November 2, 2016

Purdue Profiles: Harry Denny

Harry Denny Harry Denny is an associate professor of English and director of the Writing Lab. (Purdue University Photo/Rebecca Wilcox) Download image

Harry Denny, associate professor of English and director of the Writing Lab, loves to question and coach rhetoric to the students who seek help at the Writing Lab at Purdue, including its famous Online Writing Lab.

He has studied media response to HIV/AIDS and what that says about society and HIV/AIDS politics. He also was inspired by a social activism campaign to focus more on political rhetoric and social campaigns. Denny uses these experiences to challenge students and faculty to better writing and critical thinking.

He has a bachelor's degree in American studies from the University of Iowa, a master's in sociology from the University of Colorado and a doctorate in rhetoric and communication from Temple University.

Why did you choose Purdue?

I’m in my second year at Purdue as an associate professor of English and director of the Writing Lab. I left St. John’s University because Purdue’s Writing Lab is perhaps the best brand in the world for our field. I got my start in a writing center (most other colleges call their spaces writing centers) back in the early 1990s at Temple University. The Writing Lab's first director wrote the first readings that advisors gave me, so the Writing Lab has always been a presence in my professional life. The Writing Lab’s associate director, Tammy Conard-Salvo, continues to be a well-respected colleague in the larger national and international professional association and research networks, so the opportunity to collaborate with her was also a draw. Just as important, the English department’s Rhetoric Composition Program has a faculty and student community that has always impressed me. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job? 

In addition to my amazing colleagues, the students that I get to collaborate with each day make the trip to campus and Heavilon rewarding. I also cherish the opportunities to talk with faculty about how the Writing Lab can complement the everyday teaching of writing that’s happening on campus.

I hope the one thing students realize is that the Writing Lab is this inviting space where any writer at any stage can seek out support and collaboration, where writing is viewed as dynamic and where teaching and learning happens from shared dialogue.

What is the best-kept secret of the Writing Lab?

Students who seek out mentoring with a tutor in the lab almost always perform better in their courses, have higher semester grade averages, stay in college and persist to graduation. Working with someone trained to help makes for better learning.  Another secret is the Writing Lab can lead to better teaching. When a tutor gains experience working with writers one-on-one, they almost always become better at responding to writers when they’re in the classroom. We also think that our collaborations with faculty make them more effective and responsive, whether by learning how to make feedback more productive and efficient or by becoming more aware of the needs of a diverse range of learners. 

What led you to a career in higher education?

I chose this path because in my heart I’ll always be an activist critic -- I love questioning rhetoric, and I love to coach people on rhetoric. Where better to spend one’s life but in an arena where I can study and teach both every day in organic and sustainable sorts of ways?

Writer: Megan Huckaby, 765-496-1325,

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