Grapples and Oranges Featured Teacher

apple orange spliced togetherThe Grapples and Oranges Featured Teacher is an initiative created by Writing Center Fellows to thank Pitzer College professors for their dedication to teaching and mentoring writers on campus. These faculty have helped students produce their best work by offering constructive feedback and introducing new ways of writing in the disciplines.

  • April 2017 - Professor Barbara Junisbai

    Barbara JunisbaiBarbara Junisbai, assistant professor of organizational studies, was selected as the Writing Center’s fourth Grapples and Oranges Featured Teacher for encouraging student writing with thorough and personalized feedback. Professor Junisbai encourages students to insert their voices into the discourse while pushing them to create complex and intriguing theses and essays. She is a constant and enthusiastic support and aid to students throughout the writing process.

    Interview with Professor Junisbai (conducted by Divya Bambawale ’17)

    If you weren’t a professor today, what would you be?

     If I could do anything at all, I would travel around the world learning languages and consulting on projects related to governance, civil society, and democracy.  Part of the reason why I like being a professor is the freedom to travel and do research abroad and to integrate that experience into my courses.  I feel incredibly lucky to be a professor; it suits my dreams and my goals better than anything else I can think of.  When I am not teaching, traveling, and writing, I can usually be found at home with my kids and working in my garden.  So one of my passions seems to be going to far away places and immersing myself in something new, while another is staying at home and immersing myself in the familiar.

    What was a pivotal moment in your development as a writer?

    As long as I can remember I have been the kind of person who writes better than they speak. I was never good at speaking off the cuff, and it would take me a very long time to formulate my thoughts.  As I was growing up, I enjoyed writing because it gave me the chance to sit down and really think about what I wanted to say.  It gave me that space.  But I was not very confident in my own voice; I often struggled with asserting my own view, even in college… and—I hate to admit it—even in graduate school.  A pivotal moment for me was an assigned paper in my first semester of grad school. The prompt was something along the lines of, “What place do values have in political science?” We had previously read scholars who argued social scientists need to be value neutral and other scholars who argued that everything has value and everything you do comes out of that value. For my paper, I synthesized the two viewpoints, came up with pros and cons, and gave as many examples as I could.  I started writing really early and was proud of the paper that I turned in to my professor. When I got it my back, there was one note at the top of the first page: “It’s clear that you really know what scholars have said about this topic…but what isn’t as clear is your position.  What do you have to say?” I was completely taken aback.  I realized that I was trying to use others’ voices to make my own argument.  This was because in high school and college I had been trained to write in this way.  I think many of us are.  And so today in my courses, I emphasize that students should develop their own voice and frame their writing as a way to contribute something all their own.  To think of writing as a way to add to an ongoing conversation that is taking place among many different voices, specialists and non-specialists alike.

    What writing advice would you give your undergrad self?

    I would tell my undergrad to take risks, which is something my undergrad self was very uncomfortable doing.  To underscore the value of risk taking, I ask students write a “version 1,” to use that version 1 to try out their ideas in a safe space, and to then solicit constructive feedback from their peers and me before writing a “version 2”… or a “version 3” if needed.  I would also tell my undergrad self to talk over my ideas for papers with friends and peers.  Talk and write, write and talk.  And ask someone I trust and value to read my early draft.  The process of talking about ideas, taking a first stab at putting them to paper, getting feedback, and rewriting is so helpful.  Writing is all about communicating something you think is interesting or worth noting to others—taking your audience seriously and engaging with them.  The final thing I’d tell my undergrad self is to draw out or diagram my argument on paper.  Actually, I practice this today as a writer and a teacher. A picture or flowchart of what I want to say with key phrases is incredibly clarifying.

    What is your writing process?

    My first step is finding a question. In the region of world I work in – post-Soviet countries – I constantly come across something I observe that piques my curiosity.  As I ask my question, I find out what others who are interested in the issue have said about it.  In other words, I use the library databases, the internet, conference proceedings, etc. so I get a sense of the different ways that what I am interested in has been studied.  Maybe I find an ongoing debate about how to answer the question. And, if all goes well, maybe my study will add something new or help us see the question (and possible answers) in a different way.

    Then I start writing.  As I mentioned earlier, sometimes I don’t feel as confident in my position or voice as I probably should be.  One way I have found helpful in getting starting with my writing is to distance myself from what I am studying.  I sometimes do this by positioning myself as the translator of the data I have collected. I try to find patterns in my data and describe or record those patterns to express what is interesting about those patterns—or the ways that the data surprise us or challenge expectations. I spend some time talking to my immediate colleagues, family, and friends about my ideas and interpretations. They usually mention things that relate to my research; my ideas might remind them of other ideas they’ve come across, whether in a recently published book, on the news, or even a TV show they really like. At this point, I am usually feeling more confident in what I am writing about, and my voice comes out on its own accord.  I no longer feel as though I am translating what I’ve observed and putting it to paper.  I am adding my take on what I find, offering possible explanations and alternatives.  I suppose it’s a kind of trick I play on myself to help me find my voice each time I write.  First, I think of myself as a dispassionate observer, and that gives me a kind of boost, enough to then own the writing and claim it as mine.

    What’s your favorite writing snack?

    Peanut butter and Trader Joes Milk chocolate. I just break off a chunk of chocolate and use it to scoop out peanut butter. Brain food, comfort food, and a boost of energy all in one.

  • November 2016 - Professor Will Barndt

    Prof Will BrandtProfessor Will Barndt, professor of political studies, was selected as the Writing Center’s third Grapples & Oranges Featured Teacher for his commitment to encouraging students to write with clarity and courage. He is known for prompting students to think and write critically and for his accessibility in and out of the classroom.

    Interview with Professor Brandt (conducted by Jordan Jenkins ’17)

    1. If you weren’t a professor today, what would you be?

    Well, there was a period when I thought I wanted to work for the National Park Service. But of course I was always interested in politics.  So I can imagine a career that would have run through Pennsylvanian state politics. After spending a year in DC after college, I knew I didn’t want to work in Washington!   Lately, law has been on my mind. My mom was a social worker who went back to law school when I was growing up. After she finished, she opened a small practice in our hometown.  She’s now retiring and laying down her practice, which makes me feel that I might have abdicated my responsibility by not following in her footsteps and becoming a lawyer.  Had I done so, I might be in a position to keep her practice going today. All that said, I decided while I was still in college that what I really wanted was to teach and write about politics in a liberal arts college.  So I’m very happy to be at Pitzer!

    2. What was a pivotal moment in your development as a writer?

    That’s easy. I was a freshman in college and it was my first semester. I had this professor named Guilain Denoeux and I had turned in one of my first major papers; it was about the Nicaraguan Revolution. When I got it back, Professor Denoeux had just ripped it apart. I mean, I couldn’t see my own words for all the red ink he had spilled on the page!  So I went in to talk with him and he said, “There are so many things to work on in this paper. But let’s start here: pick any sentence you want. I will take at least one word out of any sentence you have written.” So I picked a sentence that I thought was about as short as it could be and he not only cut it in half, but showed me how in doing so we could clarify what exactly I was trying to get at. Working with Denoeux on my writing—he became my advisor for all four years of college—taught me that economy of language is one of the most important steps towards becoming a good writer.  Crafting precise and careful sentences forces us to sharpen our ideas and be as clear as possible about what we mean.

    3. What writing advice (or other advice) would you give your undergrad self?

    Hmmm…   I have three things:

    First: Find somewhere to write where you won’t be interrupted for a few hours. Writing takes time and you need to go somewhere without a cell phone and without internet access.  Somewhere it’s just you and the page.

    Second: Remember that bulls****ing is a defense mechanism.  I think most people who resort to bull**** (in class, in writing, in life) are really worried deep down that they don’t have anything valuable to say.  But you do!   You don’t need to bull****!   Have confidence in your own thinking!

    Third:  One of the most frustrating questions people ask college students is, “what do you want to be after you finish college?”  This is always the wrong question to ask, and you shouldn’t worry about answering it directly.  Instead try to answer the following two questions about work after college: 1. What tasks do I actually want to do when I get up every morning? And 2. Where in the world do I want to live after I graduate?  Start with these two questions, and you’ll have a much better chance of finding meaningful work after you graduate.

    4. What’s your writing process?

    I never start with a computer. I always begin with paper and pencil.  And I basically just write lists of words down on a page with different arrows connecting them.  That kind of work helps me think through what’s most important to the ideas I’m developing.  My next step is almost always outlining. I’m an irrepressible outliner!  Outlining really helps me to combine my initially scattered ideas into a clearer and more organized argument.  Based on my outline, I’ll write a rough draft (in sections, never from start to finish in one shot).  I then slowly work my way back through it, editing section by section, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence to make sure that my argument is both internally consistent and accessible to my readers. This editing always changes the paper dramatically. I often find myself moving sections of the paper around a lot.  It’s rare that my initial outline reflects the actual organization of the paper when I’m finished.   That’s why I write my introductions last.

    5. What’s your favorite writing snack?

    My pencils. I’m serious. I gnaw on my pens and pencils when I write. It’s gross, I know.  I probably have a pound of graphite in my stomach.  That can’t be healthy….  I also drink a lot of seltzer, so maybe that helps.

  • April 2016 - Professor Harmony O'Rourke

    Harmony O RourkeProfessor Harmony O’Rourke was selected as the Writing Center’s second Grapples and Oranges Featured Teacher for her commitment to mentoring and her encouragement of writing in the humanities. Writing Center Fellows wanted to thank her for being approachable and supportive inside and outside of the classroom. Seniors who applied for a Fulbright research grant worked closely with her as she helped them craft persuasive proposals last fall. Harmony encourages her students to get off their computers and pre-write with a pen and paper!

    –The Pitzer Writing Center Outreach Committee

    Divya Bambawale ’17, Amelia Haselkorn ’16, Jordan Jenkins ’17, Anjuli Peters ’18, & Tessa Tweet ’16

    Interview with Professor O’Rourke (Conducted by Tessa Tweet ’16)

    1. If you weren’t a professor today, what would you be?

    I thought about immigration law because I have friends (from Cameroon, for example), who have been through the asylum process and had a hard time getting their families together. It’s awful and there are a lot of lawyers who prey on the fact that many immigrants don’t have good knowledge of our legal system. Yet in hindsight, I think there were other paths, too. I was actually vocally trained in college. While earning my PhD and then raising my family and working towards get tenure (which I achieved this year!) I’m now thinking, where did the singing and the music go? I’m trying to revive that. I’ll be the singing professor. [laughs]

    2. What was a pivotal moment in your development as a writer?

    This is hard because I feel like I have had multiple pivotal moments—this is where the historian always goes for the complex answer instead of one thing.  I took a year off after high school and then I went to college and we didn’t have the term “first generation” back then but that was me. I was really nervous and so focused. I struggled to get an A-range grade in my political theory class and for the final paper the professor said we could basically do anything we wanted. I started to realize I really loved history so I took this example of the Maji Maji Rebellion in Tanzania and applied a Marxist lens to my analysis. It was my first semester in college and I was like, I’ll see what happens! The professor loved it and I think I learned early on that it is really important to take risks and be creative with the kinds of connections you are making.

    3.  What writing advice (or other advice) would you give your undergrad self?

    You always improve your writing. That never ends. Don’t feel like you have to get it perfect. I think I was really concerned about being perfect when I was an undergraduate and I was really hard on myself. So I would have told myself to calm down.

    4. What’s your writing process?

    I think students underestimate the importance of pre-writing. Pre-writing is where I start writing. I’m a very messy thinker. I’m not linear and that’s why history is so awesome. So much of my writing starts with a blank sheet of paper and a pen and brainstorming. So I encourage my students to get off their computers. I think there is something really constricting about a Word document and it’s important to have a flexible mind.

    5. What’s your favorite writing snack?

    I would say instead of a favorite snack, I think I need a space to write. One of the first pieces of advice I give my students is when nine out of ten say they work in their room I say they need to get out of their dorm.

  • December 2015 - Professor Brian Keeley


    Brian KeeleyProfessor Brian Keeley was selected as the inaugural member of the Writing Center’s Grapples and Oranges Featured Teacher acknowledgement for his commitment to developing students’ writing in philosophy. He is known for giving encouraging but realistic feedback to his students. A good paper typically receives a sassy comment or two. He is also extraordinarily accessible and open to discussing ideas at any stage of the writing process.

    To ensure he writes not only with style but in style, he will soon be the proud (we hope) recipient of a goofy writing t-shirt designed by us.

    –The Pitzer Writing Center Outreach Committee

    Divya Bambawale ’17, Amelia Haselkorn ’16, Jordan Jenkins ’17, Anjuli Peters ’18, & Tessa Tweet ’16


    Interview with Professor Keeley (Conducted by Amelia Haselkorn ’16)

    1. If you weren’t a professor today, what would you be?

    I’ve always had a plan B. The last plan B before becoming a professor was becoming a research scientist since I was working in an autism laboratory. If not philosophy grad school, I considered vet school.

    1. What was a pivotal moment in your development as a writer?

    At the end of my first year, I had a term paper due in one of my philosophy classes. I re-wrote the paper six times and the final paper was extremely different from the one I started with. Through that process my professor taught me how to write a philosophy paper. He read it every time. Intensely working with someone one-on-one showed me how all the pieces fit together.

    1. What writing advice would you give your undergrad self?

    Specifically on writing, I’ve learned that for me, it takes a long time to get to a final draft. Ninety percent of writing is re-writing, but that means you need to get that first draft done early.

    1. What’s your writing process?

    A big part of the process is clearing a mental space to do the writing—a whole day or a whole weekend to do the first draft. I find it really hard to write when I have emails, other work, laundry, etc….

    1. How do you go about teaching writing to your students?

    I don’t have any magic formula. I have many handouts that I’ve developed, but I learn new things all the time. Communicating about the paper using a meta-process is something that I’m currently trying to implement with my students.

    1. What’s your favorite writing snack?

    I don’t know if I have a favorite writing snack. It’s not a snack, but the getting up and walking around–getting that sensory input that I need is almost like a snack! I also like to listen to certain kinds of music—music without lyrics.