American Fulbright Scholar helps UCU improve writing skills

By Eriah Lule
An American Fulbright Scholar is in Uganda with a goal of helping Uganda Christian University (UCU) establish a writing center. 

Thomas A. Deans, a Professor of English, began working in late August with UCU’s Department of Languages as a Fulbright U.S. Scholar to Uganda on a teaching and research award. The proposal of a writing center at UCU, Deans says, was the centerpiece of his Fulbright application. 

And it is not by accident that Deans is pushing for a writing center at UCU. He is currently the Director of the University Writing Center at the University of Connecticut, a position he has held since 2005 when he joined the institution. 

In fact, even before joining the University of Connecticut, Deans played a pivotal role in steering a college writing program. He was the Director of College Writing at the Haverford College in Pennsylvania. No doubt he is fully aware of the benefits an institution can reap from a center designed to enhance writing skills. 

Writing centers are places for collaboration between writers and their tutors. Writing centers may offer one-on-one scheduled tutorial appointments, group tutoring, and writing workshops. They are maintained by universities or created as part of the writing program to help students find their writing voice and tackle any writing challenge.

From August 2021 to the end of February 2022, the duration of the scholarship, Deans is teaching two courses and conducting a research project on undergraduate Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics writers. 

The 54-year-old also has been using the six months to help review UCU’s Department of Languages’ graduate curriculum for master’s students and work closely with the writing and study skills department.

He also is extending his more than 30 years of professional experience to Makerere University in Uganda, where he will be offering faculty development workshops through that University’s Center for Teaching and Learning Support. 

“For most Fulbright scholar awards, a letter of invitation is recommended or required, and that can leave applicants who don’t already have established relationships with a potential host institution feeling at a loss,” Deans says.

Initially, Deans had contemplated on Finland as his host country for the Fulbright. But that was not to be as his request for a letter of invitation was not granted.

The cold shoulder he got from Finland was a blessing in disguise for UCU. When Deans thought of the warm encounter he had had with Ugandan scholars, he re-established contact with Assoc. Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, who he had met while the latter was pursuing his PhD at the University of Connecticut. Mushengyezi did not hesitate to invite Deans to UCU. When Mushengyezi first met Deans, the former was an academic at Makerere University.

According to Dr. Taabu James Busimba, the newly appointed Head of the Department of Languages, Prof. Deans is laying a firm foundation by establishing the center. Busimba believes the center will not only offer a head start for more scholars to go to UCU, but also open doors for them to win grants and sponsorships for the department. 

Exams are among the activities which give students goosebumps at school. No wonder, Katusiime Gift, a master’s student in the Department of Languages at UCU, is excited at one proposition by Tom Deans to replace exams for some master’s students in preference for research and presenting of papers.

“I am so excited to have a Fulbright scholar in our department,” Katusiime said.

While exams are an option to research papers in many United States post-graduate programs, Tom Deans asserts that “MA students won’t grow as researchers unless they are writing seminar papers that involve sustained research.”  A substantial paper or literature review (completed in several drafts, with feedback and revision) could help build the research and writing experience and could be preferable over a test. 

The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program awards more than 800 fellowships annually to scholars at all career levels who take up teaching, research, and professional projects in more than 135 countries. Deans won the award under the theme “Cultivating Writing Centers and Writing across the Disciplines in Ugandan Universities; UCU /Makerere University.” 

He is married to Jill Deans and they have two sons – Griffin, 21, and Elliot, 18 years. Griffin and Elliot are expected to join their parents for the Christmas holidays in Uganda.