Hume Tutor Spotlight

Spring Quarter 2019-2020

Zach Lo, Writing Tutor

Year? Sophomore

Area of study? English/Film Studies

On why he joined Hume:

Well, I've always loved writing for a very long time, and I've always felt like I've had a lot of experience in workshops and I feel like Hume gave me a good eye for being able to give people feedback in ways that were constructive and supportive. And then the other side of that is I'm really interested in education. I’m an education minor, and it seems like just a fantastic opportunity to practice educational strategies in a one on one setting. 

On some of his best Hume experiences:

I mean, there have been a couple of times when the session just goes so well and it's like 20 minutes, half an hour, but the paper just comes together. And you can see, almost always, the student knows it. And there's like a point when the student takes over and they're like, “Oh, yeah, like I can put this here. I'm gonna put this here.” And you just sit back [because] they figured it out and the amount of satisfaction and relief that they get out of it is just so fun to see. 

On his tutoring style:

Yeah, I mean, one thing that I really got out of my education classes is that dialogue is super important. And a big thing that I try to avoid in order to create authentic dialogue is leading questions. Because that's a common response when people are like, “Oh, don't use direct instruction, ask questions.” So people are like, “Oh, I'm just gonna ask questions, even though I know the answer.” And to me, that's hurtful because it creates a power dynamic. The student knows you're holding out knowledge on them. Like, if you have knowledge, you can say it. If you don't, you should be trying to ask questions in an authentic way that creates a dialogue that's genuine and really, truly allows space for both of you to be contributing, because that's where really important stuff happens. 

What he says when people think Hume is “remedial:”

No piece of writing is ever perfect. And I think that all of us have so much to learn about writing. People think that you have it figured out because you can get good grades. But there's so many different kinds of writing out there. And talking with the tutor is one of the best ways to, first of all, to just get more exposure to ideas that are not your own. And second of all, it's just so helpful to everyone. As someone who considered myself a good writer, that's why I became [a tutor], [tutoring has] taught me the importance of talking with other people about your ideas. And now, it's something I try to do all the time when I'm in the early stages of a writing project. I'll just try to talk with someone about [my work] because I realized the value of doing that and how much it helps to align your thoughts.

On how he sees writing working into his life:

I mean, as someone who's planning to go into either writing or education, basically, it's totally perfect for what I'm going to do, like the educational strategies not only translate to education, but also translate to giving feedback [in general]. Like working in writers rooms, for example. It's really important to not give feedback in a way that's like, “oh, this is bad,” or asking leading questions like, “what character do you think is not speaking correctly here?” [Instead it’s about] being able to have an actual dialogue with someone to understand what their intention was and like, what [you] can do to work together to make this better. So [writing and tutoring are important] not only in an educational setting, but also creative settings. Those feedback skills are really important. 

Anything else to add?

I think [Hume’s] an amazing place. I think it's so cool that we have this center.

And yeah, it's great. Come by! We’re trained. I don't know if people know that, [but] we’re trained. I think people come in and they just expect really good peer tutors. But it’s [more than that because] we have an education background and take a class on it.

Autumn Quarter 2019-2020

Madison Pobis, Oral Communication Tutor

Year? 5th Year Coterm

Area of study? Earth Systems & Environmental Communication

On why she joined Hume:

I actually get really nervous talking in front of a class for a formal presentation, but I've had a little bit of experience trying standup comedy and doing some MCing for larger events before I came to Stanford and when I first arrived as a freshman. So strangely, I'm a lot more comfortable speaking impromptu and just really trying to engage with a crowd, but I couldn't really get that to translate to formal presentations in a classroom. So I knew that I was interested in public speaking and being an oral communication tutor I had heard was a really great gig, but [it] also seemed like a good opportunity for me to grow my own skill set.

On some of her best Hume experiences:

I think I started to see a real turning point for me when I started to go to the classes and do the workshops just on general speaking tips, because it was really the first opportunity I had to try and merge those two sides that I talked about — the impromptu and the prepared presentation — and then to actually work with the class and interact with them and actually get to know them over the course of an hour or so and try to develop some skills for speaking... I discovered that that was something that I really, really liked. And so, for the past year or so, I've been doing more of those workshops and it's one of my favorite things that I do for Hume.

We do this exercise where we try to blow a bubble to talk about projection, and it's always funny to me when the students think that it's a little bit silly and they're not exactly sure why we're doing it. But then when we actually try to do some of the other skills, they realize that the bubble exercise is actually super helpful, and we have this moment of discovery where something that seemed silly actually turns into something that's a key skill for good public speaking.

On her tutoring style:

My approach is always to try and make it a conversation about what's happening in the speaking situation. All of the decisions that you make are very intentional and particular, and it's helpful because it means that there's no right answer. It just means that there's a suite of options available. And so the tutoring session is not where I tell you what you're supposed to be doing. It's to have a discussion about what you want to achieve in the presentation and what are the options for making that successful.

What she says when people think Hume is “remedial:”

I think everybody has their own unique voice when it comes to speaking: not just the verbal voice, but the style and the particular essence that [one] bring[s] to oral communication. And the purpose of the Hume Center is to help people develop and discover that voice. And so even people who are very comfortable speaking in front of a crowd could probably use some tutoring and exercising just to continue to develop that voice and to figure out what are the things that [one] can do with this really incredible tool that we have in [a] speaking situation. And so, yes, we can help people who have speech anxiety and who maybe are coming from a different language background or a different range of abilities when it comes to speaking. But everybody could use a little bit of extra time to try and hone in on their particular voice. 

On her favorite piece of spoken art:

I love standup comedy, so I have to say that my favorite spoken [work] is Mike Birbiglia's "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend." And it's so funny because it's standup comedy, but the whole thread of the show is this super personal narrative about how he feels kind of awkward and [he asks] "What is a relationship, what is love, [do I] want to be married?" And so, by the end of it, you totally come full circle and you have this moment where it's like, "Oh my gosh, he's just told us his life story." But it's like a Netflix comedy special.

On how she sees oral communication working into her life:

I mean, I would definitely say that my work at the Hume Center informed the fact that I was like, "Oh, I really enjoy thinking about communication and trying to figure out what that different suite of options are for communicating about science and the environment" [leading to a decision to pursue a coterm in environmental communication]. So, just to summarize, my work at the Hume Center definitely changed my academic and professional trajectory. In environmental communication especially, it's such a pressing issue and so important, and I think storytelling and the ability to communicate orally, effectively, is one of those methods that gives people a lot of hope and a lot of personal connection to issues. So I actually see quite a bit of overlap with trying to figure out what the rhetorical situation is for communicating about climate change and then coming back to some really basic skills and elements that we have as communicators to actually talk about issues that are super complex, super timely and relevant, but also kind of terrifying. And like somehow make that accessible and tangible for people.

On strategies for communicating about tough topics:

Starting from a values perspective has been really crucial for me and realizing that, [in] most discussions that people have, people just hold different values closer. And so when you're trying to get different communities and stakeholders to talk to each other, it can be really helpful to come back to what the shared values are and to understand the values that are different. And often that starts with a conversation or a presentation in a room where somebody actually asks the question of like, "What is it that we value here?" For example, think of the really classic example of faith communities trying to interact with climate change versus scientists. Faith communities hold really closely the value of care for creation and care for the community, and scientists really value accuracy and fact and dedication to the scientific process, but both of those communities still really want the land that they live on to be healthy and clean. And so to somehow try and come from those two perspectives and find a way to make them mesh is really difficult but really helpful.

On why you should apply to be a Hume tutor:

It's super fun. First of all, the community at the Hume Center is so strong and so supportive, and I think everyone on the staff is really committed to serving the students and the people at Stanford, but also committed to serving each other. And you'll find that people are just really willing to to talk about their own experiences and their own strategies. So when you become a tutor, you really become part of a huge community.

Spring Quarter 2018-2019

Charlotte Hull, Writing Tutor

Year? 3rd Year Ph.D. Candidate

Department? History

Favorite Book? Encounters At the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People by Elizabeth Fenn

On what drew her to Hume:

I've had a long and complex history with writing, as many of us do. I've always turned to writing at complex times in my life to kind of think through things creatively. And I think when I went back to college, because I took a little bit of time between starting and finishing, writing was one of the things that I kept coming back to. I'm a very curious person by nature. So I thought I was going to be a geologist and then I thought I was going to study winemaking and then I thought I was going to study business, but it turns out chemistry isn't really for me. The thing that I kept coming back to was writing, so I started in English literature. And then the kinds of questions that I was interested in, the style of writing that I was most drawn to turned out to be in history. [As for] how I got involved in writing tutoring... At Berkeley, I struggled my first year as a transfer student to gain the kind of control as a writer that I wanted. I couldn't figure out how to make my ideas go on paper in the way that I wanted to. So I started talking and sharing my writing with my friends. I didn't know that there was a writing center at Berkeley until later when one of my friends was working there and said, "you should come and work here, it's awesome!" and I did. So I worked at the writing center at Berkeley for two years, which was wonderful and I learned so much about all the things as you do as a writing tutor. And I also learned a lot about myself as a writer. And I also had to talk about writing, which is not something that we learn in classes typically, but it was something that was part of the pedagogy at the center and, and something that you learn how to do by talking to other writers and other tutors. And I just loved that. So my first year here, I said, "okay, I'm just going to focus on learning how to be a grad student," but I missed [tutoring] so much. So I applied last year and I got accepted and so here I am and it's been wonderful.

On what she loves about Hume:

I think the first thing is just how warm and friendly everybody who works here is. This is my happy place on campus. There's a lot of great places on campus, but every time I walk in here I feel rejuvenated. The kind of culture here is wonderful. I think working with a whole range of writers is really exciting. One of the things that I think is special about Hume is that we welcome so many different people in terms of where they are in their process. So it's not just undergraduate writers writing for a class. We also have graduate students who come in, sometimes postdocs, people that have graduated and are working on various applications for new programs... So there's a lot of diversity in terms of the kinds of writing projects that we might work together on. And that's been really fun to go from a first year PWR RBA to a med school application to a dissertation all in an hour and a half. It's just fun.

On her formative Hume experiences:

I think it's really exciting when people come back and you get to see the same faces over again and you get to see their projects evolve. This has happened to me during application season for various things. I worked with one graduate student who was applying to do all number of amazing things and he and I worked together maybe three or four times on his set of applications, which was a lot of work. I think it was just wonderful to have him come back and just kind of pick up where we left off. And I got a really clear sense of who he was as a writer and who he was as a thinker and an academic. And so it was really fun too to talk with him about how he was framing himself to others. I've had some folks come from around the university who I've met in other contexts that come to see me and that's always really exciting because I promote Hume shamelessly. It's kind of exciting when they walk into my little office and say, "Hi— Oh, you're here. That's so cool." So I have had some former students, some undergraduate students from history, and then some other graduate students [that] have actually come through other fellowship programs where I taught a pedagogy class for Grad students last summer and I had somebody from that come. So that's been pretty cool. I also really love working with folks who are required to come and have never come before. I think that's a really great opportunity because people come with various assumptions about what a writing center is or should be, and sometimes those are not super positive. So those are really fun opportunities to show them that this is their space and it can be whatever they want it to be and what is most useful for them. Introducing somebody to reverse outlining for the first time is like, "yeah!" I had somebody who booked a 30 minute appointment. It was one of those in "my professor requires me to be here" kind of thing[s]. And he said, "Wow, I booked 30 minutes." And I said, "Well, there's an extra 30 minutes. It's open. Do you want it?" He said, "Yeah, maybe." We got 30 minutes into it and he said, "Well, I could be late to class. That's fine," and we worked for the whole next 30 minutes on this really epic reverse outline. And by the end of it, he was so excited. He was not very excited coming in, but he was excited when he left.

What she says when people think Hume is “remedial:”

I think I would have thought that too. And maybe I did think that as an undergraduate at Berkeley, but, from my end as a tutor, I think tutoring is an amazing opportunity to be in the same room with somebody who's really excited to talk about writing and to talk about your writing and how to help you puzzle out the things that you can't necessarily see from your angle. Not because you're not smart, but because you're the writer, which means you know too much, you have too much knowledge in your head about a particular topic and it's your expertise that's getting in your way. So working with another person who's just a reader... That's all writing tutors are—just readers who have some strategies for working through puzzles. So yeah, I would say that it's not a remedial situation at all. It's more of an opportunity to do a one on one workshop of your project.

On her specific approach to tutoring:

Well, reverse outlining. [Laughs]. And I recently got a new idea from a grad student in our department. He did a writing workshop for a program that I'm working on, which was a very cool way of reverse outlining where he did it on color coded Post-It notes on a huge poster board. And he made me do it [for] a paper that I had written, and I thought, "Wow, this is so illuminating." That took more time, so I don't know if I'd do it in a 30 minute session, but one hour, maybe. Other ideas—using the whiteboard is really fun. Because writing is about translating ideas, especially when you're in the brainstorming, and even when you're drafting, in some ways you're still brainstorming. It can be really hard to force your ideas into words [and] sentences because you have to abide by the rules of grammar that impose a kind of logic that may not be there just yet. So making big maps on the whiteboard and drawing things and making arrows and making a mess can be really liberating, especially when somebody's in between drafts but they're trying to figure out their argument, [or] how to sharpen their argument or how to reorder their points a little bit to help the reader move more seamlessly through the piece. [Also] reading out loud. I think we all do that as a strategy, but that helps a lot because you find things that you fill in the blanks for when you read it quietly as the writer. When you read it out loud, you sometimes find that you have extra things or missing things. And honestly, just putting the paper away sometimes and just having conversations about the topic or about the writing process can be really generative. Writing is about so much more than what we just put on the page, so sometimes putting the page out of the way and working through strategies for mapping out a project long term over a calendar or thinking through particular aspects of it or figuring out ways to explain some really difficult concept to somebody that doesn't have all the technical knowledge can be really useful.

On how she sees her tutoring skills working into her life:

That's a good question. Well, the next project for me is writing a dissertation, which in history is basically the first draft of a book, and I've never done that before. So here we go. [Laughs]. I think my writing tutoring is helping me to embrace that project with excitement instead of terror. I may have to come see more tutors myself to reinforce the excitement or reinvigorate the excitement when the chapters start looming. [Laughs]. I think it's also helped me a lot in my teaching. I do a lot of work around writing in classrooms when I'm a teaching assistant with undergraduates, and I'm presently writing a course for the history department. Hopefully it will get listed. It's a sources and methods class, so I've tried to be really thoughtful about ways to work with writing and language in that class and [to] think about critical reading practices and how we read certain things for certain purposes and how reading and writing fit together for scholars and scholars in-training, and then out into the world. I love this kind of work, so I'm not sure exactly how this translates later or how it all comes together, but whatever I end up doing, I think teaching and language will be part of it, because it's so fun. I think it's something that we should talk more about. I mean, obviously at the writing center we do, but outside of the writing center, there could be more dialogue about writing and more transparency about how messy the process is and more support for writers, particularly young writers or writers that are just getting going. I think there could be more, more excitement and more, more kindness and more nurturing.

Anything else to add?

I mean shout outs to all of the Hume staff and all the Hume tutors. They're wonderful. My session was open the other day in it and an oral comm tutor said, "Will you come here for a second and be the audience?" And I said, "Yeah, okay." And that was really fun because I got to see how they work, which is very different in some ways from what we do as writing tutors. I'm still very intimidated by oral presentation, so there's so much respect for what they do.

Winter Quarter 2018-2019

James Pillot, Oral communication tutor

Year? Junior

Major? Electrical Engineering

On his favorite speaker:

Yeah it's a great question. So I'm gonna have to just work my way down from my knowns and then eventually kind of hash out who the top person probably is. So I mean obviously Barack Obama [has] got to go on there just because he's probably the ultimate guidebook for how to combine not abandoning Ebonics and just what you grew up speaking with your peers but also kind of formalizing it in a way that doesn't turn your back on the culture. You don't necessarily have to whitewash your language just to sound professional. So he's a really good example of that. There's a book that breaks down some Obama speech and points out places where you could still see bindings or traits of African-American speech that are very common or even overlaps with Southern speaking. Or like the way that preachers will fire people up in Baptist churches that [Obama] actually adopts for his speeches. But just given some of the extra law school language or the way that Presidential speeches are written [African-American vernacular English] may be in a little bit less but it's still there. So you know he was pretty good. I would say just from hearing Franklin Delano Roosevelt FDR—he was also... to lead an entire country from a wheelchair in World War Two, that's that's no small task.

I would say even reading Abraham Lincoln's old speeches and what he was trying to accomplish was also petty significant but number one I wanna say Barack Obama. [Obama is the] most relatable. You know FDR and Abraham Lincoln [are from] different time periods and they don't quite have things I adopt myself.

On his favorite quote:

OK. So my Mom finally grabbed my yearbook from high school and showed it to me over Christmas and my senior quote is actually something I still vibe with a lot. It comes from the end of [the song] “Ab Soul's Outro” on [Kendrick Lamar's album] Section 80. And it's Kendrick's line on there, it's "I'm not on the outside looking in/I'm not on the inside looking out/I'm in the dead center looking around," and I feel like that's something that I've always identified with at every single phase of life I've been in. It's been the fact that people typically know me. So I guess you could say I'm popular, but also, at the same time, I don't go to a lot of parties and things like that and I'm not constantly hanging out. I actually spend a lot of my time either just around one or two other people or kind of by myself for the most part. But at the same time a lot of people know me. From the outside looking in you would think that I'm somebody that's always hanging out with everyone all the time or going to a lot of social gatherings, and from the inside looking out I can kinda be like very introverted and closed off, but in reality I'm always in the center kind of just watching everyone's social circles play out and just observing people.

On why he joined Hume:

All right. So I was actually [in] freshman fall quarter. I mean I try to really think far ahead when it comes to certain things in academia. I'm pretty financially self-sustaining out here. I knew coming in I had grad school gifts and presents and all of that.

So there's this big nest egg I was able to come in on, and I was already looking at how much it was costing me per quarter between just books, living here, and things like that. I did a projection and just was like: "we gon' be in trouble next year if there's not some sort of income there." 

[The job also] gotta be something that lets me still be a student first while also working at the same time and it'd be even better if it's something I'm super interested in or could leverage something I'm good at. So I went to go see an oral communication tutor for [a] Thinking Matters spoken word that I was trying to pull together with my group for a final project [for] "Race and American Memory." So we were delivering it and I just went with my usual spiel and just spoke the way I do, and she recommended that I look into something like this. So I was like “yeah that sounds like a plan.” I just kept that in mind when winter quarter rolled around. I applied, I interviewed with Tom and I took the class in the spring and here I am. I've enjoyed it ever since. So it's been this great way to leverage something that people always say I'm really good at. I've always been told that I'm well-spoken, like very well-spoken and people say I should be like a radio host. People say all sorts things about my speeches, and so I was just like “I can leverage that.” Also, it accomplished my goal of being self-sufficient out here. 

On some of his best Hume experiences:

Yeah I would just say honestly each individual tutoring session is always something great and unique in its own way, especially when you just never know who you get coming across. Even if it's just another run of the mill PWR 2 speech, they're all different. I don't think I've really seen any PWR 2 speech that's directly overlapping because everyone has their own style they bring to it and it's a great way to challenge yourself to try to figure out how other people think and how other people learn and then meet them in the middle with that and then instantly form something that helps you get your message across to them. I think that it takes communication to another level. So there's no one unique experience. I mean I have had... you know I think I had the girl who found a painting underneath a painting. That was amazing. She's come to see me twice. [It’s fun] especially whenever I have specifically a session with someone who is STEM oriented or is doing something in the STEM field but needs to do a presentation on it and then they find out that I'm an electrical engineer. I don't know what the makeup of the tutors is, but I don't think it's too many engineers that are actually working as tutors. Just seeing a face light up and being able to bridge this gap that I think exist[s] between people who do STEM and those who are in the humanities. You can be a humanities major that has supreme computational ability and rational, logical thinking. I think there's no way you could pose a successful argument or essay if you don't have the same rational, logical capabilities as someone who's telling computers what to do for a living. The other way around, as an engineer if you cannot communicate with other people then your ceiling is set. It doesn't matter how intelligent you are–your ceiling, you're going to be capped off, you will be sequestered away. You'll just be that that brain in a box that people reach out for. You might even cost your company more if they have to hire people to write things up for you formally that you created because you lack communication skills to do so. Which I feel like actually kind of happens a lot. I think even General Motors people that write the instruction manuals–like those thick guides they have that nobody ever reads–on how to troubleshoot your car. Those aren't always written by the engineers. In some cases, they still have to hire other people. So just imagine if you could be that engineer that can also at the same time do that. The moral of the story is I love to bridge that gap and whenever I get a chance to do that in sessions [is] always super fulfilling. 

On his tutoring style:

How many times do you really hear somebody say to you on a daily basis like ‘this is totally doable for you.” Like “you can do it, this is obtainable.” Now not too frequent. Your professors are not going to come in and be like “hey, you can get an A in this class.” They don't do that. It's nothing against them, it's not their job. They're just gonna teach you the material, they're gonna set the bar and if you get there you do it, and if you don't you don't. But you know the truth is everybody here can usually meet those bars, and so I always come into the tutoring session with the mindset that the person in front of me, whatever they have to do, it is 100 percent doable for them. And then once they actually are convinced of that… bam. They're not only way more open to reworking whatever they have to rework but they're also confident in what they have so far that actually works and the presentation flows so much smoother. Donald Trump unfortunately is a great example of this. He does not know a single thing about what he is doing but he is so overconfident right that he's been able to sell to a large percentage of the population ideas that make no sense but he believes in. If he went out there and he'd been like, “We we should build a wall?” People would be like no! But he went up there and he's just like “we're gonna build a wall,” like this is what it is. It's not really that funny [of] an example but it's true that if I can take the same mindset where it says just like “maybe I can do this each kind of I think you know” to “oh yeah so two days from now I have my RA presentation and I'm gonna do great,” it's already set in the stone that I'm gonna do great. I just had to figure out what my steps are to get there and know that once I set them out they're all going to work because I'm me. If you get them to believe that, I'm telling you... I know it only works with the crowd we have here where everyone already by default that I met here just works very hard, [and] do[n't] give themselves enough credit. So when you have that sort of crowd that you have coming in here this technique works great. I wouldn't do this absolutely everywhere. There are other places and environments where you've got to kind of light a fire and be like “OK well hey you know we got to do this work. You can't just expect a good result without putting the work in.” But here people put in so much work already. Sometimes it's just about pulling your head up and saying this work isn't for vain, it's gonna get you something.

What he says when people think Hume is “remedial:”

No matter how good you may be–[there’s] this stigma that's around either going to office hours or getting tutoring. When you come and you see someone that's trying to do something that they spend more time on it and [that] they're certified to help you, you can take wherever you're at to the next level. So why not just go ahead and like just reach for that that level of improvement? Don't you want to be better than you already are? No matter how good you are–if you're the best, why not just widen widen the gap? All my coworkers are brilliant in the ways they go about solving problems. Nothing's remedial at all because just [to] even be at a place like this it already demonstrates that you have great command of your language, your ideas. There is no one here at this university that I believe needs—you know is remedial in anyway or is behind in speaking. Even if [English is their] second language because in their first language there's just got to be this proficiency and this level of thought that they're able to express that someone's like “wow this kid's brilliant.” So never feel bad about that. Don't question yourself don't doubt it just just come in and just know that not only are you already good we'll make you great. Period. You're good? We will make you great.

On how he sees oral communication working into his life:

Well I feel like just on a minor note seeing—well I even just used one right then— whenever I spoke formally I was pretty good about avoiding filler words but now if I really want to even in casual conversation, I feel that I'm more inclined to take a pause than I am to actually put in filler words. So that's probably just the only main thing on that front. But in terms of how it translates over into career I think it's just one of those things where I don't know exactly how it's going to show up yet, but I know it's definitely going to show up if it hasn't already. I mean just even in interviews I've had with companies and things like that and the way that I was even talking with a friend about resume prep and how to present what you what you have in front of you. I mean the ability to sell skills that you have is huge for employment in certain fields. And the better you are as an orator, the more capable you are of stitching together ideas. And if you treat those ideas as skills that you're kind of piecing together from classes and things as you go, you can totally make an employer or recruiter think A) you know more than you actually do or B) sell them on what product you will be vs. what you actually are. So I feel like that's been the most useful portion.

Anything else to add?

Well I guess my final pitch is just, no matter who you are, communication is vital. Communication is vital even if you find yourself shy and quiet, even if you have stutters or different deficiencies and things like that. Just know that for wherever you are and whatever your comfort zone is, you can just meet yourself at the top of that. Even if that means that you're someone who speaks [very] little, but writes flawlessly, find ways to present that or communicate via that form, because communication is so important.