National Writing Project

State Networks Come Together in Denver

By: Lisa Williams
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 6, No. 4
Date: September-October 2001

Summary: Leaders of NWP's state networks gathered in Denver with the goal of strengthening their networks and the work of the sites within those networks.


Leaders of state networks within the National Writing Project came together in Denver, March 15–17, for a working retreat meant to strengthen the work of their sites and networks. Although the retreat may be many months past, hopefully the work begun at the gathering will be affecting state networks—and NWP as a whole—for a long time to come.

The three-day workshop opened with a "Becoming Visible" activity led by Inverness Research representatives Mark St. John, Kathleen Dickey, and Laura Stokes. The goal of the workshop was to help participants learn to use the data they have about the work of their sites. Toward that end, Inverness introduced a new "state data tool kit" designed to help network leaders develop instruments to document, analyze, and publicize their state networks. As Mark St. John noted, Inverness hoped this workshop would serve as "a concrete step to make the case for the National Writing Project at the site, state, and national levels." The presentation expanded participants' knowledge not only about the stories of their data, but also of spreadsheets, bar graphs, and pie charts. 

On the second day, participants broke into small groups to discuss the role and importance of state networks, the relationship of state networks to sites, and the role of the state network director. The groups determined that state networks are significant for seeking state funding, sharing ideas and best practices, and increasing collaboration among sites. State networks also provide individual sites with assistance on interpreting Inverness data, disseminating information, and establishing vision. The group determined the role of the state network director to include coordinating programs, recognizing boundaries, identifying needs, sharing resources, and distributing information. The role of the network includes supporting sites, increasing visibility, connecting with other agencies with similar interests, coordinating funding, publishing, and creating strategic plans.

Additional time was spent discussing NWP's minigrant opportunities for state networks. These grants provide up to $3,000 to support the work of a state network. Networks awarded minigrants for the coming year are Missouri, Pennsylvania, New England Regional, and a network combining Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

The meeting concluded with the sharing of state network histories and materials, such as publications, agendas, funding suggestions, and other documents. Participants left with a new enthusiasm for the power of networks. As Nodghia Fesperman of the University of North Carolina Writing Project noted, "I appreciate the opportunity to learn new ways to think about and talk about my site and my state network."

The state networks gathering, a "network of networks," is led by Sherry Swain, director of the Mississippi Thinking/Writing Institute, along with Jo Fyfe and Mary Ann Smith of the National Writing Project, Jayne Marlink of the California Writing Project, Delores Johnson of the Marshall University Writing Project (West Virginia), Charles Moran of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and Lisa Williams of the Jacksonville State University Writing Project (Alabama). Additional events for state network leaders will be planned at each major NWP event, starting with a workshop at the annual meeting in Baltimore in November. State network leaders who were not able to join the group for the Denver meeting are encouraged to contact Sherry Swain (662-325-7777) for details on how to be a part of this NWP initiative.

About the Author Lisa Williams directs the Jacksonville State University (JSU) Writing Project and works as state network director for the Alabama sites. At JSU, she serves as associate dean for the College of Arts and Sciences and teaches classes in composition instruction.

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