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   Date: 7/2/09 Bookmark and Share

Academic Departments Get a Fresh Online Look

These days, when a high school student begins her search for colleges, she typically begins with an Internet search. She accesses the main Web page of colleges she’s interested in then works her way to departmental Web sites of her possible majors.

“Updated departmental Web pages are critical to the admission office,” said Karen Kristof, senior associate director for administrative marketing in admission. “Not only do prospective students peruse college Web sites frequently, they are often looking for specific information about a particular academic program.”

Annie Cahill

Annie Cahill

To accommodate her search through its layers of Web pages, Smith is redesigning many online departmental sites. Recent “launches” include English, Afro-American studies and sociology. New sites for history and art are near completion.

“We want to maintain a consistent design of our Web pages,” said Annie Cahill (right), Web development specialist in college relations, who is re-creating the sites, “so that when a prospective student browses the Smith College site, all the pages will have a unified look and feel, and she won’t feel like she’s navigated off the college’s site.”

Smith College’s Web site consists of thousands of individual pages. Hundreds of those pages are under the auspices of the college’s academic departments and programs. The site is designed as a viewing brochure for prospective students.

“It’s important to keep a consistent branding,” said Cahill. “And, as young people are becoming more Web savvy, it’s also important to stay on top of new trends.”

Cahill’s re-created Web sites emphasize a fresh look, as well as flexibility for simple updating. Importantly, she is designing departmental sites to accommodate updates by various college personnel. “Our new design is more user-friendly,” she said, “and because we’ve designed it, we are always available to help out or make changes for departments.”

Many department sites were created by students, who have since left Smith, or designers outside the college who charge fees to make changes, she noted. “These sites have been made with their own special formula of arbitrariness and crazy sauce, and they’ve lost the recipe,” Cahill half-joked. “We are a free service and are always around to help.”

Cahill works closely with faculty representatives to retain departmental preferences and objectives.

“Our process has been to meet with departments to discuss what their objectives are,” said Cahill. “When they’ve seen what we can do, they are very pleased with the results.”

In particular, explained Cahill, the sites she is redesigning are outfitted with updated features such as a carousel of rotating images on the front page and potential interfaces to popular online resources such as Facebook and Twitter.

As Kristof explained, when it comes to attracting the strongest applicants in the country, a college’s Web presence can make the difference.

“We know that many of our applicants rely heavily on Web sites to figure out what distinguishes Smith from other colleges they’re considering,” she said.

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