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

ASU dean co-edits new book on postsecondary writing aimed at student success.
April 7, 2017

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

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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Love and death in the Paleolithic

ASU student uncovers ancient stone ritual act for the deceased.
April 7, 2017

ASU student finds clues to ancient funerary customs in broken pieces of stone

Arizona State University archaeology student Claudine Gravel-Miguel went into her field of study 10 years ago simply for love of travel. Now, after falling in love with the science as well, her research has taken her to the Caverna delle Arene Candide in Italy, where she made a surprising discovery that is changing the way scientists look at human culture in the Paleolithic.

Gravel-Miguel, a doctoral student in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, freely admits that she initially chose to study archaeology because she wanted a job that would let her see new places. But after her first class, it was questions about people — past and present — that soon captured her interest.

Her research focuses on using new tools like computational modeling to see how climate change and geography impacted prehistoric human mobility and social networks. Although that's not as effused with Hollywood glam, Gravel-Miguel argues that this is the reality of 21st-century archaeology.

“It may be cliché, but I think there is still a misconception that archaeologists do all their work in the field,” she said. “One of the first things I tell people when I talk about my work is that most of us spend more time in the lab and on computers than out on the terrain.”

This ability to bring new perspectives to old archaeological puzzles is exactly what led Gravel-Miguel to a recent, groundbreaking discovery in the Caverna delle Arene Candide.

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ASU archaeology student Claudine Gravel-Miguel documents pebbles on a beach near the site. Photo by Genevieve Pothier Bouchard

 This site, a cave high up a limestone cliff, was made famous in the 1940s when researchers found the remains of around 20 hunter-gatherers who were buried there 13,000–11,000 years ago. Throughout decades of excavation, archaeologists have found (and mostly ignored) pieces of small oblong-shaped stones. But Gravel-Miguel and the site director, Julien Riel-Salvatore, noticed that the stones were out of place in the cave — they had smooth surfaces like river rocks and all shared the same long, flat shape.

When she expressed interest in these peculiar stones, Riel-Salvatore encouraged her to investigate them further.

“The pebble project actually almost fell in my lap,” she said. “To be honest, I thought it would be a very simple study.”

Gravel-Miguel and her team quickly deduced that the hunter-gatherers had looked for and specifically chosen these stones from nearby beaches. However, microscopic analysis also revealed that the stones held traces of ochre, a red pigment frequently used by prehistoric people to paint the bodies of the deceased.

So why were the majority of these stone application tools carefully selected, only to wind up broken in a cave some distance away? In her recently published paper, Gravel-Miguel proposes that people smashed them intentionally after use.

“One would have had to handle the pebble by wrapping the hand around it, which should have prevented a break along the short axis,” she said. “Therefore, the shape and use wear of the piece tell us that the pebbles were not likely broken by accident while they were being used.”

The intention behind the breaks suggests it was likely part of a ritual act that symbolically killed the stones’ power over the dead. Such practice has been documented in the Neolithic, but never before in the Paleolithic, making this case the oldest example ever recorded.

Additionally, Gravel-Miguel found that each broken stone the team excavated had pieces missing from its fragments. She found only two refitting parts, but these gave her a clue about the fate of the other absent pieces.

“The two pieces of one refitted pebble have very different patinas,” she explained. “One is red and the other white. This shows that the two pieces were not discarded in the same place after the break, which suggests that the break may have had some meaning and that some of the pieces may have been curated.”

In her paper, Gravel-Miguel uses this data to support a hypothesis that one piece of each stone was left at the cave, while another was taken by a loved one as a way to remember and connect with the dead.

“This research reveals a new dimension of the burial rituals that took place this far back in time and strengthens our assumption that death has always been a very important component in the life of the living,” she said.

One of the next steps for this project is to expand research into other nearby archaeological sites from the same time period. This will help the team figure out if the practice of stone-smashing and fragment-keeping is something that was done locally by one group, or something that was part of a broader culture shared throughout the region.

Gravel-Miguel has also been left curious about whether the ritually broken stones were deposited as grave goods — that is, intentionally placed in the burial — or if they were just tossed away after the ritual. To find out, she will need to go back to the artifact collection of the archaeologist who excavated the site in the 1940s.

“There’s a lot more work to be done on this topic. It’s exciting,” she said.

Top photo: Public-domain photo of cliffs on the coast of Liguria, Italy.

Mikala Kass

Communications Specialist , ASU Knowledge Enterprise

480-727-5616