History

We have a long history at Pitt. The Writing Workshop was launched around 1972 by Virginia Elliott. It occupied a small consulting space in the Early American room, on the Cathedral of Learning's third floor. The Early American room was, then as now, decorated with antiques, dark, and reportedly haunted.

Virginia ElliottAccording to Dave Bartholomae's history of the English Department:

Virginia Elliott joined the department in 1967 as a Lecturer through a joint appointment with the School of Education, where she had been a member of the faculty since 1965. . . . Elliott was brought in to direct the Composition Program, to train the graduate assistants, and to coordinate the pool of non-tenure track instructors. With Lois Josephs, a PhD student in the department, she prepared and edited an NCTE report on English for the Academically Talented Student in the Secondary School (1969). She held the position of Director of Composition until 1974, when William E. Coles, Jr., was recruited for that position. Elliott also taught courses in children’s literature and women’s studies. 

You can read more about her on the courses page for the 1960s.

After that, it was directed by Sylvia Newman, and it was housed in CL 362, a room that would later be known as the part-time faculty office and, later yet, the graduate student computer lab for the English department, and now a meeting space.

William L. Smith (from Panther Prints 1986)Many of us fondly remember William L. Smith as the director during the '80s, when the Writing Workshop first occupied the central area of room 501 in the Cathedral of Learning. The Writing Center occupied about 1/3 of the space that recently became the 501 Commons Room. When we were there, a big wooden counter curved across the front of the space (at one time, it was a library counter). We packed up to six tutors and their students into that small space.

Bill Smith was also the director of testing (the responsibility for placement testing and end-of-term testing for courses that served underprepared writers and readers was at that time located in the English department). Bill had an important voice in the professional conversation about testing students' writing ability. He tested practices in basic writing, writing assessment, and sentence-combining. His publications include "Editing Strategies and Error Correction in Basic Writing" (1987), “Computers in the Basic Writing Classroom” (1990) and "Assessing the Adequacy of Holistic Scoring as A Writing Placement Technique" (1993).  Bill left Pitt to serve as the Director of Educational Communications at the University of Oregon.

A tutor helps a writer (from Panther Prints 1986)According to Bill Smith, in the early 80's, Writing Workshop staff began using DEC computers to help students, especially those with editing problems (this project drew on David Bartholomae's work on error as well as the work of Pitt alumna Glynda Hull). Dave won a grant to get the Workshop the DECs, which were housed in 501K CL. The Writing Workshop also used computers to help students understand one of the passages in Dave Bartholomae and Tony Petrosky's book, Facts, Artifacts, and Counterfacts. You can read about this work in Jim Parlett's dissertation and Bill Smith's subsequent publications.

In 1988, Fred Reinhardt, who worked in banking and founded the Second Federal Savings & Loan (now Landmark Savings Association), gave the Writing Workshop an important endowment that still allows us to make technology purchases.

Long-time tutor Susan Demo was the Writing Workshop's assistant director during this time.

The Writing Center in 501 Cathedral of Learning (from Panther Prints 1998)The early '90s brought Margaret Marshall as director along with a new name—the Writing Center—and many changes to our daily practices: students began evaluating tutorials after each session, we changed to half-hour tutorials from one-hour sessions, and we started having staff meetings, for example. Margaret also taught our first group of peer tutors.

Geeta after she won the Bellet Prize (photo from the Teaching Times Nov. 2004)

When Margaret left Pitt for the University of Miami in the late 90s, Geeta Kothari became the director. Geeta had been a tutor since the late 1980s when she came to Pitt, and she had served as an assistant director. A few years later, Jean Grace, who had been a tutor off and on since 1988, was named associate director. Under the leadership of Geeta and Jean, the peer tutoring program was reestablished, professional development became part of the conversation of the Center, and new outreach programs expanded the University's awareness of our work. 

The Writing Center reception desk in Thaw Hall.

The Center moved to a spacious home in Thaw Hall in August 2002. 

When we moved to Thaw, we were also given Sandy Foster as a full-time receptionist. In the earlier days of the Center, consultants shared desk duty. When Margaret was director, she arranged for work-study students to watch the desk, make appointments, and enter data. Both of those eras of recordkeeping and administration were deeply flawed. Sandy brought her experience and professional presence to the job and has kept us working efficiently. Now it's hard to imagine how we ever functioned without her.

Jane Allred, Pitt alumna and friend of the Writing CenterIn 2005, Pitt alumna Jane Allred started an endowment for the Writing Center that has allowed us to undertake special projects and many upgrades. You can read a story about Jane's support in the Pitt Chronicle. Because of Jane's generosity, we have been able to expand our programs, significantly improve students' experience of the Writing Center, and increase our efficiency. 

In 2014, Jane was awarded the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Distinguished Alumni Award in recognition of her leadership and support of the University.

In 2008, a reporter from the University Times came to a Writing Center meeting and had a conversation with us about the teaching of writing. You can read the roundtable, which captures the thoughts of the consultants working in the Writing Center at that time (many of whom are still with us).

In 2011, we moved to our current home in the O’Hara Student Center (OSC). This building formerly housed the Concordia Club, a Jewish social group that built the building in 1913. We are enjoying the big windows and sunshine, and we are happy that students can find us easily, even though we need more space for events.

The University of Pittsburgh Writing Center is unique in that it is largely staffed by faculty consultants, with representation from undergraduate and graduate student tutors as well. The presence of nontenure stream faculty who are actively involved in teaching composition, literature, and writing has made it possible for us to launch a number of successful initiatives.

Because of staffing crossovers and resource-sharing, the Writing Center has been associated with the programs in Public and Professional Writing and Freshman Writing/Engineering since the start of these programs more than a decade ago.