Wishing Dr. Ann Updike a Happy Retirement

By Mandy Olejnik

As Dr. Ann Updike and I sit down in her office here in King 139A, surrounded by her Paris-themed furnishings and a bookshelf full of titles relating to writing studies and indigenous rhetorics, she smiles when I ask her how it feels to be retiring. 

“It's very weird,” she muses, tilting her head to the side to consider my question. “I think it's going to be especially weird next fall if I'm not teaching, if I’m not on a campus after so many years.”

Updike has been at Miami for almost 20 years, starting in the fall of 2002 as a master’s student in the English department before continuing on for her PhD, teaching writing courses on the Hamilton campus, working at the former Howe Writing Initiative, and then transitioning to her role as associate director at the Howe Center for Writing Excellence (HCWE). Previously she worked in the business sector in project management at small start-up companies before she found her way to Miami. When we added it all up, Updike reflected, “I guess I never thought that I would be here as long as I've been. It was supposed to be a two year, ‘get your master’s’ gig and leave, and there just kept being reasons to stay!”

Updike has left her mark on the HCWE, contributing to programming on both the writing across the curriculum (WAC) and writing center sides of the center. Updike first started her Howe journey at the Howe Writing Initiative with her long-time mentor Dr. Kate Ronald. Located at first in Laws before moving to the shiny new halls of Farmer, Ronald and her assistant directors consulted with faculty in Farmer to discuss writing and assignment design, consult with students on their writing, as well as conduct faculty and student workshops and visit classes. After two years in that role, followed by a year away on a dissertation fellowship and then a special coordinator role at the HWI, Updike reunited with Ronald at the HCWE, where she took up the associate director role.

In those days, Updike worked in the writing center directly with students and consultants, as well as consulting with faculty and offering in-class student workshops. Part of her duties included co-teaching the consultant training course with Ronald before teaching the course herself—which remains one of her most memorable experiences here at the HCWE.

“Teaching that class, and then watching them consult for the first time and then watching them grow over time… That was probably the most rewarding thing here for me,” she reflects warmly. 

Ann Updike Graduate Student Workshop

Updike loves teaching. You can see it in her eyes when she talks about it, reflecting on what it was like to teach the new writing center consultants and further reflecting on the various writers she’s worked with over time. You can feel it during any faculty workshop session with her, too, as the normally calm and quiet Updike speaks up to engage with participants ideas about writing, to lead lessons on learning theory and threshold concepts before working to identify such principles in faculty members’ own courses.

While Updike began her journey at the HCWE invested in the writing center operations, five years ago she transitioned to work with Director Dr. Elizabeth Wardle on writing across the curriculum (WAC) initiatives. WAC at its core is about bringing people together to talk about teaching writing, which is fitting for Updike’s dedication to teaching. Our WAC program at the HCWE strives to engage faculty in department-wide conversations around writing, considering where it is taught in a curriculum, who teaches it, how it is taught, and how students experience it. Updike has been a core part of this work with faculty, as she assisted with our Howe Faculty Writing Fellows program, designed and led workshops, coordinated writing hours and writing retreats, consulted one-on-one with faculty, and gave class presentations. She’s also done so much more behind the scenes: created and balanced our budget, managed our website, created formstacks, and organized workshop attendance data. Updike has been so vital to the operations of the center that it’s actually taken two people to replace her in her retirement: Gail Stout as our new Budget and Data Coordinator and myself as our new Assistant Director for Writing Across the Curriculum starting in January.

When reflecting on her time working with Wardle and taking on more WAC-related responsibilities, Updike comments on the rewarding nature of such work.

“As I moved more into the WAC role and away from the student role, it was rewarding watching faculty in Fellows have those “aha!” moments where they really understood a concept,” she says. Working with faculty members across campus is a feature Updike has appreciated about her WAC work. Just as she loves teaching, she loves consulting with other teachers of writing and in turn supporting even more students over time, by helping their teachers think through how to teach writing in their disciplinary contexts.

Updike is also dedicated to improving higher education, and addressing matters of systemic inequities enacted not only in our local governments and institutions but in our classrooms. This past fall semester Updike designed, organized, and facilitated the HCWE’s Inclusive Writing Pedagogy Across the Disciplines Workshop Series—which turned out to be our most highly-attended workshop series ever. Updike invited guest speakers from across campus and across the country to discuss how we can bring inclusion, diversity, accessibility, and social justice into our classrooms. Updike designed this series as her culminating project for Miami’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Certificate program, and we look forward to seeing how participants of her workshop series apply what they’ve learned into their own departments and classrooms. 

Teaching, Updike says, is what she will miss the most, and what she might like to return to during her retirement.

“I might teach a little bit,” she admits when I ask her about her retirement plans. While she hopes to take more time to travel with her husband and work on other projects (including knitting for her grand-nieces and nephews), Updike still finds herself coming back to teaching. “I would like to teach first-year composition again, but at the regionals, to go back to my origins of working with regional students.”

This interview was a special, bittersweet moment for Updike and me, sitting in her office sipping coffee out of the HCWE mugs she’d ordered just before COVID hit. I’ve known Updike since my first semester at Miami in the fall of 2016, when I started the master’s program in English. I attended writing hours every week, where I’d see her calming presence around the center, greeting me and asking how it was going. I became more involved with the HCWE by taking up various administrative assistantships and working directly with Updike on support for graduate student writers, an important line of work for both of us. And now, as Updike heads off to retirement to travel and knit and teach first-year composition, I’ll be moving into the very office where we are chatting, as I take on the full-time staff role of Assistant Director for Writing Across the Curriculum.

“You know, I've always considered you to be like a sort of shadow committee member,” I tell her as we wrap up, feeling perhaps a touch sentimental. “I knew I could always talk to you about my research and you’d listen to me and prod a little bit. We can all rely on you to be a listening ear.  There are a lot of people who are really going to miss you.”

Please join me and the rest of our HCWE staff in wishing Dr. Ann Updike a most restful, exciting retirement. We will miss her calm and steady leadership, her kindness and generosity, her comforting presence, and remain thankful for the mark she’s left on our center.