Faculty on Writing

Who: Mr. Dave Bonsall                                                            
Interviewed By: Manda Frederick
Department: Director of the Center for Student Enrichment              
Date: October 3, 2006

Mr. Dave Bonsall has been affiliated with Northern Michigan University for over thirty years. He began his professional career as Resident Advisor in the residence halls, eventually becoming a Resident Hall Director. Graduating with two degrees in Political Science and History, Dave continued his career at Northern. He served in many positions over the years—positions always in student affairs. Most recently, Mr. Bonsall has become the Director for the Center for Student Enrichment. The Center houses the Student Leader Fellowship Program, Promotional Services, the Volunteer Center, the Health Promotions Office, and the new Superior Edge Program.

When asked how writing is used within the Center, Mr. Bonsall simply responded, “Constantly.” The Center utilizes writing for promotional materials, daily correspondences, proposals, fundraising activities, reference letters, student announcements, and many other forms. Specifically, each area of the Center has a different need for writing. Mr. Bonsall notes that the quality of writing in each of these areas has a direct effect on that particular organization in the Center.

The Student Fellow Leadership Program uses writing in a number of ways. The student leaders must create reflective journal entries. The student leaders must also generate a proposal for a 100-hour community service internship, as well as an action plan that outlines specific leadership goals that are desired to be accomplished by that student in order to graduate from the program. If a student fellow cannot communicate his/her ideas effectively, this affects how he/she is viewed as a leader in general. The ability to write doesn’t dictate if a person is in fact a good leader, but it dictates how a leader is perceived. Mr. Bonsall notes that people look to a leader to be capable, to motivate, to communicate, and to lead by example; a leader’s writing ability translates into such qualities.

Furthermore, Promotional Services, which acts to promote student activities and events, uses writing for flyers, table tents, posters, North Wind ads, t-shirts, and more. Mr. Bonsall explains that if a poster or flyer has a type-o, especially since Northern is an academic setting, such a mistake sends out a message about the event or organization being promoted; people will question if they want to be affiliated with such an event or organization. In addition to the SLFP and Promotional Services using writing to accomplish their goals, the Volunteer Center also depends on written communication.

The Volunteer Center distributes an enormous amount of material, including brochures and weekly e-mails updating students on volunteer opportunities. Mr. Bonsall maintains if the Volunteer Center sends volunteers out into the Marquette community, and those volunteers are asked to do tasks involving written communication, such individuals should do a competent job because it reflects on Northern Michigan University as a whole. In addition, if the written communication from the Volunteer Center is unclear, students will not understand the volunteer opportunities and may fail to become involved.

Health Promotions also uses writing in promoting a safe and healthy life style across campus. The office presents scores of presentations, many of which include hand outs and power point slides. The office must also do a lot of promotions, all of which require writing. Health Promotions may have an even more critical relationship with writing because the information about safety and wellness that the office hopes to communicate to the campus community is very crucial, and so such communications should be as effective as possible. The office admits that convincing college students that they need health and safety information is difficult because the age group is generally a healthy one. The office faces the challenge of creating materials that are not only accurate and educational, but appeal to the desired audience.

A new initiative on campus that requires effective writing is the Superior Edge Program. The Program is in its first year. Mr. Bonsall played a critical role in launching the Program in the NMU and Marquette communities. He notes that there were many grant proposals written, as well as promotional pieces, agendas for meetings, descriptions of the program, and other written materials that were required to sell the program to the desired audience. Mr. Bonsall states that if the presentation and efforts of an initiative are done poorly, those who the initiative is directed at will begin to question if the product of the initiative is worth anything. He makes similar comments about student organizations on campus.

The Center also houses all affairs of registered student organizations. The number of organizations is over 250 strong, and writing plays a critical role in their affairs. Organizations put up posters and displays. They also create website, newsletters, press releases, tee shirts, and student announcements. Mr. Bonsall says that if the communications of an organization are unclear or sloppy, an individual interested in that student organization will question if he/she really wants to be associated with such an organization.

Because writing is such a critical part of the Center’s affairs, the staff takes great measures to ensure that the writing is clear and concise. The staff conducts a lot of self-revision and peer-revision of anything that will leave the office. Mr. Bonsall points out that the attention to detail for the Center especially translates into something bigger for the students who are employed at the Center. “Professionally,” Mr. Bonsall states, “you’ve got to be sharp enough to look at a piece of writing and know if there is a mistake. This translates into work-effectiveness.”  Furthermore, the Center takes note of good writing, which Mr. Bonsall points out that most employers will do. Mr. Bonsall remarks that not only would an employer value writing as a skill, if their first impression of an individual’s writing, such as an application, is clear and concise, that employer will draw positive conclusions about an applicant. The applicant will appear capable and thoughtful enough to have taken the time to create a clean application.

Mr. Bonsall feels that across the board, beyond curriculum, writing should be emphasized. He notes, “When you send writing to someone, they are forming an impression of you. How competent and how capable are you? It [poor writing ability] is an epidemic. As an academic institution, we put our graduates out as professionals, and if they can’t write, that reflects on us. It’s got to go beyond getting a grade in an EN 111 class; it needs to be about becoming a competent human being.”

Mr. Bonsall cannot emphasize enough how writing isn’t just a product, like a grade in a class; it’s a reflection on the person writing. Mr. Bonsall states that a student should work on their own time to improve their writing skills, and this could mean attending the Writing Center and actually understanding why the tutors are making corrections. The Center for Student Enrichment could not go about its business without effective writing, and he hopes that Northern Michigan University, across the board, would strive to produce and showcase effective writing skills.