Professional writing tutor teaches students how writing can lead to self-discovery
Patti Chandler, 53, serves as a professional writing tutor at the Writing Center in the Learning Center at Inver Hills Community College. Patti began her work in this role in January 2017 under a federal Perkins Grant. She provides writing services to students enrolled in the college’s career pathways programs, including Nursing, Paralegal, Criminal Justice, and Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Her job was extended two years beyond the original grant stipulation due to outstanding student participation and academic success.
“I start with what it means to be human,” Patti responded when asked about her teaching philosophy. “We are not only a self, but a self-in-relation—and writing is an act of self-discovery. My purpose as a writing tutor is to shine a light on the many connections that construct identity and bring to voice the unique perspective and experience that each student already possesses. My task is to create a safe and open space for students to explore who they are as human beings, honoring their gifts and allowing their genius to fill the space.”
Before arriving at Inver Hills, Patti served as a hospital chaplain and mental health case manager. She is currently ABD (all but dissertation) in her Ph.D. in Pastoral Care and Counseling from Luther Seminary. She holds a Master of Arts in Theology (M.A.T.) and Pastoral Care from St. Catherine University, and a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Religion and Philosophy from Greenville University in Greenville, Illinois.
Patti has great respect for students entering the helping professions. She strives to prepare them for the writing requirements of their future professions. “One of my goals is helping my students become the best possible version of themselves in the workplace,” she said.
Hilary Dahlman is the director of academic learning and support at Inver Hills. Hilary is impressed by Patti’s commitment to student success.
“Patti has played a very big role in helping students be admitted to the Nursing program by providing writing assistance for the admissions essay as well as providing ongoing academic support to students when they’re in the program,” Hilary said. “She has received several kudos from students, faculty, and administrators. Patti has a very unique and interesting background, which has made her especially skilled at getting students to understand and articulate their own stories and narratives. She has been a tremendous asset to the Writing Center.”
Keith Richter: English faculty perspective
“Patti brings a lot of warmth and empathy to her tutoring sessions whether they are online or in person. She can really reach the students she works with and help them become better writers.”
Inver Hills Community College
Pronouns: he, him
More about Patti…
Patti understands that the writing process can be a daunting experience for many students, herself included. She has learned a few tricks over the years of being an exhausted student trying to write yet another paper while staring down a fast-approaching deadline. She has faced many of the fears and tribulations that writing can present—having won some of those battles and having lost some.
Even her writing failures have, upon reflection, given her greater insight into how she functions as a writer, what her limitations are, and how she can use her strengths to get her back to the page again. If you want to explore who you are as a student writer—successes, failures, and all—then she would like to come along on that journey with you. To explore with students their written work is an honor she cherishes.
Originally from Buda, Illinois, a tiny village located in Bureau County and named after the hometown of Louis Kossuth, a renowned Hungarian freedom fighter, Patti enjoys numerous hobbies and pastimes. She loves gardening, photography, art, basket weaving, music-making, and she’s an unashamed glamper (Note: glamping can be defined as “luxury camping.” The term is a portmanteau of “glamorous” and “camping.”)
“I made my way through graduate school (master’s and doctorate) as a gardener for Dream of Wild Health, St. Catherine University, the Hopkins Community Gardens, and as Krista Tippet’s (from American Public Radio) personal gardener,” Patti said. “It’s my secret passion. You can also find me squatting illegally in a field somewhere in the middle of the night looking at the night sky with a 5th grader’s knowledge of astronomy. But mum’s the word…”
Patti resides with a squirrel named Penelope, a few hummingbirds, and an army of plants in Inver Grove Heights, Minnesota.
Patti Chandler photography and hobby gallery
One word that best describes your experience at Inver Hills:
Patti Chandler • Q & A
How has your previous career experience helped you in your role as a professional writing tutor?
My previous careers include working as a day therapy and habilitation case manager at Opportunity Partners, serving adults with neuro-diversities, Alzheimer’s, and dual diagnosis, which involved behavior analysis and person-centered planning. I’m also a trained hospital chaplain, having completed my internship in cardiac/transplant at the University of Minnesota Medical Center and my residency in oncology/hospice at Park Nicollet Methodist.
At St. Catherine University, I learned spiritual direction and the art of discernment. I have also worked as a teaching assistant for students at the master’s level, designing curriculum and teaching subjects in mental health and community care. My doctoral work focused on trauma informed care in community settings with my dissertation topic in sexualized torture, visual culture, and viewer empathy (or lack thereof).
These careers, albeit not focused on writing as such, have taught me much about what drives and motivates us as human beings in our longing to create meaning and express that meaning to the world. Nevertheless, barriers often emerge in our ability to communicate those ideas and desires.
“My work and education in social services, chaplaincy, trauma, and spiritual direction have provided me with the tools needed to listen deeply to students’ anxieties, fears, griefs, delights, desires, and dreams. From darkest moments to loftiest ideals, I am the witness. And often, that is all that is needed to free a student into their storytelling self.”
Professional Writing Tutor
Writing Center in the Learning Center
Inver Hills Community College
My work and education in social services, chaplaincy, trauma, and spiritual direction have provided me with the tools needed to listen deeply to students’ anxieties, fears, griefs, delights, desires, and dreams. From darkest moments to loftiest ideals, I am the witness. And often, that is all that is needed to free a student into their storytelling self.
When the words remain grounded, however, my training in trauma, and in knowing myself as a trauma survivor, finds the backdoor that allows the student to find the words and release them into the world. In particular, my work in vocational rehab has taught me that hitting a problem head-on is not usually the best practice, especially when meeting fast approaching deadlines. This only amps up anxiety and writing paralysis.
When the hypervigilant right brain is engaged, circuitry to the left, language/logic center is diminished. Quieting the mind through meditation, music, art, hand-crafts, coloring, crocheting/knitting is a way of feeding the hypervigilant brain enough beauty and joy so that it soothes itself, allowing the brain to access the language and logic centers again.
For example, I worked with a student who is a veteran and diagnosed with PTSD. They approached writing assignments with self-negating talk that paralyzed them, which evolved from a family system that favored another sibling as the intellectually superior. I taught them how to crochet and gave them 10 minutes at the beginning of each tutoring session to crochet as a means to quiet the mind.
Over time, the quiet space created by the crocheting allowed them to emerge from their anxiety long enough to write words that were meaningful and coherent. As a trauma survivor, this is also how I return to the page. Teaching others how to find their words through the backdoor is a way for me to put my own experiences of trauma and recovery to good use.
What do you love most about guiding students to become more proficient writers and editors?
There is one group of writers that I especially love to work with—the student applicants completing the holistic nursing application. Near the end of each semester, I work with prospective nursing applicants on their personal essays describing what lived experiences have brought them to the decision in choosing nursing as a career.
The thing I love most about this particular experience is watching these students’ stories emerge often from unspeakable circumstances, like a tree growing out of a rock or a diamond from crushed carbon. For me, it is the unfolding of story from an unthinkable abyss. The grammar, proficiency, and editing are part of that process, but bones of it begins with witnessing the moment of a student’s self-discovery—the very reason that we write. All else is secondary.
What advice would you give students seeking to improve their writing skills, but don’t know where to start?
I would tell them to start reading. Read what you love. Love is the only thing worth returning to. This is how I learned to write. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t learn how to read until I was in third grade, part of which had to do with the trauma I experienced as a child. I was very much silenced and isolated.
However, once I learned how to read, I read absolutely everything. New worlds opened. New words emerged. New loves discovered. In two years, I went from the lowest writing section to the highest. And all because I read what I loved. I lived and leaned into the words little by little, spoon by spoon, bird by bird.
Follow what you love, for the things that you desire will bring you to the greater questions of your life—the questions that only you can iterate and eventually answer. When that happens, you cannot help but write. Writing begins with desire and ends with discovery.
Three words that describe you as a professional writing tutor:
LISTENER. ADVOCATE. MIDWIFE.
What qualities should students develop to write more confidently, capably, and persuasively at the college level?
- Let go of fear. Fear paralyzes.
- Know thyself—your limits and your strengths, but especially your limits for there is a wealth of wisdom to be gained in understanding one’s stressors and failed decisions.
- Allow yourself to make mistakes. We do not learn from the things we succeed at. We learn from that which requires evolution.
- Be present and true to your own experience. Authenticity is what drives persuasion.
What person has influenced your life the most and why?
I can think of two women.
My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Samuelson, at Eastview Elementary School in Oswego, Illinois. She was my bridge between two worlds—from invisibility to visibility. She was the first person to hold me in a certain, gracious light—but to neither judge nor praise—only to see and accept. And the mirror she held up to me confirmed within me the smallest kernel of hope that I was not a shadow but a person. That I was worthy of being seen.
Also, Janice Nadeau, who treated me for PTSD. When I wasn’t able to find the words to express the unspeakable, she gave me the backdoor to engage those experiences through art. For 10 years, I wrote in paintings the wordless world I knew until I could draw the language of my suffering.
Both women were instrumental in how I learn and how I now tutor.
Where do you hope to find yourself in 20 years?
Well, retired, but I don’t think my student loans will allow that. Nevertheless, in 20 years I will hopefully be living off grid and roaming about in a renovated skoolie with a dog and a cat, growing tomatoes, writing a word or two, making a bit of art, crocheting ugly afghans, reading on a rainy day, finding the best recipe for lemon rosemary chicken—all the things worth living for.
Patti Chandler • 12 Answers
- Favorite sport or physical activity: Ghostbusting
- Place you would most like to visit: Anywhere cold where I can see the aurora bourealis as much as I want
- Most exciting thing you’ve ever done: Taught English in Palestine and Israel at the beginning of the Second Intifada
- Three things you would do if you won a $1 billion lottery: 1) Pay off my student loans 2) Pay off my friends’ student loans 3) Buy a houseboat
- Best book or movie you’ve read or seen lately: Everything, Everywhere, All at Once
- Time period you would explore if you could time travel: The dawn of time? Is that an option?
- One thing you most want to accomplish in life: To have enough money to retire on. But I’m in education and have a bazillion student loans, so…
- Your national bird if you were your own country: Pterodactyls. Not really, I’m just proud I can spell the word. Maybe hummingbirds
- Dream occupation: Gardener or artist
- Person you would most like to meet: Hildegaard von Bingen (12th century)
- Skill you would most like to learn and master: Ceramics (like my dad) and/or piano (like my mom)
- Most important issue or problem facing humankind: Poverty
Learning more about the Writing Center, Math Center, and Peer Tutoring in the Learning Center by contacting:
All services remote for summer 2022.
Monday – Thursday • 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Check Math Center, Writing Center, and Peer Tutoring web pages for specific availability.
More about the Learning Center at Inver Hills…
Study alone, in groups, or with an expert tutor.
The Learning Center provides academic support and welcomes all stages of learning, from brainstorming to putting finishing touches on assignments. Reception assists in scheduling appointments and directing students to the right services. Come and visit us today!
- Six group study rooms with whiteboard walls
- 24 computers for student use
- Dragon NaturallySpeaking and Kurzweil assistive technology
- Ten offices housing math, English and reading faculty
- Tables for individual or group study
Tutors are available to assist students in understanding assignments, preparing for exams, and offering additional resources. Staff includes:
- Five professional tutors for Math assistance and Writing assistance
- More than 20 peer tutors to help in various subjects
- See available tutoring hours on the Math Center, Writing Center, and Peer Tutoring pages.
- All tutoring will be remote for summer 2022.
- The Learning Center is closed on breaks and holidays with no live tutoring available. Explore 24/7 online tutoring options through our partnership with Tutor.com.