Center for Written, Oral and Visual Communication is in demand

Effective communication is critical. Time and attention spans are short, and the difference between success and failure in academic and professional settings hinges on one’s ability to write and speak with clarity and precision. At Rice’s Center for Written, Oral and Visual Communication (CWOVC), students ranging from freshmen to Ph.D. candidates as well as postdocs and visiting scholars are receiving the writing and communication skill-enhancing services to meet this reality.

Jennifer Shade Wilson

The center, a key part of the new Program in Writing and Communications (PWC) the faculty senate approved in November 2011, opened last fall. “The university’s been incredibly responsive,” said CWOVC Director Jennifer Shade Wilson. “We’ve had students from all years of study.”  A little more than half of all fall semester visitors were first-year students, followed by seniors as the second most-frequent visitors.

“The center is a real resource for everybody,” said Associate Vice Provost Matt Taylor, who was the program’s interim director. “The center can give very tailored attention and help to different kinds of constituents.”

The bright, glassed-in center is on the second-floor mezzanine of Fondren Library. The center’s staff help make students’ written, verbal and visual communications – simple papers, PowerPoint presentations, doctoral dissertations and conference proposals – clear, well-structured and persuasive. In the fall semester, the center held 756 consultations and served 440 individuals. Students brought work to the CWOVC from courses in 35 different departments, comprising all six schools of study and the Jones Graduate School of Business.

Matt Taylor

“[An appointment might be made by] someone who is struggling with an idea or struggling with how to express her ideas in words, but it also can just be someone who wants feedback, recognizing that our ideas aren’t useful if our audience — our readers, our listeners — can’t understand those ideas, “ Wilson said. “Rice students are really pegging to that. They’re coming in and they’re saying, ‘I have this piece, I feel pretty comfortable with it from my end, but I’m not sure how it’s going to read to someone else. I’m not sure if it flows well, if people are going to be able to comprehend the ideas I want to get across.’ They really want that feedback from a person outside of their own head.”

The fall semester offered undergraduate and graduate students such workshops as “Writing Effective Research Reports,” “Presenting a Scientific Journal Article” and “Giving an Effective Oral Presentation.” Special workshops for English as a Second Language (ESL) students were held on “Academic Conversation Skills.” This spring the center is hosting seven multiple-session workshops, including “Creating Effective Podcasts,” “Grammar in Writing,” “Writing About Empirical Research,” “Oral Presentation Skills” and “Clarity in Academic Conversations.”

The center’s staff includes program coordinator Shar’-Lin Anderson and associate directors Elizabeth Festa and Kyung-Hee Bae, who have broad experience in working with ESL students, teaching with technology and analyzing visual rhetoric and design. They supervise nearly 60 undergraduate and graduate-student communications consultants who are available to engage with students in one-on-one or group settings. Informal consultations can take place in the center’s main area or in the presentation technology-equipped “smart” room.

The PWC plan approved by the senate also revised the graduation requirements. All first-year students must take a discipline-based writing-intensive seminar, a so-called “First-Year Writing Intensive Seminar” (FWIS). This year, 76 FWIS courses were offered by faculty representing more than 20 departments and disciplines and met the approval of first-year students. “The feedback according to teaching evaluations was very positive,” Taylor said.

In the fall, PWC will establish a PWC Teaching Fellowship program for fellows who are holders of a newly minted Rice Ph.D. Fellows will be hired for two-year, full-time, nonrenewable positions with the program, Taylor said. “(The fellowship) provides a quality teaching experience, as well as mentoring from our staff,” he said. The program is currently recruiting fellows.

Students interested in the center’s services are welcome to schedule 40-minute appointments via the website, The center is open seven days a week; consultations may be scheduled between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays and noon and 10 p.m. on weekends.

About Jeff Falk

Jeff Falk is director of national media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.