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An Insightful Interview in the World of Academia

Garrett Ivn Coln
University of Central Florida


The opportunity to interview and observe Dr. R. Mark Hall, current

professor and University Writing Center Director at the University of Central
Florida (UCF), was as much of an insightful experience, as it was rewarding
one. Having received his Ph.D in Rhetoric, Composition & Literacy Studies
from the University of Louisville in 2001, Dr. Hall has since led writing centers
at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and California State
Universitys Chico campus. His scholarly research interests associate writing
center theory and practice, writing pedagogy, literacy practices in popular
culture, as well as tutor education and professional development. A
considerable amount of the knowledge that I managed to gain, in accordance
with the interview and observation, correlates with a handful of the textbased materials that Ive been exposed to, thus far, in the Professional Lives
and Literacy Practices course. Making connections between them allowed for
me to paint a bigger picture, in terms of developing a broader
understanding of the role of communication in the academic setting, among
other factors.
When I asked Dr. Hall to describe his position, I decided to split the
question, as to separately address his role as a professor and a Writing
Center Director. Im a university professor first, and a writing center director
second, he admitted (R. M. Hall, personal communication, 1 October 2015).
As a director of UCFs writing center, Dr. Hall regarded his position as mainly
an administrative and teaching job. Educating tutors is my primary
responsibility, he told me, acknowledging that the professional development


and training of tutors is a vital component to his role as a director (R. M. Hall,
personal communication, 1 October 2015). Being that I am in pursuit of this
profession, I felt it necessary to ask about the kind of advice that he would
offer someone, such as myself, planning on entering the role of a university
professor and writing center director. In continuing to describe his position,
Dr. Hall made it clear that collaboration is an essential element of the
profession, accentuating the importance of building a network of trusted
mentors and colleagues. You dont want to do this type of work alone, he
claimed, making it a point to answer my question with a question of his own
for me to considerwho are the three people I can ask about this problem?
(R. M. Hall, personal communication, 1 October 2015). Taking this into
account, I recalled Jennifer MacLennans Why Communication Matters
piece in Readings for Technical Communication. With networking and
collaboration being such significant contributing factors to success in the
field, it becomes apparent that the importance of communication directly
correlates with our everyday dependency on it. Some experts estimate that
as much as 75 per cent of the average persons day is spend communicating
in some way; for students, the proportion is slightly higher (MacLennan,
2008, p. 5-6). With communication being so crucial to our everyday lives, its
no wonder that it holds such notable weight in the workplace. Since this
statistic is slightly higher still, when applied to students, the communication
skills of a post-secondary teacherone who communicates with students on
a regular basisbecomes even more relevant. Its also crucial to


acknowledge that a well-developed set of interpersonal skills is likely to

promote this communication. Predictions associated with the desire for
specific skills and qualities, in the American job market, indicate that people
with strong interpersonal skills that equip them to establish and maintain
good relationships with current and potential customers and commercial
partners will continue to find jobs in the new economy (Felder, 2008, p.
12). In the case of a university professor, students and faculty/colleagues are
the closest that the teacher will come to interacting with customers and
commercial partners, respectively. In order for the product of knowledge
and understanding to be effectively translated to students, fine-tuned
interpersonal skills must serve as a leading role in a professors daily
I didnt quite know what to expect when I asked Dr. Hall about what
inspired him to join the rhetoric and composition field. I specifically asked
about any motivations surrounding his interest in the discipline, and I was
interested in the answer, since it was one of the more personal questions
that I had to offer. He attributes his initial interest in the field to having great
professors as an undergraduate student. Having claimed that his teachers
demonstrated really good teaching, Dr. Hall believed that it could be an
appealing career (R. M. Hall, personal communication, 1 October 2015). He
recalled his early undergraduate years, stating that professors respected him
and took him (and his work) seriously, which served as a contribution to his
inspiration. Dr. Hall considers his role as a professor and writing center


director to be a rewarding one, and it is highly driven by the time he spends

with students and watching new people learn to do work for the first time.
Discovering was a key term in our conversation. He considers the variety of
stories that he hears and the different people that he sees discovering the
work of writing as a gift. Its exciting, he stated, its a privilege to be a
part of someone elses learning (R. M. Hall, personal communication, 1
October 2015). To make meaning of this significanceand to address how
learning transpires in the University Writing Center and the classroom setting
I managed to denote a connection between the role of communication in
this workplace and the formality of learning that takes place in the academic
environment. By way of a research study led by Rachel Spilka, she concluded
that in most cases observed in this study, almost all learning and
information exchange took place in writer/reader interaction preceding the
production of the first draft, and most of the rest of the information was
exchanged at informal or formal meetingsafter the first draft was produced
and distributed (Spilka, 2003, p. 164). Though this particular observation
was conducted at Forbes Electric, these notations regarding learning and the
exchange of information can be reasonably applied to the world of academia.
A substantial portion of the learning, in the case of this study, occurred
through collective meetingsan atmosphere that is representative of Writing
Center sessions, as well as classroom discussions and activities. Dr. Hall
claims that his work environment is low-stakes, and that he aims at
fostering a community of practice and problem solving, allowing the work


environment to exist as one in which students consistently learn from each

other. Behind closed doors, however, his position as a writing center director
and a professor both consist of a lot of desk work. He recalled experiences
of writing administrative reports, conducting research, and going to a ton of
meetingsso much that he claims to have attended meetings about
meetings, which I found to be interesting (R. M. Hall, personal
communication, 1 October 2015). While speaking on research, Dr. Hall turned
to his satchel and revealed an extensive work-in-progress (a research-based
text) that he was putting finishing touches on and preparing for publication.
I decided to close out my interview by taking the future into
consideration. As of the present moment, Im a few years away from having
an office of my own and being on the opposite side of the classroom where I
now sit. As such, I concluded that it was relevant to ask Dr. Hall where he
sees the profession going in the next five years. He acknowledged that the
Writing Center is working on expansion efforts, such as developing a site in
the Veterans Resource Center, as well as offering tutoring in student
housing. Also, because the field has seen such an extensive range of
publication in recent years, he expects publishing houses to continue
distributing fieldwork-related texts, especially coming from Utah Stateone
of the major publication sites for Rhetoric/Composition textbooks. The
certainty in his very words translated, from my perspective, into a firm
confidence that the field, and thus, the need for the profession, will continue
to grow at an exponential rate. I also thought it would be crucial to


acknowledge which aspects of Dr. Halls career have changed, over time, and
how he has adapted to those changes. He made the point of noting that the
more involved you become in administrative work, the more detached you
become from teaching, and thats something that has personally happened
to him (R M. Hall, personal communication, 1 October 2015). How has he
dealt with this change? Being a writing center director allows him to shift the
administrative aspect of his job into a primary teaching job, since it is such a
valuable asset to the field and the university. Its a small world, as he
references the field (R. M. Hall, personal communication, 1 October 2015). As
it concerns staying up to date with the industry, Dr. Hall suggests regularly
attending conferences and utilizing books that are fresh out of their
respective publication houses. He personally showed me three separate tutor
education textbooks that have all been released this past summer, from
which he assigns the majority of his class readings. Becoming familiar with
the authors of these books and reading their work in scholarly journals is also
a forward-step to take, in order to maintain relevance.
In all, the opportunity to interview Dr. Hall served as a beneficial
understanding of the field and the work associated with the profession. The
interview provided me with insight that has allowed me to consider certain
aspects of the role of a college professor and writing center director that I
hadnt previously been aware of. Dr. Halls personal story and unique
perspective was inspiring. Being able to make connections between his past
experiences as a student and my own experiences as a student sparked an


even greater interest and curiosity throughout our discussion. Further,

establishing relevant connections between what Ive learned from Dr. Hall
and the material that Ive gathered from course texts covered in Professional
Lives and Literacy Practices has also contributed to an entirely new degree of
knowledge and personal perspective of the profession. Having the chance to
view the field of rhetoric and composition and the role of the university
professor and writing center director from an experienced perspective has
certainly been an asset to establishing a more educated perception and
understanding. Moving forward, as I continue to grow and mature in this field
and pursue my own personal goals in academia, this newly enhanced
knowledge is sure to make a world of difference.


Works Cited

Felder, R. (2008). A Whole New Mind for a Flat World. J. MacLennan (Ed.),
Readings for

Technical Communication. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford

University Press.

MacLennan, J. (2008). Why Communication Matters. Readings for Technical

Communication. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

Spilka, R. (2003). Orality and Literacy in the Workplace. T. Peeples (Ed.),


Writing and Rhetoric: Readings from the Field. New York,

New York: Longman.