The Jacobson Center aims to improve the teaching and learning of college students
When Joan Leiman Jacobson was 15 (and not yet a Jacobson), she entered Smith College. She graduated in 1947. A native of New York, Jacobson spent more of her life in New York City. She also spent most of her life as a passionate promoter of writing and poetry.
We became interested in Jacobson in a roundabout way. She and her husband endowed the Jacobson Center for Writing, Teaching and Learning at Smith College. Tweetspeak’s Summer Lights Poet this year, Sara Eddy, works at the center as the Assistant Director and Writing Enriched Curriculum Specialist.
The center’s professional staff are all writers themselves, as well as experienced teachers of writing. They are hired Specifically for their ability to work productively with students and complement the mission of the writing center. Several of them are lecturers in English language and literature. They specialize in specific areas of writing — science writing, technology, general writing, public speaking, and multilingual writing.
Students are offered a wide area of assistance, opportunities, and tutoring. Any kind of writing is welcome — reports, papers, presentations, traditional, technology-based, and more. Students can be tutored or serve as a peer tutor. Opportunities include individual writing conferences, services for non-native English speakers, learning skills support, assistance with learning disabilities, and more. Subjects can be as basic as grammar and punctuation or as advanced as presentation skills.
The center has produced and maintains a handbook for writing papers for Smith College students. It has also developed a 15-step process for writing, the entirety of which can be read online. Smith College has developed a writing-enriched curriculum, in which writing and communication are taught across all academic disciplines.
This fall, the Jacobson Center is serving as the organizational hub for Smith’s new journalism concentration. The program involves both classroom instruction, internships, and practical experiences.
The center was endowed by Joan Leiman Jacobson and her husband, Dr. Julius Jacobson II. The Jacobsons also endowed the Discovery Poetry Contest at the 92nd Street Y, where Mrs. Jacobson served as the first woman president. The contest is presented by the Unterberg Poetry Center and the Boston Review. Mrs. Jacobson also supported a writer-in-residence program at Smith and served on boards at the Hudson Review, New York Public Library, Harvard School of Public Health, and many other organizations. She died in 2020 at age 92.
“When I entered Smith,” Jacobson once wrote, “every student was required to take English 11, a course designed to lead us to read with care and understanding and to write English correctly and clearly. I learned then that a precise word would convey my meaning better than a vague or flowery phrase and to appreciate the beauty of disciplined writing. My entire life has been informed and enabled by what I was taught at that time.”
That dedication and belief in writing carries on at the Jacobson Center.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
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