By Dr. Jenny Staben, Faculty Coordinator, CLC Writing Center
I procrastinated writing this for as long as I could because putting these words on paper makes it real. After 21 years, Kim Voss will be leaving CLC and the writing center, and it’s hard for me to imagine. The fabric of my own 21-year history with CLC and the CLC Writing Center has always had Kim woven into it.
I came to CLC in August of 2000 to do my dissertation research on the writing center (while also working as a writing tutor and adjunct in the English department). I showed up at the kickoff lunch, nervous about talking to the staff about what I hoped to do—feeling like an imposter, not a researcher. I sat down at a table with a blonde woman who seemed about my age, who turned out to be a new peer tutor starting that fall. Her name was Kim. I remember her asking if I was a new tutor too, and me then explaining what I was doing there and the research I hoped to do. Kim asked me many questions and that simple discussion made me feel more relaxed and ready. Now, looking back, I realize that was my first tutoring session with Kim.
After the first day of observing the tutor development class that year, taught by Martin Ley, I wrote this in my field notes:
I had many impressions today. One was how excited I am to talk to people (as a researcher) about their experiences . . . I am particularly intrigued by Kim, who is forty-year-old woman returning to school . . . She has an eighteen-year-old daughter who is a senior in high school. I felt a real sense of comradery as I came and sat down at the right side of the classroom. Kim and M**** were talking about the book that Kim was reading for fun—letters (I think) of C.S. Lewis.
I had no idea when I wrote that passage back in August 2000 that my relationship with Kim, that sense of comradery, and those book discussions would continue for so long and currently, show no sign of stopping.
Two years later, Kim was starting her third year as a CLC writing tutor and her last semester as a CLC student. Though she was an experienced tutor at that point, she decided to enroll in English 260, the new tutor development course I was teaching that fall. In the class, one of the assignments was a dialogic journal, where tutors not only wrote weekly reflections but shared them with a small group of other tutors. Here’s a passage from Kim’s first reflection:
I signed up for a class—Grammar for English Teachers. Frankly, grammar scares me! Two of my college teachers are taking this class as well, so I guess I shouldn’t feel scared. Grammar scares them too! Well, maybe not scares . . . they just want to be able to find ways (and I stress the plural of the word) to pass along knowledge they have when they don’t really know how they got it in the first place.
Welcome to the class, by the way. I meant to say that first but got carried away with my thoughts. I know that you all will enjoy it, as well as working with the various students you will encounter. And if I can pass along any advice, it’s this. Don’t be afraid! Your teacher has recommended you and you went through an interview. You ARE qualified, you’ll see.
These two paragraphs are totally Kim. There’s the eager learner who doesn’t hesitate to tackle a class that scares her, but there’s also the tutoring coach—reaching out to the first-semester tutors in her group to help them feel more comfortable and confident. These are two things that Kim has never stopped doing—learning and supporting new writing tutors.
At the end of the Fall 2002 semester, Kim wrote in her final self-evaluation:
Reflecting back this past semester already finds me a bit nostalgic as it is my last full-time semester here at CLC. This school, and in particular the Writing Center, has turned my life around and has nudged me into new ways of thinking about nearly every aspect of life. I suppose that is what education is supposed to do.
What fun to be back in the training class for tutors! Seeing the nervousness on the tutors’ faces and hearing them voice their concerns and fears about their role as tutors really brought back memories. Many new tutors asked why I was taking the class again—as if at the end of sixteen weeks one would know it all! I told them that I wanted to learn more about tutoring and teaching in general . . . What I didn’t tell them was that I have become a Writing Center junkie.
Perhaps this addiction to the writing center and learning explains why Kim has never fully left CLC or the CLC Writing Center—moving from tutor to full-time coordinator and earning three degrees along the way.
Kim’s impact on CLC students and staff cannot be underestimated. Over the last two decades, Kim and I have interviewed and hired over fourteen cohorts of new tutors—a vast majority of them CLC students. While I coached new tutors in English 260, Kim has been their primary contact in the Writing Center—helping them with everything from the logistics of payroll and record keeping to how to negotiate with a difficult and demanding writer. Kim has provided firm but kind feedback to generations of tutors to help them improve their practice. In addition, Kim and I have taken groups of tutors to conferences all over the Midwest—from NCPTW in Ann Arbor in 2006 to MWCA in Cedar Rapids in 2016 to many local Chicagoland gatherings. Finally, Kim’s support of our tutoring staff has not just been professional but personal. Many tutors have taken advantage of her open door to seek counsel about academic concerns and other less academic issues.
Kim’s impact on me cannot be underestimated either. Because Kim is an avid and skillful quilter, Brigette, Eric, and I seized on that metaphor while planning Kim’s retirement celebrations. Yet, the metaphor of quilt also captures my relationship with Kim perfectly—so many different squares of fabric creating a unified and patterned whole. So many memories and experiences stitched together to become a history. There’s Kim, in my office, asking to borrow some of the academic books on my shelf about literacy and composition because she’s just curious to know more. There’s Kim driving all the way to Pennsylvania with me and my sister so she could be in the audience for my dissertation defense. There’s Kim, asking for a bound copy of my dissertation, and actually reading all of it. There’s Kim, jumping into teaching the English 260 class, when I had to take a month off for surgery. There are memories of hundreds of conversations about life, about books, about current events . . . in her office, in my office, over a meal on campus, or over drinks at a hotel bar, while at a conference. And so many memories of conversations about teaching and tutoring that it’s hard to focus on just one. Even as I try to capture this complexity in words, I am aware of all I’m leaving out—the personal challenges we helped each other face as well as the happy events we celebrated. This history is a very, very, large quilt.
Finally, over the last 20 years, Kim has been one of my most trusted readers—being a second set of eyes on everything from an e-mail I’m trying to compose to a challenging faculty member to an academic article for publication. It seems odd to not have her read this before I share it with a wider audience. This is just one of so many things that I will miss.
Kim, I wish you the best of all retirements—trips to sandy beaches and interesting places with Wayne, time spent reading and quilting, and lots of quality time with family and friends. Though this is the end of your time at CLC, our friendship will continue and we will continue to weave (to quote Keith Ferrazzi) “an exquisite and endless pattern.”