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Learn How to Write College-Level Essays This Summer

holding pensThe Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus partners with other divisions of the university to offer summer programs for high school and college students. One of the classes slated to be offered on campus in summer 2015 is College Writing Workshop, taught by Marina Ruben. Hopkins Happenings asked Ruben to tell us more about the class. Students interested in applying and learning more about summer classes at the Montgomery County Campus can visit the summer website.

Course Description
This workshop will cover the fundamentals of expository writing in order to prepare students for college-level assignments. This will not be a lecture course; rather, students will engage in writing and editing exercises that will allow them to accumulate hands-on practice in each of the writing skills discussed. Students will learn to develop argumentative thesis statements that align with strong topic sentences, incorporate quotes and evidence smoothly and with sophistication, and engage in a thorough outlining process that will eliminate "writer's block." We will work through a "Top Ten" editing checklist for final drafts (e.g., cut repetition), practicing each skill. Students will leave the workshop with a new understanding of the practical, step-by-step process that can be used to write any college-level expository essay--and to make writing a manageable, enjoyable experience.

Hopkins Happenings: Tell me about the College Writing Workshop class. Tell me about the curriculum
Ruben: The goal of the College Writing Workshop is to help students get comfortable with the type of analytical, argument-driven writing that's expected in college. High school students enter universities with a broad range of abilities. Some have already become adept at writing thesis-driven essays and research papers, while others are new to the process.  The idea here is to bolster students' skills in an enjoyable, interactive summer class. The work we do will serve students well in any writing-related college course.

Hopkins Happenings: The ability to write is so important, even for people who don’t want to go into writing or liberal arts professions. Can you talk a little bit about why everyone – future scientists, engineers, doctors – should have a good grip on good writing?
Ruben: Writing is a skill prized in most, if not all, academic fields. Scientists, engineers and medical researchers who can write well have an advantage when presenting research, submitting papers to journals, applying for grants and interpreting data for the public. Also, the mental processes required to write clearly are useful when interpreting other people's writing and when trying to construct logical arguments verbally.

Hopkins Happenings: What makes a good writer?
Ruben: That's a big question.  If we're talking about writing in general, what's "good" is really a matter of personal preference. You might like well-crafted narrative nonfiction; your friends might like abbreviated, jokey Tweets; your children might like rhyming picture books. That said, if we're talking about what makes a successful writing for the purposes of doing well in college classes, it's important to have a handle on proper grammar, mechanics and logical flow. And if you're aiming to excel in classes that require argument-based writing, you'll also want to master the process of extracting, organizing, and expressing evidence from literature and historical documents, among other sources.  (We'll cover these skills in the workshop, of course.)

Hopkins Happenings: What do you hope students learn?
Ruben: I hope students will leave the workshop with a new understanding of the practical, step-by-step process that can be used to write any college-level expository essay -- and for them to see writing as a manageable, enjoyable experience.

Hopkins Happenings: Describe the class format.
Ruben: This will not be a lecture course--to be honest, I had my fill of those during my own time as an undergraduate!  Instead, we'll engage in writing and editing exercises that provide hands-on writing and editing practice. 

Hopkins Happenings: I understand that you have JHU connections?
Ruben: I attended JHU as an undergraduate and graduate student. I was a Bloomberg Scholar in the Class of 2004, majoring in writing seminars, and I received the "Outstanding Graduate" award when I completed my M.A. in Writing in 2008. Since 2005, I have taught and tutored many subjects, with a focus on writing, in Maryland and in Washington, D.C.  I've spent the past seven years at Sidwell Friends School, where I work as the Upper School's Writing Support Teacher.

Hopkins Happenings: Anything else you would like to add?
Ruben: I'm a strong believer in individualizing education as much as possible.  I'm hoping to communicate with enrolled students by e-mail before classes start to get a better idea of their experience, education, and academic fields, for the purpose of adapting the curriculum to best fit their needs and interests.  Prospective students are also welcome to get in touch with me with questions.  My e-mail address is

CATEGORY: Academics, K-12 Outreach