Jon Olson is a scholar in the field of rhetoric and composition who studies how people learn to read and write and what that means to them. He specializes in practices and theories of writing program administration, especially writing centers and writing-across-the-curriculum programs. At Penn State, he has a split appointment between the Department of English and Penn State Learning. He educates and supervises writing tutors at Penn State Learning and advises faculty who teach writing-intensive classes; he also directs the Graduate Writing Center and is a member of the Graduate Faculty. During the summer since 2009, Olson has directed the Ken Macrorie Writing Center at the Santa Fe, NM, campus of the Bread Loaf School of English and sometimes teaches a course there.
He teaches his classes (such as Peer Tutoring in Writing [ENGL 250], Rhetorical Traditions [ENGL 471], and Supervised Instruction in College Teaching—Writing Tutorial [ENGL 602.005] at Penn State, and Teaching Writing One to One [ENGL 7130] at Bread Loaf) based on a theory of collaborative learning and a transformational rhetoric of inquiry. Every class has the same long-term goal: to connect the activities of writing and rhetoric in the classroom to practices of citizenship outside the classroom in order to sustain a social ecology within a deliberative democracy.
He directed Penn State’s Center for Excellence in Writing from its inception in the fall of 1997 until the fall of 2009 when some of its programs merged with the University Learning Centers and the Laboratory for Public Scholarship and Democracy to form Penn State Learning. He was President of the International Writing Centers Association 2003-2005. He received the 2008 NCPTW Ron Maxwell Award for Distinguished Leadership in Promoting the Collaborative Learning Practices of Peer Tutors in Writing.
Olson came to Penn State in 1997 from Oregon State University where he alternately coordinated the Writing Center and interim-directed the Writing-Intensive Curriculum Program, 1990-97. Before that, he was a Lecturer teaching business writing for the University of Southern California's School of Business 1989-90.
His career in writing center work began when he was a teaching assistant at the University of Southern California in Spring 1979. That semester, he received the assignment to tutor in the Writing Center under the direction of Barbara Kroll. He later tutored there under the direction of Irene Clark. He enjoyed writing center work so much he requested that teaching assignment as often as possible. He still feels the same way.