Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Kate Swetnam, Riley College of Education and Leadership -->

Where instructors and editors talk writing.

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Kate Swetnam, Riley College of Education and Leadership

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Dr. Kate Swetnam
Dr. Kate Swetnam is a Walden graduate.
This month's Faculty Spotlight post features Kate Swetnam, PhD, of the Riley College of Education and Leadership - EdD Program (Administrative Leadership Specialization). Dr. Swetnam also is an Academic EdD Residency Coordinator. She lives in Midland, Texas. Read on to learn about the common writing challenges she sees, how she helps her students master writing skills, her own writing experiences, and more.

What are the most common writing challenges for your students? 

I’ve had the privilege to facilitate the foundations semester of the EdD program in Riley College for the past several years. In these courses one finds a gamut of writers, from skilled communicators to those who have not been in an academic setting for decades and struggle to write cohesive sentences. Although APA presents a learning curve for new scholars, the most common problem I encounter is students’ ability to read academic literature and paraphrase themes into succinct, synthesized, and well-organized compositions that are cited properly.

What have you done to help your students master those skills?

Because I teach first semester students, I try to provide a variety of tools to assist learners at whatever level I encounter. New students seem to be afraid to contribute their work without a sample of what the assignment entails, so I always post an example that illustrates my expectations. I encourage my students to have colleagues read their assignments and to read their writing aloud to “hear” whether it makes sense. For students who struggle with the writing process, I provide copious feedback, then follow up with a phone call to make certain they understand. For students who make a C or lower, I allow them to use the feedback I provide to revise and resubmit their work for a higher grade. I encourage students to visit the Walden Writing Center, attending webinars, using the Quick Answers tool, and scheduling a paper review.

How does your own experience as a writer inform your work with student writers?

Most of my students don’t realize that I am a Walden graduate from the PhD program. I can place myself in the same situation they face with responsibilities from work, family, and life – on top of attending an online university with all its demands. I recall the trepidation I felt staring at a blank screen, so I let them know of my background and empathy.

Another way I identify with the student writer is from my vantage point of writing articles for journals. The peer-review process can be agonizingly slow, with writers often finding out that their “perfect” article needs extensive revisions. One article I published in an international refereed journal took 2 years from start to final publication. What a feeling of accomplishment! So, when a candidate feels weary from seemingly never-ending drafts, I understand their angst. 

What advice do you have for faculty who want to help their student writers?

I find that working for an online university is different from teaching at a brick-and-mortar campus. Online students frequently feel isolated and need more individualized input into their learning process. My advice for Walden faculty is to take the time to help students develop into the scholarly writers and practitioners that we expect them to become. Phone calls, Skype conversations, and screen sharing are invaluable time spent to develop scholarly writers.  Encourage iterations of work, and be timely in responding to the student, always providing detailed feedback. 

What advice do you have for students who want to improve their writing?

Interestingly, the advice I would give a student scholar is the same advice I gave my third grade students: read, read, and then read some more.  Elementary school children learn to write stories like they read in their storybooks, and the more a Walden student reads scholarly, peer-reviewed literature, the better they will become at writing in their own scholarly voice. I emphasize to my students that they need to take the time to develop writing skills, listen to their instructor’s advice, and revise, revise, revise. And, of course, read the APA Manual 6th edition religiously each night :).

How is a student's ability to write related to success in your field?

Originally, my background was in the human resources department at a large independent corporation. The importance of a person’s writing skills was obvious when I read resumes and business communication in e-mails and letter writing. After close to 20 years of office life, I entered the public school setting and was sometimes surprised to see undeveloped written communication skills there, too. Not only were e-mails and other written communiqu├ęs poorly constructed, but I was also alarmed at the number of statements that lacked evidence or proper professional credits and citations. Mastering each of these habits is important to a student’s success in the educational field – or any professional setting.

What's something about you that would surprise your students?

I’ve always been goal driven. I’ve had three major things I’d like to do in life: 

1. Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa – Summited July 4, 1999
2. Obtain my doctorate – Accomplished August 26, 2005
3. Visit the Antarctic and pet penguins – yet to be tackled!

Other posts you might like:
Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Anne L. Fetter, Public Policy and Administration
Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Pettis Perry (Part 1)
Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Pettis Perry (Part 2)
Faculty Spotlight: Dr. K. Elizabeth McDonald


Manager of Program Outreach and Faculty Support Amber Cook compiled this interview. If you are a faculty member looking for resources to help support you in your work with student writing, please visit our website’s Faculty page.

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