Director Nick Recktenwald Shares Coffee and Composition Tips

As new students experience their first writing courses of 2021, we asked Director of the Composition Program, Nick Recktenwald, about the focus of the department and how his leadership will shape the future of the program.



Q: How would you describe the goal or mission of the Composition Program? 


A: The goal of the Composition Program is twofold: to help students sharpen their writing and critical thinking skills in preparation for their academic journey at UO and also to give students confidence in their ability to voice their perspectives on challenging, contemporary issues through clear, considered writing. In other words, we want to empower students to participate in important conversations both on campus and beyond.  


Q: Can you explain the process of completing UO’s writing requirement?  


A: Students complete the UO writing requirement by passing WR 121 and either WR 122 or WR 123. Whether a student takes WR 122 or WR 123 is up to them (though they should consult with their advisor before deciding). All three courses are designed primarily for students studying at UO in their first or second year.  


Q: What resources are offered by the Composition Program?  


A: The Composition Program offers tutoring support through its affiliation with the Center for Teaching Writing (CTW). Students can access this support by either signing up for WR 195, a structured, one-credit course that allows students to meet with a writing tutor at least seven times during the term they take WR 121/2/3, or by signing up for an appointment with a CTW tutor here: 


Students are also welcome and encouraged to meet with their instructors about their specific learning needs; the small class sizes in WR 121/2/3 allow instructors to know their students as individuals. That means that a student’s instructor is always going to be the best resource for supporting the student’s goals in the writing classroom.  


Q: What led you to become the director of the Composition Program and what are you most looking forward to in this new position?  


A: I have taught in the Composition Program since 2014 and that experience has helped me develop teaching practices that better meet students where they’re at when they step into my WR 121, 122, or 123 class. “Meeting students where they’re at” is another way of saying that I prioritize working with the varied skills, perspectives, and backgrounds each student brings to the writing classroom. That’s in contrast to expecting students put their individual experiences aside in order to conform to and perform within a static writing curriculum. The latter might serve the needs of the Program and the University, but the former centers the needs of students. I think my strong commitment to the needs of students primarily led to my appointment as Director of the Composition Program and I’m most looking forward to supporting instructors in the Program find new ways to prioritize and support the needs and learning goals of their students. 


Q: In your opinion, what is the most valuable, life-long skill that can be learned through the Composition Program, for students or yourself?  


A: Regardless of whether a student ever needs to write an academic-style essay after they graduate from the UO, everyone can benefit from knowing how to better express themselves through clear, organized, and well-reasoned writing. That will be true in most professional settings, but it’s also true in many personal situations, as well. My goal for every student enrolled in a WR 121/2/3 class is that they develop a strong understanding of their own writing process and habits so that they can use that knowledge in a wide variety of contexts throughout their lives.  


Q: Are there any writing course topics that have caught your attention this upcoming Fall term?  


A: I think a number of our instructors have developed fascinating reading units on what it means to be a university student today – both in the narrow focus of the ongoing pandemic, but also in the broader setting of ballooning student debt, a rapidly changing economy, and uncertain political futures. Obviously, these reading units will feel relevant to any student sitting in a writing classroom and hopefully that relevance will translate into a clearer understanding for each student of their own goals and priorities at UO. I believe that the Composition Program’s best course topics all leverage their relevance to students’ lives to encourage sharper self-knowledge in relation to a contemporary and pressing issue, whether that issue be climate change, the politics of sports, food justice, or the power dynamics of language. 


Q: And finally, do you have a fun fact you’d like to share, or anything else you would like to include? 


A: I’ll just share one of the most important lessons I’ve learned, which has helped me survive both undergrad and graduate school, grading hundreds of essays each term, and raising a toddler: if you order your cold brew coffee with light ice, you get more caffeine “bang” for your buck.  I believe that’s the definition of a “pro tip.”  


We offer a cheers of coffee to Nick and the other instructors of the composition program this year. To learn more about resources and program policies visit