The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Lecturer Kara Fontenot of College of Engineering Junior Year Writing Program Helps Secure ADVANCE Mutual Mentoring Grant

Kara Fontenot

Kara Fontenot

Kara Parks Fontenot, Ph.D., a lecturer in the College of Engineering Junior Year Writing Program, is part of a team that has received a UMass Amherst ADVANCE Mutual Mentoring Grant for 2020-21. Fontenot is on a team composed of 10 Junior Year Writing faculty members from various UMass colleges and departments who are working to integrate classroom and online learning more effectively through digitally enhanced, face-to-face, hybrid, and/or completely online courses, which will prove absolutely invaluable during the coronavirus crisis.

As Fontenot says, “When we submitted our grant proposal in February, we had no idea how timely our project would be due to the COVID-19 pandemic!” She adds that this grant is yet another way the College of Engineering Junior Year Writing faculty members are working “to garner university resources, to innovate, and to improve.”

The team leaders for the campus-wide project are Deb McCutchen, a senior lecturer in the College of Natural Sciences and associate director of the Junior Year Writing Program, and Haivan Hoang, an associate professor in English and associate director of the Junior Year Writing Program. 

The Office of Faculty Development’s Mutual Mentoring program provides funding to individuals or groups of faculty members for the purpose of developing mentoring networks. The Mutual Mentoring Grants, each totaling up to $6,000 per year, encourage faculty to develop robust professional networks that support their growth as researchers, teachers, and leaders in their fields.

Fontenot is part of a group of “Cross-Disciplinary Faculty Designing Multimodal Writing Courses,” as team members identify their project. 

At UMass Amherst, as the team’s ADVANCE proposal explains, through the Junior Year Writing Program, faculty bring disciplinary expertise to design curricula and teach advanced writing courses to foster discipline-specific writing for their undergraduate majors. 

The proposal goes on to say that faculty members who teach in the writing program already face the challenge of developing their own writing pedagogy and curricula for their specific disciplines. In the College of Engineering, all Junior Year Writing Program faculty are writing studies specialists. In some other colleges, this is not true.

Additionally, in recent years, quite a few of those who teach for the campus-wide writing program also have been called on to teach multimodal writing courses that include online supplements to classroom courses or entirely online courses.

“Our proposed mutual mentoring team,” as the proposal explains, “seeks to improve our ability to design and teach multimodal Junior Year Writing Program courses.” 

Fontenot’s mutual mentoring team would address two needs. First, as the team members explain in their proposal, multimodal courses are in high demand from many students who need more flexible options. Those students include, but are not limited to, students who study abroad, hold internships, wish to take some requirements remotely, participate in completely online programs, and suffer from social anxiety or medical conditions that make attendance in face-to-face classes challenging.

Added to that list, of course, is the entire campus as it continues to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and the explosion of online coursework that will be required during the next year and possibly beyond. 

According to the team proposal, inquiries from faculty and departments to the Writing Program, University Writing Committee, and Center for Teaching and Learning indicate that teachers across campus are struggling, often in isolation, to adapt their face-to-face Junior Year Writing Program courses to digitally enhanced, hybrid, or completely online Junior Year Writing Program courses.

The second need addressed by Fontenot’s team is indicated by a statement titled "Frameworks for Success in Postsecondary Writing,” as issued by the national Council of Writing Program Administrators, which recommends that undergraduate writing education should prepare students to write while utilizing both print and electronic technologies. 

“This recommendation has curricular and pedagogical implications for using instructional technologies and fostering writing in digital spaces,” as the team members conclude.

Fontenot works in close collaboration with Ed Cottrill and Karen Skolfield, also lecturers in College of Engineering Junior Year Writing Program, to develop writing pedagogy and curricula for both classroom and online classes at the college. (July 2020)