Oklahoma State University

CIDM

August 2000


Oklahoma State University


CIDMIconNewsletter Sarah Flenar, Cedarville College

Renaissance technical writers? If such people exist, Oklahoma State University’s program produces them. Students at OSU have their hands in everything. They graduate having become a combination writer, editor, and media specialist who can transform information into a Web site, brochure, report, manual, online help component, script, multimedia presentation…. The list goes on and on.

Its no wonder that Dr. Thomas Warren, Professor of English, has said, “We cannot supply enough graduates. The requests for graduates exceed the numbers graduating!”

OSU offers a BA and an MA in technical writing and a PhD in English with an emphasis in technical writing. OSU is located in Stillwater, a north-central Oklahoma community 75 miles from Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Background

With over 27,000 students, OSU offers technical writing courses at its main campus in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Even though they attend such a large school, students receive personal attention within their departments. Each year approximately four students graduate with a BA in Technical Writing while approximately five students graduate with a MA or PhD. Within the Technical Writing Department, these students enjoy a student to faculty ratio of 8.75 to1.

Coursework

The technical writing faculty mixes theory and practice in their courses as they prepare students to be flexible team leaders and self-starters with good interpersonal and writing skills. In their courses, students learn how to collect information, analyze user needs and media alternatives, organize material for maximum usability, generate text that includes graphics and layout, edit, practice desktop publishing, and test and evaluate documents.

One way that all students apply knowledge from their courses is by completing an internship. (100 hours for a BA, 200 hours for an MA or PhD). Students find area internships through their own initiative and through requests from local and area companies.

The English department makes courses convenient by offering correspondence versions of two technical writing courses and by offering a wide variety of courses in the late afternoon and early evening. The English department also allows students in graduate programs some freedom in determining their coursework. Students pursuing an MA can choose between a technical writing option and a technical writing emphasis.

MA students who choose the technical writing option focus on technical communication as a profession, learning general communication skills and specialized knowledge and skills relevant to a technical field such as computer science, engineering, agriculture, biology, education, and graphic arts. MA Students who choose the technical writing emphasis focus on technical communication as a complement to other areas of English such as creative writing, rhetoric and composition, Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), linguistics, film, and periods of British or American literature.

Students pursuing the PhD in English can create their own programs. They may emphasize technical writing in their courses, exams, dissertations, and so on. To devise a curriculum that reflects their interests and career goals, students consult with their advisory committees.

Program Benefits

OSU helps prepare students for their future roles by providing the following resources:

  • An advisory group of technical communicators from companies and government agencies throughout the United States
  • An electronic classroom for applying advanced technologies in classroom instruction
  • A study desk for reviewing documents relevant to technical communication
  • The Edmon Low Library, with excellent printed and electronic resources
  • Financial aid
  • Faculty with well-known reputations

As the profession demands, students also gain experience in current software at OSU. The university has a network system on campus that includes new computer laboratories, high-speed inter-laboratory connections, and quick access to the internet. Technical writing students benefit from the university’s technology focus as they learn to use software, including Microsoft Office 2000, PageMaker, FrameMaker, Photoshop, various browsers, Harvard Graphics, Microsoft Project, email clients, and WordPerfect 2000.

Opportunities for Professional Interaction

Students use their software expertise as they participate in the unique Computer Assisted Transfer of Technology (CATT) program. The federally funded program allows students and faculty to provide small- to medium-sized businesses with the technology they need to participate in government contracting. In this program, students and faculty learn how international standards are developed, how quality control works in the drafting and balloting stages, and how best to communicate information about standards through Web sites.

Students and faculty have created and maintained Web sites for organizations such as the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference, and the Oklahoma Council of Teachers of English.

Students also interact with professionals through their student chapter of the Society for Technical Communication (STC). Faculty participate in the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing, the Council for Programs in Technical and Scientific Communication, INTECOM, the National Council of Teachers of English, and the College Composition and Communication Association. Members of the faculty have been awarded the Outstanding Teacher award from STC and the Outstanding Contributions to the Profession award from INTECOM, and they hold and have held offices in several national and international organizations.

Post Graduate Opportunities

OSU’s technical writing students usually have jobs before they graduate. They find employment through notices sent to OSU and through their internships. Graduates with a BA earn entry-level salaries that average $22,000. Graduates with a PhD start with salaries that average $33,000.

Students typically intern and work full time in local non-profit social service agencies, for campus research award holders, and in manufacturing and computer software firms. They work across the country at companies like IBM, Raycomm, Eskar, MetaMor, and National Instruments.

Future Focus

Future students can anticipate taking new distance learning classes in technical writing for university credit. They can also consider taking some technical writing courses at OSU’s branch campus in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the future.

In addition to these changes, OSU plans to add faculty, increase internship opportunities, and revise the curriculum based on recommendations from their advisory council and the current state of the research in the field.

If your department can offer an internship, or if it has information, college hiring, or other needs, please write or call Dr. Thomas L. Warren, Professor of English. CIDMIconNewsletter

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