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Field Notes from the Digital Prairie

Friday, June 27, 2014

New Beginnings

This post was begun several weeks ago, but I haven’t had time to proof and polish it until now. Better late than never, right?

Many of the folks who have any reason to read this blog already know through other channels that I recently left my job as Senior Manager of Electronic Communications at the University of Chicago Law School in order to become Assistant Vice President, Web Development at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago. After nearly 14 years on the UChicago campus as both a student (5.5 years) and a full-time staff member (8 years), making a break is simultaneously exhilarating and slightly scary.


Challenges I expect to face

  • New systems and technologies: The most immediate challenge is having to learn the nuts and bolts of a new content management system, as well as all of the technologies behind it. UChicagoLaw’s site was relaunched on Drupal 6 in 2009, and while I knew next to nothing about Drupal at the time, it became something of a second skin for me. RU’s site is run on Sitecore, a proprietary platform built in ASP.NET, and its approach to everything from the structure of data to user interface is completely different than Drupal’s. Even the server technology we use at RU is different; it’s a Windows server, and I’ve only ever used Apache. Luckily, I have two great developers working with me, which brings me to...
  • New responsibilities: At UChicagoLaw I was basically a one-man web shop. While my title included the word “manager,” all of the management I did was basically horizontal, working with content editors across the Law School over whom I had no authority. While there will be plenty of that at RU, for the first time, I have two people reporting directly to me. My hope is that the skills I learned in “soft” management will translate well to this new situation.
  • New audiences: One of the consistent challenges of working in higher ed is having to serve such a wide variety of audiences, from prospective and current students to alumni, faculty, and the general public. With this move, I'm going from serving a set of audiences that I knew well, having worked with them for many years as well as being myself an alumnus of the University, to a set of audiences with whom I am largely unfamiliar. Additionally, there is also the switch from serving a small, nationally renowned professional school to serving an entire university, well-respected within Chicago but unfortunately little-known outside of it. On the web side, this can mean new having to learn new techniques; for example, search engine optimization was not something I had to worry about much in my previous position, while at Roosevelt it’s important. I also have to learn a new voice, and jettison old assumptions about how users are using the web — after all, the expectations of high school students looking at colleges and college seniors looking at graduate schools are almost certain to be different. I expect a decent learning curve in getting to know our current and prospective students.
  • New brand: Part of learning the new voice of the institution is adjusting to a new brand; while UChicagoLaw was very much about the “life of the mind,” Roosevelt’s centers around a commitment to social justice. Luckily for me, the language and the values surrounding the RU brand are not that different than that at my undergraduate alma mater, where I got my start in higher ed communications.
  • New bureaucracy: Universities are like anthills — incredibly complex and nearly unique in their organization. Figuring out how they work — how best to conceptualize, let alone navigate, an unfamiliar university org chart is a daunting task, but a vital one if you hope to get anything done.


What I’m excited about

Pretty much everything listed above. Except maybe the bureaucracy part.


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