Our new Writing and Rhetoric major is in an exciting period of growth. Approved in fall 2014 and implemented that summer, today the major is just a little over one year old, but already has 87 declared majors enrolled. We have two student writing honor societies, Pi Epsilon Pi and Rhetoric Society of America, as well as a student ambassadors program— where students in the major (as well as the minor and undergraduate professional writing certificate) can represent the program at university functions and in first-year composition classrooms. In Spring 2015, we held our first Upper-Division Symposium showcasing student research in the major, and we will hold our second Symposium in March 2016. And to top it all off, we now have our first student completing an Honors in the Major (HIM) project in our department!
Meet Alexandra (Ali) Valerio, our first Honors in the Major student. I recently interviewed Ali about how she became interested in doing an HIM project; she had presented at our first upper-division faculty workshop of the semester (appropriately enough on supporting undergraduate research) and I was so impressed with her poise and her thoughts that I invited her to share her experience with others. I hope you will enjoy reading—and perhaps you’ll consider encouraging our majors in your upper-division classes to think about completing an HIM project.
Listen to Ali Valerio describe how she first was introduced to our field through ENC 1101/1102 and the Office of Undergraduate Research.
Ali, a junior Writing and Rhetoric major, first became interested in us way back in Dr. Kevin Roozen’s ENC 1101 class:
“Dr. Roozen was my professor and I had never heard anything about literacy, composition . . . And I always liked writing but I didn’t know it was a whole field you could study. And so I took Dr. Roozen as my professor and was introduced to this whole new field and I loved it.”
She actually started out as a journalism major and switched to our major once it was available. Continuing the theme of being inspired by her professors, Ali described to me how Dr. Mark Hall’s ENC 4275: Theory and Practice of Tutoring Writing class introduced her to the idea of researching writing studies, as well:
“I met Dr. Hall and he asked me if I’d like to be a tutor in the Writing Center. At first I was really nervous and I said no . . . But then I said yes; I thought, maybe I can do this. And so from that I started tutoring in my sophomore year and I . . . I loved tutoring—I still love tutoring—and so finally during that time I decided to switch over to Writing and Rhetoric as my major, which was great.”
What really opened the doors for the HIM project was Ali’s participation in the Office of Undergraduate Research’s Summer Research Academy program. In the SRA program, students learn about university research and how research expands the undergraduate experience by meeting with research faculty and other students active in research at UCF; they also earn one summer credit for their work as an SRA scholar.
The SRA was where Ali learned about the Honors in the Major program, one of the oldest and most prestigious undergraduate research programs at UCF. She didn’t even realize she was making history as our first HIM student: “I had no idea at the time that I was the first Honors in the Major for the Writing and Rhetoric department. I didn’t know that no one else was doing it before, so I thought that was really cool!” As she and Dr. Hall (her chair) work on the first step in the HIM process, the directed reading semester, Ali will find the forms and HIM handbook on the website to be a great help—and if you’re interested in learning more about the process, you might read through these too.
Listen to more of our interview here:
Ali describes how some of her classes in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric have introduced her to concepts and ideas that will make her successful in her HIM project.
“Research was the way I found my place in the field,” says Ali. “It didn’t seem like an added thing; it seemed like a way to narrow my focus … and find my niche.”
What are Ali’s plans after completing the Honors in the Major project and graduating from DWR? Graduate school—being a Writing Studies scholar and maybe even being a professor.
What advice did Ali have for other students for getting involved in research? “Pay attention to what you hear and learn and do in your classes … and see if there are niches you can find in the courses you have to do anyway because it’s a natural way to find a research topic.”