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Retirements - Joan Graham

Submitted by Arts & Sciences Web Team on November 3, 2014 - 12:33pm
Joan Graham
Joan Graham

Joan Graham created the English Department’s Interdisciplinary Writing Program (IWP) in the mid-1970s when she was a graduate student. In a time when composition courses typically asked students to write a paper a week about themselves and their opinions, Joan’s program linked writing courses to lecture courses in the disciplines, asking students to draft and revise papers that were grounded in the disciplinary contexts of those courses.  

Joan retires this year, so we honor what she has given us.

The learning of tens of thousands of undergraduates has been shaped by IWP classes.  Both local and national research suggests that IWP was a powerful experience for those students.  Upon hearing of Joan’s retirement, one of them wrote to me:

If there is one skill that has consistently defined my career path, it is the ability to write, and it was the IWP that provided me with not only the tools but also the passion to write. I look back on the IWP and what it gave me as one of the most rewarding chapters of my undergraduate education. Mark Draper, ’91, Director of Global Public Affairs, Coloplast A/S, Denmark

In addition, hundreds of graduate students from English and other disciplines have taught in the IWP and have taken that experience out into the world.  In the words of two of them:

Joan taught me how to teach, how to think, how to conduct myself in academic life. I have thought of her at every key moment in my development as a teacher and program director. Her enthusiasm and passion for those moments when a discipline’s mode of thought becomes visible and communicable! – those will never leave me. Dr. Martha Koehler, Associate Professor, English, University of Pittsburgh

Joan offered me intellectual training that has enabled and informed everything I’ve done professionally since then. Dr. Kim Johnson-Bogart, Senior Director, UW Corporate and Foundation Relations

The IWP has also contributed to the work of countless faculty on the UW campus who taught courses linked to IWP courses. As one of them said:

What I have valued most about Joan Graham was how she went beyond the teaching of her course, which was linked to mine. Often she attended my meetings with TAs and spoke directly to them about how to help students get beyond the technical aspects of writing and develop full-blown expressions of their thoughts. Dr. Joel Migdal, Professor of International Studies, Jackson School of International Studies

Finally, faculty and administrators across the country for whom Joan has served as a consultant, colleague, and friend have been influenced by Joan’s work. In the words of one of those colleagues, the author of four books and more than 50 articles on writing:

The IWP “linked course” model Joan pioneered continues to be widely influential. No one has a more deft touch in designing assignments and teaching strategies for improving students’ writing and, at the same time, improving students’ learning in some field. I have always referred to her as my spiritual mentor. Dr. David Russell, Professor, English, Iowa State University

On a personal note, nothing I have accomplished at the UW would have been possible without my years teaching in IWP. I learned from Joan how to hear what practitioners, scholars, and students in fields as diverse as statistics and dance said about their work. I also learned from Joan to look for the learning in my own and others’ mistakes, a message that is powerful to carry to students about their writing, as well as into the heart of our own daily work.

The UW is grateful for Joan’s amazing gifts.

Research Scientist, Office of 
Educational Assessment