College’s Reading & Writing Center equips all PCC students to succeed
Photos and Story by Abe Proctor
The Portland Community College Reading & Writing Center is a new innovation that features online tutoring services.
The center grew out of necessity from the pandemic and from the college’s recent reorganization, which has transitioned tutoring services away from its former, campus-based model to one that operates on a district-wide level.
There are still physical tutoring centers at PCC’s four comprehensive campuses, said Charlotte Robillard, who oversees the center at the Southeast Campus along with her colleague Anna Erwert. However, the online availability of tutors means that support can be offered to any student at any location. As part of this transition, she said, all of the campus centers have united as the PCC Reading & Writing Centers.
Now, she said, each location functions as part of the extended Reading & Writing Center, and each is connected to English departments across the college.
Reading & Writing Center
Any PCC student can book a tutoring session at the center at its webpage. The center offers a wealth of online resources to help students with reading and writing, including a series of instructional videos – all created by PCC faculty. The center is open for face-to-face on campus tutoring appointments this term and walk-in appointments are available.
The center’s services aren’t confined to supporting students who are enrolled in reading, writing and literature courses. In acknowledgement of the centrality of reading and writing to academic studies, Robillard said that tutors offer support for students studying everything from history to economics to the sciences.
“The reason we have our own center is that reading and writing apply to virtually every discipline; well for higher math, maybe not so much,” Robillard explained, laughing. “We assist with any course that requires reading and writing. In fact, about 35% of our students are not connected with writing courses.”
One such student is Rylee McGee, who studied nursing at PCC before transferring to another institution in 2021. She didn’t need to improve her writing skills for her nursing prerequisites; rather, she wanted to craft well-polished essays for her applications to other schools.
“Writing was something I knew I needed to work on,” McGee said. “Some of the programs I applied for required an essay for entry.”
McGee took thorough advantage of the Reading & Writing Center’s one hour of online time per day with a tutor. They helped McGee find a way to approach her writing that fed her confidence and, ultimately, enabled her to craft a killer application essay and land an important scholarship.
“My tutors helped me to expand on my personal statements,” she said. “With that, I started to get more confident in my writing. I submitted personal statements to the Ford Family Foundation and was able to get a scholarship interview based on the strength of my writing. And I got the scholarship!”
Besides essays, the center helps students develop thesis statements, perfect their grammar and syntax, interpret assignments, use culturally specific and appropriate language, and more. Robillard said students don’t have to come with a finished paper and can simply bring an assignment. Tutors will help them develop it into a fully-fleshed product.
“We help with every part of an assignment, wherever a student is at in the process,” she said. “Whether it’s research, or anything else, we are a resource for students.”
And since the onset of the pandemic, students have sought these services in increasing numbers. In the fall of 2020, Robillard said, the Reading & Writing Center booked more than 2,000 appointments across the PCC district. Most weeks, the calendars of the center’s tutors are full.
The system empowers students to better comprehend their course materials, develop and expand their ideas, and improve their skills as writers. Or, as student Rishika Krishna put it, to deliver on the promise a writer makes to their readers.
“I feel like as students, we all know that the resources are there for us, but at the Reading & Writing Center, it really feels like the instructors and tutors are taking it seriously,” Krishna added. “My instructor, paired with the support I got from the center, was really impactful for me.”
Krishna said that her final writing products undoubtedly benefited from her interaction with her tutors at the center – and beyond that, she gained a valuable insight into how writers should approach their work.
“A lot of writing is an iterative process, and you have to interact with the work over and over again. You can’t just churn something out,” she explained. “You can, and maybe it’s fine, but if you want to produce something powerful, you have to iterate. I’m really grateful to my instructors and to the center for helping me to understand that.”