News: A New Director for WCP

Melissa Ianetta

Posted July 1, 2020

Starting August 1, 2020, Melissa Ianetta becomes Director of Georgia Tech’s Writing and Communication Program and the Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, where she will continue to support the principles and practices that characterize this internationally recognized program. Even in these challenging times facing public higher education, Ianetta is committed not just to faculty development and innovative curriculum and pedagogy but also to overall faculty and student well-being.

Ianetta assumes the role that has been held by Rebecca Burnett since 2007. Ianetta’s official work begins July 1; during the month of July, she will work with Burnett, concluding two months of transition conversations. Burnett is retiring, effective July 31.

Burnett has said that “Melissa Ianetta’s experience and vision make her an excellent match for the Writing and Communication Program. The Brittain Fellows and other WCP faculty will benefit enormously, not only from her creative vision but also from her expertise as a writer and editor.”

In her new role, Ianetta will work with the experienced leadership team for the Writing and Communication Program and the Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. This team includes Andy Frazee, Associate Director; Courtney Hoffman, Assistant Director; and McKenna Rose, Assistant Director for Assessment. 

  • “What we want from senior administration, I think, is that they administer well, or at least in a consistent and predictable fashion, and that they conduct their business in such a manner that we know if they are doing a good job.” [Ianetta, M. (2015). “Absence and action: Making visible the WPA work.” WPA: Writing Program Administrator, 38(2), 141-58.]

Prior to beginning her tenure at Georgia Tech, Ianetta was the Unidel Andrew B. Kirkpatrick Chair of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Delaware where she served as the founding Director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program. She previously served for nine years as the University of Delaware’s Director of Writing, leading both the composition program and the writing center. At Georgia Tech, she will assume the Class of ’58 Professorship, an endowed professorship that honors the importance of communication.

The School of Literature, Media, and Communication (LMC) serves as the institutional home to both the Writing and Communication Program and the Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellowship Program. The Chair of LMC, Richard Utz, recently commented on Ianetta’s arrival: “The leadership of WCP touches the educational future of every single undergraduate student on our campus. Dr. Ianetta brings exactly the right background and experience to this important and complex task. In addition, her national reputation will increase the number of scholars and students who will know about Georgia Tech as an institution that leads by example in multimodal communication.”  

In conversation, Ianetta displays energy and enthusiasm about her new role. She recently answered questions about coming to Georgia Tech:

Q: What are you most looking forward to in your new role as Director of Georgia Tech’s Writing and Communication Program and the Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Fellowship Program?

A: So many things, honestly! One of the prime draws of the position was the opportunity to work alongside the Brittain Fellows as they create their professional futures. Mentoring has long been one of my greatest professional satisfactions, both because of the strong impact when such relationships are successful and because working with high achieving individuals as they cross the threshold from one developmental moment to the next is very exciting intellectually. 

I’m also really pleased to return to writing program leadership. I’ve always believed that, when I teach well, I can help enhance the literacy of a room full of people. When I run a writing program well, I am helping to create conditions of excellence for thousands of students and faculty. Finally, I’m interested in advocating nationally for the Brittain program—it’s a remarkable model of excellence and should be universally acknowledged as THE site of best practice in postgraduate mentoring in English Studies.

  • “Combining the histories of composition and literature more fully...will help us better understand the inadequacy of narrow discipline-based thinking to solve the problems of either field….[W]e can learn from histories of both literary and writing studies and thus better augur our own future in and out of the department of English.” [Ianetta, M. (2010). "Disciplinarity, divorce and the displacement of labor issues: Rereading histories of composition and literature." College Composition and Communication, 66(2), 53-72.]

Q: In what ways is Georgia Tech unlike the University of Delaware?

A: Put simply, the Writing and Communication Program is truly distinct in the fields of English and writing studies. Both the curriculum and the staffing model have a lot to offer both areas of study. WCP resides in the School of Literature, Media and Communication, itself an innovative entity in both its programs and disciplinary configurations. Ultimately, Georgia Tech strikes me as a place of community service, constant innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, qualities reflected in both LMC and the WCP. Of course, I just started—please ask me again in a year!

Q: What strategies of care will you encourage for faculty teaching during the ongoing pandemic?

A: First, a caveat: I like to say my opinions are like free samples: it’s perfectly appropriate to throw them away when they don’t suit, but, hopefully, every once in a while, you get one that’s a useful delight. So any strategies of care I employ myself may or may not be useful to others—and that’s 100% okay.  I am always happy to talk about the ways in which, for example, I draw boundaries, prioritize tasks or, when necessary, just plain old say no to things. These tactics may or may not be useful to others. That being said, I hope to support all WCP faculty throughout this challenge two ways. First, the role of the WCP Director is a crucial one for strongly messaging the needs of the faculty to the institution and, second, individual community members can be supported by helping to meet their specific needs to thrive and excel.

Q: What are your plans for your first year at Georgia Tech? 

A: Many of my graduate students have accepted positions as writing program administrators. One of the last bits of advice I give them is “spend your first year counting things and talking to people.” Here at Georgia Tech, I intend to take my own advice by getting to know the program and the people before thinking seriously about any new initiatives. I’d also like to do a bit of public writing about the Brittain postdoc model to share widely the best practices that have been developed here. 

Ianetta (PhD, The Ohio State University) is a successful scholar. Her scholarship about undergraduate research, writing program leadership, and disciplinary history has appeared in such venues as College English, College Composition and Communication, WPA: Writing Program Administration, Rhetoric Review, and PMLA. She has written about topics as far ranging as Aspasia to writing centers, from undergraduate research to labor issues.

  • “Ours is a field in which many have made their careers, and gained tenure based on articles, not monographs. Given this emphasis on the article as a primary form of disseminating disciplinary knowledge, the role of the journal editor should be one of our central concerns.” [Ianetta, M. (2010). "Disciplinarity, divorce and the displacement of labor issues: Rereading histories of composition and literature." College Composition and Communication, 66(2), 53-72.]

In addition to having articles in the discipline’s premier journals, Ianetta is the co-editor (with Kelly Ritter) of Landmark Essays in Writing Program Administration and the co-author (with Lauren Fitzgerald) of The Oxford Guide for Writing Tutors: Practice and Research. Ianetta co-edited The Writing Center Journal (2008-2013) and currently serves as editor (2017-2022) of College English, the flagship journal of the College Section of the National Council of Teachers in English.

Ianetta, her husband Iain Crawford, and their dogs—the effusive Teddi and the recalcitrant Coco—plan to make Atlanta their permanent home.