Bulldog Mentors Log 1,400 Hours in Six Months

Students and faculty of Butler’s English Department and Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Creative Writing program have received a Jefferson Award for Public Service, honoring their work with student writers at Shortridge Magnet High School for Law and Public Policy.

Bulldog MentorsStudents in the MFA’s Writing in the Schools course and volunteers dedicate two afternoons a week at Shortridge mentoring entire classes and individual students, helping with writing assignments, reading, test preparation, stories and poems. Since the program started last August, participants have logged more than 1,400 service hours at the high school and provided one-to-one assistance to one-third of Shortridge’s students.

“Shortridge has become the perfect storm for student learning and practice — mentoring, tutoring — all taking place within the context of the great debate on the future of public education,” said English faculty member Susan Sutherlin, who teaches Writing in the Schools. “Butler students are essentially building a small non-profit enterprise from the ground up.”

Many fall term students have continued to volunteer as tutor/mentors at Shortridge. Butler students are also helping the younger students publish their works in an online magazine, Exclusive Ink, and will publish a year-end literary magazine of student poetry, stories and essays.

Graduate student coordinator Chris Speckman said what’s been amazing “is how more and more Shortridge students want to join us and stay after school until 5 o’clock just to write.”(Highlights of the year can be seen in the program’s blog.)

MFA Program Director Andrew Levy said one of the best lessons Butler students learn in mentoring other writers is “that the rewards of the writing life aren’t restricted to those moments of inspiration in front of a computer screen alone at 3 a.m. There is the equal satisfaction of helping someone else’s life change for the better because of writing better.”

“They’re also learning some very grounded lessons about arts administration and education.”

Butler has one of the few MFA programs in the country with a dedicated service-learning component, according to Levy. Writing in the Schools’ students complete hours toward the undergraduate Indianapolis Community Requirement or the MFA service-learning requirement.

Ideas for service-learning have been piloted and refined at Shortridge, he said, cementing Butler’s interest in continuing its program there.

“The MFA is absolutely committed to Shortridge in the form of administrative and curricular support, service awards to MFA student leaders, even technical and student-service support, such as publishing a literary magazine and creating an online presence,” Levy said. “We believe the model — with the right support and organization — is viable and adaptable to other school settings.”

This is the first time that Butler has been recognized with a Jefferson Award. Begun in 1972, the Jefferson Awards recognize community and public service in the United States on the national and local level.

The mentoring work is so absorbing that Sutherlin, graduate student coordinator Doug Manuel, and other Butler volunteers almost missed their own Jefferson Award presentation on Feb. 9 at Shortridge. Unaware of the nomination, they were surprised when invited to attend an all-school convocation, and more surprised when the award was announced to thunderous applause by the high schoolers.

“We are so grateful to be recognized by the Shortridge community,” Sutherlin said, “and to be given the continuing opportunity to work with so many students whose thirst for the written and spoken word takes our breath away,”

Media contact: Mary Ellen Stephenson(317) 940-6944mestephe@butler.edu