Advanced Writing Teacher HonoredOctober 1, 2004
By Katherine Yungmee Kim
Sitting cross-legged on a bench in the Queen’s Courtyard at USC, Kathi Berens identifies herself as “a Woolf person” and “a literature/history person of old.” She also confesses that she’s “the kind of teacher who loses sleep over her students’ grades” from last semester.
Which is precisely the reason Berens was awarded the USC College General Education Teaching Award for Advanced Writing. This annual award is presented to eight faculty members for their contribution to the G.E. Program. Her students call her “devoted,” “intriguing,” “encouraging” and “outstanding.”
“Kathi is a remarkable teacher,” says John Holland, director of the Writing Program. “Students particularly appreciate the way Kathi’s approach strengthens not only their rhetorical skills, but also their self-confidence as writers.”
Since the fall of 2000, Berens has been teaching Advanced Writing workshops to juniors and seniors in pre-law, the arts and humanities and social sciences. Some of the essayists she includes in her syllabus are Susan Sontag, Barbara Ehrenreich, Mike Davis and Joan Didion. She asks her students to consider current cultural events such as the Los Angeles grocery workers strike, and the unveiling of the Disney Concert Hall. Still, Berens maintains, the course focuses on “teaching skills, not content.”
A scholar in her own right — with a Ph.D from Berkeley on Laetitia Pilkington, an 18th century protégé of Jonathan Swift’s — Berens has the strong sensibility to understand what is needed to achieve professional and academic success. This spring, she launched an online journal, angelingo.usc.edu, where students share and publish their writing. She is collaborating with USC’s Center for Scholarly Technology to teach information retrieval, and she posts student essays on Blackboard, a learning management system, so her students can understand the necessary criteria of “objective standards.”
Most important to Berens is training her students to articulate themselves to the public. Enabling them to hone their complex thoughts to simple language will make them questioning and engaged individuals. “I have a profound commitment to raising the bar of public discourse,” Berens declares. “It’s why I do what I do.”