Memoirs of a Former President

Vol 2., No. 8 (Spring 2021)
Heather Fitzgerald, Past-President, CWCA/ACCR


Presidents writing about their time in office has become de rigueur, so it seems only fitting that, as my 6-year term on the presidential track of the Board of the Canadian Writing Centres Association / association canadienne des centres de rédaction comes to an end, I take a moment to reflect on this period of my career. I don’t expect to garner the royalties of a Barack Obama (unless the blog editors have some marketing tricks up their sleeves that I don’t know about), but I hope my experiences might inspire others to consider whether serving on this Board might enrich their lives and work as it has mine. 

I was invited to put my name forward as Vice-Chair of the CWCA/ACCR Board by a chance encounter with then Vice-Chair Lucie Moussu, who I’d met briefly at a conference in 2014. At that point, I had never served on any Board and really had no idea what board service would entail, but I figured it was only a one-year term so I couldn’t get into too much trouble in such a short time. 

That first year was a whirlwind of conference planning and learning about what this organization is and does. I remember very little of it except feeling always slightly out of my depth. Which is why it astounds me that I then agreed to continue into the role of Chair for the following year. Especially since I had seen how much work the previous Chair had to do to make the 2016 conference come together. Nevertheless, I did, and over that year, something started to shift―I started to see what this Association could become if it had the stability of longer terms for Board positions and bylaws to guide our work. 

I won’t pretend juggling this work with the everyday labour in my writing centre was always easy, but it felt important. And I was able to try things that I might never have done in the course of my regular work. Over six years, I have done the work of an event planner, a travel agent and an entertainment coordinator. I have done every single thing related to organizing and hosting a conference, some of them many times. I have written letters to businesses pleading for funding; I have written grant applications requesting the same thing. I learned enough Adobe InDesign to develop our printed conference programs and wayfinding signage. I planned agendas for Board meetings and AGMs. I learned enough about Robert’s Rules to run a formal meeting (with help from those who know the rules better). I wrote letters to VP Academics and other senior administrators on behalf of the Association. I managed differences of opinion between Board members and found ways to repair harm.

And what’s interesting is that though none of these tasks were originally part of my “day job,” they have now come to inform all of my work as a Writing Centre Coordinator. And that has in turn enriched my Writing Centre. Thanks to my confidence with event organization, our centre has now hosted several large and complex events (symposia, annual reading series, and conferences). My comfort as a meeting chair has made it easier to take up leadership positions in various University committees, and the Writing Centre has reaped the rewards of that increased visibility. Having intimate knowledge of how other Writing Centres are structured and operate has helped me become a better advocate for our Centre: in the last six years, we have moved into a new custom-built space (so much advocacy), our tutors can now receive credit for their training (so much advocacy), and we have added two new faculty positions to support our peer tutoring programs (so so so much advocacy). I am not sure if my Centre would be where it is today if I hadn’t gained the experience and confidence that came from serving on the CWCA/ACCR Board.

But new skills and confidence were only part of what I gained. As important was the community I became a part of and the connections I made. The relationships I have formed through this work have been sustaining both professionally and personally, and I have collaborated with several of these colleagues on projects outside of the Association. 

In their article, Of Ladybugs, Low Status, and Loving the Job: Writing Center Professionals Navigating Their Careers, Geller and Denny (2013) describe one common theme among the writing centre professionals they interviewed: many who work in writing centres invest a lot of energy growing and (re)negotiating their own position and how they situate themselves both within their institution and within the field. In my career, my service on the Board of CWCA/ACCR was the catalyst that helped me better understand and advocate for the kind of work I want to do. My institutional role is more fully developed and robust than it was before I began this service, and I also gained a powerful sense of belonging within this vibrant community of service. I would call that a win-win.

References

Geller, A.E. and Denny, H. (2013). Of ladybugs, low status, and loving the job: Writing center professionals navigating their careers, The Writing Center Journal, 33(1), 96-129.