2018: Charlotte (Charie) Thralls and Jason Swarts

Citation for Charlotte (Charie) Thralls
Elevated to ATTW Fellow, March 2018
by Stuart Selber

The Association of Teachers of Technical Writing elevates Charlotte (Charie) Thralls to Fellow of ATTW. Professor Thralls, your contributions to the knowledge of our field, your exemplary teaching record, and the extraordinary range of your service, from the local to the national levels, over a career of more than three decades testify to the appropriateness of this recognition.

Your contributions as a scholar include your two co-edited collections, Professional Communication: The Social Perspective and Communicative Practices in Workplaces and the Professions: Cultural Perspectives on the Regulation of Discourse and Organizations and your numerous articles in professional journals. This work has earned many awards, including the NCTE Award for best collection of essays, the Association for Business Communication best article, and the Utah State College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences recognized you as the Humanist Researcher of the Year.

Few today may know that with your colleague Nancy Roundy Blyler you were founding editors of what has become one of the most important journals in our discipline, the Journal of Business and Technical Communication. As Carolyn Rude testifies: “One of their legacy gifts to the field was establishing the Iowa State Journal of Business and Technical Communication […] For a number of years, JBTC swept the annual NCTE awards in technical and scientific communication, with the best article in multiple categories.”

As a teacher, editor, and mentor you have worked with many outstanding scholars in our field; scholars like Kathy Rentz, Mark Zachry, Priscilla Rogers, Lisa Hermsen, Dave Clark, and Brian Gogan.

Kathy says: “I had several wonderful mentors when I was coming of age as a professional writing academic, but Charie Thralls was the one I most wanted to be like!”

Mark: “As a mentor, Charie is supportive and knows how to motivate people to achieve at a higher level than they might otherwise aspire to.”

Priscilla: “Her patience and guidance were transformational in my academic career and through the years I’ve frequently referred to her critiques to explain how “evaluation is a gift” when returning marked papers to students.”

Lisa: “I can imagine myself as Charie’s student again. Charie taught me how to do rhetorical theory and she introduced me to cultural studies. I am where I am now because I learned from her how to navigate the networks of documents and the power they can hold. Indeed, she taught me exactly what I needed. Once Charie told me she hoped I would end up in a place where I could teach Rhetoric. Only a mentor like Charie could provide, by example and instruction, the training applicable across a range of subject areas—so that teaching and scholarship would always be a great gig!”

David: “In the theory course, Charie had a classroom that mixed workplace practitioners with future academics, and I still think of her as my model for balancing those different pedagogical needs within a single course.”

Brian: “Charie has served as an incredible professional mentor to me and a number of my other colleagues. Charie values supportive, engaged, and hardworking colleagues, and she models this same kind of support, engagement, and diligence in her work with others. She takes the initiative to tackle the most difficult of tasks, and is always willing to offer guidance on any number of questions that a new faculty member might pose.”

Charles Kostelnick sums up your career as an educator this way: “As an award-winning teacher with a profound commitment to student learning, Charie has shaped curricula within departments and across universities.”

Your dedication as an educator is evident in your accomplishments at Utah State, Iowa State, and Western Michigan University. You earned Iowa State’s Louis Thompson Distinguished Teaching Award as well as the Iowa Legislature Teaching Award. You served as Associate Dean of your college at Utah State, and at Iowa State you were Director of Graduate Studies and a Faculty Fellow with the Center for Teaching Excellence, among other duties. At Western Michigan you serve as English Department Undergraduate Advisor.

But let me conclude by bringing this story around to you and ATTW. At a critical moment in ATTW’s history, you and Mark Zachry undertook the editorship of Technical Communication Quarterly. In your “New Editor’s Introduction” to your first TCQ issue you set forth your vision for the future of the journal and its appropriate role in helping to shape the practice and pedagogy of the field. You wrote, “The larger story is a complex one in which internationalization, legislation, and changing social paradigms …all play a role in how communicative practices come to be. It is our position that technical communication is not merely a field being carried along in this tide of history; it also represents a shaping force in the unfolding story.”

Charie, your vision is surely manifested right now, today, in the theme, the presentations, in the faces present here, and in the social and political circumstances of this 21st annual ATTW Conference.

Citation for Jason Swarts
Elevated to ATTW Fellow, March 2018
by Carolyn R. Miller

Jason Swarts is not only a jolly good fellow, he is now also an ATTW Fellow. Let me tell you why, on both counts.

Jason’s research has been published in all of the major journals in technical communication; his audiences include industry practitioners and students as well as academic researchers, indicating that he is attentive to the multiple functions his results can serve. What is particularly notable about Jason’s record is the number of national awards he has garnered: five best article awards and one best book award. Four of these are from the National Council of Teachers of English awards program in technical and scientific communication; one is the Frank R. Smith award from the Society for Technical Communication, and one is the Nell Ann Pickett award from ATTW’s own Technical Communication Quarterly. This is an unprecedented degree of national recognition for one researcher and a powerful indication of the quality of Jason’s research and the esteem in which it is held by his colleagues in the field.

Jason bases his research in first-hand observation of people working with texts and technologies in professional settings, such as an engineering firm, a newspaper, a college alumni relations office, and a veterinary medical clinic. Data is gathered by voice recording, direct observation, textual artifacts, interviews, and screen capture technology. It is what Jason does with the data that makes his work distinctive. He asks intelligent and subtly modulated questions, uses a variety of analytical methods, and derives carefully qualified conclusions that, rather than merely summarizing data, conceptualize the actions he has been observing with a depth and sophistication that set a standard for empirical studies in technical communication.

But, if you’ve been keeping up with the field, you probably know all this, and you may also remember that Jason has served on the ATTW Executive Committee and was ATTW Conference Chair in 2011. So let me give you some insider perspectives from people who have worked closely with Jason.

First, from his collaborator, Loel Kim, at the University of Memphis:

“At first glance, you might think Jason was an introverted academic, because he has a calm, somewhat soft-spoken voice and demeanor. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him raise his voice nor seen him become rattled or annoyed, even when he was a new father and . . . pre-tenure . . . assistant professor . . . Of course, to assume mild-mannered professor would be a mistake because he is actually adventuresome, endlessly curious, funny, and a bit of a foodie. I remember seeing him at a conference in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and after the morning sessions, he disappeared over the lunch/early afternoon break. Later on I saw him coolly strolling up the sidewalk, messenger bag across his shoulders, and when I asked him where he had been, he told me he had walked to Old Town Mesilla to hunt down a local chili joint to try some southwestern delicacy he had read about. When I noted the distance and the heat and said I hoped it was worth it, he said it was only so-so. But he was still so happy about it.

I can only say it was a pleasure to work with Jason as co-editor of a 2010 special issue of Technical Communication Quarterly on hybrid technological spaces. We had then and still share similar interests in technologies, people, and communication. I have collaborated most of my career both in academia and in industry and Jason was about as ideal as they come. . . . The world needs more nice, but decisive and intelligent people like him.”

And here are a few words from one of Jason’s recent doctoral students, Stephen Carradini, now Assistant Professor of Technical Communication at Arizona State:

“I won’t be at ATTW this year, sadly, but I am so glad to hear that Jason is being honored as a fellow! Jason is an admirable scholar and teacher. His timely research showed me what was possible at the cutting-edge of the field, while his impressive breadth of knowledge showed me the history and scope of the field. He provided wise and steadying guidance through my dissertation process, gracefully helping me sort through many wild ideas to find the few productive ones. Jason’s knack for understanding what I was trying to say in my writing (instead of what I actually wrote) then helped refine my ideas into research. His mentorship was and is invaluable.”

Huiling Ding, has this to say about Jason’s work in the programs at NC State:

“Jason has been building on the technological components of [NC State’s master’s program in technical communication] to help prepare students for the quickly changing job market . . . He introduced industrial and research tools such as XML, video editing software, DITA, and AntCon into our graduate seminars as well as . . . text mining and quantitative analytical tools, which exposed students to single sourcing, reuse, knowledge management, and distributed knowledge work. Thanks to his vision, our . . . curriculum is now undergoing major revision and updates.

Finally, Jason is a great program builder and a wonderful colleague. . . . The latest title he has is Associate Head of . . . English at NC State, which he accepted at a time of repeated budget cuts . . . That shows his courage, leadership, and commitment to build a better future for the department, its diverse programs, and its faculty and students.”

The new head of the English Department at NC State, Laura Severin, selected Jason to be associate head and director of undergraduate programs. She says,

“Though he has only served in this role for two months, [Jason] has already proven that he has exceptional skills, including creative problem solving. In a year when the department is facing a serious labor shortage due to leaves and retirements, has managed to employ our faculty in creative ways to cover our courses with integrity. He is that rare administrator who is good both at the details and at “big picture” skills. . . . He approaches his position, even the mundane details, with enthusiasm and faces unreasonable deadlines with equanimity.”

I’ll give the final word to another colleague at NC State, Nancy Penrose, currently Director of Graduate Programs:

“If we had an English Department MVP award at NC State (and why don’t we!), Jason Swarts would win year after year. Quite aside from recognizing his stellar teaching and research accomplishments, an MVP (Most Valuable Player) award could recognize the many ways in which Jason supports the teaching quality and research productivity of other faculty and students in our departmental community. He has been instrumental in the advancement of our interdisciplinary doctoral program, providing administrative leadership as well as essential methods training and mentoring as the program has evolved. As director of our undergraduate professional writing program, he stepped in to professionalize the pedagogical training for our master’s and doctoral GTA cohorts and reanimated professional development in our faculty teaching community. He has stepped in repeatedly to manage curriculum for our undergraduate concentration in writing and rhetoric—and most recently agreed to take on this role for the English department at large. In these and countless other ways, Jason is the ultimate team player and colleague. He has the perspective and good judgment to understand what’s needed to make a professional community successful, and he’s willing to put in the work to make it happen. As ATTW members, you’ve seen his influence in the profession; he’s had a similar impact here at home.”

In sum, Jason Swarts is a productive and creative researcher, a steady and responsible leader, and an inspiring teacher and mentor. The ATTW is proud to recognize his many contributions to research and education in technical communication by elevating him to the status of Fellow.