Montclair State’s First-Year Writing Program Wins Coveted National Award

Mike Peters

The First-Year Writing team includes (left to right) Emily Isaacs, Maria Giura, and Bonnie Dowd.

The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) awarded Montclair State University’s First-Year Writing Program a 2011-2012 Writing Program Certificate of Excellence at an event on Friday, March 23, during its annual convention in St. Louis, Missouri. The national professional association for university writing professors, the 7,000-member CCCC is an arm of the National Council of Teachers of English.

The award is a major accomplishment and much-deserved recognition for Montclair State’s outstanding writing program. This is the most prestigious award a writing program can receive from our professional organization. It is highly competitive and a great honor,” says Nancy Sommers, former director of the Harvard College Writing Program and a composition scholar and researcher at Harvard.

Associate Professor of English and First-Year Writing Program Director Emily Isaacs, Assistant Director Maria Guira, and Interim Director Jessica Restaino attended the conference. “Montclair State won this highly competitive award for its achievement in first-year writing and excellence in undergraduate writing and assessment,” says Isaacs. “I’m so gratified to receive it and proud that the CCCC has singled us out as a model program.”

The award recognizes Montclair State for meeting student, faculty, and institutional needs with its three-course First-Year Writing Program, providing professional development for its nearly 70 full- and part-time faculty members, following current best practices, providing ongoing assessments, serving a diverse community, and having a program director like Isaacs who has recognized expertise in writing.

Since 2004, the CCCC has honored up to 20 writing programs a year. Montclair State’s is the only first-year writing program in New Jersey—and just the second in the Middle States Association Membership community—to win this prestigious national award. 

Isaacs, who is currently on sabbatical, has been a driving force behind the award-winning program for ten years. “Our program is strong,” she notes. “We take faculty development very seriously, offering training to new instructors in August, before they start teaching, as well as year-round support and online resources.”

Freshmen are required to take two semester-long first-year courses: College Writing I and II. A small percentage of students also take Introduction to Writing prior to these courses, to maximize their success.

Ongoing assessments that focus on student learning help to measure the quality of the program. Student evaluations consistently indicate a high level of student satisfaction, and students regularly report that the rigorous courses deliver what they promised. “We read a lot of essays to benchmark student improvement in a course from week one to week fourteen,” explains Isaacs.

The program is supported on campus by programs including Live Lit! readings by professional writers, and the popular annual Exemplary Essays Awards that recognize the best of the more than 200 essays submitted by students in each of the program’s three courses. Additionally, Montclair State’s Center for Writing Excellence offers students one-on-one tutorial and writing support.

“Montclair State’s First-Year Writing Program really goes beyond the basics in every way,” Isaacs sums up. “The CCCC award confirms the strength of the University’s commitment to helping students become capable, excellent academic writers.” The First-Year Writing Program is a collaborative effort, supported by two assistant directors, Bonnie Dowd and Maria Giura, the faculty, staff, Department of English Chair Dan Bronson, and most especially by the 70 teachers who daily read student writing, offering suggestion, criticism, and praise carefully crafted to best support improvement.