Congratulations to Leigh Ryan, founder of the University Writing Center, on her retirement!

June 9, 2016

The English Department congratulates and thanks Leigh Ryan for her 30+ years of service and unwavering dedication.

As a faculty member in the English Department, Ryan received many well-deserved accolades for her achievements. Perhaps most notably, Ryan founded the University Writing Center in 1982, which is now an essential campus resource because of her leadership and commitment to the University. The Writing Center’s well-trained tutors conduct approximately 9,000 tutoring sessions per year. Ryan’s Writing Center practices have become a national model, due in part, to the publication of The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, which is now in its fifth edition and highly regarded as crucial guide for training peer tutors. According to Kent Cartwright, Ryan’s “Center has contributed significantly to thousands and thousands of students in developing perhaps the most important skill that they can gain from their university education.”

In 2010, Ryan won the International Writing Centers Association (IWCA) Muriel Harris Outstanding Service Award for excellence in leadership. The IWCA quoted Ryan who said, “I don’t think I’m anything special in the writing center world; I just have lots of experience. When I look at my record, I’ve done a lot, but I’ve always just done it quietly. It mattered to me.” Just weeks before this honor, Ryan was awarded the President’s Distinguished Service Award—one of the University’s most prestigious annual awards that recognizes “exceptional performance, leadership, and service.” 

In 2012, Ryan came to the aid of students in New York and New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. After a request from Belinda Kramer from Long Island University, who asked writing centers across the US for assistance, Ryan and her tutors offered online tutoring via Skype, email, and phone to students who had missed weeks of courses due to the storm.

More recently, in 2013, Ryan received the St. George’s Day Award from the Prince George’s County Historical Society. The award honors individuals that have made significant contributions to the preservation of Prince George’s County heritage. Ryan was awarded in recognition of her research on Chaplain Henry Vinton Plummer and her volunteer work at the Riversdale House Museum. At the University, Ryan created and taught the course “Literary Works by Women: Women on the Plantation,” which was largely inspired by her work regarding Chaplain Plummer and the Riversdale museum.

Ryan’s influence on her students and Writing Center tutors and staff is discernible. In 2014, Lena Stypeck, a former tutor in the Writing Center, started a writing center at the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy in Baltimore where she is a first year English teacher. Influenced by the University Writing Center, Stypeck studied the methods Ryan implemented in order to understand the logistical needs of a writing center, the necessary business skills needed to run a writing center, and the tutor training practices used.

Of Ryan, Stypeck said, "Leigh Ryan was my first employer at University of Maryland and one of the best employers I've ever worked for. Through the UMD Writing Center, Leigh offered me the opportunity to explore writing in a way that I had never done before. While employed by the Writing Center, I peer tutored legal writing, business writing, scientific research reports, resumes, scholarships, dissertations., and conference  These tutoring experiences expanded my appreciation for writing and inspired me to major in English with a minor in Rhetoric. Without the Writing Center, my collegiate experience would not have been so diverse and rigorous."

Ryan hired Assistant Director of the Writing Center, Douglas Kern as a tutor in the Writing Center in early 2008. Kern says Ryan offered him support and guidance while he searched for a PhD program that would work best for his interests.

“Leigh has helped me to build my career and I've seen her do the same for tutors… Leigh always welcomed my academic interests, and encouraged me to blend those interests with the work I do in the Center.... What's more, she tirelessly supports her students and tutors, often offering to pay for (and drive them to) their attendance at national conferences. The Writing Center truly is the house that Leigh Ryan built,” said Kern.

Abby Shantzis '14, echoed Kern's sentiments.

"Leigh has been – and continues to be! - a truly wonderful mentor. Over the past few years, the warmth, patience, and honesty Leigh first provided by answering my (many) questions about tutoring has extended to pushing me to submit to and attend conferences as an undergrad, encouraging me through the grad school application process, and, most recently, acting as a sounding board and advisor as I go through the job search process. Leigh's office has been a place I could always go for advice and support, for a reality check or for a pep talk (depending on what I needed most). Leigh is passionate about undergraduate research and achievement, and that shows in the faith she puts in her tutors - I am honored to have had the opportunity to take advantage of that faith."

Ryan’s presence in the department will be greatly missed by all. We thank her for her dedication as a teacher, colleague, director, and friend and extend our congratulations on her retirement.