The Office of Information and Technology (OIT) was very excited to usher in a major overhaul of the campus website that went live at the start of this semester. I met with Dr. Michael Gass, head of OIT, who took a break from his treadmill desk to talk about the development.
“The motivation was to have a website that was cutting edge, more exciting, and provided easier access to information,” says Gass.
The change had been coming for a long time, as the aging design and poor mobile accessibility made it impossible for the website to meet the growing tech needs of the campus. “The technology was just beginning to crumble,” says Gass. And after the enrollment crisis a few years ago, the Office of Admissions wanted prioritize the new website to make St. Mary’s more welcoming place online.
The project was spearheaded by Director Chris Burch and OIT specialists Stephanie Enoch, Alicia Lyons, and Melissa Rushing, but the website also took a lot of work from inter-departmental staff. OIT worked in close collaboration with the Office of Communications to work out a website design that would work best for students and staff. Costs for running the website remained about the same thanks to the use of in-house resources.
The redesign brought not only graphic and visual changes, but a thorough update of site content, like faculty and department profiles, as well as a new content management platform (which makes it easier to visit the site on tablets and phones). New searchable features like an updateable Course Catalog and an interactive Events Calendar should make the website significantly more engaging for St. Mary’s students and staff. That is, after they get used to the layout.
As with any changes, there have been grumblings from the campus population about things being moved from where they’ve always been. Ben Casto from OIT sent out a guide to get students reacquainted with the website; it’s available on OIT’s website, it.smcm.edu.
OIT is a department at St. Mary’s that you don’t often interact with (unless you suddenly have a problem that needs fixing) but is constantly working for you. The IT ticketing system that helps students and staff with everything from hardware and software problems to “Oh no I got locked out of my account!” sees an average of 100-150 tickets every week. Starting this semester, the Web Help Desk has been made a separate entity to help direct that flow of traffic.
Meanwhile, a main goal of OIT has been to improve Wi-Fi connectivity across campus. Gass says the existing wireless structure is just not built to handle the flood of mobile activity and data usage that our population demands, which is usually the reason the internet crashes (much to public outcry on YikYak). This last fall, the department made changes that doubled campus bandwidth and brought new internet access to the dorms, and there are plans to improve the wireless tech in academic buildings in the coming summer.
Dr. Gass summed it up: “The thing we’re constantly trying to do is to provide better service and to help people better navigate technology.”