Client-Based Writing Program is preparing students to write professionally in the workplace.
For mechanical engineering major Eric Roper, it’s fair to say that writing was not one of his favorite subjects. But as a senior trying to prepare himself for a career that involves writing reports and procedures, he needed to have a basic skill set under his belt.
That’s where professor Ashley Cowden’s technical writing class last fall came into play. A part of Clemson’s Client-Based Writing Program, the class provided Roper the opportunity to experience writing and formatting technical documents in a real-life setting, while gaining the knowledge that would prepare him for future technical writing projects he may encounter in the workforce.
Writing class+local client=real-world experience
Having been recently ranked among the top 10 in U.S.News & World Report’s list of schools with the highest percentage of students holding internships or co-op positions, Clemson takes pride in offering programs and opportunities to provide students with this type of real-world experience.
The Client-Based Writing Program pairs business and technical writing classes with local clients, such as nonprofit organizations, public schools, corporations and University departments, that need communication deliverables. In teams, students complete deliverables that range from white papers and research reports to brochures, instruction manuals and multimedia presentations.
Established in 2003, the program has garnered impressive statistics. More than 4,361 students in more than 220 sections of business and technical writing have partnered with clients, and more than 30 writing faculty and 176 clients from the campus and community have participated in the program.
Cowden, director of the program, has witnessed its development since the beginning.
“We started out doing a lot of environmental projects and sustainability, because that’s where a lot of the funding was and we felt very passionate about that,” she said.
Since then, the program has branched out in terms of the clients and projects that it undertakes, developing a strong reputation and a long list of clients ranging from Clemson Dining Services to Anderson Adult Education and Habitat for Humanity.
Solving real problems
Richard Gaines, director of Anderson Adult Education Center, has been working with professor Philip Randall’s classes for the past three years, and admires the creativity and commitment displayed through each project and semester. The classes have assisted with a variety of projects, including marketing efforts, boosting morale of students and faculty through building enhancements and surveys, communicating GED requirements and research.
“It’s been motivating for our students and staff to see the hard work and dedication of the University students,” Gaines said. “Beyond the obvious benefits, there are countless rewards that both groups experience by being challenged and inspired by each other.”
A goal of Randall’s is to enable students to excel in business writing while using their talents to positively impact society by solving real problems in the real world.
“Helping people get more education so they can qualify for better jobs is helping solve a very big problem,” Randall said. “It can change life for a person or even an entire family. So the work that Clemson students are doing for adult ed is very important.”
Moving students toward confident communicating
In addition to teaching and recruiting clients to participate in the program, Cowden is responsible for recruiting faculty members like Randall and orienting them to an approach unlike most of their other classes. Classes are very much student-centered, as class members work directly with clients. And faculty members collaborate with their students in a variety of ways throughout the process.
“In the beginning of the semester,” Cowden said, “we’re teaching a lot of the theory, how to perform good audience analysis, what a good proposal sounds like, how to do research, and so on.” Once the class moves forward in the process of actively working with a client, the professors direct students’ attention to the client when they have questions.
And while Cowden and other faculty members don’t tell students how to solve problems, they do work to guide them toward finding a solution.
“The client comes and says, ‘Here’s my problem, and here’s what I think I need.’ I know in my head how I would do it, and I try to ask students questions to help them get there, but I try to let them figure that out on their own,” she said.
And watching them succeed is especially rewarding, according to Cowden and Randall.
“Watching these students do amazing things for a client is exciting,” Randall said. “I often think, ‘I get to do this!’ I find it that enjoyable. It’s the best way to teach, in my opinion.”
Cowden views the program as one of the more unique experiences offered at Clemson.
“You have to meet real client expectations, and it’s not just for a grade,” Cowden said. “These skills give our students more confidence to be able to ask tough questions, give a client feedback, and feel more confident in their communication ability.”
Building résumés while building character
As the program enters its tenth year, it exhibits the potential for growth in the midst of its success. Cowden would like to expand the program across campus into a wider variety of courses. That has already begun “in little pockets,” she said, including some graduate classes. “I would also love to have more classes collaborating on projects, like having a business writing and marketing class working together.”
In all its efforts, the Client-Based Program is motivating business and technical majors to develop writing skills that will be useful in their careers. And with these new skills, students are building résumés while also building character through using their knowledge for the betterment of the Clemson community and surrounding areas.
“The IPTAY project we worked on not only gave me experience in writing technical documents, but it also gave me a chance to give back to the University,” Roper said. “And the experience will definitely benefit me in my career, because it’s given me an effective approach for writing technical reports and procedures.”
In addition to on-campus clients, the Client-Based Writing Program has worked with the following off-campus organizations:
AMECO division of Fluor Corp.
American Haitian Project
Anderson County Board of Education
Anderson County Department of Health and Environmental Control
Anderson County Museum
Anderson County Transportation
Anderson Emergency Food Bank
Anderson Free Clinic
Anderson-Oconee Speech and Hearing Clinic
Anderson Services Association
Anderson Sunshine House
Betty Griffin House
Cancer Association of Anderson
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association
City of Clemson
Clemson Child Development Center
Clemson Elementary School
Code Elementary School
Concerned Citizens for Animals
Dining for Women
Foothills Conservancy for the Performing Arts
Frazee Dream Center
Gignilliat Park Academy
Greenville County Library
Greenville Humane Society
Habitat for Humanity
Helping Hands of Clemson
Keep America Beautiful
Littlejohn Community Center
McCants Middle School
Michelin Tire Co. Research and Development
Oconee County Foster Parent Association
Oconee County Track Team
Pendleton Historic Foundation
Pickens County YMCA
South Carolina Urban and Community Forestry Program
United Way of Pickens County
Upstate South Carolina Red Cross
We Stand for Kids