Meet Our Staff
UNC Writing Center staff and coaches.
Kimberly Abels, Director
email@example.com, (919) 962-4426
Dr. Abels has led the student-centered, tech-savvy professional and student communities that compose Carolina’s Writing and Learning Center for over twenty years. She collaborates with colleagues and campus partners to build Writing and Learning Center services and fosters environments where students imagine, discover, reflect, and stretch into new ideas and academic habits.
Gigi Taylor, Senior English Language Specialist
firstname.lastname@example.org, (919) 962-0725
Gigi helps writing coaches, faculty, and staff provide effective writing support for students whose first language is not English. She also provides instruction about academic communication, English language, and American culture for UNC’s international students and scholars.
Warren Christian, English Language Specialist
email@example.com, (919) 843-9604
Warren helps writing coaches, faculty, and staff provide effective writing support for students whose first language is not English. He also provides instruction about academic communication, English language, and American culture for UNC’s international students and scholars.
Alex Funt, Assistant Director
firstname.lastname@example.org, (919) 966-8924
Alex hires, trains, supervises, and mentors the Writing Center’s team of undergraduate and graduate student writing coaches. He also collaborates with Writing and Learning Center staff to manage our digital media presence as well as our marketing and communications efforts on campus. Alex has a PhD in English Rhetoric, Composition, and Literacy from UNC Chapel Hill and is an alum of the Mississippi Teacher Corps.
Franny Brock, Writing Coach Specialist
email@example.com, (919) 962-4799
Franny helps train and support the Writing Center’s undergraduate and graduate coaches. She provides feedback, mentorship, and leadership for a large coaching staff and supports them in their professional development. Franny is pursuing a PhD in Art History at UNC and has a background in museum education, curatorial work, and teaching.
Donovan Wright, Administrative Support Specialist
firstname.lastname@example.org, (919) 962-7710
Donovan provides logistical support for the staff and coaches at the Writing and Learning Center on a daily basis. As the Administrative Support Specialist, Donovan will likely be the first face you see when you visit our location in SASB North. He is passionate about creating a welcoming and collaborative atmosphere for student success. Donovan comes to us from NC State but is excited to be a Tar Heel.
Get To Know Our Writing Coaches
The Writing Center’s writing coaches are undergraduate and graduate students from a wide variety of academic disciplines. They receive extensive training in teaching writing one on one. New graduate coaches undergo more than 40 hours of preparation at the start of the fall semester, and undergraduates take a 3-credit-hour course (English 402) to prepare. All coaches receive ongoing training and supervision.
Since each writing coach has an individual approach, we suggest trying out several coaches in order to find the style that works best for you. You can learn a little more about some of our writing coaches by reading their responses to the question “What is writing like for you?”
Writing is like tap dancing. Some of your steps will be lighter, some heavier; it’s up to you to balance them and place your weight where you need to. You’re often focused on an audience, but it’s always important to think about yourself and what you’re trying to say. When you’re performing, you shouldn’t just focus on impressing people, or else every performance might end up the same. Sure, you could do all of the most technically impressive steps in a row, but doing the same complex step for 32 counts isn’t that exciting. Often, it’s the basics that can build into something beautiful and unique, whether it’s an extremely complex pattern you’ve spent hours on or a fun bit of improv on the fly. What do you want people to hear? You often have a few signature moves that you can easily return back to and that leave your mark on the piece. And when you stumble off of your initial track, you can often turn it into something beautiful and your audience won’t even notice. They’ll simply hear your unique rhythm and love your final dance.
Writing is like a phoenix’s renewal. Like the mythical bird, your drafts are constantly being reborn. Constantly rising from ashes. However, in order to rise, there is a certain level of intentionality and courage required. The magic of the phoenix is in the effort it makes to self-destruct, only to regenerate. In this same way, a writer must lean into their work. Strike their pen against paper. Spark flames full of new ideas. Then, set themselves and their words on fire. It is true then, that writers are the real phoenixes today. Because no matter the setbacks, to write is to willingly be reborn, healed, and most importantly…made new.
Writing is like making friendship bracelets. You have a pattern in mind, and you know who you want to make it for. You get things ready by preparing the separate materials like individual string colors. You’ll also need to find the pattern instructions, and set up whatever base you’re using. Then comes the real task: weaving the once unconnected aspects of the bracelet into one legible and satisfying bracelet that you feel proud to have made and have the ability to share. Along the way, you might need to revise your approach—loosen some knots here, adjust the final length of the bracelet depending on the frequency at which one color is used there. When something frustrating happens, like a knot flipping to the wrong color, you have to know that it’s okay to readjust and take time to remedy the situation in whatever way works best for the project overall. In all, it’s about gathering the parts, using resources to support your crafting, and having the commitment to get from a messy knot of string to a bracelet representative of many hours of work and focus.
writing is walking. writing is walking along, between & across the highway. writing is walking along the guardrails of the entrance ramp, bullet-pointing loose soil with the toes of your shoes. you get used to holding your breath against exhaust & hub-bub. there’re plexiglass bustops to rest & chat; have you called your mother this week? oftentimes, the woodchuck behind the guardrail won’t be there next week. writing is crossing the highway, folding-up a receipt neatly into your pocket. writing is walking between the highway. the grass in the divider rises thick to your knees. for a while you’ll feel disoriented, caught between long lines of blurred cars. writing is walking between the highway, sitting with trees to find those in the shape of your spine. from here, the road curves off into a corner of sky, paragraphs rivulet into lines against the curb. you can get distracted with billboards & genre, wildflowers & familiar language. writing is crossing the highway to an exit ramp as guardrails run into the ground. there’s always Spanish music from half-open windows, headphones set to ambiance. next week, you’ll bring a large garbage bag — collect what’s scattered. the week after, you’ll bring two & water.
Writing is like building a friendship. When building a relationship with someone, what do you do to find out more about them? How do you enter their world? Often, you can start by doing the activities they enjoy. You might start putting yourself in their shoes for a little while, trying to see the world through their eyes. You might start asking them questions about their values or their perspective. As you learn to communicate in their terms, the two of you develop a shared language. The same mindset that drives a good friendship—curiosity, the drive for mutual understanding, and ultimately, compassion—is ultimately the mindset that helps you build relationships with distant readers. It’s impossible to meet your writing goals, whether you are trying to persuade or express your thoughts, if you don’t use a shared language to engage your reader in good faith. Considering your reader’s values, respecting their voice, and regarding them as an equal is essential. Your readers might be very different from you, and you may even be using your paper to argue against their views. Remember, however, that sometimes these differences are how the best friendships start. Both friendship and writing are active processes. Strengthening a friendship requires constant renewal, just like how writing requires continued attention and revision. Yet the rewards of both are great. As you use writing to reach out to your invisible reader, don’t be surprised if you find them reaching back out to you, engaging you in rich dialogues, and teaching you new things about yourself.
Writing is like starting a new job. It’s possible you might not understand what exactly is expected of you once you’re hired. You’ll have to go through training, shadowing, and some practice before you start on your own. You’ll have to find what strategies work best for you and even consult some outside resources.You’ll be acquainted with colleagues that help your performance and others that you’ll choose to steer clear of. Once you begin to work independently, it still may be a while before you truly get the hang of it, you may still have questions and even be frustrated at the tasks at hand. Things may be unclear or there may be some things that you simply don’t want to do, but over time you learn to enjoy certain parts of your work life and even look forward to it. There will be times, even with years of experience under your belt, where you don’t know the answer to everything. Challenges will present themselves and new roadblocks will come abruptly, making new ventures opportunities for growth and improvement. You may realize that this job isn’t the one for you, and start the process all over again, which is okay. Regardless of whether or not you find the perfect job, you’ll always be learning and bettering yourself through it, just like writing!
Writing is like baking a cake. You start with many disparate ingredients, all of which, by the end, transform into something different, beautiful, and delicious. It starts with inspiration and assessment: What is the occasion? What flavors are you summoning? What tools and resources do you have at your disposal? You also have to take aesthetics and form into consideration: Are you dealing with a sheet cake or multiple layers? Perhaps a dozen individual cupcakes? Will you frost with a fantastically light buttercream, or drip on a glaze? Every time you bake a new cake you follow a recipe step by step, slowly softening butter, carefully measuring flour and sugar, and parsing out your add-ins. Ultimately though, you learn by doing, and over time you trust the rhythm of the process as well as your reasoned judgment. If you’re hurried and distracted, the cake might burn or overflow in the oven. But if you’re calm, present, and methodical, what finally lands on your cake stand might just be a sweet, gustatory triumph.
Writing is like trying to ride a horse. Sometimes the horse wants to buck and fight your guidance, and you really have to rein it in. Sometimes it’s at a gentle trot, but still gets distracted by flowers along the path. At other times, you can’t even get the horse to move. But the horse is the only way you’re going to get to where you need to go, so you’ve got to work with the horse. It doesn’t have to be an adversarial relationship, but you also can’t let the horse lead the way, or you’ll end up in the middle of nowhere. You need to be in charge. So saddle up, it’s time to get riding.
Writing is like decorating a room. When you start off, you need some sort of theme, color-scheme, or even a vibe to make it have purpose and be reflective of your preferences. Maybe you love farm-style kitchens, or maybe you can’t get enough of all things steampunk. You could really like neutral tones and most of your walls could be minimally decorated. Whatever the case may be, a room that feels right to you and is welcoming for your guests takes effort and attention to detail. Decorating takes time and likely isn’t something you can do well if you rush it in a single day. And without a theme that seems interesting to you, the task of decorating can seem unenjoyable. If you love kittens but hate rabbits, you wouldn’t want to decorate your room with a bunch of fluffy bunnies, right? Unfortunately, you do have to be realistic with decorating. You don’t have an unlimited budget to make your dream bathroom or you could be working with a limited number of decorations. Nevertheless, you can still find some unique piece that ties the room together for you.
Writing is like taking a trip on an airplane. You never really know quite what you’re getting into with the journey—between your arrival at the airport and the final touchdown of the plane wheels at your destination and the first draft and the conclusion, a lot can happen. You might get stopped at the security checkpoint with some writers’ block or end up with a delayed flight. Or worse, maybe your flight was canceled, and you have to start all over again. (My personal experience with the writing process usually involves some significant procrastination-induced delays.) Your takeoff might be a little rocky, or it might be the middle section where you run into some turbulence. But regardless of your experience with the journey and the writing process, eventually you’ll get to your destination and come out of it a little tired, but hopefully not too worse for wear.
Writing is like a middle school dance. It always begins with an awkward interaction between the writer and the paper, the middle-schooler and the dance floor—both insecure and overwhelmed. The courage it takes to be the first to dance mirrors the bravery needed to flesh out undeveloped ideas. Like a dark, crowded gymnasium, your brain is full of random thoughts that you don’t yet recognize under this dim lighting, much like your classmates in their new fancy attire. When you finally get the courage to enter the dance floor, the worry of grammatical perfection and stylistic excellence feels like the self-conscious tug at the hem of your new dress, hoping that no one notices how it doesn’t quite fit. However, after finally joining your friends on the outskirts of the human circle, you begin to dance. You let your thoughts and pen flow freely and your limbs loosen to the music, enjoying the process and undeterred by the possibility of an imperfect product or performance. It is the fun and self-expression within writing—and middle school dancing—that truly matters.
Writing is like hiking a new trail. Sometimes this trail exists in a landscape that you’ve already explored countless times before; at other times it twists and turns through an entirely new landscape. In either situation, you have no idea what precisely you’re going to see and experience even if you’ve read descriptions of the trail from other travelers. There might be a steep two-mile stretch in an entirely new landscape that, according to previous hikers, supposedly requires scrambling, but you might discover that you don’t need to scramble at all. Or perhaps there’s a four-mile stretch on that new trail near where you’ve always hiked that previous travelers have claimed is challenging but certainly do-able, but you find that you simply can’t do it because it’s strenuous and constantly near precipices that send you reeling from fear and anxiety. You just don’t know what the trail has in store for you until you start hiking it. Sometimes the hike is easier than expected and you make it a lot farther than you initially planned. Sometimes the hike seems impossible to accomplish and you have to make the decision to turn back and either re-focus and re-fuel before trying again or, maybe, you simply search for another trail that you can complete as a practice run before trying the hard trail again in the future. You might discover gorgeous, panoramic views on your hike, or you might see nothing but undergrowth the whole time. But despite all of this uncertainty, you eventually learn, after several hikes, that the joy of hiking consists in seeing the beauty and sublimity of everything you encounter, and that the trek itself is as important as reaching your destination. Writing, like hiking, requires embracing the expedition—even if it’s a long one—that you must experience in order to reach your goals.
Writing is like being the seeker in a game of hide and seek. When you finish counting and open your eyes, you never immediately know which way you should go. You know that what you seek is out there somewhere, but there are many different places that it could be. It’s never in plain sight. As you choose a direction and begin to search, you check every nook, cranny, and dark corner, afraid that you might miss something. Sometimes you become discouraged; you feel like what you’re looking for should be easy to find, yet it also feels out of reach. But you feel relieved every time you find someone, and slowly your confidence grows. Occasionally you have to double back and explore the places you’ve been before, but you know that this investigation is just part of the process. You put in time and diligence, and, before you know it, you’ve found everyone. The game is over, and you leave knowing that you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.
Writing is like knitting. On some days, its rhythm and pace are comforting and familiar. On other days, it is maddeningly frustrating. The yarn may be frayed, the steps may be difficult, or the pattern may be unclear. There are days when I work for hours, only to realize I have to unravel it and try again. On those days I remind myself that I am not destroying anything, I am simply reworking the same yarn into new stitches. Sometimes, learning a new skill is overwhelming, and I feel like giving up. I tell myself, sometimes begrudgingly, to find another way to approach the problem or to reach out to someone for help. On my best days, it is like greeting an old friend—my mind is sharp, and I am relaxed. I know my tools, I’ve got a roadmap for where I’m going, and once I get started, I am on a roll. I keep myself motivated with the mantra: just one more line. But no matter what kind of day I have, the feeling of finishing a project is always a relief. When I reach the finish line, I know that this work, built painstakingly and with care, is uniquely mine.
Writing is like the scientific method. First, we have an observation about the world that we want to know more about. We start by gathering our research materials to learn more about our observations and sometimes, research furiously into the night. We learn more about the subject than we would ever be able to express in our paper and we read research from people in our field who share the same interests. After writing in the margins of books, note taking, and highlighting, we start to understand our own argument and where it fits in with current research. We use our best working knowledge to make an assertion about our observation and we support it with the evidence that we found through our research. And again, we reach out to our community. After our recursive process of research, write, research, write, our study concludes and from a process, we now have a product and our study concludes. Oftentimes by a due date, but sometimes by a personal feeling that a search for knowledge is satisfied and what we take with us is the knowledge of how to do our next study better.
Writing is like going on a run. Even though you’ve had this period of time blocked off for running since last week, you can never escape the dread that descends once it’s time to put on those trainers and get out the door. The first few minutes are the hardest, fighting the pleas of your sluggish muscles to turn back while home is still in sight. But if you stay the course, pushing through the sloth, you eventually settle into a rhythm. Relishing the burn in your arms and thighs until it becomes the subject of a predatory focus. Focus flows into clarity and what once seemed insurmountable becomes an almost enjoyable challenge. Before you know it, you’ve reached the end of your route and you find yourself proud of the effort it took to get there.
Writing is like trying to scratch an itch on your back just out of reach. I’ll have a demanding sense that some sort of question or project is worth investigating, but try as I might, it’s incredibly difficult to figure out how to get my fingers on it. I’ll realize that adaptation and strategy are necessary, and go looking for tools to help me out. Chances are I’ll try a few different classic options (a back-scratcher; a ruler; in my more desperate moments, a wooden spoon), but none of them will work particularly well for me. I’ll eventually ask someone else to help me, and it’s only when I can work in dialogue with another (ask them to scratch my back) that I can work that itch out. And, of course, to follow through on the idiom properly, I’ll be happy to return the favor whenever.
Writing is like preparing for a marathon. You sign up because you think it’s a good idea, and then it dawns on you that you have to start training. So, you go for your first few runs and are miserable. It’s hot out, you struggle to breathe, and you’re always sore the next day. And of course, there’s this steep hill on your route that you have to deal with. The climb causes your legs to burn and lungs to ache–you’re at the point where you’re ready to give up. But you don’t let that happen. Instead, you start to find ways to make your runs more enjoyable; you stretch before and after, you make sure you have tunes or podcasts to listen to, and you change up your route to get some different scenery. After adding these small tweaks, you realize you’ve started to add more distance to your runs, and that your mile time keeps dropping. Eventually that one hill isn’t so bad to run up. In fact, you start to enjoy pushing yourself to reach the top, and relish the challenge. Soon, the race itself becomes incidental. Sure, the medal you get after crossing the finish line is cool, and that post-race meal is one of the best you’ve ever had, but their importance as end-goals melts away. Instead you realize the most important thing is getting outside and relying on your own feet to get you back home.
Writing is like sweating. Hopefully you are prepared for it, but sometimes it presents itself at inopportune moments. Some folks hate the sensation. It can feel awkward to share the experience with others, although you might appreciate the support of those who do it often. If you can embrace the opportunity, sweating and writing can be cathartic, expressive, and maybe even fun. You will probably need a shower afterward, but you may find a sense of accomplishment after a good day’s work.
Writing is like painting a blank canvas. First you have a spark of an idea, and you’re not quite sure how you want to express it, but you put your pencil to the canvas and start a vague outline. As you’re outlining, you erase and redraw, erase and redraw, but that’s okay because it’s just an outline, and no one can judge you for it. Then as you start adding paint to the plain white canvas, each stroke of color is like a crafted sentence. Each color has a purpose, all coming together to form a picture, a story for whoever sees your art. You might think you’ve finished the painting, but maybe you’ll come back tomorrow once the paint is dried to see a mistake, and you’ll add a few final details.
Writing is like a road trip. You could just pick a direction and go, but it’s often better to have a bit of a plan: a destination, some points to hit along the way, and an idea of how to get from one point to another. You may have to do some background research before deciding which stops or ideas are the most important and which are better left for another trip. Your routes may have to balance expediency and time spent admiring the landscape. These decisions can be hard, especially if you have traveling companions or project group members that you have to negotiate with. Once you have your roadmap and tentative itinerary, it’s time to get going! Yet, even the best laid plans can go awry—expect delays. Maybe you hit construction and have to rework your plan, or maybe you just spend extra time somewhere interesting. Sometimes the words flow like driving on an open highway, while other times writing can be stressful or frustrating, like when you’re stuck in a traffic jam. Remember, moving forward slowly is still progress! Even if you’ve planned for extra time on backroads, it’s possible to get lost or hit a roadblock that means more research or backtracking… like that time Google Maps wanted me to drive down a staircase. What seems like just the “wrong” direction in the moment is really an alternative path along which you can learn something for next time. Each trip will have its challenges, but as you gain experience, you’ll see some potential pitfalls ahead of time, and it will get easier to go for longer stretches. A word to the wise: whether driving or writing, it will be less stressful and more fun if you budget extra time for detours.
Writing is like grocery shopping. I do it for a variety of reasons, and no two trips are quite the same. Maybe I ran out of food (or toilet paper). Maybe I’m feeling ambitious so I want to make something other than instant ramen. While I go into the store with an overall purpose, I know I’ll probably end up getting a combination of items that is slightly—or very—different from what was on my list. There are frustrations and disappointments along the way, of course, like when I can’t find the cheese I was looking for, or when the trip takes much longer than expected. Nonetheless, I emerge each time with what I ended up needing after all, and often I’m even equipped with an ingredient or two that I can use in many meals to come. And somehow, ice cream always makes its way into my cart.
Writing is like fashion; you can follow conventions and create something beautiful, or you can break conventions and create something beautiful. Most of the time, it’s about recognizing the occasion. What’s the best length for this draft (or this dress)? Is it meant to be beautiful, purely useful, or a little of both? Sometimes, you get dressed to communicate subtly, and other times, you do it to make a strong statement. Fashion and writing can both be ways to tell the rest of the world something about you. And while it sometimes takes years to hone, there’s a particular joy in finding your own style.
Writing is like planning a party. You have to start by asking yourself the big picture questions, like “How will I organize my paper?” or “Who will I invite to the party?” As time goes on and you have made the bigger decisions, you have to start paying careful attention to the intricate details in order to have the perfect piece. The decisions you make become smaller and smaller, like finalizing syntax or putting party streamers in the right place, until you feel you have put forth your best work. Even though your party might be judged in success by the number of attendees, or your writing might be deemed successful by a grade, at the end of the day, you are the ultimate authority when it comes to judging how well-executed your idea was. No matter how successful you were, hopefully you find joy in sharing your work with others.
Writing is like being in the driver’s seat of a car. Your pen to the paper akin to the steering wheel of a car, the destination is completely up to you. As a reader, we are merely passengers, just along for the ride you decide to take us on. It’s not something you’re perfect at the first time you do it, nor is there one way to drive (despite what they teach you in driver’s ed). It is something we can improve upon. Maybe, when you first start driving, you don’t know how to parallel park, but with practice and care, you get better. And there’s always someone you can ask to help. There may be potholes in the road, just as there are those moments we experience intense writer’s block, but in the end, we all reach our destination with a complete paper and cohesive story.
Writing is like preparing a meal in a pressure cooker. Although the device may be intimidating at first glance without experience, the mechanisms are quite simple (and pretty fun) once you use it a few times. The possibilities in what you can create are limitless, with lots of room to ‘spice’ things up as you please. You can throw in a ton of ingredients into one pot, thinking “how could this possibly turn out to be an edible meal?” when staring back into the pressure cooker with all of the seemingly random ingredients you concocted throughout the process. Although it may not be obvious at first, each of these ingredients serve a useful purpose in your final outcome—a delicious meal that came into fruition through a series of unique decisions that you made along the way: a creation that is yours.