Whitman web site to get facelift

Josh Goodman

The first incarnation of whitman.edu was student-designed and had a duck flying across the homepage. Over 15 years later, the college is once again trying to spruce up the web site, with plans to launch a new version of the web site in November.

This is the latest in a series of image changes for the college. Last summer came a streamlined visual identity, which brought back the Memorial Building clock tower to the college logo and created a consistent font and appearance for the name Whitman College. This year, Whitman hired a marketing firm to create a theme that administrators refer to as Whitman’s “unique combination”: academic excellence, engaging community and unpretentious northwest culture. With a grant from an anonymous donor, these two projects will combine to contribute to a new image, content and navigation for Whitman’s web site.

According to Ruth Wardwell, director of communications, the aim is to create a better homepage, admissions site and fund-raising page. Separately, a new portal system will give students a more individualized homepage when they visit whitman.edu.

“We need to recreate the homepage to make sure it smacks of Whitman, that it could only be Whitman and not some other college just changing the name and the logo,” she said.  “And also focus on the navigation — is it out of date? Is it doing what we need it to do?”

To accomplish that goal, the college hired Lipman Hearne, a marketing firm that has worked with other college web sites, to evaluate what changes would be best for Whitman’s web site. In addition to input from Lipman Hearne, the college is seeking input from faculty, staff, alumni and a set of to-be-determined students.

Wardwell said that specific details of the updated web site were not yet decided, since it is still early in the process, but possible changes included everything from the content on the homepage to where the navigation bars are located. Wardwell added that the new web site would place greater emphasis on Whitman’s combination of “academic excellence,” “engaging community” and “unpretentious northwest culture.”

One of the biggest effects of the new web site will be for recruiting prospective students. Kevin Dyerly, director of admission, said the current multimedia package, ‘experience whitman.edu’, is difficult to update and has run its course.

“More and more colleges are building interactive media and features into the admissions pages, and I think that’s the direction we’ll probably go,” he said.  “New photos, hopefully some video, and I’ll be interested to see some of the interesting ideas Lipman Hearne has to engage students in the process.”

Dyerly said it was important for Whitman’s admissions webpage to be up-to-date technologically in order to convince prospective students to visit campus.

“I would imagine one of the areas of focus will still be on selling the campus visit,” he said.  “Given our location, two-thirds of the battle for us is getting students to campus,” though he added that admissions will look at enhancing online tour features to sell Whitman to those who can’t visit.

John Bogley, vice president for development and college relations, said in an e-mail that the new web site would make it easier and more compelling for alumni and others to give to the college.

“Our aspiration for the development portion of the web site is that it be visibly accessible off the homepage so that those looking to make a contribution can navigate to the site to make a gift easily,” he said. “Equally important, we seek a development site that provides information about priorities for the college that gifts can help accomplish.”

“In addition, we seek to profile more of our donors, telling of their gifts and the difference those gifts are making in providing the a high quality liberal arts education to our students,” he said.

Though the new features may require more work for Whitman’s technology infrastructure, Chief Information Officer Keiko Pitter says that WCTS is ready for whatever the college decides on.

“If there’s new features, like streaming video, we need to make sure we have adequate facilities,” she said.  “Our infrastructure is very, very solid right now, so we don’t have any problem with that.”

Pitter also mentioned that, separate from the other changes to the web site, a new customizable student portal will be available on the Whitman web site any day now.

Right now, the college has a generic portals for students, faculty, and staff, which include relevant links and information. The new approach will make it more personal.

“Each student will get their own page where CLEo, Quack, etc. are integrated in there, [with] other features,” Pitter said.

She compared it to a banking web site, which shows your personal information once you logged in. Though Pitter is not directly involved in the broader effort to revamp the web site, she hopes to be part of the audience.

“I’m retiring at the end of the academic year, so I’m looking forward to being part of the audience now, and I hope the web page will give me information about lectures and the news that’s going on here,” she said.