Meet Ph.D. Amy Latawiec
Dr. Amy Latawiec is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department at Wayne State, where she received her Ph.D. in English Composition & Rhetoric in 2016. A winner of the 2016 Department of English Excellence in the Teaching of Writing Award, Dr. Latawiec specializes in teaching and researching basic writing, and has interests in such research areas as dispositions and cognition, knowledge transfer in at-risk populations, and basic writing theory and pedagogy. In addition to teaching, Dr. Latawiec is also the founder of Rebel Cycle Studio, a body-positive indoor cycling studio in Detroit. What follows is a brief transcript of a conversation with Dr. Latawiec, lightly edited for clarity and concision.
What inspired you to pursue an English degree?
I was always a writer; I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing down my thoughts. My earliest memories are of me carrying around notebooks, and constantly writing my feelings and thoughts. I liked to write poetry when I was a little girl. Even though I didn’t know what poetry was, I just sort of mimicked the things I saw. I also liked reading, so when I went to college, it was a natural progression to continue to take classes in writing and reading, and that turned into my pursuit of the degree.
You specialize in teaching and researching basic writing. What drew you to this particular kind of work?
In graduate school, the first thing I did as a teaching assistant was to teach ENG 1020, which is first-year writing here at Wayne State. I taught that during my first and second semesters, and then I wondered why nobody was teaching ENG 1010. I found myself wondering, how come the graduate students aren’t teaching it? I knew it was a class that we offered, so I asked my director at that time if it would be possible for me, as a graduate student, to teach it. She said absolutely, so I jumped into it.
I was curious about it, because when I started Wayne State as an undergrad, I came from a poor, underfunded school, like a lot of students in the area do. I was a first-generation college student, and I struggled, taking a lot of developmental courses. Writing was my strength when I came to school, and I wanted to know about new Wayne State students who weren’t taking ENG 1020 in their first semester. From the first time I taught it, I fell in love with it. I thought it was incredibly important to higher education. In graduate school, I began to study the pedagogy of basic writing as well, which is a subset of my field in rhetoric and composition.
How did you help to revise the basic writing curriculum at Wayne State?
When I started teaching, we didn’t have a standard curriculum for basic writing. At the time, there was also other work being done in the composition program here at Wayne State, to develop a common curriculum for our gen ed writing courses. I was a part of that initiative as a grad student and I sat on a few of the committees involved in that process, so I just became the person who sort of engineered the basic writing curriculum, standardizing it.
I took charge of that, and the curriculum that I developed was based on research I had done in the field. I also based it on other peer institutions who were standardizing basic writing curriculum, and who had success with it. I brought that here, and we standardized it, and it has remained in place today. It’s an ongoing process; with other committee members on the ENG 1010 Curriculum Committee, I’m still working to innovate the curriculum for developmental writers at Wayne State.
What is your role at the university’s Composition Learning Community?
I was one of the faculty who co-created it (with Nicole Varty, Jule Thomas, and Adrienne Jenkins). We received a couple of grants from the Humanities Center to research what it would look like to have a learning community in composition. Learning communities in other disciplines are usually a way to have tutors work with students. But in composition, we already have the Writing Center, which is where students go for tutoring. We didn’t want to overlap with that service. We wanted to enhance that experience for students by giving them a sort of triangle, with the instructor as support, the Writing Center as support, and the peers as support. So with creating that triangle of support for students, the Composition Learning Community enhances what we already offer composition students.
Could you tell us more about the CLC and what makes it unique?
The peer mentors we have are close in age and experience to the students they are helping. They’re an important support structure. If a student isn’t certain how to ask a question to an instructor, they can ask their peer mentor. If they need some last-minute encouragement on an assignment, the peer mentor is there. If they need help drafting or brainstorming, the peer mentor is there. The peer mentor is an extension of the instructor, but a much more comfortable one for students.
We also have the Writing Showcase, which we have at the end of the fall semester, and the end of the winter semester. The Writing Showcase is made up of all the courses in the learning community, and we’ve expanded it from ENG 1010 and 1020 to 3010, 3050, 3060, and even 3020, community writing. Those students within the CLC sections create visual presentations of different mediums. During the Showcase, everybody at the university can walk through the event and look at what students have done. One of the things we’re most proud of at the Showcase is that students can come and see what kind of work they would be doing in 3010, if they take it in a subsequent semester. It’s the same for ENG 1010 students. They can see what their peers in 1020 have done, and they can also meet the instructors they might have. So it sort of breaks down any intimidation or barriers to the next step in their writing at Wayne State.
Moving away from English, I heard you recently opened a cycling studio?
Rebel Cycle Studio opened last week, and we have our grand opening on October 20th. Anyone who has been through graduate school, or is going through it now, knows that it is challenging. In order to mentally get through graduate school, I dove into fitness. Fitness became my mental health, and my physical health too. The whole time that I was involved in fitness in graduate school, I had been to many gyms and taken many fitness classes, and I always sort of felt like an odd duck. I felt awkward and image-conscious, and I saw a lot of people being excluded in fitness.
I watched people come to class and never come back because they felt intimidated. They were scared, and they felt that the fitness trainers were too aggressive. I always told myself, if I ever owned my own place, I would do the opposite. I would want people to feel welcome. I would want them to feel comfortable, and to feel part of a community. After I graduated with my doctorate, I decided that Wayne State was a place I wanted to stay, because I love my job and what I do here. When I realized that I wasn’t interested in leaving, I told myself that I was going to try and open this business that I had always envisioned, and that’s how it came to be.
By Tristan Shaw