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Adrian Cooke, Web administrator for University Relations, is working on content for WesNet, the alumni Electronic Portfolio.
 
Posted 02.16.07

University Relations Web Administrator Creates Sites that Clearly Communicate

The first time Adrian Cooke built a Web site, he used it to share photographs with his family.

As University Relation’s new Web administrator, Cooke now builds Web sites used by thousands of Wesleyan alumni. He oversees all nodes under http://www.wesleyan.edu/alumni/, pages for the Wesleyan Fund, and works with other departments such as ITS and the Office of Public Affairs’ New Media Services on special event pages for Reunion & Commencement and Homecoming/Family Weekend. WesNet, a site designed to facilitate communication among alumni, is also monitored by Cooke.

Cooke’s on-going goal is to improve these online services from a user’s perspective. To help him with that endeavor, University Relations’ Career Resource Center recently conducted a study to see how alumni are using the Web at Wesleyan.

“Right now we are standing back and saying, ‘how could we make this better for our constituency?” Cooke says. “Where are we getting it right and where do we need to stop and listen?’ We know that we have our work cut out for us but we are running with the ball and we're determined to get it right. From a project planning point of view, Wesleyan is swift and nimble. It is a great place to make things happen.”

Cooke, a native of Brisbane, Australia, came to the United States in 2002 to pursue an interest in sociology. Three years later, he graduated with a master's degree from Yale University, where he researched indigenous Australian and Native American politics and cultural issues. During and after obtaining his degree, he worked for the Yale Sociology Department, designing the department’s homepage, http://www.yale.edu/sociology; the Center for Cultural Sociology's site, http://research.yale.edu/ccs; the Sociology Graduate Student site, http://www.yale.edu/sgs, and co-designed a symposium page, http://www.yale.edu/iiss.

Cooke found ways to tie his interests in sociology and Web technologies together. He learned methods to present online content more clearly and systematically, and how to make sites more appealing to different kinds of visitors.

“It turned out that a background in social sciences was helpful in thinking about the way a user interacts with a Web site because as a student I was exposed to a lot of critical thinking about how to present information,” he says. “The social possibilities of the Web always grabbed my attention.”

He brought these interests to Wesleyan in September 2006, where he worked as an assistant for Allynn Wilkinson in Digitization Services. In November and December 2006, he also stood in as a desktop software trainer for Information Technology Services. Just two months ago, he transferred into U.R., reporting to Mark Bailey, director of Development Communications.

“Adrian brings new energy to University Relations,” Bailey says. “His generosity, skills, judgment, and irrepressible good humor are making a real difference in the pace and quality of our Web work. His influence is already manifest in a variety of ideas for alumni content on WesNet, the alumni Electronic Portfolio.”

Cooke says the biggest challenge of his job thus far is learning Wesleyan’s in-house systems. Although he’s very familiar with coding sites, Wesleyan has engineered ways to allow users with little or no knowledge of programming to build Web sites.

“Wesleyan has built a lot of its technology services from the ground up and they are amazingly flexible,” he says. “But although you might know how to build a Web page you can't just waltz in here and start fiddling with code. Here we have a community of technologists and designers who have evolved their services over many years, adapting to the needs of departments. And that's doing your job: making it easy for other people to do theirs.”

As the entire Alumni Web Portfolio is being reexamined, Cooke and his colleagues will include new Web tools in these alumni sites. For example, they may implement Webcasts of campus and club events to boost social networking among alumni. In conjunction with ITS they’re also reappraising WesNet’s user interface and evaluating the alumni e-mail service.

Cooke encourages alumni and the wider Wesleyan community to offer their input on alumni Web resources.

“The hardest thing in this job is knowing if you're accurately responding to people's needs, or if you're hitting the mark,” Cooke says. “We are looking at everything with a magnifying glass, and we'll be selecting features that really improve our offerings to alumni. We want people to say either, ‘Yes, that's what we've been asking for,’ or ‘Wow, I never knew I needed that!’”

Cooke lives in New Haven with his wife, Elena, and a “cranky” ginger tabby named Harvey. He and Elena have worked on several Web sites together, including her personal portfolio site, http://www.convealer.com. Together, they are planning to create a portfolio community site for visual artists.

In addition to the Web, Cooke enjoys writing, photography and movies.

“I'm trying to find out who the Big Lebowski fans are around campus. I've discovered two so far,” he says, smiling.
 
By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor