Dawn Spradley

Dawn Spradley, right, tutors Malika Eckert on the complexities of the written word as it is applied in academia at the Texas A&M University-Central Texas writing center.

Photo courtesy of Lynnzie Leavitt

KILLEEN — For 23 years, Dawn Spradley drove a truck for the U.S. Army, deploying six times before retiring as a sergeant first class in 2012.

As a military occupational specialty 88M, or motor transport operator, the 45-year-old has been to Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq, and has been stationed in Germany, Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri and at Fort Hood, retiring from the 4th Sustainment Brigade.

So on the September morning when she began classes at Central Texas College, it was with mixed emotions as she took concrete action toward a new and very different life.

Having taken the routine placement tests prior to enrolling, Spradley was told that she was functioning “at the fourth grade level” in the fundamental skills of writing, comprehension and mathematics. And, for a moment, she questioned her decision to try college.

“The advisor explained that I would be starting with the basic courses below the college level courses,” she said, absently stroking a delicate necklace, adorned with dozens of Buddist charms, given to her by her mother. “And I didn’t want to do that.”

While she may have given up before she’d even started, she instead reflected on what she’d heard and what she knew about herself, realizing that her traditional high school education hadn’t been as fulsome as she’d have liked.

What she did know was that there were things she wanted to learn. And if this was the way to get to that, and the only way there was to start from the very beginning, then that is what she would do.

So the daughter of an Air Force veteran and a homemaker did what no one in her family had ever done before — she put one foot in front of the other.

“I was in a math class that was literally starting at the very beginning,” she said, her dark eyes shining like polished ebony. “It was the same in my English class. The teacher began with ‘This is a noun.’”

For five years, she attended school full time, accumulating enough credit hours to earn not one, but three associates degrees. And, without missing a beat, she applied and was accepted at Texas A&M-Central Texas. And now, what was once an uncertain academic future holds significant promise.

She anticipates graduation in May 2018, with a double major in criminal justice and psychology — and if her GPA holds, she’ll complete with honors: magna cum laude.

Understandably, Spradley can’t help but marvel at the journey and all of the opportunities she now enjoys, and the sense of having come full circle from her first days as a community college student.

That’s right. The woman who began humbly, persisting through the basics, is employed at the University Writing Center, helping students digest the complexities of the written word as it is applied in academia.

Writing center director Bruce Bowles marvels at his good fortune, describing the rigorous curricular training the University Writing Center tutors must master: a 3-hour pedagogy course, focusing on the theory of composition, instructional strategies and a mandatory internship.

Spradley, he says, made his toughest training look easy, absorbing everything he offered with an impressive work ethic and sense of calm that inevitably rubs off on the students with whom she works.

“She has the unique ability to really connect with the students. A lot of times, they come in stressed out, worried or confused. And Dawn just has a knack for meeting them wherever they are in the writing process, addressing their concerns and calming their fears, so they can concentrate on the writing.”

That’s the goal of the writing center, Bowles acknowledges. And he is justifiably proud of its success. In 2016-17, the University Writing Center doubled the consults and tripled the contact hours, providing nearly one thousand hours of actual instructional time. And in 2017, their numbers have risen a whopping 30 percent.

For Spradley, every day is another opportunity to do what she loves. And she credits Bowles and the A&M-Central Texas faculty for both setting the bar high and encouraging her to believe in herself.

“Dr. Bowles was hard on me,” she smiled, a trace of pride evident in her posture. “He’s very into his discipline and he expects us to reach beyond what we think we are capable of. He’s given me a confidence that I never knew I had.”

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