Four URI doctoral candidates win national graduate student writing award

Academic article on writing assessment initiative cited for ‘professionalism, relevance’

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KINGSTON, R.I. – June 15, 2018 — Three years ago, Ashton Foley, Bridget Fullerton, Eileen James and Jenna Morton-Aiken were eager to join a project to help them learn about writing assessment, launch a pilot for an assessment initiative across the University of Rhode Island and co-author a scholarly article about the process under the guidance of an established writing faculty member.

Before completion of the project, the doctoral candidates in English, all with different backgrounds and different perspectives on writing, saw their faculty mentor leave for another university. The day-to-day management of the conclusion of the process and writing the scholarly article fell primarily on their shoulders. This all occurred while the four graduate students were taking their own courses and teaching undergraduate classes.

Despite the stress, sometimes feeling directionless during the process and writing a scholarly article with no lead author, the four earned a national award for their paper, Navigating Murky Waters: Graduate Students in a University-Wide General Education Assessment Initiative. The Council for Writing Program Administrators honored Foley, Fullerton, James and Morton-Aiken with its 2015 Graduate Student Writing Award.

Bridget Fullerton
Bridget Fullerton of Newport

“The committee was very impressed with the sophistication of your essay, as well as its relevance and contribution to writing program administration studies,” said the letter from the council. “The committee appreciated the professionalism of your scholarship, the clarity of your writing, and the strength of your academic voices. Overall, the committee marveled at the extraordinary work that graduate students produced—work that rivals professionals in the field.”

The students were publicly recognized at a meeting of the organization in April, and they received a cash prize of $300, which they split. All four will do a presentation on their experiences at the organization’s national conference in Raleigh, N.C. in July.

“The Department of Writing and Rhetoric is so proud of these talented graduate students and the national recognition they received for their work,” said Jeremiah Dyehouse, associate professor and chair of the Department of Writing and Rhetoric. “This award is a richly deserved honor that reflects well on them and on their learning at URI.”

Fullerton, who now lives in Newport, but who grew up in Tewksbury, N.J., said the process began in a writing and rhetoric seminar.

Morton Aiken
Jenna Morton-Aiken of Wakefield

“As part of the course, we were invited to assist our professor in the process of designing a university-wide curriculum rubric for college-level writing across disciplines,” Fullerton said, who will earn her doctorate in 2017 with a concentration in rhetoric and composition. “We created an initial draft of the rubric the year we started the course.”

Once the project began in earnest, the students worked with 15 faculty members whose courses have strong writing components and who were interested in student writing across disciplines.

The pilot project ended in the spring of 2014, and the rubric for the assessment was completed in the fall of 2014.

“We were so excited to be working with faculty members directly and to learn from them on such an important project,” Fullerton said.

Morton-Aiken, who will earn her doctorate in 2017 in English with a specialization in rhetoric and composition, said the project took scholarship/research on the topic into practice. The Wakefield resident who grew up in Jamestown said the finished rubric was turned over to the general education committee.

Eileen James
Eileen James of Exeter

James, now a resident of Exeter who grew up in Coventry, said it was great to start the project with a mentor who possessed such a strong research background. “She spent a great deal of time guiding us, and negotiating with other faculty members,” said James, who will earn her Ph.D. in 2018 with a specialization in rhetoric and composition.

“But after she left, we kind of had to figure it out as we went along,” said Foley, a North Attleboro, Mass. resident who grew up in Hyde Park, Mass, and will earn her doctorate in 2018 with a concentration in literature.

To facilitate the writing process for the journal article, the group used Google Docs. “We each wrote sections of the paper, and then would bring them together using Google,” Fullerton said.

Ashton Foley
Ashton Foley of North Attleboro, Mass.

Morton-Aiken said writing is usually an individual pursuit. “But this process helped us learn from each other.”

“Every revision went through each one of us,” Foley said. “And we had great faculty feedback that helped turn us into polished scholars.”

In their application letter to the awards committee of the Council of Writing Program Administrators, the four said, “The project buoyed and challenged us in ways we never anticipated. We feel it is important to share our experiences in order to fill what we came to see as a gap in the field of writing program administration about involving graduate students in assessment projects.”

URI photos by Michael Salerno Photography.