• DRAFT 2018 cohort: 19 students, 2 peer mentors, 2 faculty co-leaders

DRAFT (Daily Revision to Advance Further Thinking) was launched in the summer of 2017 for students wanting to build the writing skills necessary for success in Southwestern’s rigorous inquiry-based learning curriculum.

Shannon Mariotti, professor of political science and a co-leader for DRAFT, explains that the program focuses on developing the habit of daily writing  to learn how to “pay closer attention to our own experiences and be perceptive observers of the evidence in the world around us”—an attentive mode necessary in almost every form of writing.

The program’s philosophy statement tells students: “Words are tools we use to build and rebuild the world around us.” With this in mind, the DRAFT program specifically “seeks to foster writing as a form of inquiry, critical analysis, and world-building.”

Not all students enter college with the same level of preparation for such engaged writing, however. Programs such as DRAFT directly address the desire of many entering students to build additional competencies through personalized, engaging coursework that studies show have a marked effect on retention and graduation. Although sometimes categorized as a type of bridge program, peer mentor and political science major Avery Beam ’19 characterized DRAFT as an invaluable experience for students, mentors and professors alike. She says the program “is in no way remedial, and I learned a great deal about writing and revising, even as a mentor.”

Another peer mentor, psychology major MacKenzie Maddox ’20, notes that the liberal arts curriculum strongly emphasizes the value of writing and the free articulation of inspiring ideas by individuals. Like Avery, MacKenzie came away from her DRAFT mentor experience knowing that she benefitted as well. She described helping alongside the professors as a great honor and noted that she learned important tips along the way, too.

The students began each morning and afternoon session of DRAFT with a 20-30 minute journaling time to acclimate themselves to the process of regularly scheduled time for freewriting. The daily schedule also included discussions of assigned readings, breakout sessions covering draft writing, plot treatment, peer review and revision strategies. Avery expressed the program’s ultimate goal as that of destigmatizing writing and removing fear as students learn to view writing as simply a matter of practice and successive revision.

Erin Crockett, professor of psychology and the second faculty member co-leading the DRAFT program, recognizes that writing can be daunting, even to academics who write professionally and for publication. Dr. Crockett explains that focusing on the revision process helps to “dispel myths about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writers” and allows students to utilize writing as a tool that advances a writer’s thinking and helps him or her to better make sense of the world around them.

Participating students live on campus for a week, and evenings included group outings and social activities. Acknowledging that coming to college can be overwhelming and intimidating, Avery feels that one of the most important aspects of DRAFT is preparing students for life in a college setting, “really giving students a leg up” by familiarizing them with campus and collegiate practices. Or, as MacKenzie puts it, “DRAFT prepares students for more than just academic writing. It prepares them for their first steps on campus.”

Although DRAFT may not make writing necessarily seem easy, “What really changes for our students” Dr. Crockett says, “is they start to see writing as a journey of self-reflection and expression. It is a process that perhaps always feels unfinished. And that is ok.”

Dr. Mariotti explains that DRAFT has been a wonderful program for her and Dr. Crockett to collaborate on and develop. The program continues via online writing assignments through the end of summer, and both Dr. Mariotti and Dr. Crockett frequently continue to advise DRAFT students during their first year at Southwestern. 

While assisting with the program, MacKenzie learned that “you can get a great sense of a person through just a short essay” but apparently, incoming students can get a great sense of self through the DRAFT program as well. “While college is about education,” MacKenzie says, “Southwestern also harbors the path of finding one’s self, and this program gives students an introduction to the journey that awaits them as Pirates.”  It starts with embracing writing as a life practice, for as the DRAFT philosophy describes, “words are tools we use for building and rebuilding the self.”

In its inaugural year, 2017, the Draft program included 13 participants but grew more than 46% to 19 participants in 2018. DRAFT for Summer 2018 was fully funded by a generous gift from HEB.