Calderwood seminars teach students to write for non-academic audiences


Staff Writer

The Calderwood seminars began in September 2013 with the introduction of nine advanced-level intensive writing courses that were funded through the Calderwood Charitable Foundation. Taught in diverse disciplines, the seminars provide juniors and seniors with a chance to hone their writing skills in a way that is specific to their field. Almost like an extension of the first year writing courses, these small classes encourage students to workshop their pieces, interpret and synthesize what they have learned in their majors, and learn to convey that knowledge to the public through various social media outlets and online platforms.

The program takes its name from Stanford Calderwood, a well-known philanthropist from the Boston area who taught courses in Wellesley’s economics department.  Meanwhile, Stanford Calderwood Professor of Economics David Lindauer inspired the creation and facilitated the implementation of the Calderwood Seminars. Currently serving as the director of the program, he continues be the driving force of the program’s mission as he explains how it all began with a single course.

“Back in 1984 when I introduced my Economic Journalism course through the present, when eight new seminars were introduced this year, the goals have remained the same,” Lindauer said.

Originally designed for juniors and seniors, the Calderwood seminars aim to empower students to reflect on topics and themes central to their field, synthesize that knowledge and articulate those complex ideas and concepts to a broader audience. In this way, they emphasize public rather than academic writing and provide an opportunity for a truly collaborative classroom experience.

“I believe the Calderwood seminars are achieving these goals,” Lindauer reflected. “Students are provided with the opportunity to find their voices, whatever their major, and are consolidating what they have learned during their college years. In the process, their self-confidence is expanding, as is an ability to give and receive criticism about their written work.”

One of the seminars that created buzz this semester was ES399: Environmental Synthesis and Communication, which was taught by Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Jay Turner. With the rising importance of climate change, sustainability and environmental awareness, there has also been an increasing need to educate the public.

In this course, each student chose an “environmental beat” to cover for the duration of the semester as the topic of their blog posts, book reviews, op-eds, interviews and other writings.

Mackenzie Klema ’14, an environmental studies and history double major enrolled in ES399, felt that the course inspired her to communicate various urgent environmental and social justice issues to others beyond Wellesley.

“Publishing an article that I wrote on the Huffington Post has made me so enthusiastic about public writing,” said Klema, whose “environmental beat” is water access and privatization in Sub-Saharan Africa. “It is incredibly rewarding to see that people are reading my writing, sharing it with their followers and having critical conversations about it.” In fact, her article has already reached 40 likes.

“The writing workshops have been a highlight; the students have been incredibly engaged, offering each other honest criticism, good praise and lots of encouragement,” Turner said. “I’ve seen students produce writing they didn’t know they had in themselves.”

Due to the strong demand for ES399, it will be offered again in Spring 2016 as an Environmental Studies capstone course.

For students who have never taken a creative writing course or editing workshop, the seminars can offer a very unique collaborative experience. As the seminars offered traditionally rotate around the various departments within the College, Professor Lindauer expressed that the program  has sufficient resources and interest to allow that to continue happening. While the program hopes to enroll 90 to 100 students each year, it has met its goal even its inaugural year with an enrollment of 89 students.

Students are not the only ones excited about these programs. Enthusiastic to be teaching her first Calderwood seminar this fall on campaigns and elections, Marion Just, William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of political science, hopes that her students will apply their analytical skills as they write blog posts, op-eds, feature stories and long-form reports while they follow the 2014 midterm elections.

As she explained, “The course will examine candidates, the electorate, the political parties, SuperPACs, fundraising, campaign strategies, public opinion, political advertising, media coverage and the meaning of elections.”

For students, Calderwood seminars fulfill the ideas of a true liberal arts education by providing an interdisciplinary approach to learning that furthers the mission of the College and better prepares students for life beyond Wellesley.

“I feel like Writing 125 was writing for college, and this class was about writing for life,” said Sarah Roundy ’14 of her Calderwood seminar on psychology in the public interest.

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