On Writing . . .

ADVICE TO WRITERS By Billy Collins (U.S. Poet Laureate, 2001-2003)

Even if it keeps you up all night, wash down the walls and scrub the floor of your study before composing a syllable.

Clean the place as if the Pope were on his way. Spotlessness is the niece of inspiration.

The more you clean, the more brilliant your writing will be, so do not hesitate to take to the open fields to scour the undersides of rocks or swab in the dark forest upper branches, nests full of eggs.

When you find your way back home and stow the sponges and brushes under the sink, you will behold in the light of dawn the immaculate altar of your desk, a clean surface in the middle of a clean world.

From a small vase, sparkling blue, lift a yellow pencil, the sharpest of the bouquet, and cover pages with tiny sentences like long rows of devoted ants that followed you in from the woods. – Reprinted from The Apple That Astonished Paris, by Billy Collins (The University of Arkansas Press); 1988.

Is Billy Collins talking about clearing your mind to make way for new ideas? Is he talking about clearing your desk before lifting the “yellow pencil?” I also think he might be talking about the rituals that we sometimes do before writing, i.e., I must clean/do/tend to/finish before I sit down to write. And then, of course, the day is gone.

Since I joined the Department of Professional and Liberal Studies about three years ago, I have been teaching courses that have strong components of writing. In PLS 201 Pro-Seminar in Critical Skills, students write in a variety of formats, which are the following: an introduction using a bio-poem (http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/lesson_images/lesson398/biopoem.pdf), a narrative essay, an analysis of a chapter in a text, and an argument essay that is research-based. In PLS 399 Senior Thesis, students develop a topic of interest and a strong thesis, review the relevant research literature, and write a paper that could be 20-25 pages in length. For several years, I taught doctoral students in the educational leadership department in the College of Education, and chaired many dissertation committees. Dissertations vary in length but are usually over 100 pages.

Studying for my initial career did not lead me easily to writing. I was trained as a speech and language pathologist (B.A. and M.A. degrees) and worked with children and adults who had various problems with speech and language: articulation (sounds), receptive and expressive language, stuttering, voice issues, and swallowing disorders. So, my dominant skill was definitely auditory – my “ear” was well trained to evaluate, diagnose, and treat such disorders. Here is a description of what Speech-Language Pathologists do and where they work:  http://www.asha.org/careers/professions/slp.htm.

It was not until I entered a PhD program in educational leadership that I began to write more – coursework demanded many and longer papers. To receive the doctoral degree, one must complete a dissertation which is a lengthy process of researching and writing. Professors would most likely say that the dissertation was the longest “paper” they have written, and in many cases, the dissertation becomes at least one published article and sometimes a book. Usually a PhD candidate has a committee composed of professors who read and critique the dissertation in its many stages. The PhD candidate must be open to constructive criticism and willing to make changes based on advice from committee members.

There are lots of books on the market that offer advice to writers, essentially pointing out what to do and what not to do. One book with lots of good pointers is A Writer’s Reference (Hacker & Sommers, 7th edition). Reading about these pointers is one thing, but how do you apply them to actually write? William Zinsser wrote the book, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction. In an essay about how he has kept writing well up-to-date for 35 years, Zinsser said that if writing is learned by imitation, he wants his students to imitate the best – hence, his reason for writing a book about writing. In the essay, Zinsser discussed how he evolved his own writing with each new edition of his book. He listened to his readers from book tours which began in colleges and universities, and read books written by a variety of authors (men and women based in the U.S. and abroad).

Summing up, I offer a few recommendations to all those in our academic community who need and want to write (including myself).

  • Read, read, read good writing (and journal about what you like, what captivates you, how the author draws you in)
  • Read a variety of authors – men and women from the U.S. and other countries
  •  Find a good time of day (or night) that works well for concentrated writing of at least an hour, and try to keep that time as your writing time
  • Clear your mind and lessen your distractions – don’t check email or text messages during your writing time!
  • Use those “how to” books and get help from RU’s Writing Center
  • Pick a topic to write about that is interesting to you
  • Be open to those who critique your writing
  • Enjoy the process and products of your writing

Submitted by: Susan Katz, PhD, Associate Professor, skatz@roosevelt.edu



Paralegal Studies Instructor Advocates for Students with Special Needs and offers new course in Special Education Law

The Paralegal Studies Program faculty members are a diverse group of legal professionals. A great example is Sande Shamash, Director of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago’s Legal Advocacy Program (run through Jewish Child and Family Services) which has provided affordable Special Education legal services to thousands of families for more than 20 years. Shamash has devoted his career to working with children and families.  He started in 1993 as an Assistant Cook County Public Guardian and Attorney, successfully representing over 800 children alleged to have been abused or neglected.  Since then he has worked for Illinois Department of Public Aid in various capacities, including Chief Judge. He has also served as the first ever Executive Director of the Tourette Syndrome Association of Illinois, Inc.  Shamash joined the Paralegal Studies Program in 1996 and taught Commercial Law for several years. He also serves as a member of the program’s advisory board. Shamash is bringing his expertise in special education law to the program with a new course to be offered in Spring 2014, LAWA L34/PARA 334 Introduction to Special Education Law.

In his current position with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Shamash along with staff attorney, Marissa LaVette, advocate for students with special needs in local schools.  Most of their special education cases involve getting school districts to provide adequate education for students with special needs. The specialized field of Special Education law can be expensive.  “Thanks to JUF and JCFS, we’re one of the very few programs I know of that can work with low-income families,” said Shamash.  “Our services aren’t free, but we use a sliding scale and might charge a client anywhere from five dollars an hour to $350 per hour. “ According to Shamash, at a full rate, fees for a family could approach $50,000-$100,000 if a case has to go to a hearing. “It’s nice to be able to do my job for the client and know that fees won’t preclude us from helping,” said Shamash.

Shamash’s new Introduction to Special Education Law course is geared towards giving paralegal students an overview of special education law and practice, and the unique role paralegals can play in this exciting field. Shamash finds that special education is a growing and underserved area of law. It is derived from a mix of federal and state law, the United States Constitution, statutes, regulations, administrative procedures, and state and federal judicial decisions.  In the new course, students will learn the core concept of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, that requires a “Free and Appropriate Public Education” in the “Least Restrictive Environment.” They will learn how to develop an individualized education program (IEP). In addition, students will study how Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a civil rights law, can be used to protect all students and their family against discrimination in education. Students will become familiar with the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) and how it establishes educational rights. Finally, students will learn about the importance of paralegals in special education law and their ability to both participate in and impact cases. “Special education law is one of my passions. I am excited to be teaching the new Introduction to Special Education Law course because I can share that passion and knowledge about this unique and important area of law with students and soon to be paralegals, ” said Shamash.

Leading the Legal Advocacy Center's efforts to represent students with special needs are attorneys Sande Shamash (l) and Marissa LaVette.

Leading the Legal Advocacy Center’s efforts to represent students with special needs are attorneys Sande Shamash (l) and Marissa LaVette.

SUST Symposium on Student Research / Internship Experiences on Oct 17

Please join the Sustainability Studies Program at Roosevelt University next week for a special afternoon symposium on Thursday, Oct. 17th, from 4-5:30pm in RU’s LEED Gold-certified Wabash Building at 425 S. Wabash Ave. in downtown Chicago (room 1016). Three College of Professional Studies students in Roosevelt’s SUST program will share their recent internship and research fellowship experiences in a forum that is open to all RU students, faculty, and staff as well as the general public.

Come join us to learn about and celebrate these students’ work! This event is free — but kindly RSVP to SUST Program Director Mike Bryson (mbryson@roosevelt.edu) your plans to attend. Hope to see you there!

For more details (and photos!), check out this post on the SUST at RU blog.

RU Hosts Great Lakes Bioneers Conference on Nov 1-3

The first weekend in November, RU will host a major event: Great Lakes Bioneers environmental sustainability conference at Roosevelt University‘s Chicago Campus. For three exciting days, Nov 1-3, participants will have the opportunity to join international, national and local visionaries in a program of presentations and interactive workshops interwoven with music, drama, dance, poetry and celebration. All RU students, faculty, and staff are invited to attend and participate in this special event.

Save the date GLs Bioneers 2013 at RUThe conference theme, Creating Resilient Communities, will bring together leading innovators from all walks of life to exchange ideas, build networks and experience the power of visions guided by a philosophy that the responses to our city’s most significant environmental, social and economic challenges must be in harmony with the wisdom and proven design of natural systems.

GLs Bioneers logo

Event Highlights

  • Keynotes by leaders in the environmental and social justice movements, including David Orr and Sandra Steingraber (on Friday Nov. 1), two leading voices of sustainability and environmental activism/education.
  • Professional Development workshops on food, water, waste, shelter, climate, and community using the World Café model.
  • Empowering, interactive panels and workshops.
  • Inspiring music, poetry and dance.
  • Youth-related workshops and activities.
  • Saturday Concert by the Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Choir.
  • Exhibit Hall showcasing Chicago’s change makers.

Roosevelt students and faculty are eligible for special registration discounts. Contact SUST program director Mike Bryson (mbryson@roosevelt.edu) for special discount registration code, then visit the conference registration site. You can also volunteer for the conference to gain free admission that day!