Path to Fellow is a new feature here on STC’s Notebook to highlight the rich contributions of our honored members. For more information on this feature and on the honor of being named a Fellow or Associate Fellow, click here. Watch for more stories about our Fellows and Associate Fellows in the coming weeks and months as well. If you’re a Fellow or Associate Fellow and haven’t been contacted to participate, please email Kevin Cuddihy.
Dr. Steven M. Gerson
In August 1978, I had just been hired as an English professor at Johnson County Community College (JCCC), Overland Park, KS. I had a PhD in modern American literature with a sub-specialization in Shakespeare. When I attended my first department meeting, the chair asked if anyone would be willing to create and teach a technical writing class. My hand shot up instantly. I knew nothing about technical writing, but I wanted to ingratiate myself to the department and show my value added.
My act of volunteerism was accepted, and I left the meeting asking myself, “What’s technical writing?” I had never taken a technical writing class in either undergraduate or graduate school. Though I got my PhD from Texas Tech, now one of the premier universities for technical writing, when I was enrolled at the college, Tech did not offer a degree in the field nor did they offer any graduate-level courses. Still, I had a sense that technical writing was something that I’d like, something that I had an affinity for.
After a quick visit to JCCC’s library to research technical writing, I found three or four books on the field, gave them a cursory reading, and began developing a technical writing syllabus and course proposal for approval by JCCC. The course was accepted, and I felt confident that I could manage my new challenge.
The next semester, I offered my first technical writing class to two students. We met in the cafeteria, my office, the library, and anywhere I could find space. The following semester, I taught one class to 10 students. Now, 32 years later, I teach 13 sections of technical writing a year—six, face-to-face on-campus classes and seven online sections. I’ve grown our technical writing course offering from two students to over 300 students a year.
My technical writing journey has been amazing. It has been exciting, uplifting, interesting, informative, and life-changing. Every year, technical writing has allowed me to grow. I’ve gone from learning about memos, letters, and reports in my early years to teaching how to write e-mail, design websites, and create online help screens. Now, technical writing has given me the chance to delve into social media, teaching how Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Second Life play a role in corporate communication. A beauty of technical writing is that it has proven to be ever changing, ever growing, ever vital.
In the 32 years I’ve taught technical writing, it has allowed me opportunities that American literature and Shakespeare would not have afforded me. Due to my involvement with technical writing and STC, I have helped thousands of students learn workplace writing skills that they can use to get jobs, improve their marketability, and climb the corporate ladder. More importantly, I have been allowed to achieve the following:
- Help dozens of students land employment as technical writers.
- Form a consulting firm (Steve Gerson Consulting) where I have taught over 10,000 business and governmental employees communication skills. My training workshops focused on technical and business writing, business grammar, oral communication, PowerPoint, and business etiquette. I’ve worked with employees from Sprint, Commerce Bank, GE, JC Penney, the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and thousands of city and county employees.
- Teach over 75 K-12 teacher in-service sessions focusing on ways to incorporate technical writing in the classroom. In this capacity, I have worked with faculty from all disciplines, showing them how they can build technical writing assignments into their music, physical education, history, industrial technology, computer sciences, home economics, and other courses.
- Earn the JCCC Distinguished Service Award 12 times, based on teaching, service to the college, service to the community, and professional development.
- Win the JCCC Publication Award three times.
- Publish (with my co-author wife Sharon Gerson) three technical/business communication textbooks (Technical Communication: Process and Product 7e; Workplace Writing: Planning, Packaging, and Perfecting Communication 1e; Workplace Communication: Process and Product 1e—Prentice Hall).
Due to my successes above, I earned recognition from STC as both an Associate Fellow and a Fellow. My Associate Fellow plaque reads, “For continuous and outstanding educational contributions to the technical communication profession, and for dedicated service to the Society” (1996). My Fellow plaque reads, “For extraordinarily effective work in publicizing the profession of technical communication among public school students and teachers, for distinguished service to his college, and for outstanding writing, teaching, and mentoring of students” (2002).
How have these two STC honors benefited me outside the profession? In 2003-2004, I was named the Kansas Professor of the Year by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.
Technical writing changed my life. It enhanced my professional growth, gave me outlets for writing and collaboration, opened doors to corporate and governmental affiliations for consulting, and—most importantly—allowed me the opportunity to help students grown as professionals. I’m honored to be a member of this incredible society of technical communicators.