The first year of the Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing at Wellesley has concluded with enthusiastic support from students and faculty, and an unlooked-for bonus: Some students have gone on to publish their “public writing.”

McKenzie Klema ’14 was one of several students in Associate Professor of Environmental Studies Jay Turner’s Calderwood Seminar, ES 399: Environmental Synthesis and Communication, to publish an article written for the class in the Huffington Post. Her piece, “For Bringing Safe, Clean Water to Slums in Sub-Saharan Africa, Market-Based Strategies Are Not the Answer” was published on March 5; she followed that with a May 7 piece, “UN Millennium Development Targets for Water and Sanitation Will Expire in 2015… So What’s Next?” (Access both of them from her Huffington Post page.)

The course was the first time Klema had tried her hand at public writing, other than a personal blog. The environmental studies and history major was drawn to the course because of its focus on public writing. “The majority of my courses at Wellesley have been writing intensive, but the Calderwood Seminar is the first course I have taken in which writing is targeted at a public audience,” she says. “I saw the Calderwood Seminar as a unique opportunity for me to develop critical skills in public communication.”

Each student in Turner’s seminar chose an “environmental beat” on which to report. If you didn’t guess by the titles, Klema’s was water quality in Africa. “I am always looking for ways to combine my love for studying environmental issues with my interest in Africa (I have mostly studied pre and post-colonial African history). I saw this as the perfect opportunity to study a pressing environmental issue in Africa,” she says.

In Turner’s seminar, students "workshopped" their writing pieces (blog posts, op-eds, calls to action, book reviews, etc.) during class every week. Each person put her writing on the table, and everyone in the class offered constructive advice to improve the piece. “Having 12 people critique my writing is pretty nerve-wracking,” reports Klema, “but it's been so beneficial to receive feedback from peers I am really comfortable with and whose opinions I value. I edit my pieces three times before I call them done, and that process has really helped me to improve as a writer. I now see the pieces I write as living documents that can always be improved.”

Some of Klema’s classmates also took the opportunity to share what they wrote about their “beat” with the public. Ellen Bechtel ’14 penned How We Talk about ‘Climate Refugees,’ and Why It’s Complicated, and April Zhu ’14 wrote Calestous Juma on Being Pro-Africa, Why Africa Needs GM Crops, and How He Came to Be a Cheerleader. Both environmental studies majors published their articles in the Huff Post Green section as well.

The Huffington Post also published a piece by Anastasia Hou ’14, who had taken ECON335 Economic Journalism with Stanford Calderwood Professor of Economics David Lindauer. She wrote Reshaping What We Think about the Gender Pay Gap.

There are other kinds of public writing, of course. For example, students in Professor of English Dan Chiasson’s Spring 2014 Calderwood Seminar ENG390, The New York Review of Books at 50, self-published a blog called Knee Ewww Eee Orrrk Re Veee Ewww of Books.

And publishing a piece may not be the be-all end-all. Lynne Viti reports that while her student Victoria Hills '14 did not publish something she wrote for the Calderwood course Viti taught, her expertise in writing about science for public audiences clearly was a factor in the paid  internship she secured with Mathworks in Natick, Mass. It is “a gig,” Viti says, “that the staff member who hired her assured me would segue into a full-time position after the internship ends in three months.” 

The Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing are named for Stanford Calderwood, a patron of the arts and benefactor of Wellesley College. Throughout his career, Mr. Calderwood realized the value of written communication. Calderwood Seminars have clearly had a distinctive impact on Wellesley’s educational mission—with broad influence throughout the curriculum—but may also provide a model for other institutions of higher education. David Lindauer has served as director of the program.

For students, writing outside the confines of academia can open their eyes to new avenues. “Publishing these articles on the Huffington Post has made me so enthusiastic about public writing,” says McKenzie Klema. “It is incredibly rewarding to see that people are reading my writing, sharing it with their followers, and having critical conversations about it.”

After graduating from Wellesley, Klema will be a teaching intern at the Advanced Studies Program at St. Paul's School in Concord, N.H. She’ll be helping to teach a college-level course on food systems and sustainability for rising high school seniors.

“I'm not sure that I want to teach in the long-term but I think that teaching is a critical skill that anyone working on environmental campaigns should have.,” says Klema. “After the summer, I hope to find work with an environmental nonprofit focused on sustainable agriculture and food justice in the Boston area. If I could engage in public writing at one of these organizations, I would be sensationally happy.”