Path to Fellow: T. R. Girill, 1999

by Kevin Cuddihy on 2 June 2011

We return again with Path to Fellow, a recurring feature here on STC’s Notebook to highlight the rich contributions of our honored members. If you’re a Fellow or Associate Fellow and haven’t been contacted to participate in this feature, please email Kevin Cuddihy.

T. R. Girill

I became an STC Fellow in 1999. Shortly thereafter (2002) the East Bay STC chapter to which I belong celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. So by luck the 50-year retrospective issue of the chapter newsletter (Devil Mountain Views) already contains my brief summary of the regional and personal trends and highlights that led to my becoming a Fellow (still online as “Looking Back: Technical Writing in the Bay Area“).

That earlier article notes several mainstream, “expected” things (such as online publishing and usability) through which my Path to Fellow passed. Here, I want to comment on several equally important but rather unexpected things that also happened along that path.

First, I discovered that much current high-school classroom writing bears little connection to writing at work, but that real-world cases can be adapted to make very effective skill-building activities for students who write below grade level. Second, I found out that while learning to write (better) is hard for students who cannot learn from examples, learning from examples is itself a teachable and learnable skill (see my “Example Elaboration as a Neglected Instructional Strategy,” SIGDOC01 Proceedings). And third, I found that the apparently specific techniques that help English-language learners cope with problems in their second language also generalize nicely to support all students as they improve their nonfiction (“technical”) writing skills.

Together, these three realizations enabled me to launch a new and rewarding adventure just when I became a Fellow: an STC-based literacy outreach project to help precollege students (and their teachers) write more effectively for “authentic” communication in business and professional life, not just for school.

The Computation Directorate at my pre-retirement employer (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, LLNL) generously supported me in designing and presenting school-day workshops on basic technical writing for underperforming students at several high schools in the EBSTC service area. Later, the Edward Teller Education Center (a collaboration between LLNL and the University of California, Davis) enabled me to share my approach to building writing skills with dozens of in-service (and later, pre-service) science teachers during their summer professional-development internships. Still later, I introduced hundreds of students to the elements of effective technical communication (through their abstracts, risk assessments, and project posters) as they participated in the Tri-Valley Science and Engineering Fair (where I served on the fair’s Scientific Review Committee). Most recently, in March 2011, at the only conference session to report on STC outreach, I summarized these literacy efforts for 70 teachers who were attending the huge annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association in San Francisco.

So I am pleased to characterize my becoming an STC Fellow as much like college graduation—the completion with pride of one major phase of professional life and the commencement of another. (For a closer look at this work, see the literacy project website.)

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