Critical Thinking in Program Coordination

By: Elsa Buehler

It’s true that for the past few weeks I have begun my work as an intern for the English Department at Duquesne University. It’s also true that, despite what may one expect, I am not spending my time in this position arguing the historical significance of Jonathan Swift’s famous political satires, or analyzing the artful, musical framework of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Having said this, the critical thinking and writing skills that I have begun to develop in my English core and writing intensive courses are proving extremely useful to my endeavors as a program coordinator.

In the first few weeks of my internship, I have spent the majority of my efforts planning and preparing for the 5th annual Duquesne University Summer Writing Camp for High School Students. Though the camp doesn’t take place until June, I have plenty of responsibilities leading up to it. Most of my work so far has involved sorting through endless files and emails from the past several years of the program. I’ve created a digital workspace to organize deadlines, email drafts, listservs, lists of past participants, flyers, and more. These are all resources that I am adapting from past years, or creating new, for my future use as the program coordinator.

One of my first tasks was to review the camp’s webpage. My advisor, English Professor John Fried, and I discussed changing elements of the application from years past. We had an insightful conversation about the necessity of careful and inclusive language when dealing with minors, particularly high school students. I’ll note that this conversation was not unlike one that I had in my “Survey of American Lit I” course this semester, concerning respect for the Native American identity. When asking for personal information, we decided, one must employ sensitive language. For example, we knew it would be necessary to know if applicants had any disabilities or required special services of any kind. To procure this information, we decided to ask, “Anything else you’d like us to know?” Ultimately, we curated a suitable online application page and made the website live. Even now, in the very early stages of the application process, I have already received 2 applications.

Since finishing the webpage and application page, my main focus has been on marketing the program to potentially interested parties. The program is fairly small and selective, but it’s very important that enough students know about the program in order to help it grow. To start, I worked on distribution, putting together a list of about 16 high schools in the Pittsburgh area to whom we want to reach out. I also searched the staff directories on the schools’ web pages and created a list of almost 150 school librarians, English department directors, and English teachers.

This week, I composed an email to send to the contacts I collected. Using an interpersonal approach to professional writing that I have exercised in a few of my classes, (i.e. Honors Inquiry and Professional Communication in Integrated Marketing) I appealed to the educators to reach out to interested students and invite them to apply for the program. In my approach, I deliberately chose language that I deemed professional, yet genuine. I wrote a brief and friendly (albeit general) statement, then provided a link to the application and concluded with a petition to help our program reach more students. I was also sure to keep my intended audience (educators with a literary focus) in mind as I crafted my message. Since the application requires a recommendation from an English teacher, it is my hope that the teachers and librarians that I emailed may have a student or students in mind when they read the camp description. Ideally, the people that I reached out to will be able to invite certain students with whom they have good relationships or who they know to be skilled creative writers, and can then provide recommendations for such students.

Though my work so far has been conducted from behind the screen of my laptop, I look forward to what lies ahead. I am excited for what I anticipate will be a very successful program. I will continue to exercise my critical thinking, professional writing, and interpersonal skills, so valued among the English department, in my endeavors with this internship position.

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