At the end of this summer, Greg Skutches will conclude his 17-year career as a champion of peer tutoring in writing at Lehigh. As director of Writing Across the Curriculum and co-founder of the TRAC Fellows Program in the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, Skutches has mentored hundreds of peer tutors in writing and advanced writing and communication instruction in courses across the curriculum at Lehigh. His last day of service will be August 31, 2023.
Innovation to impact
Shortly after his arrival at Lehigh in 2006, Skutches, along with LTS vice provost Greg Reihman (then Director of Faculty Development), designed what would become recognized as one of the most innovative programs in teaching and learning at the university. In the fall of 2008, they launched the Technology, Research, and Communication (TRAC) Writing Fellows Program as a new initiative of Library and Technology Services to advance writing and communication instruction in courses across the curriculum at Lehigh.
The program set out to test innovative approaches by including library and database research, multimodal communication, and new instructional technologies, together with proactive efforts in faculty development, and a fellows-driven model of organizational leadership. Under Skutches’ leadership, TRAC has served over 120 faculty and instructors, and approximately 10,000 students.
“Greg’s impact on students, faculty, and colleagues over the course of his Lehigh career has been extraordinary. Any attempt to describe that impact feels like an understatement,” said Greg Reihman, vice provost for Library and Technology Services. “As the founding director of the Writing Across the Curriculum program at Lehigh, he built the program into what it is today: a trusted place for faculty who are seeking to deepen student learning by rethinking and re-crafting their writing assignments and assessments. His commitment to the TRAC Fellows has helped them become exemplars of peer-learning at Lehigh. And his expertise in student-centered learning, authentic assessment, and impactful faculty development has been crucial to the broader success of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.”
Greg’s passion for teaching and peer tutoring in writing is legendary. Skutches earned a master’s degree in english and a Ph.D. in English composition and rhetoric, both from Lehigh University, where he taught courses as an adjunct in first-year composition and literature while completing his degrees. Later he joined the faculty in the English department at DeSales University, teaching courses across the writing spectrum until coming to LTS’s Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning in 2006 to lead Lehigh’s Writing Across the Curriculum initiative.
Nurturing and celebrating student voices
The TRAC Writing Fellows are talented student writers from all four undergraduate colleges who are selected through a highly competitive application process to work as peer tutors in courses across the disciplines. Trained in a rigorous 4-credit seminar course, fellows assist students with all phases of the writing process, consult with faculty on assignment design, and help with library and database research and the use of educational technologies.
Skutches says his ultimate goal [of TRAC] was to nurture and celebrate student voices through peer learning. “The technology and research components were the result of what I had learned through collaboration with my esteemed librarian and instructional technology colleagues in LTS,” he says. “I believed then--and continue to believe--that the biggest mistake we make in higher education is that we underestimate the capabilities of our undergraduate students. The TRAC program was the result of my desire to do something about that.”
Since its inception 15 years ago, the program has taken innovative measures to manage growth and facilitate continual improvement. These measures include leadership within the program in the form of Mentor TRAC Fellows, a peer-coaching initiative, mindfulness training, team-building activities, weekly working groups, regular staff meetings, and an intensive set of assessment protocols.
In the first semester of the 2008-09 pilot year, 15 TRAC Writing Fellows worked with 10 members of the faculty from across Lehigh’s undergraduate colleges. The successful pilot program paved the way for substantial growth in just a few years. Since then, Skutches has trained hundreds of writing fellows, shaped the philosophies that guided Writing Across the Curriculum, and oversaw collaboration with well over 100 members of the faculty in supporting their effort to teach discipline-based writing skills to students.
“I am most proud of how spectacularly well the Lehigh students who have become TRAC fellows over the years have recognized and embraced the ideas and hopes behind the program,” Skutches says. “We do not underestimate the capabilities of TRAC fellows, and they have more than justified the confidence we have in them.”
“Greg has been such a valued member of CITL during his seventeen years. His dedication to his students and the student learning experience at Lehigh is so central to all he does,” says Peggy Kane, Director of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning. “He has been a wonderful leader to all CITL staff in all aspects of teaching and learning.”
Greg’s impact on students he mentored is perhaps his greatest legacy. When asked over the years to reflect on lessons learned from working with Greg and as fellows in the TRAC program, his former students spoke about helping their peers build confidence in writing and developing their own communication, research, and writing skills for life after Lehigh.
Michaela Gualano ‘23, who majored in Finance and served as an Associate and Mentor Fellow, said, “Gregory Skutches is someone I highly look up to. He is a person who inspires me to think differently and pursue uncharted territory. [He is] single-handedly the biggest influence in my Lehigh career.”
Omar Ahmed, who graduated in 2019 with degrees in Physics and Computing Science, said, “In my opinion, the TRAC program is one of the most valuable programs at Lehigh and the work really goes beyond just the assignment or the classroom. The TRAC program gives students those creative thinking skills that we can take with us for the rest of our lives.”
As Skutches reflected on his career, he spoke of his gratitude for the campus community who supported his work and what it meant for students.
“It's my job to support student writing and effective writing instruction across the disciplines at Lehigh, and one of the things I have loved most about my work is that there are people on our campus--faculty, and staff--who have supported my efforts on behalf of student voices even though it is not their specific job to do that,” Skutches said. “It has been a joy to work with these folks, and I will be forever grateful for their efforts.”
Skutches authored or co-authored multiple papers on integrating peer communication fellows into courses, academic writing, and institutional change through inquiry. He has also given numerous presentations, including a Lehigh TEDxLehighU talk on rethinking the stages of life with an emphasis on the college years.
We invite you to watch our tribute to Greg, held during the 2023 CITL Symposium on Teaching and Learning at Lehigh in April, and to post your well wishes and remembrances on our publicly-available Kudoboard.
A committee of faculty and staff have completed their search for Skutches’ successor and an announcement will be forthcoming. Greg is confident that whoever takes the reins will carry on TRAC’s momentum and success in impacting student writing at Lehigh.
Greg Reihman, Ph.D.
Vice Provost for Library and Technology Services
[Greg's] commitment to the TRAC Fellows has helped them become exemplars of peer-learning at Lehigh. And his expertise in student-centered learning, authentic assessment, and impactful faculty development has been crucial to the broader success of the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.