The Laney College Computer Writing Center was established in 1988 through the determined efforts of Smokey Wilson of Project Bridge and Jerry Herman of the English department, and has been in continuous operation since.
The idea behind it was simple: Provide computers and assistance in how to use them to students with writing assignments. At the time, relatively few Laney students, especially those in Basic Writing, had experience using computers much less owning them.
The English Department was already operating a Writing Center for Basic Writing students, and the new lab with computers would provide students with tutorial help in the use of computers and in their writing.
Though the CWC focused on serving the students from those Writing Center classes, it has also been available for the use of all Laney students on a drop-in basis, the only restriction being that the computers were to be used only for writing. The lab’s software was deliberately limited to supporting only writing assignments. There were other labs around the campus that had the Internet and software for math, computer science, games, and the like.
The CWC received funding, and E257 was reconfigured to be a twenty-four station computer lab whose managers were available to help students with computer use whenever the CWC was open. In 1993, hours were extended to evenings twice a week.
Jerry Herman was the CWC Director from its inception until he retired in 2002. He was succeeded by David Mullen of the English Department.
The CWC has been fortunate in having had a series of excellent lab managers who actually conducted the day-to-day operations of the CWC.
One of the finest of those managers was James Oliver, whose calm understanding and unquenchable good nature guided hundreds of students through a tangle of computer problems they could not have solved themselves.
James died a sudden and untimely death in the summer of 2001, but the memory of his bright smile and genuine devotion to the people he worked with lives on. To honor those qualities, the CWC was renamed ‘The James Oliver Community Writing Center.‘
In his absence, the day-to-day operations and management of the Writing Center fell on the other staff member, Albert Watson, an Instructional Assistant and military veteran.
Jerry Herman of the English department and Dean Irv Berkowitz then began a search to fill James’ old position. They were looking for a candidate with the technical skills to run, maintain, and troubleshoot the computer network and hardware and also had a tutoring background that would be useful working with the Writing Center’s student clients. After interviewing and vetting different candidates, they chose Terrence Fisher, a Computer Information Systems Specialist, who had worked as both a tutor and teaching assistant (TA) in the Computer Information Systems (CIS) department.
Terrence trained under Albert Watson for a year learning Writing Center operations, policies, and procedures including situation scenarios. With the acquisition of new Compaq Evo computers for the Writing Center in the summer of 2002 and satisfied that Terrence was ready to assume the responsibility of running and managing the Writing Center, Albert Watson left before the start of the fall 2002 semester looking for new challenges.
In spring 2003, Korede Adeniji, an instructional assistant at the Writing Center studying marketing, created and ran a marketing survey at the lab. Upon its completion, she compiled the data, reviewed it, and presented the results. Korede was then directed to develop a marketing plan for the Writing Center which was later approved.
With little money, the marketing plan was implemented using some guerrilla marketing tactics which included distribution of flyers and outreach efforts to the student body. All informational materials produced at the time by the staff included the Writing Center’s web site address. Earlier, the staff had created web pages for the Writing Center using straight HTML 4 code which they regularly updated twice a semester. As part of the marketing plan, the Writing Center staff also demonstrated Microsoft Office programs to students to help familiarize them with the software available in the lab.
The marketing plan proved successful. The following semester student usage at the Writing Center went up from 450 student visits to 940 visits, all without the lab having Internet access. The marketing plan also increased the lab’s visibility which in turn increased the demand for class orientations and room scheduling.
Korede’s marketing survey and plan was instrumental in setting the ‘ground work’ for the Writing Center’s future success.