SMC's English 100 Focuses on Community Engagement

Assistant Professor Elisa FindlayThe typical English 100 class focuses on persuasive writing or article writing, but Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Composition Elisa Findlay’s English 100 course invites students to complete professional writing projects for local nonprofit organizations (NPOs). This links directly to Saint Mary’s Lasallian mission of promoting social justice and community engagement. 

“In English 100, students have the opportunity to practice writing collaboratively to gain competency in genres of professional writing that they likely have not encountered before, and to receive feedback from reviewers that are not assessing their writing in order to assign it a grade but to improve its utility, its alignment with a larger project and purpose,” said Findlay. “What makes this experience even more rewarding is that students are also filling a need for a local nonprofit organization that is committed to bettering the communities we live in, in real and tangible ways. Students have the opportunity to produce writing that will be used to make a real impact. ”

Before students partner with a local nonprofit, Findlay explained, the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action (CILSA) works with the instructor to find local organizations that may benefit from the writing support of English 100 students. This coming term, partnerships include the Hidden Genius Project, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, Alameda Point Collaborative, and Saint Mary’s Center. After these partnerships are established, representatives from those nonprofits visit the class in the early weeks of the semester to talk about their nonprofit’s mission and needs, particularly the writing projects students will work on with them.

Projects may include grant proposals, newsletters, or fundraising campaigns. Students then rank their level of interest in working with each nonprofit. Findlay stated that ultimately, “I do try my best to honor the students’ preferences as well as the needs of the NPO.”

Mark Molz ’21, an English 100 student in spring 2020, partnered with Saint Mary’s Center in Oakland, which provides services such as counseling, shelter, advocacy, and social support to at-risk seniors and preschoolers in Oakland. “Being able to work with them for the semester was eye-opening, powerful, and helped me understand how to project other individuals' voices in my writing,” Molz said “This time, now more than ever, is when organizations’ work, like the Saint Mary’s Center, is very important for the community, and to be given the opportunity to have worked with them and show that through our writing was very powerful. 

“When writing for nonprofit organizations like the Saint Mary’s Center,” Molz continued, “it is critical [to adapt] to the syntax they use and to be aware of person-first language, which is something our boss, Janny, stressed during our work with her. It has truly been beneficial to my writing…. The class taught me how to be more mindful when writing and to be more conscious of the work nonprofits and social organizations are doing for our communities.”

Students who took English 100 in spring 2020 were heavily impacted by the pandemic, as some of the nonprofit partnerships were unable to transfer to an all-online format. For the coming spring 2021 course, all partnerships have been established with the understanding that projects will be completed remotely. 

For more information on English 100, visit Saint Mary's English Dept. here.