2012: James Zappen and Charles Kostelnick

2012 ATTW Fellows

Citation for
James Zappen
Elevated to ATTW Fellow, March 2012
(written by Ann Blakeslee)

Dear Professor Zappen:

It is with great pleasure that we to elevate you to Fellow of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing on March 21, 2012.

Your selection as a Fellow celebrates your achievements in the field of technical communication. It recognizes your extensive, high-quality scholarly contributions to the field, your leadership at Rensselaer, and your strong record as a teacher and mentor. You are very deserving of this honor.

Your scholarly record is extensive and impressive, especially in its breadth. You have made a significant mark on our field for many years with your insightful and ground breaking theoretical and historical work. You are one of a handful of scholars who have used rhetorical theory in novel ways to address issues and problems in technical communication. You have adeptly written about a range of theorists and theoretical perspectives, applying these perspectives to everything from research papers to trial court opinions to community information systems, and, most recently, to digital documents. You have applied classical rhetorical perspectives as well as more contemporary theoretical ideas. You have established yourself as a careful historian who is able to write with precision and ease about our long and significant rhetorical tradition. Our field would be lacking many significant contributions had it not been for your extensive work in these areas. Many scholars, including myself, have looked to you as an example of what a capable and productive scholar in our field does.

We are most impressed with the range of your scholarly work. The titles of your publications bear this out: “Totalitarian Visual 'Monologue': Reading Soviet Posters with Bakhtin,” “Digital Rhetoric: Toward an Integrated Theory;” "Rhetoric, Community, and Cyberspace;” “The Discourse Community in Scientific and Technical Communication: Institutional and Social Views;” “Dewey, Kilpatrick, and Rogers on Expert Communication;” and “A Rhetoric for Research in Sciences and Technologies.” And this is just a small sampling. Your work situates us well within the historical tradition of our field while also helping us look to the future. You have pursued a cohesive and significant scholarly agenda that spans many centuries in its focus. You also have helped us bring the rhetorical tradition into the digital age, and you have an impressive track record with funded projects, especially with the Connected Kids initiative.

Your presentation at this conference aptly represents and even sums up your scholarly pursuits across your career. You now are considering questions about new media and about how persuasion occurs and users are engaged with these media, concluding that “new rhetorics emerge as tools and resources for interactions between corporations and their customers and between customers and other customers.” Your use of Kenneth Burke and connections with agile design and development move us in important new directions for thinking about current communication practices. This work is yet another demonstration of the quality of your thinking! As a new scholar in the field many years ago now, I was impressed with the thoughtfulness and clarity of your scholarship when I read your contribution to the New Essays volume. Today, some 25 years later, I remain equally, if not even more, impressed. You truly have been an intellectual role model for me throughout my career, and I suspect that you have played that role for many others in the profession as well.

Your impact on our field is also evidenced by your service. You received the Service Award from the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences at Rensselaer in 2009, and you received the CPTSC Distinguished Service Award in 2007. You also received the Academy for Character Education Community Leadership Award. And, of course, you served your department as chair, and, according to your colleagues, did so with the same grace and dignity with which you do everything else.

Your colleagues have only the highest praise for your administrative qualities as well as your qualities as a scholar, and your character. Merrill Whitburn, who was chair when you were hired at Rensselaer, remembered “how eagerly they recruited” you and “how delighted they were” that you came…

Jim continued his stellar publication record at Rensselaer, contributing to numerous books and journals in technical communication and rhetoric and serving on a number of editorial boards. He won the Donald C. Steward Award for Best Essay from Rhetoric Review for “Francis Bacon and the Historiography of Scientific Rhetoric” and published in 2004 his notable The Rebirth of Dialogue: Bakhtin, Socrates, and the Rhetorical Tradition. He has won numbers grants, including his multiple grants for “Connected Kids: Designing Database Software.”

He also said, “Jim has truly been a remarkable achiever in our profession.”

Cheryl Geisler admitted to having more than 5,064 computer files mentioning your name. She paid you the highest compliment a colleague can pay:

Jim set the standard for me in all things academic: He is a brilliant and dedicated teacher who has his greatest joy in talking through ideas over coffee. He is a careful scholar whose interest, nonetheless, range widely to include not only scholarship on Bakhtin and Burke, but also research grants on digital government.

Cheryl also talked about your kindness and attentiveness: “…people remember Jim for the way he pays attention to them.” She admitted that yours was always the office she would stop at on her way out of the building since you were “the colleague who would listen, advise, and laugh with me through the daily ups and downs.”

Finally, Michael Halloran offered praise that was equally complimentary and that also speaks to your character and habits of mind, and to your habits more generally:

Jim Zappen has occupied the same office for nearly three decades, but it always looks as if he moved in last week and finished getting everything organized yesterday. The surface of his desk is uncluttered. His computer, when he’s not using it, is shrouded in a plastic dust cover which disappears from sight when he is at work. The two or three manuscripts he’s typically working on are stacked in neat piles, the pages lined up exactly and set parallel to the edges of the desktop. Books on the shelves are laid horizontally (an idiosyncrasy Jim refuses to explain) in perfectly squared and logically ordered stacks. No dust-bunnies or cobwebs adorn the corners of the room. Late in the day a sheet or two of tidily crumpled paper may lie at the bottom of the waste basket, but by morning they will be gone and the waste basket will be as clean as a freshly washed dinner plate. It would not surprise me to learn that Jim employs a private cleaning staff to dust and vacuum his office and Windex his windows every night.

While we may never learn the truth about the private cleaning staff, Michael’s comments seem fitting given the care you seem to take with everything you undertake. He continued:

Yes, he can think and talk in the straight lines of a logician, but he’s equally capable of the inspired imaginative leap. Yes, he’s courteous, maybe even a bit courtly, but the twinkle in his eye bespeaks a sense of humor that manages somehow to be wicked without ever being unkind.

Few of us could express this any better than your colleagues, but many of us share their sentiments. Your contributions to our profession have been numerous, and your impact on our field has been significant. We express our sincere gratitude to you for your achievements, and our since congratulations on this recognition of them. We wish you the very best in your ongoing scholarly and professional endeavors.

Citation for
Charles Kostelnick
Elevated to ATTW Fellow, March 2012
(written by Richard Johnson-Sheehan)

Dear Professor Charles Kostelnick,

It is my privilege to welcome you as a Fellow of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing. The elevation ceremony will be held on March 21st, 2012 during the annual ATTW business meeting. My aim in this recognition letter is to do the nearly impossible—review and summarize your productive and successful career. Each of us contributes to the field in our own way, but only a rare scholar, such as yourself, is able to transform the field and open new avenues for inquiry. Your research and teaching, especially in the areas of visual rhetoric and graphic communication, have significantly changed and broadened our field.  

Let me start at the beginning. In 1973, you earned a Bachelors of Architecture at the University of Illinois. Then, in 1981, you earned a doctorate in Comparative Literature, also at the University of Illinois. At the time, and even now, you were one of the few scholars in our field who could claim formal training in architecture as the basis of your education. This unique background gave you insight into visual design, which helped you see new parallels with the emerging field of rhetoric and professional writing.

Your first publications were on Charles Dickens, William Gilpin, Ann Radcliffe, and William Wordsworth. At this point, your research into the visual arts and aesthetics was taking shape. One of these early articles is about the “picturesque vision,” and another is about the “aesthetics of decay.” Then, in 1988, your first article in professional writing appeared, titled “A Systematic Approach to Visual Language in Business Communication.” This article laid out some of the basic principles that would guide much of your research afterward. From this point forward, we see a steady stream of articles in visual rhetoric and graphic communication, including three classics in the ATTW’s own journal. They include, “Visual Rhetoric: A Reader-Oriented Approach to Graphics and Designs,” “Centers for Applied Writing: A Conceptual Model,” and “The Rhetoric of Text Design in Professional Communication.” Your article in College Composition and Communication, “Process Paradigms in Design and Composition,” published twenty-three years ago, is still widely used in graduate courses.  I cannot name all of your articles here, but they make up an amazing portfolio of ground-breaking work in visual rhetoric. I did want, however, to highlight your book Designing Visual Language: Strategies for Professional Communication, which you published in 1998 with David Roberts. This book consolidated many of the conventions and strategies of visual rhetoric that are mainstays in today’s technical communication curricula. Moreover, this book offered a foundation on which courses in visual rhetoric are now taught. The second edition of Designing Visual Language, published in 2010, demonstrates how rapidly our field is evolving toward the visual, but it also shows how well the conventions you described in the first edition have stood the test of time.

Your teaching has also left a lasting impact on our field. In many ways, you were the originator of courses in visual rhetoric and graphic communications, which are now standard offerings in professional writing programs. When you began teaching visual rhetoric in the early 1980s, these courses just didn’t exist. Today, we would be hard pressed to find a graduate program in our field that does not include visual rhetoric as a central course. Meanwhile, at the undergraduate level, visual rhetoric and graphic design have been thoroughly integrated into the teaching of writing. It would be difficult to imagine courses in professional writing and even composition without a visual rhetoric component. Graduate students at Iowa State have long looked forward to taking your courses and seminars in visual rhetoric and graphic communications. In turn, as professors themselves, they have offered variations of your visual rhetoric course at college campuses nationwide. Perhaps even more importantly, though, as a teacher, you have been a model for many of us to follow. In the classroom, you were always patient with your students, many of whom were much better with words than design. Last year, recognizing your status as a master teacher, you were awarded the Jay R. Gould Award for Excellence in Teaching Technical Communication by the Society for Technical Communication.

Your service to the discipline and Iowa State University have been exemplary. You served as chair of your department for a decade, and you have held a variety of other administrative positions. You were editor of one of our field’s most prominent journals, the Journal of Business and Technical Communication. Meanwhile, you have served as a reviewer for major journals and conferences. Reflecting on your service, David Russell, one of your colleagues at Iowa State told me, “Charlie’s the most loyal, persistent colleague ever. If you want to climb a high, craggy mountain, bring him along. Put him in front.”

Let me conclude with the words of another of your colleagues, Michael Mendelson. He told me, “There is much more to say, but not time to say anything other than this: every member of the Rhetoric staff at Iowa State, past and present, every graduate student in Charlie Kostelnick's Visual Rhetoric course for the last 20 years, not to mention all those to whom he is connected in other ways at Iowa State, all of us admire the man as a person.” The same could be said of the ATTW. You are a person we greatly admire. Thank you for being among us.


Richard Johnson-Sheehan

ATTW Fellows Selection Committee

Professor of Rhetoric, Purdue University