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08/23/2000 07:00:00

Pasadena philanthropists donate $1.1 million for Caltech writing center and student writing award

PASADENA—The California Institute of Technology has received a $1.1 million gift from Pasadena philanthropists Alexander and Adelaide Hixon for the creation of a new writing center and an annual undergraduate writing prize.

The gift will be used to establish the Alexander P. and Adelaide F. Hixon Writing Center, which will be available for use by the Caltech student body. The center will be directed by a professional with credentials in composition and rhetoric, and will provide a range of instruction and services in basic composition.

The center's offerings will supplement the curriculum of the Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which has traditionally provided the bulk of writing instruction to the student body through various courses. In particular, Caltech freshmen have received their primary writing instruction in their sequence of two freshman humanities courses that cover rhetoric and composition and also serve as an introduction to college-level work in the humanities disciplines, as well as more specialized upper-level humanities classes. All humanities courses, with the exception of those in foreign languages, have a writing requirement of at least 4,000 words.

The creation of the writing center is especially welcome in the light of recent reforms to the humanities curriculum. These reforms reflect the faculty's commitment to giving Caltech's undergraduates a serious introduction to the humanities (in particular history, literature, philosophy, art history, music, and languages), while emphasizing their writing skills.

All freshmen will take a writing examination at the beginning of the academic year, and basic composition courses will be required of those students who need help with writing skills. Beyond that, students will also have to pass a writing proficiency requirement in each of their freshman humanities courses.

Those students who do not meet the required standard will be directed to take a composition course to improve their ability to write flowing, coherent prose and to structure an argument. The writing center will provide these courses. It will, moreover, be a permanent resource for all students-undergraduates and graduates-who seek assistance in the composition of their papers, reports, and applications.

The Hixon gift also provides funding for the Hixon Prize for Writing, which will be awarded annually to a student for the best composition in a freshman humanities course. The prize will be administered by the writing center and the winner will be chosen by a special committee, with preference given to the paper best illustrating the relationship between the humanities and science and or engineering. The winner will receive a cash award of at least $1,000.

"The Hixon Writing Center will add a significant component to our undergraduate education program, greatly enhancing our ability to foster students' communication skills," said David Baltimore, president of Caltech. "Furthermore, rewarding those students who show excellence in writing is a great way to reinforce the importance of those skills."

The Hixons are both members of the Caltech Associates, a support group whose donations assist in the development of the research and educational programs at Caltech. Adelaide Hixon also serves on the Associates Board.

Written by Robert Tindol