The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Under new leadership, Speaking and Writing Center aims to improve student usage and experience

5 min read
A masculine presenting person sits at a table in front of another person. Both people are working on laptops.

Gavin Kearns and Katrina Smith sit for a consultation. The Speaking and Writing Center is a free resource where students can meet with peer consultants to brainstorm ideas and get feedback on their work. | Anna Blake / The Weekly Ringer


Senior Writer

This school year, the academic support centers located on the fourth floor of the Hurley Convergence Center have undergone various changes with the aim of increasing student usage and improving the student experience. The Writing Center and Speaking Center have now combined into one center, the Speaking and Writing Center, and peer academic consultants are now located in the center as well. Beginning this semester, the center also has a new director, Leah Schweitzer.

Since her first day on Jan. 3, Schweitzer has been working to expand student engagement at the center and improve the center as a resource for professors.

“I have several goals for the Speaking and Writing Center,” Schweitzer said. “Most immediately, I want to increase the usage. I want all students on campus to feel that the Speaking and Writing Center is a space they can come to be supported as they work on projects and to know that no matter what stage of the composing process they are in, whomever they work with is going to give them good advice and feedback.”

Schweitzer is also working to improve the Speaking and Writing Center as a resource for professors.

“I want to ensure that we are a resource for faculty, supporting what they are doing in the classroom so that they can integrate the use of the SWC into their courses,” she said.

The new leadership has brought changes to the center’s operations. As of this semester, the center is no longer offering workshops, and students can make appointments as soon as one hour in advance. 

“I think the biggest thing students should know … is that they can make an appointment with as little as one hour before their desired appointment time,” said lead writing consultant Eli Keith, an English: creative writing major in the secondary education program. “When it was 24 hours, students who needed same-day help had to hope a walk-in was available, but now they can actually reserve a time.”

According to lead consultant Layla Barnes, a junior English: creative writing major in the secondary education program, the center no longer offers Google Docs-only appointments. For virtual appointments, students will meet with their consultant via Zoom in addition to Google Docs or Word.

Additionally, some appointment reporting procedures, like consultation reports sent to professors after appointments, have been standardized. 

“Students and faculty will see more consistent reporting following student consultation meetings,” said Director of Academic Services Wes Hillyard. 

The layout of the center is also changing slightly with the merge.

“We’ve standardized a lot of the information we’re putting out and moved some furniture around as we transition to thinking of ourselves as one center,” said Barnes. 

Otherwise, the center’s goals and operations remain largely the same.

“We will continue offering the same peer-to-peer support in speaking and writing to students, and that remains the cornerstone of what we do,” said Barnes. “We’re just doing that as one center rather than two. There will likely be more changes in the future as Dr. Schweitzer continues to implement her ideas for the center, but for now, all students and faculty really need to know is to stay tuned for more information.”

The decision to merge into one center was made by the Academic Affairs division.

“Several factors led us to this decision including the shared space in the HCC, changes to the leadership structure, and the need for a more consistent student experience across our support centers,” said Hillyard. “It is not uncommon to find merged centers at colleges and universities today as many centers now embrace the idea that they are communication centers rather than separate centers that require unique skills for only writing or speaking support.”

The search for a new director began last summer, Hillyard said, with a search committee of faculty and staff members. The center had been without a director since October of 2021, when former Writing Center Director Gwen Hale passed away. 

“Change can be difficult, but we’re excited to have Dr. Schweitzer on board to fill the gap that was left by Gwen’s passing and to help us continue moving forward,” said Barnes.

For consultants who were hired and trained under Hale, the dynamic of the center has changed along with the director. 

“The way things were when Gwen was here … was just that I think people were more willing to approach the director or person in charge with not only ideas but stories and feelings about appointments and experience on campus in general,” said Keith. “It’ll take time for everyone to get that close with Dr. Schweitzer and feel as though they can approach her with the same sorts of concerns and opinions.”

Barnes has noticed that the community aspect of the center has started to grow this semester.

“It was really cool sometimes on night shifts seeing everyone from all sides of the center … sitting on the couch and the floor and just hanging out,” she said. “Part of that was because we didn’t have appointments, which sucks, but it was really nice to see that community aspect come back together.”

Changes to the center’s operations will be a gradual process.

“The campus community should not see any reduction in the level of service our Speaking and Writing Center offers,” Hillyard said. “Over the coming months, they will see a more consistent and easier process to schedule appointments with any of our support centers including the Speaking and Writing Center, Peer Tutoring, Peer Academic Consultants, and the Digital Knowledge Center.”

In an effort to make the centers more cohesive, future consultants will also be cross-trained to conduct both speaking and writing appointments and will be able to work with students on any “speaking, writing and even multimodal projects,” Schweitzer said.

“This will provide greater schedule flexibility as well as a deeper experience for our clients given that speaking and writing frequently overlap in the classroom and on assignments,” said Hillyard.

The newly-merged center is also holding a design contest for a new logo, and the winner will receive a Panera gift card.

“Because we have merged, we need a new, combined graphic for the Speaking and Writing Center,” Schweitzer said. “We’re asking for submissions of new icons by March 6 at 5 p.m. to”

Schweitzer encourages students to visit throughout the process of working on their projects.

“We’re not just here to help put the final polish on projects, but to assist no matter where you are in the process, even if you haven’t begun yet,” she said. “The more in advance of a due date you schedule an appointment, the more helpful we can be.”

Consultants are hopeful that the changes will be helpful for students. 

“While I’m sad to see the old centers go, the merged center will have a lot more benefits for both students and consultants,” said lead speaking consultant Brian Wolf, a senior computer science and communication and digital studies double major. “Students will benefit from the increased flexibility that the center will offer, while the consultants will benefit from having a wider skill set to develop and help their peers with.”