Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) is a pedagogical movement that began in the early 1970s. Following the dramatic rise of student enrollment after World War II and the protests of the 1960s, universities needed to evolve to accommodate a new generation of students, one that was more diverse in background and socioeconomic position than previous generations. WAC pedagogues recognized that cross-curricular writing instruction plays an essential role in giving all students access to the academic and professional world. And they saw that student success depends on their ability to use the discourse of the discipline in which they are seeking a career.
At the start of the same decade, in the Spring of 1970, CUNY had adopted an admissions policy that guaranteed every resident a place in one of its eighteen tuition-free colleges (ten senior colleges and eight two-year colleges). In one of the boldest and earliest attempts at a comprehensive higher education system, CUNY opened its doors to a significantly larger number of students, and its classrooms changed. Many new students needed to improve their basic academic skills in order to successfully navigate college curricula. The pioneering work of Mina Shaughnessy to integrate and improve (basic) writing instruction across CUNY was of crucial importance during this period, and at CUNY her work still in many ways informs WAC pedagogy.
Writing Across the Curriculum values writing as an essential method of learning and strives to integrate writing instruction across the disciplines and throughout a student’s undergraduate career. Writing in the Disciplines (WID) is closely linked to WAC. Its main idea is that students benefit from learning discipline-specific writing conventions. The CUNY Writing Fellows Program began at CUNY in 1999 with a Board of Trustees Resolution endorsing “the centrality of writing to a university education and calling for the integration of writing across the curriculum.”
The CUNY Writing Fellows program employs CUNY doctoral students to support efforts to improve writing at the campuses. Students with Graduate Center Fellowships (GCFs) work as WAC Writing Fellows in their fifth year of graduate study.
Application Process and Appointment
The application process for ECFs starts in the Fall semester of the fourth year. All CUNY undergraduate colleges participate in the program, as well as two professional schools. Each year there are six WAC positions at each undergraduate college, four at Guttman Community College, three at the CUNY School of Law, and four at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. WAC Coordinators at the colleges conduct interviews in the Spring semester, after which the Provost’s Office informs students of their WAC college placement around the end of April.
Each CUNY campus’ WAC program supports writing instruction in various ways. Generally, WAC programs work to expand the role of writing in the General Education curriculum and help faculty develop Writing Intensive (WI) courses or assist in syllabus and assignment design. They also offer workshops and provide faculty with useful resources, and work closely with Writing Centers and Centers for Teaching and Learning.
WAC Fellows are appointed under the PSC-CUNY contract in the title of “Graduate Assistant B” (GAB). As a WAC Fellow, your primary commitments are to your duties as a WAC Fellow (450 hours or approximately 15 hours per week each semester) and to your academic work as a doctoral student.
There are two complementary components of the WAC Fellowship: first, you work at your assigned campus to advance its WAC initiative. Second, you participate in a year-long CUNY-wide professional development series, as well as in a variety of professional development activities at your campus.
The CUNY-wide WAC Fellows professional development series periodically draws all Fellows and Coordinators together for workshops, panel discussions, and special presentations. The first meeting of the year takes place at the end of August and introduces you to the essentials of WAC pedagogy. Besides professional development, the series creates community and provides a forum for the exploration of teaching and learning, with a focus on expanding WAC pedagogies. Recent series events have focused on the assessment of student writing and online tools for teaching and learning.
The WAC Resource Center on CUNY Academic Commons brings together all Writing Fellows and has many useful links and resources.
WAC on the Job Market
Doctoral students can greatly benefit from their experiences as Writing Fellows. Working closely with faculty and going through a high-quality professional development program in WAC pedagogy gives you very useful experience when you go on the job market. As a Writing Fellow, you contribute to CUNY’s overall commitment to public service, and show experience and interest in improving teaching and learning in thorough and innovative ways.
The skills you develop during your time as a Writing Fellow can transfer to both academic and alt-ac careers and translate to your own teaching and scholarship. Your knowledge of WAC pedagogy and experience with faculty development is a great asset when you go on the job market. Here are some of the skills that you can highlight as a former Writing Fellow:
- knowledge of and experience implementing WAC principles
- understanding of writing as a situational practice essential to student success and careers outside the academy
- experience with faculty development and collaboration
- experience with curriculum design and development
- record of attentive and student-driven teaching practice
- insight into academic processes and committee work
- experience integrating educational technology to improve writing instruction
What you gain from your experience as a Writing Fellow depends on your specific duties at your campus, but your main takeaway should be an active engagement with the processes of teaching and learning and a commitment to continuously reflect on, evaluate, and improve your own teaching and, doing so, contribute to improving (public) higher education as a whole.
The WAC/WID and QR Guide: