University of Minnesota
center for writing

Center for Writing alumni—Renata Solum

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11 Questions for Center for Writing Alums

  • Renata SolumYour name: Renata Solum
  • Your email:
  • When did you work with us? Fall 2008 through Fall 2010
  • What was your role? writing consultant
  • What education and/or occupation(s) have you pursued since working with us?  I have held a couple of part-time positions since finishing my bachelor's degree. I am currently an AVID tutor in the Minneapolis Schools, facilitating small-group peer learning in high school and middle school AVID classrooms. I'm also teaching two sections of English for adult ELL students in St. Paul's Adult Basic Education program, housed in the Ronald M. Hubbs Center. My favorite population to work with is the adult age group, but I do learn a lot about diplomacy and patience in my work with middle and high schoolers! Plus, nothing beats adolescent drama. In case you've forgotten what it was like to be thirteen, I'll fill you in: the end of the world is a daily occurrence.

Reflections on your center experience:

  • Did your work with us influence your educational or occupational choices? If so, how?  Working with international, immigrant, and refugee students in the writing center was a game changer for me. Each day I watched students step way out of their comfort zones in pursuit of an education that I found myself taking for granted. When I left the Writing Center, I yearned for more contact with this variety of hero, and I found this at the Hubbs Center. Many of the adult learners I meet might be much more comfortable remaining in insular communities where English skills are not necessary, but they recognize the value of English and make big sacrifices to attend their English class every day—often coming straight to class after finishing a graveyard shift.
  • What are the most significant abilities, values, or skills that you developed in your work with us?  As a writing consultant I learned to shrug off the "expert" mantle and work collaboratively with writers to find their own solutions within themselves. I struggled at first with the tendency to be teacherly, and sometimes it was hard to summon the necessary humility to say "I really don't know—let's look it up together." I also became keenly aware of nonverbal cues through attempting to communicate across gender, culture, and age barriers.
  • In the writing center I also learned to value a safe, supportive, and fun work environment with supervisors and colleagues who care about me as a person! What a fantastic place to work. I will pursue this workplace quality to the ends of the earth, and I'm happy to have identified that as one of my career priorities.
  • In your personal and professional life today, how do you find yourself using what you learned from working with us?  My collaborative skills and ability to say "I don't know" are far more valuable to my teaching than I would have ever guessed! I try to de-emphasize my role as an expert in the classroom just like I did as a writing consultant, with the result that my students leave with more tools for answering their own questions. An example of such a tool would be the use of contextual clues to discover the meaning of a word when a dictionary or the teacher is not available. Another is the careful use of a search engine, which is a difficult but immensely valuable skill.
  • Anything else you want to tell us and your fellow Center alums?  There are few student jobs at the University that compare to the Center for Writing in terms of catalyzing a student worker's growth into a professional. The opportunity to work with my writing center colleagues on a presentation for the Midwest Writing Centers Association conference in South Dakota was only one brilliant example of the way the writing center nurtured my budding expertise and sense of self-worth as a Real Person capable of making positive ripples in my field. On the other hand, thanks to the collaborative nature of writing center work, I learned to balance my professional confidence with humility and recognition that sometimes I can offer the most value only by being part of a team.