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Head of School Jenny Rao at the opening of Starzinger Writing Center

It was standing-room-only in the upper level of Dietel Library on May 15 for the celebratory opening of Starzinger Writing Center. A collaborative effort between the English Department and alumnae Stephanie Sides ’73 and Page Starzinger ’76, the center will focus on nurturing our community of writers for generations to come.

Head of School Jenny Rao welcomed guests, alumnae, faculty, staff, and students—writers all—to Emma Willard School’s new hub for written expression by telling the story of how we came to dedicate the space. Beginning with Ms. Sides’ visit to campus in 2019 to attend the course of Paul Lamar, the Sides Family Visiting Writer for that year, and continuing with a  conversation with English Instructor Leslie Coffey ’00, the English Department’s dream of having a writing center was to become a reality. 

Stephanie Sides ’73 and Page Starzinger ’76 have each made key contributions to plan, launch, and endow this new writing center at Emma Willard School. Both career writers, they unknowingly united their passion for the written word in order to ensure a broad array of opportunities and support for student writers—a perfect match for their philanthropic visions. 

Stephanie Sides ’73

Stephanie Sides ’73: “I was probably four years old and didn’t yet know the alphabet, but I remember where I was sitting at home and scribbling across some light blue paper—literally pretending to write. That was the beginning of my lifelong love of the written word.”

Under the guidance of Margaret Wing Dodge Instructor in Literature Meg McClellan, who is the new coordinator of the Starzinger Writing Center, students will now have dedicated space and structured programming to nurture writing skills at all levels, connect to opportunities beyond campus, and create a hub of creative collaborations: coaching, classes, readings, workshops, guest artists, and more!

To mark the occasion, both Ms. Sides and Ms. Starzinger prepared remarks to thank those who made the writing center possible, as well as share wisdom from their own life experience as writers. 

Ms. Sides, who has worked in both technical and grant writing, addressed the advent of artificial intelligence and its impact on the field of writing. “AI can’t experience and convey emotion: joy, humor, sadness, anger, grief,” she shared. “Without that backdrop and motivation, writing just doesn’t have the same exuberance or impact…Please don’t let AI tamper with your voice, because frankly that’s the most important thing you have to bring to bear on the world and you want it to be uniquely and authentically your own.”

Ms. Starzinger shared her thoughts on a phrase from a letter by Emily Dickinson, invoking the “circumference” of a life. “It’s not just that Dickinson’s poetry captures the circuit of life, continually revolving morning to night, events repeating and shifting, as the Earth orbits the sun. There’s more to it. And it has to do with you and it has to do with the Writing Center,” she began. Going on to explain how the people who surround you and the language you invoke create the circumference of impact a writer can have on the world, she concluded, “The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you change it.”

Following remarks from Ms. Sides and Ms. Starzinger, Ms. McClellan shared the mission of the Starzinger Writing Center in poetry form. “Few things are as adaptable as language,” she began, “So it is no surprise that the writing center mission written by Leslie Coffey transforms beautifully into a poem.” 

Good Work

We ask our students to think/write each day—

discussion posts, lab reports, freewrites, summaries,

explanations, narratives, proposals, personal statements,

essays, papers.

Words, serving and shaping


We nurture discovery…of self, of voice, 

of self-worth on infinite horizons

with tools to inquire, brainstorm, challenge, respond, and claim.

Words, serving and shaping


We watch democratic access to ideas and to speech

Erupt…freedom seeking, uncontainable, irresistible

Words, serving and shaping


We seek to resolve and release the seeming tension 

between wellness and deep learning in a community
of achievement

Words, serving and shaping


We welcome this space, these sparks. 

Words, serving and shaping our world.


Following these reflections, the audience enjoyed readings by Ms. Starzinger, current Sides Family Visiting Writer D. Colin, and a number of students reading their own work: Kelsey D. ’25, Grace M. ’24, Ave N. ’26, Kamryn D. ’26, Carly H. ’25, Lucia C. ’23, Ellie D. ’26, Lena C-G. ’23. Appropriately, an open mic session closed the celebration, allowing students, employees, and alumnae alike to share their favorite pieces of writing and further honor Ms. Starzinger and Ms. Sides for their contributions. To get the full impact of the day’s readings, we encourage you to view the live feed recording.

We look forward to many years of creativity and inspiration within these glass walls of the Starzinger Writing Center—words, serving and shaping our world.

Visit SmugMug to see more photos from the event.



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