University Relations and Communications

Beginning writing students see work published on national stage

December 16, 2009


Dan Carter, University Relations, 657-2269


MSU BILLINGS NEWS SERVICES — Ask a college student to put their thoughts in writing and odds are that you will see a flurry of thumbs on cell phones. Ta-da… a text message!


But for some students in Karen Henderson’s developmental writing class this fall, their writing took on a whole new meaning because it was published on a national stage.


Writing instructor Karen HendersonHenderson, a part-time instructor who taught three sections of Writing 095 this fall semester, encouraged her students and other instructors to submit pieces of everyday writing to the National Gallery of Writing. It’s a virtual space where people who might have otherwise never considered themselves writers — from mothers to firefighters to bankers and freshmen college students — can select and post their writing. Everything from essays to poetry to fiction was welcomed.


“What intrigued me the most about it was that it was a celebration of everyday writing,” said Henderson just before a recent class. “It encourages them to write.”

The website was started as a celebration of the National Day of Writing in late October by the National Council of the Teachers of English, but contributions were submitted throughout the fall.  Henderson, who uploaded a two-page essay of her own titled “Feet,” said students in all three of her classes participated.


Students who take Writing 095 are typically new students who are working on developing their writing skills for the rigor of future college courses. Many of the classes are taught in the Academic Support Center where students can get extra tutoring when they need it.


Henderson said the benefit of contributing to the project was getting the students to feel a sense of accomplishment as well as getting them to understand that they could put their thoughts and feelings on paper. It’s an empowering experience and students were encouraged to be as creative as possible and use writing to express meaning in their own lives.


“I even said they could give me a grocery list if I could get meaning out of it,” Henderson said.


Alisha SteffanAlisha Steffan wrote about reaching a major personal goal in “Taking a Chance of a Lifetime.” She said the essay was an interesting exercise, but found it more interesting to know it was published for the world to see.


“It’s kind of cool that everybody who logs in can get to read it,” Steffan said.

Other students offered short poems on people who are close to them, an essay on adopting dogs rescued from a puppy mill and even some personal musings on being overweight in an essay titled “Dairy of a Fat Woman.”


For Henderson, this was more than an academic exercise. It was to prove to new students that they could indeed offer something of themselves through writing that is free of judgment or the heavy hand of an instructor. It was about finding ways to put emotions, thoughts and feelings onto paper — even if it is in a virtual world.  


“This is about the importance of writing,” she said. “It goes beyond jumping through the hoops of Writing 095. I want students to have a positive experience about writing.”


To view some of the writing submitted by Henderson and her students, you can go to


Top Photo Above: Teacher Karen Henderson in the classroom


Second Photo Above: Freshman Alisha Steffan works on a writing project in her Writing 095 class.  Below, instructor Karen Henderson leads the class in a discussion. This semester, she encouraged her students to submit work to the National Gallery of Writing project.