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New University homepage goes live

Video and audio bring BU experience to Web

The new homepage made its debut on Thursday.

Each year, thousands of prospective students stroll along Commonwealth Avenue, check out the brownstones on Bay State Road, and sit in on classes in the College of Arts and Sciences to determine if Boston University is the right school for them. But their first impressions of the University are established long before they visit campus, starting the moment they first surf the BU Web site.

“There’s no doubt that they go to the Web to begin their college searches,” says Kelly Walter, BU’s executive director of admissions. “They’re looking for how to apply, they want to get the facts and figures of BU, and they try to begin getting a sense of what BU is all about.”
 
This week, the University is further expanding its Web presence, offering the wired world an opportunity to talk chemistry with faculty, tour residence halls with students, and experience a hockey game or a concert at Agganis Arena. With ample use of video, audio, and slide shows, the new bu.edu, which launched September 7, shows Boston University in ways that were never before possible without visiting its classrooms, dorms, and recreational facilities.

“Increasingly, people who want to learn about BU — or about any university — are going to the Web,” says Joel Seligman, assistant vice president of strategic communications in the Office of Marketing and Communications (OMC). “And the Web environment is a perfect place to tell the story of BU and really demonstrate the breadth and depth of learning and research.”

The designers behind the new homepage were challenged to take President Robert A. Brown’s description of BU as “a great private research university in the heart of the city, engaged in the city and the world” and find a way to bring the words to life. To accomplish this, the interactive elements of the new Web site are divided into five areas: “Learning,” “Research,” “Boston,” “Global,” and “Community.” Each section offers three or four brief explorations of that particular aspect of the University. In “Learning,” for example, students at the School of Medicine talk about their work in community health centers around the city, while in “Boston,” College of Communication student Kelly Barons (COM’07) guides visitors through a typical day as a Fan Ambassador with the Red Sox. “Research” explores the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, and in the “Community” section, students share their enthusiasm for concerts at Agganis Arena and BU Central.

“The ability to introduce members of the community through video, slide show, and text allows us to humanize the place and to tell stories that people can relate to,” Seligman says. “It makes the University accessible and tells people, in very concrete terms, what kind of opportunities are at BU, whether you’re faculty, a member of the staff, a prospective student, or an alumnus.”

For the look of the page, designer Scott Dasse (CFA’08), lead designer in OMC’s Office of New Media, borrowed several elements from an increasingly popular symbol of college life — the iPod. “The iPod appeals to people, makes you think of innovation and cutting-edge design,” he says. “I wanted the homepage to look like that — that’s why it’s a minimal design, with a lot of white space.”

The initial draft of the site was completed last spring, and over the past four months Seligman and Amy Hook, the director of campus information, have been refining the content and design with input from focus groups of faculty and staff, current and prospective students, and alumni from all over the country. While focus group members did have suggestions, such as opening the page with a view of the BU campus, Seligman says that the overall response was positive.

“The Web offers vast new opportunities for improving how we teach and learn, how we communicate and collaborate,” says Michael Krugman, the executive director of BU’s Office of Information Technology. “The new homepage is a bold and ambitious attempt to explore and cultivate this new terrain. I’m delighted to see the University exploring this new medium so effectively.”

To view the new homepage, visit www.bu.edu.