Decades after Drexel expanded its arts and humanities programs and modified its long-standing identity as a business- and engineering-focused institute, the liberal arts can be considered a hidden niche within the University. Rachel Wenrick is doing her best to spread the word, so to speak.
Wenrick came to Drexel in 2007 as an associate teaching professor in the Department of English & Philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences (CoAS). Since then, her role at the University has expanded to include co-directing a minor in writing and overseeing University-wide projects to reshape the use of writing at Drexel as the associate director of the University Writing Program: Strategic Initiatives.
Her latest effort takes place at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships’ Writers Room.
“It’s just ‘Writers Room.’ Not ‘The Writers Room’ or ‘Writer’s Room.’” Wenrick said. “It’s about making room, creating space, for everyone to experience themselves as writers.”
Wenrick has played a large role in developing and creating that space since August 2013, when she first met with Lucy Kerman, PhD, vice provost for University and Community Partnerships. After talking with Cyndi Reed Rickards, coordinator of community-based learning for CoAS, and Jennifer Britton, launch director of the Dornsife Center, Wenrick created a proposal for Writers Room after talking with students, faculty, staff, community members and program partners.
Opened this winter, Writers Room offers courses for the community taught alongside Drexel students by faculty from the Department of English & Philosophy. Last term, they read and wrote essays on novels about Philadelphia in “English 360: Philadelphia Stories.” Monthly writing workshops are also led by Wenrick and her colleagues in this shared space to “read, write, think and be,” as Wenrick put it.
“It’s been great to take a ‘what if’ and, with the support of [CoAS] Dean Donna Murasko and staff and faculty and students, make it into a reality,” she said.
With courses and programs scheduled through the rest of the year, Wenrick has set her sights on her next Writers Room project: bringing in visiting writers.
“It’s a really dynamic, wonderful experience. Everyone is coming together to be connected by language and story here,” Wenrick said.
Last year, Wenrick reached international readers as the co-author of the debut memoir of Angélique Kidjo, a Grammy Award-winning artist and humanitarian. “SPIRIT RISING: My Life, My Music” was read and commended by the likes of Bill Clinton and Bono, among others.
Wenrick became attached to the project through a former student from her time teaching at Ithaca College who graduated and became an editor at HarperCollins. And she finished the project with the help of Khushbu Patel, then a senior psychology major.
The experience was just another chapter in the story of Wenrick finding and making connections through the power of the written word.