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National “writing for the public” program coming to the Jackson School

August 11, 2021

Student writing with a computer and pen
Jackson School Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing will launch this academic year.

Want to write an Op-Ed on whether the U.S. is an empire? Craft a policy memo on the War on Drugs happening in Mexico, Brazil and the U.S.? What would you say in a blog post about global cities regarding their leadership roles in advancing and promoting culture and in developing the economy of the region, nation and the world? How would you incorporate Indigeneity into environmental science entries in an encyclopedia?

These are just a few of the real-world writing opportunities on global issues that will be part of the Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing program launching at the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington this upcoming academic year. A Calderwood Seminar is an innovative curriculum developed at Wellesley College which has been adopted by more than a dozen higher education institutions and equips students to translate their academic knowledge to a broad audience.

“Public engagement is a core mission for the Jackson School of International Studies. In the midst of the complex global challenges that we face, it is critical that we train students to engage with broad public audiences,” said Jackson School Director Leela Fernandes. “The Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing provide students with critical skills as they prepare for their careers and allows both faculty and students to use their expertise in ways that have real public impact.”

Nine Calderwood Seminars will be offered by Jackson School faculty over winter and spring quarters in 2022. Eight of the nine Calderwood public writing courses will be open to upper-level majors, while one will be offered at the graduate level for students in any program at the UW. The Calderwood Seminars will be embedded into the Jackson School curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate levels in the future, including as a capstone course option for current international studies majors and the new Global and Regional Studies major that begins in Autumn 2021.

Learning by doing
In a Calderwood, students will learn professional, colloquial writing through assigned readings which they then must translate into, on a weekly basis, a magazine article, book review, a guest essay, professional journal article and other public-facing genres. They will be both writers and editors, reversing roles each week.

In addition to mastering short-form writing and replicating the publishing world, work readiness skills are built into the Calderwood experience. Through required peer editing, student workshopping in class and producing multiple drafts of each assignment, students gain skills in how to give and receive constructive criticism, revise one’s work, and find their “voice.”

“Students ultimately produce a collection of polished pieces of public writing and gain the confidence that their views are worth sharing,” said David Lindauer, Stanford Calderwood Professor of Economics at Wellesley College, who founded the Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing in the fall of 2013 based on an Economics Journalism class he had taught for decades. It is named after Stanford Calderwood, a philanthropist focused on the arts and education. Calderwood students have published their work in Ms. Magazine, Stars and Stripes, The Oregon Way, Wikipedia and elsewhere.

The Jackson School Calderwood Seminars this year represent one of the largest offerings by a single unit in the history of the program. In 2019, the UW became one of the first universities west of the Mississippi, and one of the first public institutions, to launch the Calderwood Seminars for Public Writing program. By the end of Spring 2022, over 120 faculty will have offered a Calderwood Seminar and more than 2,000 students across 15 colleges and universities in the U.S. will have completed one.

Teaching for public impact
Daniel Bessner, Jackson School Associate Professor of International Studies and the holder of the Joff Hanauer Honors Professorship in Western Civilization who taught one of the first Calderwood Seminars at the UW in Spring 2020, said it was a way to give students exposure to and learn what practical writing was, including the etiquette in approaching a high-level foreign policymaker for an interview.

“The students really took to it. They were really excited that it had a potential practical impact and were interested in producing something that they could communicate to an imagined public.” Bessner added about his first experience teaching a Calderwood: “I learned how engaged and curious about the world the students are and how much they want to make a difference.”

Bessner will not only teach his second Calderwood Seminar, “Rethinking US Foreign Policy,” as part of the Jackson School Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing 2021-2022 cohort, but also mentor the eight Jackson School faculty who will be teaching the Calderwood public writing course for the first time. Every Calderwood faculty also receives curriculum development support from the Calderwood Foundation. It is one of the largest number of seminars offered in this history of the Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing program.

Jackson School Calderwood topics will range from capitalism to religion and politics to Indigeneity to misinformation and democracy to borders and migration with the U.S. and Mexico, to name a few. Over 10 weeks, students will get a chance to produce four short-form writing pieces for publication, such as a storyboard for a digital platform, policy memo, Op-Ed, film critique, book review, encyclopedia entries, a NPR-style “Academic Minute,” and a profile of a policy specialist for a magazine and more.

“At a time when the written word is more ubiquitous than ever, one of the essential skills of a liberal arts education is communicating insightfully, ethically, and concisely about important topics,” said Sunila Kale, associate director of the Jackson School and associate professor of South Asian Studies who will be teaching a Calderwood in winter 2022. “One of my favorite Jackson School classes to teach is a seminar on capitalism, in which we use multidisciplinary analyses of capitalism to help make sense of our contemporary world. I’m very excited to transform this class using the innovative model of the Calderwood Seminar in Public Writing to help our students hone their skills as writers and editors for a public audience.”

Jackson School Calderwood Seminars in Public Writing and faculty in 2021-2022:

Winter 2022

Spring 2022

To learn more, go to programs or email