“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on this earth.”
That quote by the late boxing champion Muhammad Ali is a life theme for Dr. Nicole Dilts, who teaches technical writing in ASU’s Department of English and Modern Languages. In fact, her ongoing service to ASU and the community earned her the 2017 ASU President’s Award for Faculty Excellence in Leadership/Service.
“It’s an honor to have been awarded,” Dilts said. “It really let me know that what I was doing was appreciated. I know from the students I work with and the community, but it’s nice to get the actual recognition from the university that what I’m doing is making an impact.”
At ASU, Dilts serves on the Americans with Disabilities Act Committee, co-founded the Mentoring Program for Students with Special Needs, and co-chairs Pride Week for the Differently-Abled. She is also faculty sponsor for the Spectrum student organization for neurodiversity awareness (autism, ADHD, etc.) and the Awareness for All Disabilities student organization.
“Service is one thing we talk about a lot. We talk a lot about that and why it’s important, especially in tech writing. It’s great to be able to spark that passion.”
Off campus, Dilts is a member of the Policy Council for Children and Families, a division of Texas Health and Human Services that reviews legislations related to children with special needs and makes recommendations to the Texas Legislature. She is also the founder and head of the San Angelo Parents of Children with Autism.
“I started that organization four years ago,” Dilts explained. “We are just an informal group where parents can meet and compare notes privately about our kids, the services and any issues we might be having. It started off with about 10 people, and now we have over 90.”
The concept of service and giving back to the community was imbedded in Dilts at an early age.
“Honestly, this started with my grandparents,” she said. “They also had that pattern of service. It was just a model. My mother continued that. For me, it never a question of should I or shouldn’t I.”
However, Dilts’ passion for technical writing didn’t develop until later in life.
“I didn’t know much about technical writing to be honest,” she said. “My undergraduate degree was in psychology. I spent two years as a restaurant manager, but it wasn’t for me. I didn’t enjoy it.”
Encouraged by a friend, Dilts applied for a master’s program not entirely sure she knew what technical writing was.
“As soon as I got into it, I was like, ‘Yes, this is for me,’” she said. “I love it, and I love teaching it. I love those ground-level courses in tech writing. I get students in the sciences all the time saying, ‘I’m not a good writer.’ And I say, ‘You don’t know. You haven’t tried all those different types of writing. You think you don’t like writing because you don’t like literary analysis or you’re not a good poet. You can still be a good writer.’”
“I’m the world’s worst poet,” Dilts added. “I could never write a poem; I could never write a short story. But I think I’m a good technical writer.”
She also stresses to all her students the significance of being a good writer, regardless of major.
“Writing is important, no matter what field you’re in,” Dilts said. “How good your help and support is through your writing determines whether people are going to come back and buy your product. You need to learn and know how to do that, even if you’re not called upon to write. You need to at least be able to say, ‘This is wrong and let’s fix this.’”
Dilts is also passionate about bringing her commitment to service to the students in her classes.
“Service is one thing we talk about a lot,” she said. “We talk a lot about that and why it’s important, especially in tech writing. It’s great to be able to spark that passion.”
“I’m lucky to be here,” she added. “I love it.”