Culture of Support

Online writing and math services help curb student anxiety

January 07, 2015

Dr. Michelle Rosensitto

A blank page stares back from the computer screen. The muscles in the neck tighten into an unforgiving knot. Formerly nimble fingers feel as if they’re made out of lead. The imaginary sound of the deadline clock changes from a hum to a gong.

It’s writer’s anxiety, and you have it bad.

If you think you’re the only person to ever suffer from it consider this: Dr. Michelle Rosensitto, director of Brandman’s Online Writing and Math Community (OWMC), knows all about writing anxiety and not just because of the help her program has offered Brandman students.

While studying for her master’s degree in English at Pepperdine University, the once-confident writer (who had a bachelor’s degree are in English literature and composition and now holds a doctoral degree in organizational leadership) suddenly found her writing had imploded and nothing seemed to be working.

“Look, the meat is there, but the bones are broken,” one of her professors told her. “You need a framework to hang those great ideas on.”

That’s when she came up with a visual model to help demystify the writing process.  She built on that concept and her experiences teaching both undergraduate courses on the ground and online, to create and launch the (OWC), which has since expanded to include math help (OMC).

Questions range from basic – “How do I cite a source?” – to severe – “I don’t know how to get started.”

WritingVisualModelWEB“We’re not editing, we’re teaching,” said Rosensitto.  The program’s team of professional tutors, who all hold master’s or doctoral degrees in English or related fields, guides writers toward building their own frameworks on which to hang their own ideas.  Help is offered in multiple ways:

  • “Quick Questions” sent via email and replied to within 24 hours
  • Scheduled live online tutoring sessions
  • Online office hours
  • “Submit a Paper” with feedback within 72 hours by email
  • Live, online writing workshops
  • Writing resources and links to help with grammar, citation styles, plagiarism and overall good writing

The program has blossomed from helping a handful of students in basic writing courses to serving the entire Brandman population, no matter what kind of course requires a writing assignment.

Rosensitto estimates that about 10 percent of all students seek help from OWC, but she would like to see that grow. She urges students to check in early in the eight-week session so they’ll be prepared when the bigger assignments are due at the end of the term.

“Send that first paper in, try a workshop or set up a tutoring appointment,” she said. “That way you can avoid the panic at the end of the term. We’re here to serve students.”

This year a math component (for those suffering from math anxiety or needing a little coursework guidance) has been added for students in Math 103 and 203. In 2015, the OMC may also begin offering online math workshops, covering topics such as calculator skills and Excel basics.

Because an important part of Brandman’s mission is to serve veterans, the original funding for the Online Writing Community was part of Joyce Brandman’s generous support of the university’s Veterans to College Program.

“I don’t know of anywhere else where I would have been asked to develop an idea for a student service with the expert guidance of a vice chancellor, a dean and a talented IT staff to build that idea into a university department,” said Rosensitto, crediting Executive Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs and Provost Charles Bullock and Arts and Sciences Dean Jeremy Korr for helping get the project launched.

“We are the most innovative and student-centered university out there,” she said.

For a firsthand account of how tutors and students work together, read Margaret Moodian’s blog post about supporting student success: or this account from Louis Espinal:

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