provide hands-on workshops and instructive Q&A sessions.”

Bilger is working on these, and other enhancements, with a faculty advisory team that includes professors Lisa Cody (history), Eric Helland (economics), Jack Pitney (government), and Lee Skinner (modern languages). In fall 2011, she will also oversee the Writing Center’s move into new offices at the Kravis Center.

“Writing and communication are fundamental skills,” says Bilger. “The Mellon Foundation grant will help us expand the resources we offer our students, beginning in their first year, to enable them to become thought leaders in their chosen fields.”