Writing Specialists

Our writing specialists are professional tutors who hold advanced degrees in their areas of expertise.
They have extensive training and experience in the tutoring and teaching of academic writing.

Erin Burkett, STEM Writing Specialist and Lecturer

Ph.D., Geophysics, UC Davis

Erin welcomes opportunities to collaborate with members of the Caltech community wishing to become better writers and communicators, particularly within STEM disciplines.

Erin earned a B.S. in physics and a minor in art from the University of Delaware while also serving as a Writing Fellow tutor for undergraduate peers.  In 2010, Erin completed a Ph.D. in Geophysics at the University of California, Davis, where she conducted computer modeling research of plate tectonic processes.  Erin continued geodynamic modeling during postdoctoral research at Caltech while exploring a growing interest in outreach and communication.  Outreach collaborations led to a Staff Scientist position with the US Geological Survey where she worked to help improve communication of natural hazards science and earthquake early warning technology.

Through her varied background in both research and communication, Erin has acquired insights and skills that are valuable in working with diverse audiences and disciplines.

Emma Burris-Janssen, Generalist Writing Specialist

Ph.D. in progress, English, University of Connecticut
M.A., English, University of New Hampshire

Emma received her M.A. in English literature from the University of New Hampshire in 2013 and is currently writing the dissertation for her Ph.D. in literature from the University of Connecticut. Her dissertation project brings together her interests in the medical humanities and gendered criminality by exploring the ways in which abortion was represented in British fiction from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century.

Emma has taught writing at the University of New Hampshire, the University of Connecticut, Manchester Community College, and Northeast Community College. In addition to her work with Caltech, Emma also serves as a Writing Specialist for the Professional and Academic Resource Center (PARC) at Mount St. Mary's University in Los Angeles.

Lilien Voong, STEM Writing Specialist and Lecturer

Ph.D., Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences (Molecular Biology), Northwestern

Lilien believes great communication opens doors to great opportunities. Through her teaching outreach, she has worked with students from The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences, Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology, and Cross-Cultural Solutions Tanzania. 

Lilien was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow at Northwestern University, where she earned her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Biological Sciences (Molecular Biology). In her graduate research, she developed new chemical and computational tools to investigate genome structure and organization. Her previous research experience also includes studies in cancer immunology and immunotherapy at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Peer Tutors

Our peer tutors are undergraduates who are passionate about the importance of writing and who receive ongoing training in the tutoring of academic writing.

Alex Bardon, Page

Alex is a junior majoring in computation and neural systems. She hopes to help Caltech students to appreciate the importance of effective communication in their scientific work. As a tutor, Alex seeks to support students as they develop these communication skills in both scientific and non-scientific writing situations. In her free time, Alex likes to read, run, and bake. 

Adnan Contractor

Adnan is a sophomore majoring in physics and philosophy. He hopes to get to know students by reflecting on their writing and literary interests. He is drawn to readings of scientific realism and the philosophy of scientific law. Adnan's favorite pastimes are watching basketball and eating medjool dates.

Myra Cheng, Lloyd

Myra is a junior in computer science, conducting research on learning in robots. She hopes to help students understand and explore the intersections among writing, communication, and science. She loves writing as a medium for reflection and introspection. She also likes bread, yoga, and wordplay.

Rashida Hakim, Ruddock

Rashida is a junior majoring in computer science. She tutors for the writing center because she wants to encourage other students to see writing as enjoyable (or at least as a practical skill) rather than a chore. Over the summer of 2019, Rashida conducted research in the Nonlinear Photonics Group on how fast neural networks can run on optical architectures, and by reading (many!) scientific papers gained an appreciation for clarity in written communication. In her free time, Rashida likes to read science fiction, crochet, and doodle.

Laura Hu, Ruddock/Page

Laura is a senior majoring in computer science and English. She deeply appreciates writing as both a communication medium and a creative outlet. Her summers at JPL and Facebook have underscored the importance of writing within technical disciplines. As a peer tutor, she seeks to support the Caltech writing community and share her love for writing.

Bella Hurvitz, Page

Bella is a sophomore majoring in bioengineering. Writing holds importance in her life as a means of effective communication and as a creative outlet. As a tutor, Bella seeks to sustain her interest in writing by supporting students as they develop effective communication skills in both scientific and non-scientific writing efforts. In her free time, Bella likes to paint, play soccer, and spend time outdoors.

Shalini Kurinchi-Vendhan, Blacker

Shalini is a sophomore studying astrophysics. Currently, she is researching how black holes lead to the death of galaxies using cosmological simulations. But she also loves literature and writing, and hopes to share that passion with others at Caltech. Other than exploring her secret door to Narnia, her favorite books are Villette by Charlotte Bronte, Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, and anything by Lemony Snicket.

Grace Liu, Page (social Avery) 

Grace is a sophomore student majoring in biology and English. She currently does research in the Arnold lab on using machine learning to characterize protein interactions. She believes that all scientists need to also cultivate strong communication skills so that their work can be shared with other scientists and the general public. She enjoys creative writing as a way to relieve stress from academics. She spends her free time reading, listening to music, and learning to become a better cook. 

Moya Ly, Ruddock

Moya is a junior in mechanical engineering. After working in research, in industry, and at a startup, she firmly believes that technical skills do not negate the necessity of effective communication. Moya also encourages writing as a creative outlet from academics and other stressful endeavors. In her free time, she runs track, makes unnecessary spreadsheets, and hopefully sleeps.

Luis Pabon Madrid, Page

Luis is a junior majoring in mechanical engineering with a planned minor in aerospace engineering and control + dynamical systems. His research work on robotics and aerospace technologies has assured him of the importance of effective technical writing and communication – both in academia and in industry. He believes that strong writing skills are critical for success in our society, and is eager to help students and peers succeed.

Geoff Pomraning, Ricketts

Geoff is a sophomore majoring in physics and mathematics, with an emphasis on plasma physics and combinatorics. He thinks that the secret to great science is in becoming a great scientific communicator. His summers researching with the Bellan Plasma Physics Group and the Wisconsin Plasma Physics Lab have instilled an appreciation of technical writing and reporting. He is very excited to be working to support students on their writing journeys. 

Daniel Quintana, Lloyd

Daniel is a sophomore majoring in computer science. he believes that strong communcation and writing skills are critical to every student at Caltech for both their STEM and non-STEM efforts. Through peer tutoring, he hopes to help students hone these skills, as well as improve his own. In his free time, Daniel likes reading, sleeping, and playing video games.  

Jillian Reed, Ruddock

Jillian is a junior majoring in Chemical Engineering and simultaneously disdains and adores writing. The process can be frustrating, but the ability to deliberately choose and order words with precision and thought is a powerful one. She has worked with the Lewis Group at Caltech on artificial photosynthesis research and in different industries. You can find her with her nose in a book, nearly anywhere outdoors, or petting a dog.

Margaret Sui, Lloyd

Maggie is a sophomore majoring in bioengineering and English. She values writing as both a means of communication and an art form. As a peer tutor, Maggie hopes to help others develop their voice and writing process. Outside of writing, Maggie enjoys nature, philosophy, and dark chocolate. She plays violin for the Caltech chamber music program.

Sulan Wu, Page

Sulan is a senior majoring in bioengineering and minoring in computer science. As a transfer student from a liberal arts college, she firmly believes that doing science and communicating it are interdependent processes. As a peer tutor, she hopes to assist other students in this process of writing and to encourage students to have fun with it! Her hobbies include reading, listening to music, making art, and cooking delicious plant-based food.

Emily Zheng, Lloyd

Emily is a sophomore majoring in computer science. She enjoys the arts and humanities, especially history and film, so she hopes to help others with writing on these topics. Emily has spent a summer at the UC San Diego Healthcare Robotics Lab working on a feedback system for stroke gait rehabilitation. Outside of classes, she enjoys watching movies, reading books, learning guitar, and spending time outdoors.

HWC Administrators

Susanne E. Hall, Director

Ph.D., English, UC Irvine

Dr. Hall began her work at Caltech in Fall 2012. At Caltech, in addition to her work directing the Hixon Writing Center, she regularly teaches Introduction to Academic Writing for Multilingual students (Wr 1), Introduction to Academic Writing (Wr 2), Principles and Practices of Academic Writing (Wr 4), and Writing About Science (En 84).

Dr. Hall's research interests are in the field of writing studies. She is a Co-PI in an NSF-funded study of text recycling in scientific research writing. Her broader interests include learning transfer and how writing centers can promote it, particularly across the boundaries between the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields. She has recently presented her work at the International Writing Center Association Convention, the Conference on College Composition and Communication, and the Council of Writing Program Administrators Conference. She is an editor of Prompt, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to college writing assignments. You can find links to her published writing via ORCID.

Leslie Rico, Office Administrator
B.A., English, University of LaVerne

Leslie is the Office Administrator for the Hixon Writing Center. She brings to our Center over 25 years of Caltech experience. Leslie has worked for the Caltech Libraries, the Earthquake Engineering Research Library, and the Divisions of Geology and Planetary Science and Engineering and Applied Science. In addition to Leslie's Caltech experience she brings to our office great enthusiasm and a team-building spirit.

Leslie earned a BA from the University of LaVerne in English with a minor in Creative Writing. Leslie enjoys being a part of the Caltech Community and especially being a member of the Hixon Writing Center team.

Affiliated Staff

Robyn Javier, STEM Communication Specialist and Lecturer in Engineering

Ph.D., Neuroscience, University of California, San Francisco
M.S., Biomedical Engineering, UCLA

Robyn Javier is a member of the division of Engineering and Applied Science who specializes in spoken communication in STEM. Dr. Javier teaches courses, offers consultations, and presents workshops on topics related to STEM communication. Check out her website to learn more about the support she offers to the Caltech community.