Dr. Courtney Werner grew up in a tight-knit family in a small town in the forests of Pennsylvania. During her undergraduate program at Moravian College, she worked at the school’s writing center. From this experience of helping people with their writing, she found her life’s work. After graduating, she decided to pursue advanced studies in the field in order to improve writing centers and make them more accessible to students and faculty. Her undergraduate advisor put Werner in touch with Dr. Rebecca Jackson at Texas State University, who was accumulating students for a new Masters in Rhetoric and Composition program that dealt with writing center theory. Intrigued by the possibility of studying writing centers at a graduate level, Werner decided to make the move from Pennsylvania to Texas She didn’t want to leave her family and her home, but she knew she needed to get out of her comfort zone if she wanted to fulfill her dreams.
The dramatic change in environment made Werner feel isolated at first. Separated by half a country from her family, Werner called her mother every day that first semester. When she returned for the second semester, though, she overcame her loneliness by introducing herself to her peers and bonded with fellow graduate students. After finding fellow classmates with similar interests, her sense of isolation and dependency decreased. “I learned that I could be an independent person,” Dr. Werner says.
With more confidence, Werner also rediscovered a love for computers and digital media while taking a class called “Computers and Writing.” She realized that she could combine her love of writing, her love of digital media, and her love of writing centers. To help hone her interests and skills into a thesis, she worked closely with Dr. Jackson. The two now have a close relationship, personally as well as academically. Dr. Jackson particularly noted Werner’s ability to “work in her field with compassion and heart.”
Werner graduated from the Master’s program and went on to Kent State University in Ohio for her PhD, where she worked as the Assistant Director of Digital Composition, helping faculty to integrate technology into their classrooms. In the meantime, she wrote her dissertation on how scholars and faculty in rhetoric and composition programs discuss new media. She realized that there isn’t a precise definition of “new media,” and as she says, “while there really isn’t anything new about it, we talk about new media in ‘new’ ways.” For example, where a web designer might focus on the form or layout of a website, Dr. Werner interprets design as a form of rhetoric. Specifically, a website with only videos conveys information differently than a website with only text. So, if a person goes to a writing center’s website and sees only videos, Dr. Werner asks, “what are they trying to convey to their audience with their layout?”
After spending time in her first teaching role post-PhD, Dr. Werner decided it was time to return to the East Coast to live closer to her parents. She found an ideal opportunity at Monmouth University, where Dr. Werner is now an assistant professor, teaching entry-level composition courses to incoming freshman as well as upper-level courses in digital media. In her composition courses, she teaches students the importance of writing for an audience. She also uses the different forms of writing, such as making and labeling charts, to challenge her student’s preconceptions of what it means to write. Dr. Werner argues that to write means to convey information, not just to adhere to certain written sentence structures. Although Monmouth is a private university, the interesting student population still offers insightful perspectives into the world of digital media.
For Dr. Werner, it all began when she decided to take a chance in moving from Pennsylvania to Texas. She had a lot to lose, but her choice ultimately paid off. Now, Dr. Werner has developed her passions and will continue to do great work in developing those different perspectives to help writing centers across the country.
–Gloria Russell, English major