This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Access a wide world of website expertise

Want to build a better website? Campus Web Publishers (CWP) — an organization of diverse UCLA staff members whose jobs all reach into the Web in one way or another — can help.
Robert Carr manages the Semel Institute website.

Just ask Robert Carr, who joined the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior two years ago as manager of information services and web services projects. His first task was to integrate the institute’s then-multitude of websites — sites for departments and programs, research groups, faculty members and more that had been cobbled together over the years.

“It was really hard to say exactly what the Semel Institute was,” he recalled of his mission to bring the sites together as “more of a whole body … and part of UCLA.”

Carr said he was “used to getting dropped into an organization with no experience and having to find your feet really quickly,” given his wide-ranging background that includes being a systems engineer, a graduate degree in information technology and even a stint in the British Royal Navy’s submarine service. But he wasn’t prepared for the decentralized nature of UCLA’s IT operations — the absence of a “central office” to turn to for guidance.

“There I was, sitting in a little office on my own with no windows,” Carr recalled. “You suddenly very quickly feel all alone.”

Then he discovered CWP. Getting himself to a meeting, he found kindred souls talking about things like content management systems and the UCLA graphic identity guidelines.

Not only has Carr picked up skills from his peers, but he has leapfrogged to classes at UCLA Extension to learn more about Adobe Photoshop and design principles, among other subjects.

Mike Takahashi, who leads CWP, says the group helps with all aspects of web publishing, from software to blogging. 
Mike Takahashi, who leads CWP, loves to hear stories like Carr’s. Takahashi learned about the group five years ago while he was working as a web designer and developer for the Office of Instructional Development. Although the organization came into being more than a decade ago as the creation of a group of IT and communications managers intent on harnessing the communication power of the then-young Internet, participation in CWP waxed and waned over the years.

“There weren’t many people at the first meetings I attended,” recalled Takahashi, “but what I saw was all this potential for this community of people who were passionate about what they were doing.”

Takahashi ended up volunteering to lead the group. Under his guidance, subscribers to the group’s listserv have grown to about 170, and meetings draw a good-sized crowd that's increasingly diverse.

“Every time I’m seeing fresh faces,” said Takahashi, who last year took a new job as web strategies manager for UCLA Marketing and Communications. “We’re getting people from the academic side, the medical center, publications — all facets of the campus.”

And with this diversity comes a growing range of meeting topics. At one recent gathering, discussion jumped from web usability — determining how user-friendly your website is — to web access for those with disabilities, to adding podcasts and video footage to your site. 

“There are a lot of really smart people on campus,” Takahashi said. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel if we want to learn how to do something or implement a new technology.”

Eric Gardner and the Cotsen Institute homepage.
CWP participant Eric Gardner, publications coordinator at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, said, “The group covers a pretty broad range of content, from the extremely technical to the extremely general. There’s something for a lot of different people.”

Gardner joined the group about a year ago, along with Cotsen colleague Shauna Mecartea, executive editor and media relations officer. Their quest: to overhaul all of the institute’s communications, moving away from print publications and onto the web. Gardner’s background is in graphic design, but suddenly he found himself grappling with challenges that went far beyond website design.

Thanks to skills they have learned and people they have met through CWP, last fall Gardner and Mecartea launched a brand-new website that unifies the Cotsen’s “brand” and incorporates everything from blogs to electronic newsletters.

“Basically we’ve been able to bring our website into the Web 2.0 world,” Gardner said. The new site offers features that include reader subscriptions, RSS feeds, interactive material, blogs, and even videos from a Cotsen archaeological dig in Egypt.

Help from CWP colleagues has been indispensible, Gardner said, “especially since neither of us has a programming background. A lot of people have been very generous with their time and specialized knowledge.”

CWP meetings give participants the opportunity to showcase their hard work while simultaneously helping their colleagues, Takahashi said.

“In the IT world, maybe your manager will appreciate what you’re working on — and that’s about it,” he said. “You could have put your blood, sweat and tears into it, and it’s amazing. But nobody gets to see it except your manager or maybe your department. And even they don’t realize how complex it was or how much of a genius you are.”

Presentations at CWP are often followed with comments like, “Wow! This is amazing!” Takahashi said. “And people will stay after and ask the presenter, “How did you do that?”

Carr is pulling together a presentation to share what he's learned about a new content management system he’s using called Drupal to better manage sites like his — which has 800 web pages and is still growing. “Campus Web Publishers is a very good way of seeing the bigger picture,” he said.

Said Gardner, “It’s great for anybody who wants to learn or bring anything to the table. There are a lot of really bright people at UCLA who really know their stuff.”

CWP’s next meeting is April 28, 1-2:30 p.m. in the Collins Alumni Conference Room at the James West Alumni Center. Anyone who’s interested is welcome, not just the tech-minded — you don’t even have to be building a website. Refreshments and snacks will be served. Find meeting details here, and more information on CWP at the group's website.
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