different higher ed environments

So yesterday I was in a bit of a Twitter conversation with Greg Dunlap (“heyrocker” on Twitter, Drupal, and elsewhere), in which he said “welcome to higher education!” My reply was “you mean welcome back,” because when I first met him I was still at Pierce, although I’m not sure if he remembered that. But that also made me think again about what’s different between Evergreen and Pierce. Obviously from the point of view of the student or the faculty, there’s a lot, but more what’s different from my position as a web developer in a Marketing group….

The most obvious difference has to do with the lack of majors or traditional academic departments. And while that’s a tricky situation from an overall marketing point of view (as I’ve said on Twitter a few times: “what even IS Evergreen?”), from a web team’s point of view, it can be easier because there isn’t the same built-in angst about “my site.” Faculty who want to do things about their specific programs on the web have WordPress and Moodle and even free rein to make their own stuff, and it really is academic, not part of our area at all. And on the other hand, that can make it difficult to highlight the really good interesting things going on when that structure doesn’t exist.

The infrastructure around the catalog is really different, too, although I’m not sure whether some of that is just a progression of technology during the five years I was at TwinStar. But I do know that Pierce was heading towards being tied into a huge statewide system. (And boy was it fugly.) And here it’s more homegrown, more flexible; some of which comes from not being part of a community college system, some of it comes from the very different nature of the curriculum, and some of it is the particular development environment. I’m much happier with this situation. Among other things, I’m not copy/pasting from Word that comes out of InDesign; instead we do what I always wanted to do at Pierce: the web (sort of) feeds something to InDesign for the print folks. I have access to properly structured data! I’m not entirely happy with how it’s set up on the website now, but I have some ideas for improvement, and I even think I’ll be able to accomplish some of them.

And I feel generally respected by the development team in a way that never felt entirely true at Pierce. Most of the time, honestly, I felt grudgingly tolerated. (With one notable exception, who happened to be an Evergreen grad. Everything circles around eventually.) I credit quite a bit of that to Susan, who’s been here a long time and built a lot of bridges…and also she reports sideways (?) to the IT area, which means there’s even a formal structure for including us in their projects.

As for my home department, it’s interested to me that we’re structured in the way that my old department was headed towards, in which the marketing (“College Relations”) functions are in the same area as the fundraising/alumni functions (“Advancement”). I have not yet made up my mind quite what I think about it. There’s definitely a stronger sense of that being a key client than there was at Pierce, although since we’re on different floors there’s a bit of separation.

It’s similar enough that my previous experience feels useful, and different enough to give me plenty to learn.