Meet the New ESL Specialist Michelle Cox

On October 15, 2012 by Grad Forum

The Grad Forum is pleased to announce the arrival of a new ESL specialist to the Dartmouth community. Michelle Cox is the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric’s new multilingual specialist. In her position Michelle will be splitting her time between the Institute for Writing and Rhetoric and graduate programs.

Michelle grew up in southern New Hampshire and took her undergraduate studies at U-Mass and the University of New Hampshire. There she majored in English. After completing her BA, Michelle decided to continue and enroll in an MA in English Studies, then a PhD program in Composition and Rhetoric. Interestingly enough, it was not until after she began her MA at UNH that Michelle really studied writing and rhetoric.

It was as a Masters student that Michelle first taught writing–and this wasn’t something she knew would be her career. She was given a one-day orientation, a stack of articles and was sent to work: “it was really a case of being thrown in the deep end, it was sink or swim.” For a while she felt like she was merely going through the motions. However that semester she fell in love with teaching writing and decided that  college teaching was what she wanted to do and after looking at her options, enrolled in a PhD program at the University of New Hampshire with a focus on Composition.

Michelle’s interest in ESL was equally unexpected. During the first year of her PhD Program, Michelle was a writing center consultant assigned to work with students enrolled in a summer bridge program run by the McNair Program. This program focuses on helping students from demographics underrepresented in academia gain skills to help them succeed in graduate school. Unsurprisingly, over half of the students there spoke English as a second language. However, there were no staff with ESL expertise.  As a consequence, many of the students were struggling directly from the problems caused by the lack of attention paid to language issues.

There was one particular student who was simply being neglected by the professor who had agreed to mentor him. Every time this student submitted work, the leading professor refused to read it because the language (not the content) wasn’t up to his standards. Michelle realized that without support this student would fail the program. So she took a bold step, one that writing center consultants are told never to do: she asked the student to tell her what he was trying to say and typed while he composed orally. Whilst there was an ethical dilemma, the support for ESL was so poor that writing with the student was the only tenable means of support. Michelle’s experience brought her to the conclusion that ESL support needed to be better researched and resourced.

It was this experience with the McNair Program that led Michelle to make ESL a major research focus and ultimately to her position at Dartmouth. And so far it looks like a good choice. Her recent list of publications includes the following:

“Reading an ESL Writer’s Text” with Paul Kei Matsuda. Reprinted in Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal. March 2011.

Special Issue of Across the Disciplines. Edited with Terry Myers Zawacki. “Writing across the Curriculum and Second Language Writers: Cross-Field Research, Theory, and Program Development.” 8(4): December, 2011. 

“WAC: Closing Doors or Opening Doors for Second Language Writers?” In “Writing across the Curriculum and Second Language Writers: Cross-Field Research, Theory, and Program Development [Special Issue].” Across the Disciplines, 8(4): December, 2011.

 WAC and Second Language Writers: Research towards Developing Linguistically and Culturally Inclusive Programs and Practices. Edited with Terry Myers Zawacki.  Edited collection, forthcoming in December 2012.

Michelle strongly encourages any ESL graduate student to make an appointment with her. It will help you significantly with your academic studies and publications. She is friendly and extremely approachable. Most importantly, she is at Dartmouth for you.

by Dan Durcan

Photo courtesy of Michelle Cox



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