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Clarkson Students Help Local Non-profits Get On The Web

Clarkson University Technical Communications Professor Johndan Johnson-Eilola knows better than anyone that all of the knowledge imparted in the classroom means nothing unless it is applied.

“I can teach them a lot in the classroom but the learning doesn’t become real until they work in a real situation,” said Johnson-Eilola. “Once you start working with clients, the students start to understand that clients have busy schedules, they don’t have as much time as they’d like to do the project, and there are deadlines to meet.”

Johnson-Eilola had his students put their knowledge to work by creating Web sites for non-profit organizations in the North Country. That meant hours of research, a five- to 15-page proposal to their clients and the actual construction of the Web site itself. Students were graded on their work, but in some ways, the assignment wasn’t about a letter grade or points.

"In general my goal was to get students, and clients, to see that Web site design is more than just a technical issue--it's a communication issue,” Johnson-Eilola explained. “These organizations needed technical communication support. They’re not usually able to go out and purchase Web design services themselves.”

Those receiving new Web pages included 4-H Camp Overlook, Renewal House, the Potsdam Animal Shelter and United Cerebral Palsy of the North Country. (See <>.)

“This project really got the students pumped up,” said Johnson-Eilola. “This is the one project that they stayed after class to work on, that they met on weekends for, that they sent me e-mail about. It gave them concrete experiences that they can talk about when they go out in the job market.”

Students like Scott A. Cipura ’02 saw the project as a way to put what he knows to good use. Cipura, Anthony M. Dashnaw ’01 (business, Saranac, N.Y.), Hoang Huynh ’01 (electrical and computer engineering, Rochester, N.Y.) and Eileen Winters (Winthrop, N.Y.), senior department secretary in the Civil and Environmental Engineering office, helped to create a Web site for the Potsdam Animal Shelter.

“I thought it was a great chance for the shelter to get some exposure and some much needed help,” said Cipura, a mathematics and computer science major from Hilton, N.Y. “It also gave me a chance to improve at HTML, as well as improve my skills at working with a group. I helped in the designing of the page, as well as going to the shelter to get information, pictures, and insight from the director of the shelter.”

Julie M. Davis ’01 of Potsdam, N.Y. got more than she expected from the project. Davis, along with Thomas J. Adsit ’01 (chemical engineering, Rome, N.Y.), Richard P. Greenwood Jr. ’01 (interdisciplinary engineering and management, Syracuse, N.Y.) and David M. Sonner ’02 (electrical and computer engineering, Corning, N.Y.), created 4-H Camp Overlook’s Web site.

“I took a lot more out of it than I thought I would,” said Davis, a technical communications major. “Beforehand, I didn’t think as much about trying to attract the user to a specific page. I would put elements on a page, but I didn’t always think about the reason that it was there. It made me sit back and think, ‘Well, if I put this quote at the top of the page, it’s going to attract somebody’s attention.’ It also helped for me to sit down and work with someone else, to see things through someone else’s eyes.”

For Kerry C. Twomey ’03 (Project Arete, West Sand Lake, N.Y.), the excitement came from the fact that she and her classmates were doing something to help the community.

Twomey’s group, which included Jeffrey G. Fischer ’03 (mechanical and aeronautical engineering, East Aurora, N.Y.), Hau H. Nguyen ’01 (electrical and computer engineering, Rochester, N.Y.) and Brian J. Seymour ‘04 (business, Ogdensburg, N.Y.) made a Web site for Renewal House, a Canton, N.Y.-based shelter for victims of domestic violence.

“It was really interesting because we were going into the community and seeing what we could do to help,” said Twomey. “We actually had to go out and ask people what they thought they needed.”

Local organizations were appreciative of the students’ efforts. Such was the case with United Cerebral Palsy of the North Country, which provides services to families in five counties in northern New York State. Clarkson students Kimberly J. Anderson ’02 (chemical engineering, Trenton, N.J.), Charles D. Cameron ’03 (electrical and computer engineering, Potsdam, N.Y.), Jeremy R. Powell ’03 (mechanical and aeronautical engineering, Middleboro, Mass.) and Daniel L. Roux ’03 (civil and environmental engineering, Baldwinsville, N.Y.) put together a soon-to-be launched Web site for UCP.

“The kids were great. We really enjoyed working with them,” said Peg Kahn, UCP public relations director. “They were learning as they were going along. They tried different things, and were willing to go back to change things if it didn’t work out. Charles even offered to make changes to the Web site over the next year. What more can you ask for?”

Kahn said the Web site was definitely needed, but “we didn’t have the expertise or money. This allowed us to put up something we could be proud of. It’s a place where people can get information about UCP. In addition to other uses, the organization will use the Web site to recognize our volunteers and advertise our fundraising programs. It’s opened up a whole new world for us with all types of possibilities.”

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Annie Harrison, Director of Media Relations, at 315-268-6764 or]

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