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Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

English

Year Degree Awarded

2016

Month Degree Awarded

September

First Advisor

David Fleming

Second Advisor

Anne Herrington

Third Advisor

Martha Stassen

Subject Categories

Rhetoric and Composition

Abstract

This dissertation is a qualitative study of the experience of undergraduate students learning how to teach issues of sustainability to their campus communities through an innovative outreach program at a large northeastern research university. While most previous work on science writing and rhetoric focuses on disciplinary, publishing, or genre practices, I examine the holistic student experience by placing outreach, writing, and the classroom in conversation with each other, illuminating how discourses can cross institutional and contextual borders. Furthermore, while most previous work involving student engagement has focused on the positive and rewarding aspects of engagement, I examine how tension and critical moments can also be productive learning experiences for students.

Using collections of empirical data including interviews, observations, and writing analysis of five undergraduate students, five undergraduate course facilitators, one undergraduate administrator, and one faculty advisor, I argue that careful combinations of reflective writing, disciplinary knowledge, and outreach can help foster student engagement and discursive participation. This study helps teachers of composition examine ways that classrooms outside of our discipline use writing to foster student engagement. I consider what kinds of critical pedagogy the program uses that perhaps best foster the kind of change desired by student work. I discuss the relationship between the hard academic knowledge of the classroom and the outreach work done by the students by tracing important knowledge threads from the faculty advisor, through the course facilitators, to the class's assigned readings and material, and finally to outreach work. I discuss the undergraduate teaching course facilitators as both active participants in the outreach work done by the program, as well as in their role introducing new students to the program. Drawing on interviews, curriculum materials, and observations of staff meetings, I examine how the course facilitators collaboratively develop the pedagogy of the classroom.

Using the undergraduate students as examples of working scientists and public intellectuals, I discuss how their experiences bridging the gap between the hard science of the classroom and their outreach work outside of the classroom is a form of knowledge circulation. Using a Writing Across the Curriculum framework, I consider ways in which moments of tension represent productive opportunities for growth and learning. I propose a re-orientation towards how we view engagement in Composition and Rhetoric as allowing for and even welcoming moments of frustration. I discuss public intellectualism as a "shared concern" of both the sciences and the humanities; a concern that each field is differently adept at addressing. Finally, I draw some theoretical implications from the rest of my dissertation regarding how we might conceptualize public intellectualism in the future of our field.

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