“I got my first job offer recently in part because I was able to show a real-world example of a website I designed in this class,” said Aaron Melton, a senior marketing and information systems major at Drake University.
That class was IS145: Website Technology, offered by Drake’s College of Business and Public Administration during the fall 2015 semester. Melton was one of 66 students in two sections of the class who worked in groups of three to four to develop websites for 15 small businesses. The businesses, all located in the town of Manning, Iowa, included a pharmacy, bowling alley, café, and gas station.
Alanah Mitchell, associate professor of information systems, designed the course to allow the students to combine their growing expertise in website technologies with their creative, research, and problem solving skills—all while meeting the business owners’ needs.
“I wanted the students to not only learn how to create websites but to also have the experience of creating them for clients, who had opinions and needs that the students had to learn and then implement,” said Mitchell. “Now, when the students apply and interview for jobs, they can draw on this project and demonstrate their ability to connect with clients and deliver a final product.”
After learning the basics of web design at the start of the semester, the students’ website projects kicked off with a visit from Ron Reishel, president of Main Street Manning, an organization that strives to revitalize and stimulate the town’s growth.
“Websites were a need we identified for our business community,” Reishel said. “We are a town of 1,500 people with small retail services that haven’t had time or money to develop their own websites. Small towns in Iowa are dying, so we’re always looking for projects and developments that help us stay vibrant.”
Each business wanted an online platform to list business hours, location, services, and other general information.
Manning and Drake University are in the second year of a two-year economic development project through the university’s partnership with the Iowa Economic Development Authority. Drake is also working with the city of Perry.
“[Through this program], the communities receive assistance from students and faculty across several disciplines to address community-identified needs,” said Maria Rohach, coordinator of Drake University’s global learning program. “Students, in return, gain hands-on professional experience while learning about challenges communities face and assets that set them apart.”
Melton, along with Jeremy Price, another student in the class, noted the challenge of developing an understanding of the clients and then choosing the right technology for their specific needs. But both see the long-term benefits of gaining these skills in college.
To cap off the project, the students made final tweaks to the sites after receiving feedback from their clients and then trained the business owners on how to manage and maintain the websites going forward.
“For many of the businesses, this was their initial foray into a website, and they were overall very happy and appreciative of the design work,” Reishel said. “It’s exciting to work with college students. They’re very energetic and bring new ideas to the table.”
Mitchell plans to offer the upper-level Website Technology class once per academic year.