Illinois State University
The Technical Writing program at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, is committed to “technical writing within an English Studies context.” The program “appeals to students who like being English majors and who are interested in studying technical writing in a rich transdisciplinary setting,” program coordinator, Dr. Jim Kalmbach, explains.
Illinois State is able to accommodate the differing needs of students because of the large size of the school. Many students come from the nearby cities of Chicago, Peoria, St. Louis, and Springfield to become part of the 150 graduate students, 500 undergraduate majors, and 200 English minors that make up the Department of English. About 40 Graduate faculty have the task of teaching these students. The Technical Writing faculty includes Drs. Lee Brasseur, Cliff Caruthers, Jim Kalmbach, Russell Rutter, and Gerald Savage.
Undergraduate programs at Illinois State offer close contact with faculty. Faculty envision the university as a “public ivy,” where students can go to a large university and still get an elite education.
In the Technical Writing program, the faculty aims to “offer classes that balance theory, practice, and technology or more accurately,” says Dr. Kalmbach, “classes in which theory, practice, and technology inform each other and work against one another.” The classes in the Technical Writing program are project-oriented and provide opportunities for individual initiative and group interaction.
Currently, at Illinois State, about 20 undergraduate students are earning their BAs in English with an emphasis in technical writing. These students study English, literature, rhetoric, professional writing, language, and teaching, along with technical writing courses. Receiving a well-rounded background in English prepares these students for a future technical writing career.
At the Master’s level, where six students are earning their degrees, Illinois State has a technical writing emphasis within their Professional Writing sequence. Illinois State hopes to expand this technical writing emphasis into its own sequence and offer more professional courses.
Four doctoral students are concentrating on PhDs in English Studies at Illinois State. This doctoral program was previously successful as a DA with 90% of graduates being placed in tenure line positions. The program was then converted into a PhD with continued success.
Technology aids students as they fulfill the requirements of their degrees. Along with the computer access in the residence halls where Illinois State provides Internet services, email, mountable Web shares, and bulletin boards, the Department of English has an exclusive computer classroom. This classroom is a cross-platform, dual media computer-supported classroom where the faculty teaches all technical writing courses. The classroom offers access to both Macs and PCs and an assortment of desktop publishing and Web authoring tools.
Dr. Kalmbach feels that technology is an important part of the student’s experience at Illinois State.
I try to teach students to hold two contradictory views toward technology: that technology simultaneously does not matter and matters enormously. The skills upon which students can build a career in technical writing have not changed over the years: the ability to write and design, to think, to do research, to work in teams, to plan and manage projects, and to negotiate complex and conflicting agendas. At the same time, these processes have been totally transformed by technology. How we write, how we collaborate, how we manage have all changed. Technical writers must be able to learn new software quickly and know how to integrate software into their production processes.
Opportunities for Professional Interaction
Students and faculty at Illinois State recently helped to form the Illinois Heartland STC chapter, a chapter where they are now active. Students have many mentoring opportunities, and they participate in most chapter committees. In March of this year, Dr. Kalmbach received the Distinguished Chapter Service award.
Each year, the Department of English places 50 to 70 students in internships at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels. At the graduate level, internships are typically technical communication internships. Undergraduate internships, however, include many opportunities not only in the field of technical communication but also in publishing, editing, journalism, public relations, education, law, and library science. Students may intern for more than one semester and sometimes with more than one organization. Internships often provide future job opportunities for students, and these students in turn regularly recruit other Illinois State interns or graduates for their organization.
Illinois State coordinates distance education through a program called “The Extended University.” The Technical Writing program plans to participate in The Extended University with the hope that they can then offer advanced graduate classes to a broader audience. Currently, undergraduate technical writing classes are not being considered for the program since the classes are taught in a computer-supported environment and are therefore difficult to teach in a distance education format.