Research and Writing Center associate director offers support to multilingual students

Watkins explains the Multilingual Student Tutorial. Watkins is the associate director of the Research and Writing Center at BYU. (Hassan El-Cheikh)

There’s nothing quite like sitting down two hours before a paper is due and trying to click-clack away to meet the minimum word count before 11:59 p.m. Unfortunately, many students — especially those with learning disabilities or those who come from a foreign background — experience additional difficulty when writing, according to a study conducted by Vanderbilt University.

Katie Watkins, associate director of the BYU Research and Writing Center, is there for students who may need writing support. Along with her responsibilities as director, Watkins is also the multilingual writing coordinator and oversees the multilingual writing tutorial.

“My job is to coordinate all the writing support we provide for multilingual students,” Watkins said.

Watkins grew up in Provo and completed her undergraduate degree from BYU in Latin American Studies with a minor in chemistry. Following her graduation in 2013, Watkins worked various jobs.

“After graduating, I had a wide range of random jobs from tax preparation to illustration to copyright,” Watkins said.

After some time, Watkins eventually discovered her passion when she got a job teaching English as a second language (ESL). Having the chance to work with students from all over the world taught Watkins about connecting with others, she said.

“I found that I loved making connections with students from all around the world and I loved helping students learn and fulfill their goals,” Watkins explained.

With this newfound passion, Watkins returned to BYU in 2020 and completed a master’s degree in linguistics with a focus on second-language acquisition. After finishing her master’s degree, Watkins worked at BYU for one year as adjunct faculty, teaching first-year writing for international/multilingual students and an anthropology research class for students looking to get involved in Provo’s local community.

When her current job with the Research and Writing Center became available, one of Watkins’ faculty mentors encouraged her to apply, she said. While Watkins didn’t know much about writing centers at the time, she said she was up for the challenge.

“My main reason for choosing BYU specifically is that I love working with students, and the students at BYU are the best. They’re enthusiastic, kind, caring, fun, quirky, willing to give their all and eager to learn and grow,” Watkins said. “I didn’t know very much about writing centers, but I was excited about the idea of helping students and so I decided to go for it, and I’m very glad I did.”

According to Watkins, the Research and Writing Center conducts roughly 12,000 one-on-one tutoring appointments per year, and 15-20% of those appointments are with multilingual students.

“There’s a strong need to provide solid support. I coordinate a program called the Writing Tutorial for Multilingual Students, offered both for-credit (ELING 310R) and not-for-credit,” Watkins said.

In the program, multilingual students are paired with a peer tutor for one-on-one appointments. There, the student works with the tutor each week throughout the semester.

“The goal is to make sure the students have consistent, longitudinal support from a tutor who knows them and has their back,” Watkins said.

When Watkins isn’t at the Research and Writing Center, she enjoys her four cats and participating in recreational activities like hiking, gardening, rock climbing, camping, reading, writing and cooking. She also enjoys spending time with her husband Tyler Hopkins.

“What I love most about Katie is the love she shows for everyone. It is the most consistent part of her character, and you have to understand that to understand Katie,” Hopkins said

According to Hopkins, the two met in a meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Hopkins would always say hello to Watkins, and she would compliment his pocket squares. Later, their wards combined and because of a miscommunication, Watkins wound up teaching Sunday school to an entire ward of 250 people.

“She impressed me and about nine other guys but as far as I knew, and I asked everyone, she was dating another guy. Three months later I found out she wasn’t dating anyone after all, and a few days later we were dating,” Hopkins said.

Luke Beckstrand has been a writing consultant at the Research and Writing Center since August 2022 and currently works as the student administrator overseeing multilingual activities. He works directly with Watkins.

“My favorite thing about having Katie as my boss is that she is extremely approachable. Even from day one I felt Katie was more of my friend and mentor than just a boss,” Beckstrand said.

Director of the Research and Writing Center Tyler Gardner said he brought Katie in to improve the support of multilingual writers.

“Since starting, Katie has gone above and beyond in this role, both in organizing programmatic support and training and preparing writing consultants to effectively provide it,” Gardner said.

BYU students who are multilingual and interested in the Writing Tutorial can visit the Research and Writing Center Website and register for ELING 310R or paired tutoring.

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