BSCI Faculty Work with Auburn’s Miller Writing Center

Writing Across the Curriculum Academy, University Writing

When students think about preparing to work in the construction industry, their first concern most likely is not their ability to write.

But Senior Lecturer Drew Yantis and several of his colleagues are working to make written and oral communication skills a higher priority for students in the McWhorter School of Building Science (BSCI). 

Yantis has 33 years of industry experience, and his last position before he joined the BSCI faculty in 2021 was Senior Vice President of Holder Construction. Throughout his career, he spent many hours on campus recruiting and hiring over 150 Auburn students for Holder. A 1987 graduate of the program, he was also an active Auburn alum, serving several years on BSCI’s Industry Executive Board and the College of Architecture, Design and Construction’s Executive Board, including two-year terms as president of each board. “While I was in industry, I had a passion about our students’ ability to effectively communicate,” he said. “Construction is really a business about people, and in order to be successful, you have to be able to effectively communicate both in writing and orally.” 

Several years ago, he found that the Miller Writing Center, located in Auburn’s Ralph Brown Draughon Library, was a great resource for faculty members who want to help their students improve communication skills. “I didn’t even know the Miller Writing Center was here when I started teaching!” he said. “But it was a really good place for me to become engaged and to leverage their resources and their knowledge. Their facilities help our students become better communicators, principally through writing but also through oral presentations.” 

Yantis applied for the program’s “We Write” initiative and was accepted. He began by surveying students and professionals in industry to see what academic areas in the BSCI program might need improvement.  He and his colleagues were surprised to find that the industry professionals found communication to be extremely important while students did not. When the Miller Writing Center launched its “Writing Across Curriculum” (WAC) Academy, Yantis and several colleagues, including faculty members Alan Bugg, Amna Salman, Tom Leathem and Hunter McGonagill, decided to sign up. They were joined by teams of faculty and staff from various academic disciplines on campus to better develop expectations and assessment of student writing in assignments. “We studied ways we could better incorporate writing strategies related to our discipline into our program,” Yantis said. “To hear everybody’s reflection on the importance of writing within their disciplines was interesting. While we all spoke different languages, the needs and expectations were all pretty comparable.” 

Yantis says that the group has presented the lessons they learned in WAC Academy to the other BSCI faculty. While their experiences have been helpful to those faculty teaching BSCI’s Construction Communication class, they have been even more impactful on the Senior Thesis program. In Senior Thesis, students do a major project that includes a 200-page written analysis and an oral presentation. “WAC Academy has helped us to better articulate what the expectations are in terms of writing the thesis,” Yantis said. “We have been working over the last two years to make modifications to our grading guidelines. We are now including professional writing and delivery as part of the thesis grade instead of just assuming it was already included in each submission.” 

Yantis said there is a culture of continuous improvement in the BSCI program, and it has been great to take advantage of the programs at the Miller Writing Center to aid in those goals. He recalls a “disaster” early in his career when he had to give a presentation and realized he’d never done one before, and he and his colleagues will keep working to ensure their students don’t face that same problem. “What we do now will help us down the road to emphasize and assess our students’ ability to communicate, both in presenting and writing. There’s a lot more risk and pressure in the real world. While they’re here in the program, it’s a great time to practice, learn and get better.” 

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