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English alumni collaborate on ‘cutting-edge’ writing studies book

Published on July 07, 2022

English alumni collaborate on ‘cutting-edge’ writing studies book

book cover The ability to express oneself well in writing — a key component of a liberal arts education — is critical. This is especially true in an age of digital technology, where students enjoy communicating through a wide range of new technologies. Their challenge today is to clearly express themselves to employers and to interact with a diverse world.

Two Eastern alumni — Holly (Mandes) Ryan ’01 and Jason Custer ’11 — have recently made a major contribution to the discipline of writing. The two collaborated on a new book called “Unlimited Players: The Intersection of Writing Center and Game Studies” — Ryan as co-editor; Custer as author of a chapter.

Ryan said the practice of writing is constantly evolving, and in a new, highly mediated world with technologies literally at our fingertips, students need to learn to navigate writing in new ways. "We created our book because we wanted to give other writing center directors tools and theories for helping students write in and for the 21st century. This book is on the cutting edge of writing center studies insofar as it is working with multimodal writing and making intersections with game studies. Jason’s chapter piece in particular historicizes games and writing theory.”

Utah State University Press, considered the most prestigious publisher of Writing Studies, said, “No other text offers a theoretical and practical approach to theorizing and using games in the writing center. ‘Unlimited Players’ provides a new perspective on the longstanding challenges facing writing center scholars and offers insight into the complex questions raised in issues of multimodality, emerging technologies, tutor education, identity construction, and many more. It will be significant to writing center directors and administrators and those who teach tutor training courses.”

Ryan and Custer
Holly Ryan ’01 and Jason Custer ’11

In her review of the book, Janine Morris, assistant professor in the Department of Communication, Media, and the Arts at Nova Southeastern University, said, “This collection nicely complements new scholarship in writing center studies focusing on new media composing and multimodality and provides incredibly useful language and perspectives for approaching writing center consultations and tutoring sessions.” 

During their Eastern days, Ryan and Custer were English majors who worked for the Writing Program and Writing Center under the tutelage of Rita Malencyck. Now they are college English professors at Penn State Berks and Midway University respectively.

When she first came to Eastern, Ryan was a business/finance major who was certain she wanted to be a corporate lawyer. Then two things happened: “I took an economics class. The professor was wonderful, but the content was dreadfully boring, just not for me. That same economics professor recommend I become a writing tutor. That was it. I took a course to train to be a tutor, and I was absolutely hooked on writing center work. I found my passion that first year at Eastern, and with the mentoring I received from outstanding teachers, I made writing centers my life's work.” 

Today, Ryan works with writers because “I want to help people change the world. Seriously. Effective writing is the most important skill someone can have because nothing gets done in our world without writing. People have great ideas, but until they are written down — and communicated well — nothing can change.

“Sometimes writing can create big changes (writing laws or changing the tax code),” she continued. “Sometimes those changes are small but so important: the right email to the right person at the right time; a perfect social media post that goes viral and gets people talking and thinking about something in a new way; the book that allows someone to escape; or a report that shifts the way something is done in the workplace. I see my job in writing centers as a way of helping students take what's in their brains and making their ideas clear to their audience. Hopefully, they transfer that skill to other situations in their lives so they can make change once they graduate.”

Like Ryan, Custer’s writing center career started at Eastern as a peer tutor as an English major and writing minor. He knew that he wanted to do something with writing and thanks to supportive faculty mentors in the English Department, he figured out how to make it a career.

“I think it speaks to how inspirational the faculty at Eastern, Dr. Malenczyk in particular, are… that multiple scholars from the same cutting-edge collection on writing center scholarship got their start at Eastern,” said Custer. “I really loved working with everyone there! Some of the most influential folks were Dr. Malenczyk, Dr. Rosenberg, Dr. Liu, Dr. DeRosa, Dr. Ferruci, Dr. Fraustino and Dr. McNeil.”

Custer said writing is critical for people beyond expressing themselves. “I think the most important thing I’ve learned about writing is that it’s an essential (part) of making meaning. So much of the work I’ve done focuses on making meaning in multiple ways, and writing is one of the most essential and accessible. Above all else, the biggest challenge is helping folks push through their fears and doubts about writing. One of the best ways to do that is to ask folks to write about what matters to them and what they feel like an expert in — it’s so much easier to feel inspired to write when you care about and believe in what you’re writing.”

Ryan graduated summa cum laude with degrees in English and Early Childhood Education, was graduation speaker and wrote her honors thesis on children's literature. She went on to earn her master’s degree in English and a Ph.D. in Rhetoric, Composition, and the Teaching of English, both from the University of Arizona. Custer earned his master’s degree and Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition at Florida State University.

“Holly and Jason were both remarkably talented students both as University Honors students and as English majors,” said Malenczyk. “Holly was one of the first students to become a peer writing tutor in the Writing Associates program, and Jason, also a peer tutor, was instrumental in helping me to establish the University Writing Center. I'm not surprised that either of them has been so successful in the field.”

English Professor and chair of the Department of English Benjamin Pauley, agreed: “We’re very proud of both Holly and Jason. Their talent was obvious when they were students at Eastern, so it’s hardly a surprise. But it’s always gratifying to get to see students take what they learned at Eastern and build on it in their further studies.” 

Ryan currently serves as associate professor of English, chair of composition programs and coordinator of the Writing Center at Penn State Berks. Custer is assistant professor of English at Midway University in Kentucky.

Written by Dwight Bachman

Categories: Alumni, English