Student Portal Website

Project: Creation of Student Website @ University of Richmond

Description: Creation of a student web site and portal that was “by students and for students.” Years before FaceBook and Twitter, students at Richmond were looking for ways the web could address their needs and concerns.

Problem: In talking with our own Web Development students, their friends, and students throughout campus, it became apparent that the University’s web site wasn’t addressing the needs of current students. Rather than follow the traditional path of enhancing the Student Affairs site, I offered my support to developing their own site.


Needs Analysis: Deliberately I kept myself out of the needs analysis phase of the project. Having confidence in the students that were working in the Web Development office, I encourage them to find students in addition to themselves who were willing to undertake the project. In order for the project to be successful, I understood it needed to be their project. What administrator could possibly have suggested:

  • The “Top 10” list must have 11 entries because “we don’t believe in arbitrary rules” and “10 is overrated anyway”.
  • Mix two or more Dining Hall foods together to create new, tastier dishes. Especially popular was the section on enhancing mac & cheese.
  • The online “facilities work request” was your best bet to have someone stop a leaky faucet, repair a closet door, or unjam a busted lock.
  • A student guide to local restaurants, music, clubs, and movies. Included was a suggestion list for when the parents are in town and they’re buying.

Challenges: The biggest challenges came not directly from the project but from the university staff that felt uncomfortable letting the students have so much autonomy. Access to the site was restricted by login as a current undergraduate students. Unanticipated, but one of my primary roles became running political interference and reassuring university staff that students would handle the responsibility.

As an example, the University Housing department worried when the students announced an “evaluate your dorm room” feature to assist with room selection. While the concern was that students would unfairly criticize and bad mouth certain rooms, most comments involved the distance to the laundry facilities or the annoyance of sunrise-facing windows.


Budget: None. I volunteered my after-work hours. The students volunteered their time and talents. Every now and again, I sprung for pizza to show my appreciation and to give the team a chance to socialize. More often than not, our pizza parties turned into brainstorming sessions.

Team: The team consisted of students. I was always available for consultation if they had questions or to provide resources when needed. One such resource was getting the database administrator to create a “single sign-on” which (through our enterprise system) ensured that undergraduate students (and only undergraduate students) had access to the site.

Value: Probably the best, most unanticipated result was how well the student web site welcomed new, incoming students. As soon as a prospective student completed his/her paperwork to attend the university, we gave them a log-in and password. Incoming students didn’t hesitate to reach out to each other in a big way. Typically it started with either a geographic question (“anyone there from Texas”) or an interest (“who plays bass guitar”) and future plans (“and wants to be in my band”). Discussions ranged from best music venues; to “must-take-this-course” faculty as well as faculty to avoid; to local worship opportunities; to campus attire. An explanation of the tradition of wear jackets, ties, and shorts to the first football game of the season. Best of all, the incomingthu-03 class was several steps ahead in making Richmond their home. All thanks to their fellow students.

And for me personally, the value was learning to trust and encourage the garage project. Expect that people with good ideas will be anxious to do the work to see their vision take shape. Wonderful, unanticipated results may well result. And it’s all done on the cheap, with sweat equity and enthusiasm.

And, of course, pizza.


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