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Q&A: ASU dean encourages students to do the 'write' thing

Duane Roen, who is also a professor of English, on why communication skills are crucial in the workplace

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April 07, 2017

Arizona State University’s Duane Roen constantly hears from employers that this generation of learners needs to develop effective oral and written skills, required for success in the global economy.

“If you look at people who are highly successful in organizations and rise within those organizations, they’re the ones who possess effective communication skills,” said Roen, dean of the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts and professor of English.

That’s why Roen agreed to co-edit a new book called “The Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing,” which was recently published by Parlor Press in South Carolina.

Roen said schools can do more to prepare students for the 21st century if administrators and, especially, teachers are familiar with what is required for success in the real world.

To level the playing field for all students and ensure they're prepared for life beyond the classroom, Roen enlisted fellow co-editors and ASU alumni Nicholas N. BehmBehm is also an associate professor of English at Elmhurst College in Illinois. and Sherry Rankins-RobertsonRankins-Robertson is an associate professor of rhetoric and writing at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. and more than 20 contributors to pen a strategic document for educators to transition students from secondary- to college-level writing.

Roen — who also is offering a two-hour writing consultation through the Sun Devils Rewards app (details below) — spoke to ASU Now about how he got involved with the book, how writing extends beyond the classroom and what habits can be incorporated to ensure success.

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ASU Dean Duane Roen

Question: What led to your involvement with “The Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing”?

Answer: When some of the states developed the Common Core State Standards, they consulted some faculty, but they did not consult the professional organizations that focus on literacy — even though those organizations asked to be involved. As a result, three organizations — Council of Writing Program Administrators, National Council of Teachers of English, and National Writing Project — developed the document “The Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing.”

As an active member in the first two of those organizations and as president of CWPA, I promoted the document from the beginning, leading focus groups at several professional conferences. I recognized how important the document could be, and that certainly has been the case.

Q: You point out that not only must high schools prepare students for college, but students must also have exposure to colleges and expectations. Why are both important?

A: If high school students can learn early on what college is like, the easier it is for them to make the transition. That’s one of the reasons that ASU offers so many summer experiences for K-12 students. When we can engage them on campus, they begin to feel more comfortable learning in a university environment. They realize that they can be successful in college.

Q: The book also discusses the “eight habits of mind” students must develop in college. What exactly are those?

A: Curiosity — the desire to know more about the world; openness — the willingness to consider new ways of being and thinking in the world; engagement — a sense of investment and involvement in learning; creativity — the ability to use novel approaches for generating, investigating and representing ideas; persistence — the ability to sustain interest in and attention to short- and long-term projects; responsibility — the ability to take ownership of one’s actions and understand the consequences of those actions for oneself and others; flexibility — the ability to adapt to situations, expectations or demands; metacognition — the ability to reflect on one’s own thinking as well as on the individual and cultural processes used to structure knowledge.

I was fortunate to grow up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, where I got an early start at developing some of those habits of mind. Through my life experience, I have come to understand how important these habits are. And I share that observation with incoming freshmen and their families at the many orientations that we offer from April through July.  

Q: You stress that success in postsecondary writing extends to four areas of life: academic, professional, civic and personal. Can you elaborate?

A: Even though the eight habits of mind are essential for success in college writing courses, I have come to appreciate that they are crucial for success in college in general and in life. Life consists of four arenas: academic, professional, civic and personal. If you think about it, you realize that all four are very important. Most students will be in college for four years, but they need to be successful in the other three arenas for many more decades after college.

Q: What do excellent writing skills mean for the future workforce of America?

A: Employers tell me over and over that the skills that they value the most are written and oral communication, problem solving, teamwork, technology skills and “good work habits.” The good work habits are captured in the eight habits of mind. Writing, in particular, is very important in the workforce. And there is no one way to write. Each situation in the workplace demands a different kind of writing — reports, proposals, memos, tweets and others. Effective writers are those who can adeptly handle the writing task at hand.

Dean Duane Roen is offering two experiences through the Sun Devil Rewards app: a two-hour consultation to help you polish your professional writing skills, and a dinner in which he'll discuss being an author and his passion for researching genealogy. Sun Devil Rewards is a free app that connects users to everything ASU. Earn "Pitchforks" for reading ASU news stories, checking in at events, taking polls, playing trivia games and more — and earn prizes that money can't buy (only Pitchforks can!). Win ASU gear, VIP tickets to games, backstage passes to ASU Gammage performances, experiences such as the two with Roen, and tours of unique ASU spaces such as the flight-simulator building and the School of Earth and Space Exploration's "clean labs" — even win a free month of working space at ASU SkySong. Download it from the App Store or Google Play

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