The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

A journey in words


Overlooking the sea of students among the tables and burgundy chairs, he sits with his newsboy cap lowered, chair turned backside toward the table, and his hands motioning in the air in front of him, as if they are that of a sculptor shaping his own pottery. When he speaks he is creating, inventing, and most importantly, imparting great knowledge to those he teaches.

As an instructional assistant in the LRC Writing Center since 2008, Dale Nelson, known to many as Crawdad, explores and teaches the writing process with students. Individual sessions, serve as both opportunities to teach and to be taught. The experience is an even exchange for both Nelson and his students.

Nelson, 54, interests number as many as the strands of gray hair underneath his cap. Spanning from literature to history to sociology and cooking, his curiosities do not end there. The man’s eyes see what ought to be seen by many, such as the inherent natural patterns of a bird feather or the distinctive formations of the uncorrupted, earthen farms.

Yes, his mind has traveled over many waters and touched many different lands, it can be said, as he sits in this red chair, hands explaining and noting the words he uses while the aroma of fresh roasted coffee fills the air at his favorite coffee house.

Born in Fort Bragg, Calif., Nelson recalls from early on, at the age of 7 or 8 years old, his love of language. As a young boy, he says he would listen in on his grandmother’s party-line phone calls and hear her and others speaking Finnish.

“I didn’t understand a single word they were saying, but the sound, to hear things spoken by people who spoke that language fluently, just awoke something in me that made me curious about the sounds of language,” says Nelson.

So his journey into the literary world of language: history, philosophy, nature, journalism and political worlds. On this path, he stopped to publish books, prose and poetry. He has written articles for the Sacramento News & Review aimed toward the follies of wastefulness and the necessity of eating meat. But this is only a glimpse into the rich history behind the man.

He might be called a self-made man, one who has little traditional higher education, but has an enormous amount of experiential knowledge from the path he has carved throughout his life. Most importantly, he has gathered along the way all he has needed to build the successful, principled man he is today.

Quoting Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson Nelson asserts, “I have never let schooling interfere with my education.”

Although a revolutionary at heart, he compares himself to “the gadfly” of Socratic philosophy. Nelson possesses the wisdom to know there is also a time in which to be modest; his character tells you so.
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Students who work with him will undoubtedly be enlightened as the winds of change surround him.

“Ninety-nine percent of what we do at the Writing Center is positive,” says Nelson, “The most important thing for me as a human being is the face-to-face contact with people from everywhere in the world, and we have honest conversations. Most people don’t get that.”

Prior to working for a college-based writing center, Nelson served as a teacher and mentor in non-profit writing centers run by communities, where he gained specific experience that translated into the different duties he performs today, such as ESL conversational groups, one-on-one tutoring and facilitating writing workshops. All services provide additional academic support for students.

Writing Center coordinator Susan Griffin explains: “Dale is a valuable resource at the Writing Center because he can work with any student from any course, and he works with students effectively. They learn when they work with him because he is patient and has developed ways of explaining concepts that make sense to most students.”

“This is the best job I’ve had in my life by far,” says Nelson, as satisfaction filled his face and pleasure emanated from his eyes.

Students and everyone else around the LRC can easily identify him, as he is “the man in the hat who has helped me to become a better tutor,” says co-worker Kay Barnes. “He is also very witty and won’t hold back his intellectual sarcasm.”

His qualities leave lasting impressions on people, and with all the wisdom and experience he possesses, he does not lose touch with what makes him human: appreciation for nature, curiosity, intellectual honesty, critical thinking, and the ability to exercise intellectual humility.

When reflecting on the thought of working with students from lands across the sea and numerous cultural backgrounds, Nelson gently navigates the idea and says, “I know I learn more from the people I work with than I can possibly ever teach them.”


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