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Mission Moments: Dr. Jacob Ptacek, SPURS Coordinator

Jacob Ptacek

No matter what vocation you choose, writing will always be an essential skill.  Whether you’re an anthropologist drafting a research proposal, a nonprofit director seeking grants or an advertising executive creating a big presentation, you must have a solid foundation in grammar and style.

This is an important lesson Dr. Jacob Ptacek, professor of rhetoric and writing, instills in his high school students who are participating in SPURS (Students Partnering for Undergraduate Rhetoric Success). As coordinator of the dual-credit program, he’s helping them hone their skills in reading, writing, researching and critical thinking.

How are students benefiting from this program?

Students get six hours of college credit that’s transferable to any public institution in Texas, and most of the private schools as well. They also get access to the UT Libraries system, where they learn how to use databases to conduct research. We also have a partnership with the University Writing Center, where trained undergraduate and graduate students can help them with their writing.

In terms of intangible benefits, students are getting college preparation. When they take a SPURS class, they’re going to come out of it a better writer. They’re also going to come away with more confidence in their abilities to write at the college level. They’re going to leave this class feeling empowered as a student, knowing they can be a success in college.

How are SPURS students getting a sneak peek into campus life?

Another unique aspect of the program is that we offer campus visits. Students from high schools across Texas get to tour the dorms, eat in the cafeterias and attend a college class. It’s a really great experience because they get to see what it’s like to be a UT student for a day. I always look forward to the campus visits, especially when they get to come to my classes.

Why is it important to have skills in rhetoric and writing? Could you give an example?

It’s important to really think about the information that’s being given to you on a daily basis. Rhetoric stresses an understanding that all speakers are motivated to persuade you in some way. In my classes, I teach students how to sort out the information they’re getting on a daily basis so they can make sense out of who these speakers are, where they’re coming from and what they’re trying to convey. In a time when we’re talking about fake news, rhetoric is a way to help you parse out what’s true and what’s not.

Writing is an important skill—no matter what job you’re in.  Whether you’re composing an email to your boss or writing a product description for your company, you’re going to write in all kinds of places and in various ways. A college course in writing really teaches you how to be a flexible writer in different environments. You’re going to use these skills well into your college career and beyond.

Why is it important to diversify the fields of rhetoric and writing?

I’m really idealistic about what America stands for, and I think democracy only works if we have everybody involved in critical conversations. The analytical skills you learn in college really prepare you for those conversations. Now more than ever it’s a critical time for students to be engaged in these dialogues, and that’s why I think SPURS is a great program. It helps people find a way to represent themselves and their communities and bring their experiences to the table.

More about SPURS: Founded in 2005, SPURS is a collaboration between The University of Texas at Austin’s Department of Rhetoric and Writing, UT’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, and public high schools across Texas. Visit the Longhorn Center for School Partnerships website for more information.

Posted by Seamus Gude