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The ability to write clearly and effectively is increasingly vital, both for academic success and in a wide variety of professions—so the University aims to impart the skill to its students early and often. An overview:
Since 1992, most Cornell freshmen have been required to take two first-year writing seminars. Coordinated by the John S. Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines, these small-group classes are led by faculty and grad student teaching assistants in every humanities field. With some 200 seminars each semester, students can choose one that pertains to their major or use the requirement as an opportunity to take something off-beat. Recent offerings include Global Weirding: Climate Change and Culture; the Evolution of Fairy Tales; and Cultural Studies: Rednecks, Yokels, and Bumpkins.
Started by the Knight Institute in 1988, this initiative is aimed at connecting communication and language skills to the campus’s many fields of study. Spanning thirty-four departments, the courses give students the opportunity to explore their disciplines through writing. Offerings include Our Home in the Solar System; Plagues and People; and Urban Inequality.
Popular with upperclassmen and transfers, these are advanced courses that teach critical, reflective, investigative, and creative nonfiction skills. While they’re offered through the English department, they draw grad instructors from a variety of fields. Fall 2015 courses include Grassroots Politics; Post-Human Thinking: Beyond the Brain; and Creative Nonfiction: The Everyday Is Extraordinary.
Part of the English department, the Creative Writing Program draws more than 500 undergrads annually. Several courses are open to students across the University, while higher-level ones are reserved for those in the major or minor. In the summer, the department offers a creative writing workshop in Rome, where students visit cultural and historic sites for inspiration. Creative Writing also offers an MFA—one of the most highly selective degree programs at Cornell—and a joint MFA/PhD. Only eight MFA students are enrolled annually, four each in poetry and fiction.
Students can take a number of scientific, technical, and language-specific writing classes across campus. In addition, Performing and Media Arts offers courses on writing for stage and screen, and the Communication department has a variety of media writing classes, plus some geared toward business writing. This July, Cornell’s Adult University is teaching a sold-out workshop on the personal essay, with participants writing about experiences that have shaped their lives.