UNC Writing Center staff and coaches.

Full-time Staff

Kimberly Abels, Director

kabels@unc.edu, (919) 962-4426
As director of the Writing Center, Kim is responsible for long-range planning, programming, outreach, and collaborations.

Vicki Behrens, Assistant Director

vicki@unc.edu, (919) 962-4799
Vicki coordinates the day-to-day operations of the Writing Center and serves as a resource for instructors and other campus partners. She also supports the writing coaches and supervises the development of Writing Center web content.

Gigi Taylor, Senior English Language Specialist

vgtaylor@unc.edu, (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.

Becky Butler, English Language Specialist

becky.butler@unc.edu, (919) 843-6532
Becky 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

warren@unc.edu (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, Writing Coach Specialist

tafunt@email.unc.edu, (919) 966-8924
Alex hires, trains, and supervises the Writing Center’s team of undergraduate and graduate student writing coaches. With the assistance of the writing coaches, he manages the Writing Center’s digital media presence.

Kim Allison, Business Manager

kallison@email.unc.edu, (919) 962-7710

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 travel. The time-crunched fly directly to the destination, taking only the essentials in their carry-on to expedite the journey. The seasoned nomads ease towards their destination, hopping from point to point with wanderlust. The street-bound human takes the superhighway, relying on downloaded apps and clearly-marked exits to signal their whereabouts. The intrepid blaze an original trail, navigating thorny overgrowth and collecting epiphanies often more treasured than the intended endpoint. No matter the method one takes, wrong turns are inevitable, and directions are requested (or offered unprompted). Whether you take the outside suggestion or rely on your instincts, intermittent pauses are necessary for snacks.


Writing is like swimming against a current. The writing process requires an enormous amount of effort and endurance. At times, you get stuck with writer’s block and feel frustrated or exhausted or both, just as you would feel when pushing against that current without really moving forward. But at other times you feel energized and can swim through easily as words just flow to the page. Most importantly, at the end, you feel relieved that you swam to the finish with an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.


Writing is like laundry. It is always around, and just when you think it’s finished, there is a new pile to wash. You frequently have to gather information and divide it into discrete parts, much like sorting laundry into whites, darks, delicates, and dry clean only. You are frustrated when it is not done—think about everytime you search for your favorite shirt of pair of jeans, only to find that it’s buried under a pile of soiled clothes. Sometimes the smallest sections take the longest to finish. I am reminded of small stains that refuse to budge or re-stringing drawstrings into your favorite sweat pants. But just like laundry, once it has been washed, dried, folded, and stored in its designated spot, a completed writing assignment brings a sense of pride.


Writing is like competitive bodybuilding. Once on stage, bodybuilders demonstrate their mastery over the human form, using many techniques to accentuate their fitness. Although we may at first visualize a glistening and powerful final product when we approach our own projects, there is a necessary and long process between the beginning and our last, oily, flourishes. It begins with getting big, with building up the meat on a well-developed skeleton. At first, haphazardly, and then, methodically. We consume everything in sight to build up the body that we will later whittle down. We could skip to the end from here—some do—but then our body would be bloated; that will not show well. Instead, we trim the fat encasing the essential parts our audience needs to see. This might be painful; we might be rather attached to the fat we have lovingly crafted, but it must be done. Once the sleek muscle groups powering our writing are in place, we can slow down. We refine here, and beef up there when—finally—we can break out the instant tanner and body oil, and step up to the stage.


Writing is like speaking, and nothing’s worse than a boring speech! Let the personalities show! Use contractions! Use the first person! Stop making us write lines to a play we’ve never seen for an audience we’ve never met! We together constitute the broader academic community to whom academic writing is addressed, so why not write things we’d like to read? Beyond some baseline disciplinary standards, there’s no excuse for suppressing the funny, insightful, and convincing in favor of the formulaic, arcane, and impersonal. Why should we struggle to stay awake reading about the topics we’re most excited to study? We shouldn’t! We scholars have nothing to lose but our boredom. Writers of the academy unite!


Writing is like creating a piece of artwork. You can outline your steps and start off with a specific vision in your mind, but like any wonderful piece of artwork, the outcome is often unpredictable. The more you put on to the paper, the quicker you see your work taking a life of its own. It can leave you feeling frustrated as your piece strays from your original plan. The process may exhaust all of your tips and tricks, and you may feel like starting a new piece entirely. However, when you finally get it right (or accept it for what it is) the effort that you invested, the challenges that you overcame, and the time that you spent all make it worthwhile.


Writing is like living. It is, more specifically, the difficult and often perplexing process of decision-making. We will not be perfect at it. All we can do is to hope to learn from our experiences (and mistakes) and improve along the way.


Writing is like rock climbing. As I approach a climbing site (or a writing project), I have a goal, some tools and tricks, some experience, some enthusiasm, some trepidation. I study the rock for a while, figuring out how to approach it, and as I climb, there’s progress…and getting stuck and backtracking and rethinking (…and, I confess, some slipping and swearing and a bit of panic now and then). And there’s always a belayer—a fellow climber who can offer feedback from a very different perspective. And when it’s finished, there’s immense relief and satisfaction at the top.


Writing is like a labyrinth. Before even putting pen to paper, the process can seem daunting, enigmatic, and endless. It takes courage to jump in headfirst, not knowing what kinds of unpredictable experiences await. You could encounter long, twisting paths that seem promising to start, but conclude in dead ends, crooked lanes that only seem to take you in circles, or secret treasures that guide you towards the exit. Each of us that enter the labyrinth will have our own unique journey. However, no matter which paths we choose to take, we each eventually navigate our own way out and end together on the other side.


Writing is like painting. We all begin with the same materials and our own level of innate ability, and learning a few basic techniques or tips and tricks can enable us to better express ourselves and unleash our potential. Perfection is not the goal – just as there is no “perfect” painting, there is no “perfect” piece of writing. The outcome might be something completely unexpected – and that’s the beauty of it!


Writing is like driving a car. When I first began to learn, the experience was mildly terrifying. I was constantly looking to my instructor for confirmation that I was following the rules and doing what was right. Eventually I no longer needed the help of a grown up passenger, and I became so comfortable that I began to explore different routes and find new places. At times, I might be cruising along, my journey easy-going and relaxed, but inevitably traffic and road blocks will pop up and slow me down, leading to occasional bouts of road rage and extreme frustration. I am also a firm believer that most of the time, getting off the high way in order to experience more interesting views is worth the sacrificed efficiency. And, in times of confusion, I must remind myself that outside help and resources, hunting for new inspiration or consulting a map or pedestrian is necessary to continue the journey.


For me, writing is like grocery-shopping. It’s a familiar routine for which I have developed favorite strategies over time; yet each time, it’s a new experience with new needs, products, and timing to negotiate. I like having a list, and often do, although I’ve learned that making the list is its own exercise. I usually need to brainstorm menus, review what’s in the cupboards, and find out if my family’s cereal and lunch box preferences have changed. With list in hand, I tuck my cloth bags in the cart and wander up and down the aisles filling the cart. I revise my menu as I see what vegetables look good, what’s on sale, and what new ingredient I might like to experiment with this week. When there’s no time for a list, I wing it with a strategic scan of the shelves and a “reminder” march up every aisle to help me think through what we need. While grocery shopping is a chore, once I’m cruising the aisles, tasting the free samples, I enjoy the process of making choices and imagining the cooking ahead.


Writing is like participating in the Olympic decathlon. There are times you sprint, times you dig deep to run the distance, times you high jump with joy over your success, and times you want to javelin-throw your writing into the trash. You might be more experienced with some parts of the writing process than others, but you will probably need to explore several of its steps to unlock the full complexity of what is bouncing around your brain. To do your best, you might need to begin training in some skills (like brainstorming, pre-writing, research, and proofreading) that are unfamiliar or hard to you. All of these skills – like the ten events of the decathlon – combine to create your final product. That product may not be exactly what you hoped it would be but you will know that it was the best you could do and be proud of yourself for giving your all.


Writing is like giving a stranger the key to your house. Writing can be just for yourself, but when you share it with others, it’s as if you are allowing someone into your home, into a space that you hold sacred, into the inner workings of your mind. It’s an empowering act of vulnerability, at once terrifying and exhilarating.


Writing is like dancing. Some days it’s as easy as butter, all twirls and dips and flourishes. Some days I step all over toes and can’t find the beat, and sometimes I don’t mind the clumsiness, but other days I want to lie on the floor and never move my feet again. Dancing, like writing, is a series of small decisions that together create something magical, a transference of feeling or knowledge from one person to another.


Writing is like going for a run. I always start with an end goal in mind and usually start my runs off pretty slow, perhaps with a brisk walk or a light jog. But once I’m warmed up, I find myself sprinting full speed ahead. I might miss a few obstacles along the way and stumble a bit because I’m sprinting, but I carry on nonetheless. I’ll continue to do this until I tire out and may even have to to stop and rest. Even though I may have to rest, I always start my run back up and usually won’t stop until I reach my goal. Once I’m done, I’ll pause for a bit and prepare to return home. Having ran this route before, I now notice the few potholes and random branches I had missed before, and I’m able to navigate this route with ease. And soon, I’ll return home a more seasoned runner ready for my next run.


Writing is like taking a road trip. At first, you feel like you can go anywhere, which could make you feel excited or, conversely, overwhelmed by the possibilities. You realize you need to make some kind of plan, and, depending on your personality, that plan might be loose or highly structured. When you start driving, you’re full of energy and idealism. You’re making great time, and you have no problem stopping for food or rest. But eventually you get tired and lose stamina, or you get bored and lose interest, wondering, “are we there yet?” You might hit traffic or construction and be frustrated by these impediments. In an effort to make up for lost time, you speed and get pulled over, then feel worse for your misguided efforts. But then you learn to enjoy the journey and worry less about the destination. You take in the scenery and feel curious about detours. When you’re close to your destination, you’re happy the journey is over, even if you didn’t exactly follow the plan. To make the next trip even better, you reflect on what worked and what didn’t, and you recognize the value of the patience and flexibility you developed.


Writing is like skydiving for the first time. The first time a friend asked me to go skydiving, just the thought of jumping out of a plane terrified me. Simply starting the writing process or being asked to write a 12-page paper might have a similar effect. However, as the skydiving instructor explained the rules and showed me how to properly jump out of the plane, and, more importantly, as I felt my harness securely attached to my experienced instructor’s harness, I began to feel more comfortable. Similarly, during the writing process, as you begin to jot down ideas and brainstorm, suddenly, writing doesn’t seem as intimidating as it did before anything was written down. Then, eventually, you will come to a place where, as in skydiving, you can jump out of the plane from 10,000 feet [draft], free fall for 30 seconds [draft/revise], admire the scenery [edit/proofread], thankfully land on the ground [publish], and think, “That’s it? That wasn’t too scary after all. I would do that again!”

Rachel A.

Writing is like a shower. Sometimes, it comes at just the right moment, when I am tired and need to understand my thoughts. Like a hot shower, writing can give me a space to think about my own experiences and emotions. Other times, however, showers feel like chores that only serve to take up my time when I am busy with other work. Writing can also feel like something I must do, not something I want to do. In either case, the result is worth the time. After I am done, I am better equipped for my life in the world.

Rachel W.

Writing is like trying to maintain a rigorous exercise schedule. You become stronger and more confident each day with regular practice and effort. Writing often leaves you feeling exhausted yet enlightened, physically (and mentally) worn out yet euphoric at the same time. A writing project will often become stronger as you give yourself a set schedule with specific time slots and have a few key goals in mind—maybe you can strengthen certain areas with training; maybe you want to become more flexible with your ideas; maybe you want to set a new endurance personal best. Conversely, good writing often entails trying out new techniques: different writing contexts (coffee shops, bedrooms, libraries); different writing snacks (smoothies, coffee, lots and lots of candy); different writing music playlists (hardcore/punk some days, mellow indie stuff others).

Like many skills, your writing will improve with dedication, practice, room for error, and lots of self-care.


Writing is like cooking. Depending on the context, it can be anything from a tedious chore meant to satisfy a utilitarian end to an elaborate process intended to bring pleasure to the writer and her readers. Regardless, writing and cooking always require deciding what you want to make, gathering your ingredients, and drawing on a basic skill set to produce your desired outcome. If you cook–or write–like I do, this process also invariably involves some amount of frustration, several unexpected adjustments, some input from friends, and an acceptance that the results can be delicious even though they’ll never be perfect.


Writing is like improv. Sometimes you get a suggestion (or a prompt) you might not like—but you have to roll with it regardless. At first, it might take a moment to get into the scene; you must establish a setting, problem, and relationship to your scene partners. Once you have established the basics, you must build off of them, filling in details and making stylistic choices. There are certain rules that govern improv just as there rules for what dictates good writing. In improv, you must trust yourself and confidently defend the choices you make, which allows you to ultimately create something unique, personal, and unreproducible—just like a stellar piece of writing.


Writing is like making a piece of pottery. I have all kinds of ideas about what I’d like to create, and I can spend hours daydreaming about what a beautiful bowl or plate or vase I’ll have when I’m done—but at some point I have to sit down with a big, slimy lump of wet clay and get to work. Bending over the wheel can be tiring, and it’s discouraging when an almost-finished piece collapses in a heap. After the basic form has dried, it’s time for my favorite part—decorating and glazing it in preparation for the final firing. I have to remember to leave myself enough time to get the details just right—it may take several tries to make a good handle for a mug or find an appealing combination of glazes. The object I end up with may not match my vision perfectly, but it’s usually functional, and sometimes it’s even kind of pretty.