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November 4, 2022
By Sophia Lorusso (she/her), Senior English Major.
Pictured above: Diane Heider.
The Oregon Writing Project at SOU (OWP) aims to encourage and support children of all ages to write. The OWP, an affiliate site of the National Writing Project, is housed in the English Program at SOU; SOU faculty members Margaret Perrow and Merrilyne Lundahl are co-directors. Every summer, OWP hosts writing camps across the Rogue Valley for students of all ages; some included districts are from Medford, Eagle Point, Ashland, and beyond.
For the past five summers, Diane Heider has taught a College Essay and Application Writing Camp as part of the OWP at SOU. She also provides short camps for small groups and individual college planning and preparation assistance as an Oregon ASPIRE Mentor and IEC (Independent Educational Consultant).
In this Q&A style interview, Diane shares what her writing camps are like and how many students she has supported through the college application process.
Sophia Lorusso (SL): What has been your motivation to start your writing camps?
Diane Heider (DH): When asked to host a summer College Essay Writing Camp, I was excited to be part of the OWP. Struggling as a first-generation student myself, a meeting with a college counselor in my junior year of college (although late) was life-changing. And as the parent of three college grads, I have a heart for families going through the college admissions and financial aid process.
“And as the parent of three college grads, I have a heart for families going through the college admissions and financial aid process.”
– Diane Heider
SL: Tell me about your camps!
DH: In these writing camps, students begin with the basics of college applications: completing demographic information for the Common App, individual college applications, the OSAC Scholarship App, and composing activity resumes.
In the second half of the camp, knowing what they have already shared with colleges and scholarship committees, students begin writing their personal statements. While learning what a college essay is, students determine what they want the reader to know and why it is important. Campers consider what they will bring to the college setting and what they want to gain from the experience. Students brainstorm with prompts like Everything I Want College to Know, 21 Details, Essence Objects, I Love-I Know, Values and Strong Traits, and 100 Brave and Interesting Questions.
Students analyze essay examples, work on statements, and meet with me individually to discuss their writing. Techniques in adding details guide students in crafting and evaluating their essays during camp and after camps have ended. Students actively participating in the camp are invited and encouraged to continue as ASPIRE and TRIO mentees as they complete the college and scholarship application process.
SL: How has your background shaped your work with these camps?
DH: Lacking the skills needed, our family sought the assistance of Joyce Winkler, a private college counselor (and a National High School Counselor of the Year), to guide us through the college application process. Inspirational, she encouraged me to pursue independent college counseling. On her recommendation, I completed a sixty-hour UCLA graduate program in College Admissions Counseling and launched a small independent counseling practice after retiring from a 35-year career in teaching CTE classes.
Joining NACAC (National Association of College Admission Counseling), PNACAC (Pacific Northwest Association of College Admissions Counseling), and HECA (Higher Education Consultants Association), I continued my professional development. Connecting to experts (Jeff Levy, Jennie Kent, Edward Fiske, Ethan Sawyer, Jeff Selingo, and Cyndy McDonald) has been invaluable. Touring nearly 300 colleges across the US and in Europe, I can confidently recommend colleges.
SL: How have your camps impacted local students?
DH: The first camp involved close to a dozen students that Sandy Rhouheir (a Hedrick Middle School English teacher) and I tag-teamed. She possessed writing knowledge, and I contributed to the college application experience. (College advising often combines individuals with varying expertise in athletics, pre-professional programs, admission to highly selective colleges, and financial assistance.) Students gained an understanding of the writing involved in a college or scholarship app, beginning with basic information, creating an activity list, and telling their unique story.
SL: What sort of outcomes have your students achieved through the help of your camps?
DH: Before this year, I never actually tallied the scholarship amounts students received, but I set a goal for students, at a minimum, to have tuition covered. This year, when actually totaling up scholarship awards, I discovered that my twelve mentees were offered $4,000,000 and were able to use over $900,000 in aid. Students are admitted and attend schools across the U.S. with acceptances to highly selective colleges such as UC Berkeley, Emory, Baylor, and Purdue. Local students who attend SOU quickly realize that it is a “hidden gem”. Over half of these students are recognized as Presidential Scholars and honors college students at their college of choice. Beyond economics, students carry the writing skills for success in their future studies…
“Beyond economics, students carry the writing skills for success in their future studies.”
– Diane Heider
DH: …with experience in college advising since 2005, I have witnessed students go on to earn advanced degrees and land dream jobs. Nursing and teaching are more common careers, but others are engineering, research, social work, firefighting, business ownership, and politics.
SL: What does the future of your camps look like?
DH: First of all, I am so appreciative of the support and the opportunity to work with high school students, helping them gain confidence in their writing skills as they apply to college. I hope OWP will continue supporting the College Essay and Application Camp and recruit another instructor to move the camp forward when I retire from teaching. The college admission process is complicated; it blends writing as a life skill with college and career planning. There is overwhelming value and joy in assisting students in identifying their next steps and witnessing their success.
If you or someone you know is interested in OWP workshops, you can contact us at email@example.com.
SOU offers an array of classes and micro-credentials that can expand your opportunities.
Blogging for the English Program is another great way to expand your resume; it is a content-management and content-strategist position that exercises writing skills.
If you’re interested in building your content-management and content-strategist skills by blogging for the English Program next year, contact Margaret Perrow.
Interested in being featured on the English Program blog? Or know someone who is interested? Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org