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Building bridges with Webs

January 3, 2006

An image of the Gordon Photography Web site, which was designed by SFSU studentsBay Area nonprofits and small businesses get help making the leap online through the Design and Industry class, Digital Media III. Students in Senior Lecturer Kristen Gates' Web site development class devote 10 weeks each semester developing Web sites for small businesses and nonprofits in the Bay Area.

Gates created the course’s service-learning component, "Bridging the Digital Divide," in 1996. More than 200 Web sites have been created since.

Students work directly with small business owners at least one day each week to create a company Web site. After 10 weeks, the sites go live and students present their work to clients and classmates.

"Working with a client outside of a classroom makes lectures, book learning and assignments all that much more real and concrete," Gates said. "[Students] get their sea legs as Web developers here. You can’t read about that in books."

For years Cheryl Garcia and her husband Ben relied on the Yellow Pages to get business for their company, B & C Janitorial Service Inc. Since Gates' students created a Web site for the company in 2002, B & C has garnered contracts with the Oakland International Airport, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, California Highway Patrol and U.S. Forest Service, among others.

"We've gotten phenomenal feedback," Cheryl Garcia said. "Many of our clients said they were so impressed that we even have a site that they were immediately interested in talking to us." Garcia said, adding that she often recommends the program to others. "There is a tremendous need for what she is doing. The benefits small businesses reap are amazing."

In the fall, graphic design major Melanie Wilkins helped create a Web site for Davis and Associates Communications, a San Francisco-based public relations firm. She decided how text should look on the page and what it should say, how topic headers should look and read, and helped design the navigation of the site, or how visitors find their way around.

"It was the first 'real' Web site that I ever made, and it came out great," said Wilkins, a senior. "It was fun to put it all together and see the final product. Now I know how to do just about everything I need to make sites for clients."

Ann Gordon, a professional photographer who takes portraits of pets, was also one of the fall semester clients. Gordon was anxious to have a site that could help promote her El Sobrante-based company, Gordon Photography. Coincidentally, Gordon was enrolled in the master’s program in SF State's Design and Industry Department from 1984 to 1986.

"I was amazed at how everyone’s vision came together on our new site," Gordon said. "I think there’s a lot more energy coming from these students than from professionals who've done [Web site design] for a long time. I'm very pleased with the result."

Senior Holly Sigler, who worked on Gordon’s Web site, used sign-off sheets to keep track of what everyone in her group was doing to the site each week. That way, everyone knew who had done what and when they did it.

"There's a lot of trust involved in a group project like this," Sigler said. "Each of us had opinions, and we had to work together as a team to get the work done in the best way possible."

Gates partners with U.S. Small Business Administration members in Oakland and San Francisco to get clients for her class. Ideal clients have 100 or fewer employees or are sole proprietorships that have been in business at least two years.

Gates would like to expand her program at SFSU. She's forming partnerships with the College of Business, Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts Department and San Francisco Urban Institute so it can offer small-business counseling in addition to Web sites.

"Students are very engaged, and the amount of work they put in every semester amazes me," Gates said. "The quality is very high and [students] are very excited to work with real clients."

-- Student Writer Gary Moskowitz with Matt Itelson


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Last modified January 3, 2006 by University Communications