Story Robert Van Cleef '94
Read more of Rob's thoughts about the website project: Q & A: The New Gordon Website.
On October 6 Gordon College launched a new website in coordination with its branding campaign, representing two years and more than 4,600 person-hours of labor. While it is a marketing outreach to prospective students, it also has many features alumni and friends of the College will enjoy: easier navigation, attractive graphic design and photography, banners and photo galleries, online journals, and interactive features such as "email a friend" and "email the author."
I am sometimes asked how a liberal arts major ended up doing this kind of highly technical work. The short answer is God's providence, or perhaps God's sense of humor. While I was a student at Gordon College, I hated computers. I considered them a necessary evil that I would eventually have to learn. But after graduating from Gordon with a sociology major, and from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with a Master of Arts in Theology, I took jobs that were increasingly technology-related and operations-focused. I returned to Gordon College in March 2003 as an administrative programmer/analyst.
In the fall of 2004 I began to interview different College departments and to put together a plan to allow everyone a space that could easily be found on the website. By the end of 2004 we had drafted a website map (a road map for the pages we would need) and the first set of wireframes (a blueprint for web pages). We tested page design and site navigation with focus groups of Christian high school students.
We had a long list of capabilities we wanted for the new website. We wanted it to be more dynamic and interesting than the old website yet easier to maintain. We wanted an approval system to help ensure the quality of website content; for content to have expiration dates so it could be taken down automatically, thus avoiding the problem of out-of-date pages; capability to share content between pages--for special events like music concerts to be posted once yet appear on several pages as appropriate. All of these considerations pointed us toward a database architecture for the new site rather than the traditional HTML architecture.
The Lord was gracious in providing skilled craftspeople for each aspect of the website development process. In the summer of 2005 we began to formally build a project team to deliver the website. Gordon's Information Systems Group--Jon Williams '91, director; Dan Savlon, David Andrade '89 and Paul Bruce, systems developers; Kevin Wellwood '05, student programmer extraordinaire; and myself, project manager--were the primary architects and builders of the website. The Network Support Group--Russ Leathe, director; and Brian Vienneau '04, systems manager--provided servers and support for the website deployment. The Design Center--Tim Ferguson Sauder, creative director; and Kirsten Keister '04, graphic designer--provided the website's graphic design. June Bodoni '82, director of the Center for Educational Technologies, trained faculty and staff in the use of the new editing software. Bryan Parys '04, of the College Communications Office, became Gordon's first web editor, editing and drafting content for 900+ web pages, and working with various College departments in the revamping of their sites.
Because of the sheer size and complexity of the project, doing the work within departmental "silos" was simply not possible. We had to create an interdisciplinary team, all committed to one goal. My liberal arts education at Gordon gave me the intellectual freedom and capacity to relate to all members of the project team, whether we were rewriting content, confronting a graphic design problem or solving a logic issue in the code.
Rob Van Cleef is technology program manager for Gordon College and lives in Beverly, Massachusetts, with his wife and son.