2019: Cheryl Geisler and Mark Zachry

Citation for Cheryl Geisler
Elevated to ATTW Fellow, March 2019
by Bill Hart-Davidson

Today we join a chorus of colleagues and organizations who have honored the career contributions of Dr. Cheryl Geisler by elevating Cheryl to the rank of Fellow of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing. Cheryl’s contributions to scholarship in the field are rich and copious. Her rigorous work has consistently served as a benchmark for investigations of the way experts and academics write, work together, incorporate technologies into their practice, and balance the demands of work with other aspects of their lives. As Cheryl’s own career advanced, she moved into a series of leadership roles in the institutions where she worked, including as Department Head and Dean. Her inquiry merged with her dedication to being a resource for those she was charged to lead, and today Cheryl is well known across disciplines for her outstanding work on faculty development, and especially in the area of making inclusive career paths for women in the academy.

The ATTW has of course enjoyed the benefit of Cheryl’s leadership to our organization as well. She has been the architect of our graduate student professional development efforts in ATTW during her more than ten years of service as chair of the Research committee. She created our research methods workshops for graduate students and advocated for ATTW to fund travel fellowships so students could attend these full day sessions with leading researchers in the field. She has sought out those scholars in the field whose work has been recognized for its methodological quality and novelty to lead these workshops each year, ensuring that our best researchers connect with graduate students in the formative stage of their own careers. We are deeply grateful to Cheryl for her dedication to this program and to the broader effort of making ATTW a professional home for students and faculty by supporting their learning.

We are, in truth, a little late to the party when it comes to recognizing Professor Geisler’s transformative contributions to the field of rhetoric, writing, and technical communication. You may know, for instance, that the Rhetoric Society of America has an award that recognizes outstanding contributions to mentoring. That award is named for Cheryl! The program she started at RSA to assist junior faculty in finding mentors who could scaffold their career growth – particularly when they were in institutions where they might be the only rhetoric or technical communication scholars in their department – have helped many, many people in our organization and in the field to grow successful careers.

There are many people in our organization who have Cheryl to thank for the trajectory of their own scholarship. Her talent as a researcher and scholar who has continually advanced knowledge in the fields of Literacy Studies, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication has also consistently expanded our field’s reach into new areas such as Human-Computer Interaction and Mobile Technology. With colleagues in computer science, Cheryl was among the first in our field in the mid-1990s to publish work on computer-mediated collaboration and design. In 2001, Cheryl led a “dream team” of researchers she dubbed the iText Working group to fashion a research agenda on “the relationship between information technology and writing” that remains relevant today. Also that year, six years before the iPhone was introduced, Cheryl had already begun researching and publishing on the ways mobile technologies – do you remember the Palm pilot? – were changing the dynamics of knowledge work and how these tools might shift the balance of work/life, particularly for professional women.

Cheryl’s 2004 research methods book Analyzing Streams of Language made rigorous analysis of verbal data accessible to anybody with Microsoft Office. The text offers a glimpse of what it is like to learn with and from Cheryl as a student in her classroom or as a colleague on a collaborative team. She moves back and forth between concepts and operational details smoothly, making sure that each analysis move is well-grounded in a theoretical rationale. Her passion for helping others learn to think like researchers is obvious on every page, just as it is when you talk to Cheryl in the hallway or after a panel session at ATTW. A colleague of Cheryl’s characterized this quality of her personality this way:

It has always been inspiring for me the way Cheryl works tirelessly and efficiently in all areas of her own career, holding herself to the highest standards of quality in teaching, research, institutional and national service. She does this, moreover, with true joy. You can see it on her face! The result is that Cheryl becomes a leader. Not because she seeks positions of power for herself, but because others recognize in her the qualities they most want to emulate. Cheryl is truly a leader by example, and her example is both inspiring and energizing.

Cheryl’s depth of experience in administrative positions, as a researcher, as an advisor to Ph.D. students and junior faculty, and as a teacher is nearly unparalleled in the field. This experience undergirds an organizational savvy that is remarkable. Evidence of this exists most obviously in the programs and alliances Cheryl has helped to build, ranging from formal structures such as the first Writing Across the Curriculum program at Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute to ad-hoc collaborations like the iText Working Group. We want to note that, as a leader in these and other endeavors, Cheryl’s work often advances the reputation of the group over her own. And while it may be true that Cheryl’s work is motivated by broader interests than accolades for herself, today we want to make sure to say to Cheryl that we see you, we appreciate you, and we are deeply grateful to you for all that you have done and continue to do for ATTW!

Let us also acknowledge that while this award is overdue, we are thrilled to have the chance to honor Cheryl and to encourage all of our colleagues in ATTW to express their thanks and congratulations to her. You may find that as much as we have tried to celebrate her best qualities, we have understated them. Interpersonally, Cheryl not only offers wise counsel and guidance, she also challenges us to achieve great things. She has both the patience and confidence in our ability to learn from mistakes as well as successes. She is generous with her time and places a high value on one-on-one interaction as a way to pose and solve problems. Take as one bit of evidence the success of her former graduate students (some of whom are themselves ATTW fellows!). When you have your chance to talk with Cheryl, you’ll join the ranks of our colleagues who come away feeling honored that she holds you to a high standard with confidence that you can succeed.

We are honored to welcome Dr. Cheryl Geisler to the community of ATTW Fellows as a representative of the very best kind of colleague we could hope to have!

Citation for Mark Zachry
Elevated to ATTW Fellow, March 2019
Written by William Hart-Davidson

It is with gratitude and joy that we elevate Professor Mark Zachry of the University of Washington to the status of Fellow of the Association of Teachers of Technical Writing. Mark’s scholarly productivity, national and international leadership have contributed in significant ways to the field and to our organization. And, of course, Mark has also played a strong role, as editor of ATTW’s journal Technical Communication Quarterly along with several award-winning collections of research, in shaping the overall research agenda of our field. His service also includes an impressive legacy as a teacher and mentor of students and colleagues who have themselves built successful careers in Technical Communication.

Mark is truly a research innovator in the field of Technical Communication. His careful theoretical work in pieces such as “Genre ecologies: an open-system approach to understanding and constructing documentation” published in 2000 and co-authored with Clay Spinuzzi is widely cited and deeply influential. Indeed, the genre ecologies framework proposed in that piece has gone on to become a generally accepted model in the field, though at the time the core ideas were quite new and disruptive of both theoretical and pedagogical approaches to genre. The central implication of the genre ecologies framework argues that the scope of research on written discourse must shift, dramatically, from a focus on relatively discrete communicative artifacts (texts) to a system of interdependent communicative actions. Not a subtle shift. It was a shift that literally demanded whole new research traditions in the field. And it turns out to have been an important change that presaged the networked, social-media saturated world we live in today.
But Zachry did not stop at arguing for such a shift from a theoretical perspective. Indeed, his earlier empirical and archival work had already adopted the systemic approach that would eventually be known as the genre ecology framework, producing insights that helped to demonstrate just where the fields’ research might go. Mark recognized that the transition would mean preparing researchers whose work had primarily focused on text analysis – ranging from close interpretive reading to more systematic corpus studies – to begin looking more broadly at human behavior, in group and organizational settings, without losing the systematic approaches that had brought rigor and value to textual studies.

Mark’s contributions also include outstanding service to ATTW. Mark served two terms as Editor of TCQ, including one as a co-Editor with ATTW Fellow Charie Thralls. During that time, Mark helped to modernize the journal’s review process as content-management systems became standard in academic publishing. He also worked to get the journal indexed more broadly, a move which helped to boost the journal’s overall quality, citations, and submission rate. Mark moved the journal with him from Utah State to the University of Washington, a process that allowed him to document processes and ensure that each subsequent transfer of the journal’s editorial home would be a smooth one. In short, Mark applied his own expertise as a technical writer and as a researcher of distributed work to our house organ, helping it to become the respected source of cutting-edge research it is today!

In the last ten years or so of his career, Mark has encouraged this kind of work by writing about research methods, mentoring graduate students in a highly-productive research group at the University of Washington. He has consistently published the best quality research in our field in journals and edited collections – for which his work has been recognized with awards for outstanding article and edited collection, among others. He has also led workshops and transformed curricula – most notably in graduate education in Human-Centered Design and Engineering. At Washington and Utah State, Mark built a reputation as an outstanding mentor and teacher. Mark has been honored for outstanding teaching throughout his career by the Society for Technical Communication with the Jay R. Gould award for Excellence in Teaching, truly one of our field’s highest honors.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Mark is among the most respected and valued members of the field of Technical Communication. This is all the more true for the way his work has pushed the field to become more interdisciplinary, to engage with allied areas of interest such as Human- Computer Interaction and Computer-Supported Cooperative Work.
For all of these reasons, Mark Zachary has had a transformative impact on our field and has more than earned recognition as a Fellow of the Association of Teachers of Technical Communication.