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Jon Olson

Jon Olson

Associate Professor Emeritus of Writing in English and Scholar in Residence for Writing and Communication with Penn State Learning

Mailroom: 430 Burrowes Bldg.
University Park , PA 16802-6202
Office Phone: (814) 865-6383


  1. University of Southern California, PhD, Rhetoric Linguistics and Literature, 1989
  2. Andrews University, MA, English, 1978
  3. Andrews University, BA, English, 1977
  4. Far Eastern Academy, Singapore, 1972

Professional Bio

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. He views those practices and theories through the lenses of rhetorical traditions. At Penn State, he has a split appointment between the Department of English (430 Burrowes Bldg.) and Penn State Learning (220 Boucke Bldg.). 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 (111H Kern Bldg.) and is a member of the Graduate Faculty.

He teaches his classes (such as Peer Tutoring in Writing [ENGL 250], Rhetorical Traditions [ENGL 471], Issues in Rhetoric and Composition [ENGL 474], and Supervised Instruction in College Teaching—Writing Tutorial [ENGL 602.005]) based on a theory of collaborative learning. Students practice transformational rhetorics of inquiry and invitation. Every course has the long-term goal to sustain a social ecology by connecting the activities of writing and rhetoric in the classroom to practices of living outside of the classroom.

He directed Penn State’s Center for Excellence in Writing from its inception in the fall of 1997 until the fall of 2009 when the center was dissolved and some of its programs were 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. The summer of 2009, he started a writing center at the Santa Fe, NM, campus of the Bread Loaf School of English, a summer graduate program of Middlebury College, and was the Faculty Summer Coordinator through 2015.

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 Spring 1979 when he was a teaching assistant at the University of Southern California. 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 the tutoring assignment as often as possible. He still feels that way.

Areas of Specialization

Rhetoric and Composition

Theories and practices of writing program administration (esp. writing centers and writing-across-the-curriculum programs); peer tutor education; rhetorical theories and histories of one-to-one writing instruction.