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Writing program receives boost from parents

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UC Berkeley family heeds advice of their student to lend a hand

By David Peterkofsky

UC Berkeley’s parents are known for being generous with their time and their money when it comes to supporting their children’s education. But when parents team up with their student to determine how best to support the university, the resulting generosity can have even greater impact.

That holds true for a recent gift made to support Art of Writing, a program within the campus’s Townsend Center for the Humanities. Art of Writing fosters excellence in undergraduate writing and in the teaching of writing, working collaboratively with communities across the humanities, social sciences, sciences and professional schools.

The gift in question — made anonymously — came from the family of a student who recently graduated with a degree in rhetoric and learned firsthand how the program could transform a student’s experience at Berkeley. Because the parents wanted to make a gift that had personal resonance for them and their son, they asked him to play a key role in the process.

“It was crucially important that he was involved,” said Rebecca Egger, the Townsend Center’s associate director. “The student had served as a writing tutor in the program, and it was through this experience that his parents learned about Art of Writing. It was his enriching experience as a writing tutor that led them to make their gift.”

Though Art of Writing’s tutoring program is a pilot effort still being fine-tuned, the donors clearly saw its value, offering feedback on the son’s experience and then providing support for it. This boost of confidence gave the Art of Writing team the support they needed to innovate and evolve the program, using the family’s gift, in a substantial way.

The family’s generosity is also enhancing other aspects of the Art of Writing program — from making possible a workshop on scientific writing pedagogy for STEM faculty and graduate students to providing administrative support.

And the gift is helping build the program’s ability to offer remote instruction — particularly timely since Berkeley shifted to online learning in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the course of finalizing their gift, the family emphasized the importance of quality remote instruction and their desire to help the Art of Writing program get there.

Egger and Professor Ramona Naddaff, director of Art of Writing, took that message to heart as they crafted “Designing a Writing-Based Course,” a new online workshop that adapts material from Art of Writing’s annual, in-person Summer Writing Institute.

It will launch in early summer and “will enable us to greatly expand the number of Berkeley grad students we train in the teaching of writing,” Egger said.

The gift has allowed the program to expand the ways in which tutoring is delivered. In addition to an “office hours” approach in which tutors are available to students, embedded tutors are also assigned to courses, and students are expected to consult with them on certain assignments.

Overall, Egger is delighted that the student’s positive firsthand experience with the program has translated into lasting support for a program that fills a clear need on campus — spanning all areas of study. “Enhanced writing instruction for undergraduate students is a critical need that this gift helps address,” she said. “This family’s support is vital to our mission.”

To learn more about how the Art of Writing program may benefit your Berkeley student, visit

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