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ASU in the Community

July 30, 2006

English professor Dr. Duane Roen would like to learn if there are any ASU faculty members involved in community service projects similar to his Project for Writing & Recording Family History.

An ASU student is interested in starting a new outreach program but isn’t quite sure where the best location might be in the Valley. 

Parents attending the ASU Art Museum Annual Family Fun Day want to find summer arts and cultural programs that will nurture their children’s creativity.

What do these people – with such different needs – have in common? All of them turned to the ASU in the Community web site to search for the people, information, and programs they needed.

Every day, hundreds of people visit the ASU in the Community web site, the most comprehensive database of ASU’s community outreach programs and activities, to learn about programs related to their interests, locate those programs, and increase awareness of their own outreach efforts. 

So who keeps ASU in the Community up and running? A dedicated team made up of a web designer, program information specialists, marketing coordinator, photographer, and writer who work through the Office of University Initiatives to ensure the web site provides up-to-date information and easy-to-use navigation tools. The team also includes a systems analyst from Undergraduate Student Initiatives Technology Services (USITS) and mapping experts from the Institute for Social Science Research’s GIS Services, creating a true collaboration of university resources.

What many people may not be aware of is that almost half of the team is made up of students who handle a wide variety of responsibilities, from reviewing program entries to writing feature stories to maintaining the web site.

ASU in the Community was conceived as a way for ASU faculty, staff, students, and community members to learn about the wide range of work ASU is doing with the community. “Before the searchable web site was launched, the only way to know how ASU was engaged in the community was through word of mouth, individual department web sites, or news items,”  says Dawn Castle, Project Manager for the Office of University Initiatives. “With ASU in the Community you have access to information about hundreds of community outreach programs whenever you need it.”

This web site originated when the Office of University Initiatives teamed up with USITS in 2002 to develop a web application and modify the existing student involvement database to support the collection of information about ASU’s community outreach efforts and make the information accessible via the web. In 2005, the web site was redesigned with enhanced search options, an interactive mapping tool, and launched the Community Camera, a bi-monthly e-newsletter that spotlights specific outreach programs.

“ASU in the Community is truly a collaborative effort,” says Kimberly Loui, Executive Director of the Office of University Initiatives. In addition to the more than 350 faculty and staff who supply information on their outreach programs, partnerships with USITS and ASU’s Institute for Social Science Research’s GIS Services team provide the technical support to make the site work every day.

Key to the success of ASU in the Community are the faculty and staff who coordinate community outreach programs because they provide the program information available on the web site. “We rely on faculty and staff who coordinate community outreach programs to add and update their program information on the database so it can be searchable on the web site,” states Castle. “The web site would not be possible without their participation and support.”

ASU in the Community’s partnership with the Institute for Social Science Research’s GIS Services team also provides the site with a useful interactive mapping tool. Thanks to this feature, which utilizes geographic information systems (GIS) technology, users can locate where ASU outreach programs are conducted and even search for programs in specific school districts, legislative or congressional districts, and zip codes.

Users can also use the mapping tool to obtain census data on an area’s population, age, race, or median income which can help faculty and staff locate target audiences for their programs.

While many visitors are already enjoying such benefits from the site, the ASU in the Community staff is continually developing ways to increase awareness of their web site so others can take advantage of this resource.

“We really work to let people know how this site would be useful to them,” says Marketing Coordinator Jenny Allen. Allen and Amanda Burke, Assistant Director of the Office of University Initiatives, frequently arrange meetings with community members as well as ASU faculty and staff to inform them about ASU in the Community and brainstorm new ways the site could be used.

Suggestions from visitors to ASU in the Community have led to many planned changes. “We are always interested in feedback from users on how we can make the site more helpful to them,” states Safwat Saleem, the web site’s graphic designer.

In the future, users can expect to enjoy a more powerful keyword search to help locate the programs they are looking for. The mapping tool will integrate Google technology for easier use. Faculty and staff who coordinate community outreach programs will also appreciate more streamlined web forms that will let them enter more relevant information on their outreach programs with greater ease.

As always, the success of such modifications will be based on user response.

“I don’t see ASU in the Community as a web site that will ever be totally completed,” promises Saleem. “It will continue to evolve as we get more feedback from our users.”