Writing is still the most important, and most-used, form of communication in the world.
"Writing is crucial in that it's both a product and a process. It's in the fabric of what we do," said Paul Gibbons, teaching professor of writing studies at UC Merced. "Writing is a way of doing things in the world, of asking for things. It's still a major coin of the realm."
Recognizing writing's vital role, the university added a writing studies major, which began with its first cohort this fall. Previously, the campus offered a minor in writing studies.
"We had a minor and students would take the classes and say, 'I wish I could just major in this,'" said Anne Zanzucchi, a writing studies teaching professor and associate dean for student services and academics for the School of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities (SSHA).
One unique characteristic about UC Merced's program is that students will learn a variety of writing techniques -from professional to creative, fiction and factual - rather than focusing in on one particular area.
"It's a comprehensive degree," Zanzucchi said.
Each type of writing can help inform the others, Gibbons added.
"There's an intersection of creative and professional writing - it makes sense to have a class that looks at that," he said. "It has to make sense to other people."
And while artificial intelligence (AI) is an intriguing tool for writing, it is just that - a tool. There's an enormous difference in asking a program such as Chat GPT to produce an essay and a human writing on the same topic.
"Writing turns out to be an incredibly personal thing," Gibbons said. "It is definitely a skill. AI is terrible at providing specifics that are true, and at citing personal details that matter."
"Can AI play a role? It already is," Zanzucchi said. "How does writing make a difference? It's a really exciting question."
Students who major in writing studies open themselves up to all manner of career opportunities, including communications, media, law and the arts, Zanzucchi said.
UC Merced 2021 graduate Matthew Louie agreed. Louie, who is from the Bay Area, said he was a psychology major "but ended up having a greater emphasis on writing studies because of both my work in the (University) Writing Center as well as the support of the faculty."
Those experiences led Louie to earn a master's degree in rhetoric and writing studies from San Diego State University, and he is beginning a Ph.D. program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he will emphasize composition and rhetoric.
"I plan to become a professor in rhetoric and composition and the experiences that I had at UC Merced with writing studies significantly played a role in me deciding this as my career choice," Louie said. "I am super jealous but excited for future students to have the opportunity to have the writing studies major. I feel like the major will open up opportunities for students to engage in high-impact activities surrounding writing."
Taking writing studies classes can be a benefit to those pursuing science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers, as well.
Brian Fernandez of Visalia graduated last spring and is pursuing a career in health sciences.
"Writing studies has many areas where anyone can fit in," said Fernandez, who focused his studies on applied linguistics in writing and worked on projects in the areas of translingualism, artificial intelligence and the experiences of non-native English speakers in higher education.
"The skills and experiences I learned from the writing studies program allowed me to grow my research skills, gave me the opportunities for scholarships, and improved my writing and presentation skills," Fernandez said. "The growth in these areas will assist me getting into a graduate program through the application process and during graduate course work. The writing studies program at UC Merced greatly prepared me for applying to graduate school and providing me with the opportunity for building skills in research, networking and presenting myself through writing."
Those networking connections are integral to the writing studies program, Zanzucchi said.
"There is an opportunity to work with the public and connect with the community."
Gibbons said adding the major has been "a long time coming" and he is excited to see where the program takes students.
"To be creative is at a premium."