Faculty on Writing

Professor: Dr. Alex K. Carroll
Department: Associate Professor, Department of Sociology
Interviewed By: Ben Plaza
Date: September 26, 2008

When I entered Dr. Carroll’s office, I was surprised to see not only Dr. Carroll, but also two of her students who had stopped by to sit and talk. All three of them greeted me, and Dr. Carroll asked me to have a seat. I began the interview by asking her if she gives writing assignments to her students. With a smile, she told me that she has a writing component in each of her classes, including her intro class. Dr. Carroll believes, “Of all the things you learn in college, writing is the most important.” She explained that she felt that strong writing is essential because it is crucial in effective communication. She also uses writing to gauge a student’s understanding on a topic. She gave me an example, telling me that in her AN100 class, she has her students write a journal response every week. Dr. Carroll feels it forces her students to understand the material when they have to explain it. 

Dr. Carroll has a wide spectrum of students in her classes, but she feels, in most of her classes, the writing abilities of her students are bimodal. She has many students who write proficiently and are able to convey the information for the concept they are writing about. On the other hand, she has students who have trouble explaining themselves on paper. As a teacher, she focuses on helping everyone as much as she can – pushing the skilled writers to write at a graduate level, and giving the less talented students the tools they need to become better writers.

Because Dr. Carroll strongly believes knowing how to write is important, she encourages her students to improve their writing. When I asked her why she feels writing is important, she told me that in order for a student to be successful, he or she needs to be able to convey an idea effectively to someone else. She also feels that effective writing is “sharing in a meaningful way” because it shows an understanding for others.

When Dr. Carroll reads a student’s paper, she grades it on two principles: content and style. Primarily, she wants to make sure the students have an understanding of the key concepts. When she looks for writing style, she is judging the organization of the paper. She is also checking for spelling and grammar. She tells her upper level students to write as if they intended to send their papers to a professional journal, because many of them will be doing that in aspects of their jobs. She believes, “College writing is an investment in [yourself],” and that her students should take pride in being able to explain themselves on paper.

Having earned a Ph. D. in sociocultural anthropology with a minor in archaeology from the University of Arizona, Dr Carroll does quite a bit of writing. She is constantly writing articles for scholarly journals on various areas of study. On top of that, she enjoys writing fiction, and is currently writing a fictional book. When I asked her why she writes, she told me, “Writing is power, expression, and creativity. It is a chance to invent ourselves and find ourselves.” She told me that she wants her students to feel the same way; she wants them to find their voices. She said an understanding of writing guidelines is imperative to finding your voice because once you have mastery, you can reinvent the rules to find your own voice and style.

Being a newer professor, Dr. Carroll was not too familiar with our Writing Center; she told me that she had heard about it from her students, and that she thought it was a great resource. I explained that the tutors at the Writing Center are not proofreaders. I told her that we are there to help the students improve their writing for future assignments, as well as the paper they are currently writing. After that, Dr. Carroll said that the Writing Center is an important resource. She feels that it is a right as a college student to have assignments that will help you grow. It is also a right to have the access to expertise to help the student excel, whether it is in writing or any other subject.