Wellesley Offers a New Suite of Capstone Writing Courses in Fall 2013

April 5, 2013

Through the generosity of the Calderwood Charitable Foundation, Wellesley College launches a new suite of nine writing-intensive seminars, eight of them brand-new to the curriculum. The courses will begin in September 2013, with registration in April.

The seminars will be taught across numerous disciplines, providing seniors and juniors the chance for “one final lap around the major” before they graduate, fine-tuning their writing skills and preparing them for careers in their field. Environmental studies majors can register for ES399: Environmental Synthesis and Communication, while English majors may turn to ENG 390: The New York Review of Books at 50.

The seminars will rotate through departments and programs each semester, with class size remaining small. These advanced-level courses will challenge students to integrate what they have learned in other courses and to communicate this knowledge to a broad audience. Thus in MUS 301: Music in Public, students will review concerts and interview prominent musicians as well as discuss controversial issues in academic music, with an audience of non-specialists in mind.

“There have been many heated debates in recent years about the relationship between academic musical expertise, journalistic criticism, and the role of music in the public sphere,” said Professor Martin Brody, who will be teaching MUS301. “It should be highly instructive and really fun to take on some of these issues in class.  It will also be a great opportunity for all of us involved to think intensively about our own musical experience in relation to our academic studies-- and to improve our writing.”

This “real-world” writing can be a departure from the academic styles students have adopted in writing during their college careers, but will help empower a student’s “voice” in her major field of study. Developing the ability to translate complex arguments and professional jargon to a broad audience is a central feature of a liberal arts education.

The inspiration for this program comes from Stanford Calderwood Professor of Economics David Lindauer’s experience in teaching ECON 335, Economic Journalism. This course has students “cover an economics beat” as they analyze and write short articles that span the discipline. Students report on official government documents and journal articles, write a book review and an op-ed piece, cover a public lecture, and interview a professional economist. Students submit articles ranging from 750-1,500 words, where they translate the technical economic issues contained in the material and present it in a format accessible to non-specialists. This requires a deep understanding of economic reasoning and ties together much of their previous coursework in new ways. Class time is used as a workshop for critiquing the economic analysis in student work. Alumnae comment repeatedly on the value of the course as a capstone experience and for its applicability in their working lives. One notable alumna of the course is Heather Long ’04, currently Assistant Editor for the Comment section at the Guardian newspaper in their New York office.

Ana Medrano Fernandez '13 is an economics major enrolled in ECON335 who has appreciated the unique style of the seminar. “When we’re in our own majors and we’re taking classes with other people who have similar training, it’s really easy to use jargon. My favorite part of the class has been challenging myself to see if I really understand what we’re studying. You need  to understand what you have learned in economics on a different level to write for someone without economics training... It’s a creative way of applying economics.”

The Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing are named for Stanford Calderwood, a patron of the arts and benefactor of Wellesley College. Throughout his career, Mr. Calderwood realized the value of written communication. Wellesley anticipates that Calderwood Seminars will not only have a distinctive impact on Wellesley’s educational mission—with broad influence throughout the curriculum—but it will also provide a model for other institutions of higher education. David Lindauer will serve as Director of the program.

Calderwood Seminar in Public Writing: Complete List for 2013-14

ARTH 303/ARTS 303: Artist and Critic, with Rebecca Bedell and David Kelley

BISC 340: Biology in the News, with Martina Koniger

ECON 335: Economic Journalism, with David Lindauer

ENG 390: The New York Review of Books at 50, with Dan Chiasson

ES 399: Environmental Synthesis and Communication, with Jay Turner

MUS 301: Music in Public, with Martin Brody

PSYC 343: Psychology in the Public Interest, with Tracy Gleason

SPAN 340: Unity and Diversity in the Hispanic World, with Carlos Vega

WRIT 390: Law, Medicine, and Ethics, with Lynne Viti

- Reporting by Gabrielle Linnell '13