The Communication Center – The first semester

Almost 600 students from 32 different majors had walked through the doors of and used the services of the new Communication Center, by the end of the Fall 2011 semester. To put it mildly, it has been a hectic, but heady, semester at the CommLab!

For the five Brittain Fellows who are professional tutors at the Center, (Brandy Blake, Leeann Hunter, Aron Pease, Christopher Weedman, and myself), for the two Brittain Fellows who are Assistant Directors at the Center (Lauren Curtright and Nirmal Trivedi), and for the Director of the Center (Karen Head), the semester has been a very busy, but also a very interesting one.  We all got the opportunity to be involved in making decisions about the larger issues that go into setting up a Center of this scope and size.  We also had to deal with the uncertainty of whether people would come in and use the Center, whether the systems we had put in place to deal with students and tutoring sessions would be effective, and whether we had thought of everything that could potentially go wrong…

The first half of the semester was spent trying to just get the word out about the existence of the Center. We made class presentations, distributed flyers, invited class visits to the CommLab, and did everything we could to tell people about the CommLab’s services. Our efforts paid off. The trickle of people in the first few days after the Center opened its doors at the end of September, turned into a flood. Soon, there were people waiting to see a tutor. We got busier and busier. We hired new peer tutors, new desk assistants.

If you walk into the Center on a normal day now, you are likely to see students brainstorming with a tutor, a workshop in session, or a student being given feedback on a presentation. The Commlab is a vibrant, collaborative space which students, staff, and faculty make use of on a daily basis. It is now hard to imagine that Georgia Tech actually existed without it!

As for me, working at the Communication Center and being involved in setting it up  has been one of the highlights of my time here at Georgia Tech. After the gritty and slightly depressing walls of Skiles, coming to the Communication Center at the Clough building always injects in me a quick dose of optimism.  As I walk into the shiny, new center, I am assured of having a stimulating conversation with a colleague about a world event, a fabulous student project, an interesting class assignment, or even about the long lines at Starbucks. But, most of all, I like being part of something I played a role in helping get off the ground.

This last semester, I felt that I was creating a work place, a work ethic, and a way of functioning that could form the foundation for a really great Communication center. I was part of something special;  I played a small, but significant role in creating a blue print that people many years afterwards will follow or choose to modify. While, I loved working with students at the Center and learning new things about Irish vampires or Radio Frequency Jamming, I appreciated, most of all, working with a group of fun, creative people in a space where my education and experiences were not only valued, but also, where they contributed towards the building of a unit that could, potentially, change the way Georgia Tech views and works with communication and communication practices.

My fellow tutor and Brittain Fellow, Brandy Blake echoes some of my sentiments. “What a learning experience!”, she writes.  “Working at the Communication Center involves complications that I didn’t imagine when I asked for the job–from the pitfalls of TutorTrac (the system used to log visits to the CommLab), to the difficulties of hiring people halfway through a semester, to the simple issue of needing more trashcans.  We need to market, we need to create handouts, and we need a mision statement:  I’ve learned a lot about the intricacies of new programs … and the rewards.  For example, the equipment!  The fancy, new computers, the SMART board, even the phones–I’m often secretly excited that I’m allowed to touch all this stuff.  Oh, and the people!  I’ve met so many interesting and talented students, and working with them in the CommLab is a refreshing change from the classroom, allowing me to polish my teaching techniques, to advance my own communication skills, and to nurture the needs of individuals, a reminder of why I got into teaching in the first place.

Most importantly, while all the people in the Writing and Communication Program are pretty close, working in the CommLab has increased my view of us as a supportive (if occasionally dysfunctional) family.  Perhaps it’s because my daughter Valentine is so welcomed at our staff meetings.  Perhaps it’s because the other Brittain Fellows who have come to the center have had such praise for us (and it).  Perhaps it’s because I get to work with the students of other Britts, so I get to see what assignments my co-workers are preparing and learn about their thought-processes.  Whatever it is, it feels good.”

As we look back at the end of the first semester at the Communication Center,  those of us who have been involved in its setting up,  can truly say that the experience has given us a greater insight into the way an effective academic unit can be set up. I think I speak for all of us who shared the experience that the experience has changed us subtly both as teachers, colleagues, and as researchers. At the end of the first semester of the Communication Center’s existence, we can truly say that Georgia Tech has become a more communication and student-focused place because of its presence. I am glad that I had the opportunity of being part of the team that helped make sure that the Center was up and functioning and of playing a role in helping it on its way towards being an indispensable part of the Georgia Tech experience.

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