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CAS Connect Summer 2014

Before the first word: Researching the secret to better writing

Students in Bryan Fry’s “Honors Writing and Research” class (English 298) earn every bit of their research chops during the semester. In fact, the bibliography for their final paper counts for 50 percent of their class grade.

 Bryan Fry, right, accepts the CAS Award for Excellence in Teaching from Dean Daryll DeWald.

Bryan Fry, right, accepts the CAS Award for Excellence in Teaching from Dean Daryll DeWald.

A senior instructor in the Department of English, Fry believes the process leading up to the first typed word means everything.

“The more you emphasize research in the class, the better they can write,” Fry said. “Their research should lead them someplace; I want to see where they started and where they ended up. We allow our research to take us on a journey.”

For helping the next generation of scholars navigate that journey, Fry received WSU Libraries’ Excellence Award for 2014. The award recognizes a non-library faculty or staff member who has shown consistent support for WSU Libraries.

Model team teacher

Fry also earned the College of Arts and Sciences Award for Excellence in Teaching by an Instructor this year. He recently revamped the English 298 curriculum to include WSU librarians in his students’ preparation for advanced research.

“Bryan is unique in that he suggests specific resource databases and journals that might be useful for the library instruction sessions,” said Corey Johnson, head of library instruction. “He understands the importance of finding topic-relevant, scholarly sources, and all of his courses feature many research skills-enhancement activities.

“It is not surprising to read comments from his students such as ‘I had never truly learned how to research before.’”

Synthesizing, refining, and finding focus

One of those students is Victor Charoonsophonsak, a mechanical engineering major who took Fry’s course as a freshman last semester. For his final research paper, Charoonsophonsak wrote about Dr. Joseph E. Murray, the surgeon who, in 1954, performed the first successful human kidney transplant.

Along with his classmates, Charoonsophonsak spent the semester writing multiple assignments, learning research techniques, refining searches, and synthesizing source material to boil down topics to a final choice. He started with the broad topic of biomedical engineering, moving from there to organ transplantation to its history and its pioneers, and, finally, to Murray.

The first human kidney transplant medical team and patients, from left: Dr. Joseph E. Murray, recipient Richard Herrick, Dr. John P. Merrill, donor Ronald Herrick, and Dr. J. Hartwell Harrison. Photo courtesy of Harvard Medical School via Wikimedia Commons.
The first human kidney transplant medical team and patients, from left: Dr. Joseph E. Murray, recipient Richard Herrick, Dr. John P. Merrill, donor Ronald Herrick, and Dr. J. Hartwell Harrison. Photo courtesy of Harvard Medical School via Wikimedia Commons.

“One thing I guarantee that I will take away from this class is the ability to conduct research,” Charoonsophonsak said. “I can remember when I was trying to dig deeper into the topic of organ transplantation but could not find a focus until I stumbled on the man, Dr. Murray. Yet, I was not complacent in the research I had done. I was able to dig even deeper, finding so much more detail and history behind my topic.”

Feedback like Charoonsophonsak’s is among the rewards Fry gets from emphasizing both research and writing in English 298.

“This English course became more of a history course,” Bryan said. “How many classes on campus have freshmen writing about a topic like this?”

Johnson worked with Fry to design and deliver the course’s library instruction sessions.

“Bryan Fry is one of the top instructors I have worked with in my 11 years at WSU,” Johnson said.

The library award is presented for encouraging students to use the libraries; personal use of the libraries; personal support of or contributions to the libraries’ collections or services; interaction and cooperation with library faculty; and service on library-related committees.

Washington State University