Lycoming Housing launches improved website with student help

Published 05.21.2020

Student News
Graphic Design & Art

A recent real-world project by students at Pennsylvania College of Technology represented a valuable learning and portfolio-building experience for the students, and well-timed good fortune for a local nonprofit that had been looking for just the services the students could provide.

“Well over a year prior to Penn College contacting us, Lycoming Housing had begun to seriously look into starting what, to us, was sure to be a long and arduous process of replacing our old and outdated website,” explained Andy Gerrity, of Lycoming Housing Authority.

The authority owns and operates 435 units of public housing and administers 675 Section 8 housing vouchers. It was seeking a more user-friendly website that it can easily update.

“A fresher, more modern website was needed,” said Spyke M. Krepshaw, assistant professor of web and interactive media, whose students took on the project. “Some of the major focus areas were content organization, user interface design, and allowing communication to and from residents.”

“Our goal was to have a site with a more modern look and user-friendly interface that would provide real value to not only our clients, but to the public as well,” Gerrity said. “We really had no idea what present-day design features and functions were available nor really who to consult.”

The authority reached out to designers headquartered throughout the country.

“Some had great things to offer, some not,” Gerrity said. “We all had a vision of how we wanted our new site to look and function, but were really unable to zero in on what provider we felt could fulfill that need. Furthermore, as a nonprofit organization, cost was also a very important factor to consider as we went through the process. Since this was the first time we attempted a redesign of our website, we were quite astonished at the cost we were facing.”

By September 2019, the authority decided that, one way or another, they would launch a redesigned website by early 2020.

“And this is where the astonishing coincidence occurred: The day had arrived, and the call was going to be placed that afternoon to the vendor we had chosen to contract with for our new website,” Gerrity said. “I was just coming out of a meeting to place that call when my office phone rang. On the other end was a Penn College student, Matt Walter, who introduced himself and explained he was a member of the web design class and was inquiring whether LHA would have an interest in partnering with Penn College in designing a new website.

“I wish you could have seen the expression of shock on my face,” Gerrity continued. “The notion that this was some sort of a prank quickly ran through my mind.”

As his shock wore off, and as Walter continued to explain what he and his classmates could offer, Gerrity quickly realized the project could be “a perfect example of what collaboration is: two organizations giving of each other to fulfill a goal: Penn College students being provided a professional environment and a blank canvas to exercise and display the skills they are developing, and LHA accomplishing its own goal of finally having a website that was functional and one we all could be very proud of.”

The instructional goal was to have students, all enrolled in a Web Project Management course, assume the various roles of a design team and work with an organization that has real needs and real constraints.

Four students tackled the project: Molly A. Amato, of Levittown; Joseph A. Leaman, of York; Walter, of Beavertown; and Jonathan D. Yeagy, of Harrisburg.

“The students learned how to work with one another in a team setting – which is not always easy,” Krepshaw said. “They learned how to professionally interact with real clients. They also learned there is much more to creating a website than the design and development of it.”

The group conducted initial stakeholder meetings with Lycoming Housing Authority staff; developed design concepts; captured photos and video to be used on the website; and edited, developed, tested and deployed the updated site.

“We met various interesting characters and visited several places throughout this project,” Yeagy said. “Understanding how the Lycoming Housing Authority operates was crucial to this project. It was important to understand this so we could build a user experience beneficial to both LHA and its tenants.”

One of the best features of the improved site, according to the students, is the introduction of a maintenance request form.

“LHA residents can easily and quickly report a problem,” Amato said. “It just makes everyone’s life easier, and I think that’s the main goal with most websites.”

“The Penn College students demonstrated an incredible degree of professionalism,” Gerrity said. “Their creativity and ability to adjust their development strategy based upon our constant feedback was truly amazing. Their communication level and commitment to obtaining our ongoing approval with the various phases was truly amazing and greatly appreciated.  Simply put, they had a very obvious passion for their work, and they are to be commended.”

The students are equally grateful for the experience.

“It was amazing to use the skills I've learned over the years in real life,” Amato said. “I think LHA was the perfect first client. The team was so kind and worked with us so well even though we were just starting out. I think the work they do is so important, and it was great being able to help them. … This project reminded me why I love the web field so much.”

The site launched in March.

“We finally have a site that is easy to navigate through and will provide its users with a comprehensive view of Lycoming Housing Authority and what we offer our community,” Gerrity said.

“As a member of the Williamsport/Lycoming County community, I want to say how genuinely proud I was to witness the caliber of student that Penn College is producing and to also be part of this collaborative effort,” Gerrity said.

“This project provided a lot of real-world experience that has helped me significantly,” Yeagy said. “It helped show me how to interact professionally. Luckily, the LHA are very nice people and a well-run organization. Now, they have a website to complement that.”

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.