Gregory Skutches, TRAC program director, sits and speaks about the benefits of the program on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019 in the Center for Innovation in Teaching and learning in the E.W. Fairchild-Martindale Library. The TRAC program helps students from all disciplines improve their writing skills. (Shana Lichaw/B&W Staff)

TRAC Writing Fellows Program provides peer-to-peer writing support

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The TRAC Writing Fellows Program started in 2008 with just 15 students and 10 faculty members. Since then, it has grown to become a much larger part of Lehigh’s academic landscape.

TRAC stands for “Technology, Research and Communication,” and is part of the Writing Across the Curriculum program. TRAC fellows are undergraduate students who provide peer tutoring and work with professors to improve student learning. 

“Writing Across the Curriculum is traditionally seen as a faculty development operation where you help faculty use writing in their courses across different disciplines,” TRAC program director Gregory Skutches said. “The idea is that to write like a chemist is different from writing like a philosopher, or a historian, or an economist.”

The TRAC program helps students from a variety of disciplines improve their writing skills and emphasizes writing as an integral part of the curriculum.

Skutches visited universities with successful writing fellows programs, such as Brown University and Duke University, for inspiration as he set up the TRAC program. He designed the program to be flexible and based on student leadership and feedback. For example, after students talk with a TRAC fellow, they can immediately fill out a feedback form to help their respective TRAC fellow improve their mentorship.

“Our feedback, both from students and faculty, has been strong,” Skutches said. “We have a very high retention of faculty who use TRAC fellows. They stay with us, I think, because they see the benefits for their students.” 

Skutches said although meeting with TRAC fellows is mandatory for certain classes, student gratitude is often visible. He said this appreciation helps recruit new fellows to the program each year.

Jessica Fitter, ‘20, a member of the TRAC leadership team, said the TRAC program goes beyond traditional writing and has expanded to include other forms of media such as public speaking, video tutorials and multimedia presentations.

Fitter said she has worked with students from a variety of classes in the past, from anthropology — where topics included racism in society — to scientific writing in biology labs.

“I got to read some very interesting stories about how people felt their own background had shaped the way they grew up,” Fitter said. “I got to have some very interesting conversations about race, upbringing, background and privilege, which people don’t talk about on campus. The opportunity to have an academic-based conversation about real life issues is rare.” 

TRAC fellows also promote the idea that being a good writer is an important skill across all disciplines.

TRAC fellow Felix Quintana, ‘21, said he wanted to join the program because he enjoys helping students to improve their writing.

“Writing is more than just meeting some requirement,” Quintana said. “It allows you to express your ideas in ways that you usually don’t get a chance to.”

In his experience, the program also helps to clarify assignments and resolve communication issues between students and professors.

“If you’re a person who really enjoys helping other students to improve their writing and communication and who loves expressing themselves through writing, I definitely would consider the program,” Quintana said.  

TRAC fellows take a four-credit seminar training course, hold individual and group writing conferences with students, consult with faculty members and attend staff meetings.

New TRAC fellows are recruited each spring through nominations from faculty and current fellows.

“There’s a pretty robust application process: two writing samples, a letter of interest, an official transcript from the registrar’s office and an interview,” Skutches said. “The program is more exciting now than it ever has been because we have so many fellows who are enthusiastic about peer learning, who really care about writing and who bring in fresh ideas and enthusiasm.”

Fitter said becoming a TRAC fellow has been an incredible experience during her time at Lehigh.

“Be prepared to take a critical look at yourself,” she said. “See what your potential really is and how far you can take it.”

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