Anna Aghlamazyan is the Math and Writing Center coordinator at the American University in Armenia. She shares a bit of the story of her center, below!
Students at the American University of Armenia (AUA) have a place not to be found in any other educational institution in Armenia – a Center dedicated to Math and Writing. We are the only one in the country and now are 3 years old.
It all began in 2013 when Garine Palandjian, Manager of Student Services, launched the Center for Student Success. Six work-study students were hired to provide math and writing consultations specifically targeting undergraduate students.
Founded 25 years ago, AUA is a private, independent university affiliated with the University of California. Our University initially offered only graduate programs but with the establishment of undergraduate programs The Math and Writing Center was also set up. Supporting student success is an integral part of an American undergraduate education; therefore, AUA ensured that student support services such as the MWC would be included in the design of the undergraduate program.
The number of consultants did not change significantly since the launch of the Math and Writing Center, ranging from 4 to 5. Upon being hired, all of the work-study students are trained to be able to provide support to their peers successfully. The Manager of Student Services and I as the Math and Writing Center Coordinator, guide the consultants to essential tips and tricks to prepare them for consultation sessions. We also have bi-weekly meetings throughout the academic year to ensure work-study students’ professional development.
Data collection is an important part of our job as it allows us to make informed decisions and set our future goals. In 2013-14 our Center assisted 425 students with math and writing consultations (out of which 349 for writing). Over the next two academic years, the numbers doubled reaching 861 and 821, out of which over 700 sessions were for writing. Our main clientele, however, are freshmen. Engaging sophomore, junior and senior students is one of our main challenges. Needless to say, providing service to more students will require more staff – a need we will have to address as we grow.
In September 2016, the Center will open its doors to graduate students as well (this year, the number of students on campus will increase to about 1800). Though concerns in academic writing are similar for almost everyone, graduate students (more than ugrads), will need subject-based assistance, as well as support in research, case studies and publications. We are currently compiling resources that will best meet their needs for the launch this fall.
Designed and conducted by writing consultants, workshops are a priority on our agenda. A couple dozen students attend small sessions to learn about specific writing-related topics including but not limited to: how to organize an essay, how to cite sources and avoid plagiarism, how to check if a thesis statement is effective, and how to edit and revise papers. We are located in a central part of the University, and the space is equipped with computers, laptops, and boards to help us provide consultations. However, the space where we carry out our workshops is located in a hallway, and we close the site with a “Please go around” sign whenever we have a workshop in session. Noise from the hall and folks who pass by are major issues we face at these times.
The ideas of peer tutoring and collaborative learning have been promoted and exercised by writing centers worldwide for at least a few decades now. These concepts, however, are relatively new to Armenia’s educational system, meaning we need even more efforts and dedication to raise awareness about our services. Who we are, what we do and why we should exist on campus – all this should be continually communicated to all parties involved: students, faculty, and staff.
Having a Math and Writing Center is a wish or, at best, a plan for universities in Armenia, and we do not enjoy the benefits of interacting and sharing experiences with local writing centers. (In 2014, AUA collaborated with one of the universities in Armenia to set up a writing center; however, they lost funding and do not operate anymore.) Quite opportunely, AUA gave me the wonderful opportunity to attend the EWCA Conference 2016 in Poland – a valuable and enriching experience for a young professional who is taking her first steps as a Math and Writing Center Coordinator. My excitement doubled as I was elected to be on the Board of EWCA for the coming two years. EWCA is a new door opened to help us build a network, share ideas, and exchange opportunities with different writing centers in Europe and beyond.
With all of the work already accomplished in the past three years, we look to the future with optimism to develop the Math and Writing Center into a vibrant space from where independent learners and critical thinkers emerge. Being at the forefront of establishing the concept of writing centers in Armenia, we are open to cooperate with local and international colleges and universities to enhance writing center practices and be advocates of collaborative learning in all educational environments.
Anna Aghlamazyan holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Linguistics from YSLU: Yerevan State Linguistic University (recently renamed Yerevan Brusov State University of Languages and Social Sciences). Prior to AUA, she worked as an English Language Lecturer at YSLU, as a copywriter at Oriflame Cosmetics Armenia and as a freelance creative writer. In 2015, she started her career at AUA as a Writing Consultant. Since July 2016, she was promoted to the Math and Writing Center Coordinator position.