Elon University has welcomed more than 1,500 incoming students this week, but one new face has been here since the start of August: Julia Bleakney, the new Writing Center director in The Center for Writing Excellence.
Her experience is vast. She received her undergraduate education from the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. As an Ireland native, she decided to explore the United States and study abroad for one year at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“I loved both [the United States and writing]. That’s what led me to apply to Minnesota as a graduate student,” Bleakney said.
After studying in Minnesota for that year, she said she already had her heart set on coming back to the United States. Bleakney then applied to graduate school at the University of Minnesota.
While there, she taught writing and composition. She said the writing center application process at the University of Minnesota was competitive, and in her final year, she was qualified to apply.
“I really liked the one-to-one individual work with students,” Bleakney said. “I felt it was rewarding and very challenging for me because I had to find different ways to explain concepts to students.”
Even with the same student, she would have to flesh out ideas in different terminology until the concepts clicked. But that challenge was the part she loved the most.
Most recently, she directed the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking at Stanford University for four years after working at the center for four years prior.
Her decision to come to Elon was influenced by the writing commitment the school already had in place.
She believes there’s a strong commitment to instructing writing, improving writing and developing strong writers.
“I liked how widespread [the writing excellence initiative] was at the university and how it seemed like it was a conversation that was happening all over the university,” Bleakney said.
In January, Bleakney interviewed for the position and she recalls hearing how collaborative faculty, staff and students are, and the emphasis on undergraduate research.
She said she was interested in helping students understand the value of the Writing Center.
“I always have a very simple goal, I think for the Writing Center, which is that every student knows that they’re welcome here and when they come here they’re going to feel comfortable and welcomed, but also challenged by the consultant that they work with,” Bleakney said.
She wants students to know that all are welcome. No matter the skill level of the student, consultants may challenge students to push them even further.
“And then of course students who feel like writing is not your thing, then consultants love to work with you too,” Bleakney said. “So that whole range of students, relationships with writing, attitudes toward writing and beliefs toward writing, we want to welcome them all to the Writing Center.”
Inclusiveness is one of her goals for the year. This includes having students studying different disciplines bringing their work to the center for guidance.
Rachel Branson, program assistant for the Center for Writing Excellence, believes Bleakney is a good addition to the writing
“She’s transitioning extremely well,” Branson said. “We’re both seeing similar things we want long term for The Writing Center. So I think with her being so detail-oriented and eager, I think we’re going to accomplish a lot of new, great things.”
Bleakney plans to expand the Writing Fellows Program, where an individual consultant is assigned to work with a class throughout the entire semester. The consultant can work with the faculty member and each student
The program began last year, but Bleakney has ideas to scale it up.
“She dove in immediately to all of our planning, to all of our upcoming projects and has been really eager since day one to become a member of the Elon community,” Branson said.
Bleakney also hopes to use her time to develop undergraduate research projects out of the Writing Center, especially on how they
“From my perspective, I’m really interested in studies about writing centers at Elon and across the country.”
Specifically, she is looking at where the evidence of learning is in a writing center by questioning how students learn about themselves as writers, about the writing they’re doing and how they can improve as writers through writing center consultations.
Students from various academic disciplines, such as biology or chemistry, are also encouraged to become consultants.
Bleakney said those who are interested in writing will be drawn toward the space, and she hopes that students find a home around writing.
“I’m very excited,” she said. “This is my fourth writing center I’ve worked in, in some capacity. I just love the space of the writing center because this has been my home for so many years. I just love when students start to see it as their space, too.”