A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Writing Program Co-Director Engages Students in Rhetorical Traditions

September 22, 2014

Like many of UC Merced's founders, Anne Zanzucchi found the prospect of building a new campus compelling. Specifically, she wanted to be part of the group developing an independent writing program, and she liked the idea of working with a diverse group of students.

"None of what we created could have happened without Robert Ochsner’s leadership, creativity and tenacity," said Zanzucchi, who now co-directs the Merritt Writing Program with him.

Before the campus opened, Zanzucchi and her husband would bike to the security gate and chat with the guard about local wildlife on the construction site, which included mountain lions, gopher snakes and raccoons.

"For those of us who started the campus, we like to joke about having known each other before there was grass on the ground at UC Merced," she said. "It was a frontier experience!"

Here is a bit more about Zanzucchi and her role on campus. 

What made you interested in teaching writing? What do you do as a lecturer with potential security of employment?

Those of us who teach writing are invested in students as producers of knowledge. There is nothing more rewarding than introducing students to concepts of language and seeing them develop independent projects or become conversant in a rhetorical tradition.

My career began with the founding of UC Merced, such that my pedagogy, research agenda and service commitments have been closely tied to this institutional mission and history. My faculty identity is focused on teaching within a research context.

It is worth emphasizing that teaching goes beyond the classroom, much as that is my favorite place to be. As a Merritt Writing Program administrator, I mentor faculty and graduate students; when I teach it is action research. In sum, I find my responsibilities inseparable from one another. My role is best described as a “professor of the practice.” 

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

It goes without saying that there is nothing more rewarding than working with UC Merced students, who have incredible ambitions, creativity and grit. I am also fortunate to work with some of the finest faculty members on campus, Unit 18 writing lecturers.

MWP faculty members provide frequent, expert feedback on writing, contribute extensively to the university and local community, and develop integrative writing curricula related to critical thinking, rhetorical traditions and disciplinary communication.

Finally, our ability to work with more than 3,000 undergraduates a year is possible because of the incredible dedication and talent of our two MWP staff members, Linda Hart Tolley, curriculum analyst, and Sandra Mora, academic personnel. 

What new initiatives/projects/plans are you looking forward to this year?

A new and critical initiative is piloting a Writing Center with the UC Merced Library, distinctively focused on research-writing outcomes. This initiative serves Dream Act students (thanks to UCOP funding) as well as writing-intensive courses more broadly.

We are developing a strategic plan that includes partnering with other writing-intensive disciplines and developing graduate-level initiatives, particularly with specialization in STEM fields and international-student language needs. We will continue to work with the Senate and administration on a strategic plan that reflects institutional priorities in these areas. 

What are some of the biggest challenges in your work and how do you overcome them?

Maintaining high-quality undergraduate education is an institutional investment, both in terms of mission and resources. The MWP is primarily an undergraduate program with 90 percent of our focus on providing general education programming. This is a distinctive identity at a research university and a critical area of expertise. We hope to be included in 2020 strategic academic focusing, as part of maintaining strong undergraduate outcomes in a research university context. 

Tell us something about yourself that most people on campus wouldn’t know.

I have a secret ambition to develop a farm-to-table co-op restaurant, featuring international vegetarian cuisine (similar to Moosewood in Ithaca). We are talking seared Moroccan tofu, pumpkin dal soup, almond torte ... the works! During "off hours" the restaurant would share space for community cooking lessons and sponsor a "kids can cook" brunch on weekends.