Communication Arts Instructor Fires up a Website on Outdoor Cooking
April 1, 2009
"My passion is writing," says Cyndi Allison Wittum, Communication Arts instructor. "In the back of my mind, I dreamed of hosting my own web page at some point, but I was content to write for online magazines."
The turning point came last year when an online magazine that housed a large collection of Cyndi's grilling articles sold out to a large Internet company. The company wanted to transfer her collection to the top ranking search engine company as part of a project to provide unique content hosted by the conglomerate.
"The company recruiter told me that I would be 'big times' if I signed my work over and contracted to write under the company umbrella," says Cyndi. "But, I didn't see it that way. The articles would be placed in a template format and would be devoid of any personality. It looked more like a content production line job than a chance to experiment and grow."
Cyndi had a huge collection of outdoor cooking articles that were basically homeless. Although she maintains a barbecue blog, she didn't want to shovel feature pieces over to a blog.
"I spent a few weeks reading up on web site building," says Cyndi. "Then I purchased domains, signed up with a host service, and bought Dreamweaver software."
It quickly became obvious that building a web site from scratch would be pretty complex and that even tasks that sounded simple could take hours for someone with no formal training in website development. Although Cyndi hammered together a few pages, she was not thrilled with the results.
"I looked at my web pages and wasn't thrilled," says Cyndi. "The content was solid, but the presentation was very amateurish. My mom might have pasted a print copy on the refrigerator, but I'm not sure visitors would have stuck around long enough to see that the articles were interesting."
Cyndi decided it would be a good investment to contract on the site design and began exploring options. She found that there are many companies and individuals interested in providing design support, but she hoped to find someone she felt did exemplary design work and would build a solid base of templates that would not require constant technical support to maintain and develop.
"When I took a moment to brainstorm about what I needed and wanted and who might be able to provide that, Maegen Worley, our campus webmaster, came to mind," says Cyndi. "Her work is topnotch. The Catawba website looks great. I wasn't sure if Maegen did contract work on the side, but I decided it wouldn't hurt to ask."
It turns out that Maegen had evenings and weekends available at the time and was interested in working on the grill site, so Cyndi sent over the basic structure, some articles, and photos.
Yes You Can Grill was quickly up and running.
There were still a few bumps along the way. Sizing photos in a template proved a bit challenging, and leaving a single field blank resulted in pages coming up literally named "template" online.
"There were times when I wondered if I'd ever get the hang of it," says Cyndi. "But, I'd fire questions at Maegen, and she would walk me through various problems. Once I carried my desktop computer to her, and she quickly sorted out a synchronization issue."
The web project started at the end of summer break last year, and Yes You Can Grill is fully functional this year for grill season. The site is packed full of stories, recipes, reviews, and photos, and Cyndi continues to add materials. This is a long term project and ongoing which is why Cyndi wanted a solid foundation.
"Contacting Maegen was the smartest move I made," says Cyndi. "She knows the technical end of web page building and also is excellent artistically. That's a powerful combination."
Teamwork proved to be the key to success.
"We try to teach our students the importance of working together," says Cyndi. "This is an excellent example. My work is showcased beautifully, because I could see my limitations but also a solution. I didn't even have to look far. Maegen and I work in the same building, so I was able to ask her in person about doing the site. It's great to have talented co-workers who cut across so many fields, and I'm honored that I had a chance to coordinate with one of our best."