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Fordham Begins Website Reconstruction

Redesign of Website’s Infrastructure and Content Expected to be Finished Within the Next 18 Months


Published: Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, April 25, 2012 02:04

The Fordham University website has been a cause of concern for many in the Fordham community due to its outdated, confusing nature. Over roughly the next 18 months, however, the website will undergo an entire reconstruction aimed to alleviate much of the confusion and better market the University to prospective students and faculty.

This reconstruction is an enormous undertaking, requiring Fordham to put together a University-wide assessment team that includes members of the Marketing and Communication department, Information Technology (IT), a member of the Provost staff and several faculty members to begin this job.

 James J. Kempster, senior director of marketing and communications, was asked to assess where he believed the University was at with its current website when he arrived at Fordham last year.

“I knew it was an enormous task when we began talking about what has happened [with web design] over the last 10 years and about what we needed to be doing,” Kempster said in a phone interview.

Kempster learned that the website had not been updated, with the exception of a “face-lift” in 2008 that was strictly a template renovation.

“The content management system underneath it is very old and it is time for a change,” Kempster said.

Kempster realized that the website is a primary marketing tool for prospective students and faculty, as it is the first impression of Fordham many see.

“Almost 20 percent of students that applied had never actually called, or visited or spoke to anyone in person,” Kempster said. “I’m guessing that means that they learned about Fordham through the website and just applied. It shows how important of a tool it is in recruiting.”

The website redesign initiative began in June 2011 when Kempster shared his preliminary thoughts with University vice presidents and admission directors. He presented the idea of creating a core team of administration and faculty to direct the process and hire the assessment team. Kempster took their feedback, revised his proposal and presented it to the vice presidents and deans in October 2011.

After the October meeting, the group created the assessment team and immediately sent out a request for a proposal to several companies.

“We, as a group, selected the top two and invited them in to present,” Kempster said. “We hired the one that we thought fit best.”

The team chose the communication strategy and implementation services company, mStoner.

“They’ve worked with a variety of schools, such as William and Mary,” Kempster said. “We went with them, because they had a good sense of us as a University and Fordham’s community, so they were able to understand us and create a website that works well with our needs.”

The team’s current goal is to finish the assessment by the end of May. Then they can lay out the timeline, break it down phase by phase and eventually launch the new website.

“We want to take our time and develop something that will work really well with Fordham in terms of the technology, content and staff,” Kempster said. 

Students should be aware of the fact that they can have an active role in creating the best possible website for Fordham. There are two phases in which they can be involved as of now: assessment and design. Currently, students are involved in the assessment process, discussing how they use the website and what problems they find.

“All [the students] say that it’s impossible to navigate, and they can’t find what they need easily,” Kempster said. “They say it seems backward and awkward.”

A survey will also be sent out to all students so as many people as possible can participate and share their opinions. Then, once the webdesign starts, they will be invited to share their thoughts and potentially even be testers of the new site.

The goals of the assessment team for the new site will include creating better content management and adding a new interface to support new and upcoming features. These will include a news feed, videos, a robust calendar that will contain the majority of University events and a better navigation system.

“Currently our website can’t support these features,” Kempster said. “We need to make it easier to update content, because the current system is very old, and it makes an already difficult task even more challenging.”

University websites are some of the toughest to design because of the wide range of users. The website must fit the needs of current students and faculty, attract prospective students and staff and please the alumni.

“There’s a variety of different users which makes it tough to be streamlined and easy to use,” Kempster said. “We need to work toward making it much easier to navigate while creating a nicer-looking design.”

Another issue is that the current staff in charge of the website and its content is understaffed.

“Fordham doesn’t have enough full-time staff to be watching and developing web content as well as working with faculty and administration to keep content up-to-date,” Kempster said. “We need to structure the staff that will create, and in the future, maintain [the website].”

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