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October 5, 2020
Life At Witt

Courtney Buck ’22, Emily Nolan ’21, and Jamie Spallino ’21

FYRA Experience Proves One More Reason Students Choose Wittenberg

One more reason to attend Wittenberg and a prime example of the liberal arts in action, is the University’s First-Year Research Award (FYRA) program.

A program that allows first-year students the opportunity to engage in research is something that very few schools offer. FYRA is designed to match outstanding students with the University’s award-winning faculty during the student’s first year at Wittenberg.

Courtney Buck ’22 of Delaware, Ohio, Emily Nolan ’21 of Columbus, Ohio, and Jamie Spallino ‘21 of Rocky River, Ohio, took advantage of the program, excelled in it, have been published because of it, and can now add great experiences to their resumes for future employment or graduate school. The trio had the opportunity to conduct research with Mike Mattison, professor of English, assistant provost and the Writing Center director.

The students chose to study the effectiveness of tutor-made eTutoring comments and learned about the research process, categorized eTutoring comments, analyzed the results of that categorization, and presented their findings at the East Central Writing Center Association (ECWCA) regional conference in Dayton the first year.

During their second year, the three continued analysis of the eTutoring comments by traveling to the Naylor Workshop for Undergraduate Researchers, where they took the advice gleaned from the experience, refined their research process, and presented at the International Writing Center Association National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing (IWCA-NCPTW) in Columbus. They have had their work published twice and are working on a third publication, going from the FYRA, to regional conference, to national conference, to a mentoring workshop, to a short publication, and now to a full-length article.

“Being selected to conduct research was ultimately the reason I decided to commit to attending Wittenberg,” Nolan explained. “I had been accepted in music and leadership groups at both Wittenberg and my second-choice university, and this opportunity became the deciding factor. I simply could not pass up the opportunity to conduct research my first year of college. I definitely believe this experience is unique to Wittenberg. While other universities may have opportunities for undergraduates to conduct research, the structure of the FYRA program made my experience incredible.”

Read what they have to say about their FYRA experience here at Wittenberg:

Courtney Buck ’22

I am a double major in English and communication with a minor in journalism. I am a member of Sigma Kappa sorority, a member of the Student Dance Company, and the Greek Life senator on Student Senate.

FYRA is an opportunity for first-year students to work with faculty mentors and gain valuable undergraduate research experience. I got involved in it because it was unlike anything I’d been offered at other universities.

We just submitted a full-length article to another journal, and it was a long time coming. We are going into our third year at Wittenberg and just now publishing the research we did our very first year! The preparation and research itself took over a year, and it took about six months to write the article (to be fair, COVID became a thing right as we were beginning to write it, so that excuses the length of time a little.) Who knew writing a scholarly article would be such a process, though.

The journey from FYRA to where we are now has been unexpected, but wonderful. I truly thought that the regional conference would be our first and last time doing a presentation of that sort, but Dr. Mattison continued to find opportunities for us to continue to share our research. When we were published in Composition Studies, it was very exciting to be able to hold a physical copy of the journal, and know that people pay money to subscribe to a journal we are published in. Overall, I think everything we’ve done and will continue to do will be a great help to my future career goals. Doing the kind of research we’ve done actually made me more interested in communication, and it is one of the reasons I am majoring in communication. I think graduate schools and employers will recognize the amount of work this type of research requires, and it will provide us with a leg up.

The three of us were not friends before FYRA began, but only because we had not met each other. FYRA started pretty much as soon as our freshman year began, and we quickly became friends. Our first big bonding moment was when we watched the movie Three Identical Strangers in Jamie’s dorm, and the rest is history.

Emily Nolan ’21

I am an English major with a journalism minor, a member of the Student Leadership Fellowship, the Wittenberg Symphonic Band, the club volleyball team, and the student advisory group for the English department (SAGE). I am a board member for the Honors department advisory board, and I work at the Writing Center and as an intern with the Office of University Communications.

I applied to conduct research with Dr. Mattison in the spring of my senior year of high school for the unique opportunity to conduct research as a first-year student. This was an opportunity that was not available in the other universities to which I had applied. I was also very interested in learning more about the writing center field. This experience has been by far the best part of my Wittenberg experience, as I have pushed to think creatively about the possibilities of tutoring in a fun and exciting way. I always get questions about this opportunity during professional interviews and employers continue to be interested and impressed about my experiences as an undergraduate researcher.

Immediately after presenting at the regional conference our first year, we were approached by a representative from the Online Writing Centers Community. A transcript of our presentation is published on their website along with a copy of our presentation slides. Our work can be found here.

After attending the Naylor undergraduate workshop for undergraduates in the second year of our research, we were contacted by the representatives of the Composition Studies academic journal. Our article, “Inexperience and Innovation,” about our research journal and the unexpected friendship that resulted from our research experience can be found here.

At the beginning of August of 2020, the three of us sent in a full research article about the work we have been doing to a respected online journal. We spent seven months writing and editing our article, and we are very proud of the end result. We are looking forward to working with the editors of the journal as we move toward publication.

After two years of conducting, analyzing, and presenting our research, we were encouraged by our research mentor to write an article displaying our findings. We began writing the article in January of 2020 and have been working tirelessly the last seven months to expand and refine the piece. We began meeting synchronously online in March as a response to the pandemic and continued meeting weekly for the next four months. This was a challenging transition for us as we had, up to that point, worked on all written work and presentations in-person and on campus. We adapted quickly and found a way to continue working despite being separated. The article is currently 25 pages with all of our tables. We submitted the piece for potential publication in the beginning of August and are eagerly awaiting information about next steps.

There were about 15 students in the FYRA program during my first year, and we met monthly to discuss the research process while simultaneously learning and growing from the stories we heard from our fellow researchers. We practiced elevator speeches and worked through challenges in our research together. Additionally, and I may be a bit biased, but I do firmly believe that my group had the best experience because of the dedication, creativity, and unwavering support of our mentor, Dr. Mattison. He brought positivity, humor, and ingenuity to every group meeting that I had with him and my co-researchers. It has been an absolute privilege to have gotten to work with him on this journey.

Though we were not friends, or even acquaintances, before we began our research journey, I believe all three of us would agree that the best, and also most unexpected, aspect of this journey has been the friendship we formed. Though it may sound a bit cheesy, the friendship we formed has completely made this research experience memorable for me. Through the many late nights we spent norming our categorization techniques and also the numerous blaring music sessions on the way to the Naylor Workshop (sorry, Mike!), the three of us became great friends. In fact, our friendship was the inspiration and subject of our article “Innovation and Inexperience” that we submitted for the Composition Studies journal! I am very grateful that I have been able to grow so close to both Courtney and Jamie during the past three years.

Jamie Spallino ’21

I am majoring in English with a minor in women’s studies. It’s so crazy to me that I’m leaving so soon, and that this FYRA experience has been a part of so much of my time here. As the title suggests, the program is intended for first-year students, but our mentor Dr. Mattison has continued to extend opportunities to Emily, Courtney, and me, from a mentoring workshop to regional and national presentations to publication. Not only have these been valuable professional experiences, but it’s also been gratifying to talk with people outside of Wittenberg who are just as excited about our research as we are—the idea that our work matters outside of our own little writing center community is amazing!

Encouraged by Dr. Mattison, we’ve presented at the East Central Writing Centers Association conference in Dayton and the International Writing Centers Association/National Conference on Peer Tutoring in Writing in Columbus; we also attended the Naylor Workshop for Undergraduate Research, which allowed us to learn from experts outside of the writing center field. From those opportunities, we met professionals interested in our work—enough to approach us asking to write about our work and experiences—which is how we came to have a presentation transcript in the Online Writing Centers Community and a short article in Composition Studies about our perspective on research as undergraduates. Our next step has been writing a manuscript of an article describing our research, which we’ve recently submitted for review and hopefully publication.

What’s impressed me most is the applicability of the FYRA program: In addition to working with our peers in the Writing Center, we’ve gained research experience and resume builders that will continue to help us long after we leave Wittenberg. Aside from those concrete skills, the combination of mentoring and self-guided work has helped me transition from thinking of myself as a high-schooler to seeing myself as a potential professional—all while making lasting friendships.

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About Wittenberg

Wittenberg's curriculum has centered on the liberal arts as an education that develops the individual's capacity to think, read, and communicate with precision, understanding, and imagination. We are dedicated to active, engaged learning in the core disciplines of the arts and sciences and in pre-professional education grounded in the liberal arts. Known for the quality of our faculty and their teaching, Wittenberg has more Ohio Professors of the Year than any four-year institution in the state. The university has also been recognized nationally for excellence in community service, sustainability, and intercollegiate athletics. Located among the beautiful rolling hills and hollows of Springfield, Ohio, Wittenberg offers more than 100 majors, minors and special programs, enviable student-faculty research opportunities, a unique student success center, service and study options close to home and abroad, a stellar athletics tradition, and successful career preparation.

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