Dawn Deshotel ’14, a graduate student of the University of Bridgeport’s Shintaro Akatsu School of Design, recently remodeled Bridgeport Hope School’s website – proving just how much a thoughtful web design can impact a small private school.
“We’ve had a 20 percent increase in enrollment to the point where we’ve even had to turn students away,” says Elizabeth Deshotel, the principal of Bridgeport Hope School (BHS), reflecting on the website her daughter recently redesigned for the school. BHS, a small private elementary and middle school located in Bridgeport, Connecticut, focuses on academic excellence through the cultivation of heart and character. While a student at the University of Bridgeport’s Shintaro Akatsu School of Design (SASD) in the Spring of 2014, Dawn Deshotel ’14 remodeled the website and proved just how much impact a google- and user-friendly design can have on a small private school.
Dawn, a graduate herself of BHS in 2005, had always wanted to help her middle school out but did not feel she had the skills until her senior year at UB. In high school Dawn began practicing HTML coding on a small scale, through Xanga, where users could modify the templates by coding. She also interned for her high school’s tech teacher, making changes to their website, adding pages, and designing banners.
Noticing Dawn’s growing interest in web development, her mother asked her to redesign the BHS site, which was originally built by a parent but had grown outdated. Dawn declined the invitation, feeling the need to wait until she advanced beyond basic coding.
By the time she reached her senior year at UB, Dawn had acquired the skills and the confidence to put her technical know-how to the test. At SASD, a graphic design major is required to complete a senior thesis in order to graduate. The project should be of interest to the student and consist of a web, a print (physical), and a social media aspect. Out of those three aspects, the student has to choose one as the main component, while still incorporating all three.
Some examples of previous works from students include an anti-bullying book, a game manager application, and a running campaign to get people to exercise. For Dawn’s thesis, picking the web as the main component of her project came easy, as she had always been interested in web design and coding with HTML, CSS, and JAVA.
When Dawn approached her advisor, Professor Larned, and her web teacher, Professor Rhoda, about redesigning the BHS website for her senior thesis at UB, they recognized her entrepreneurial mindset and supported her from start to finish. Not only would she be designing a website from scratch, but she would gain hands-on experience working directly with a client.
Remodeling the BHS website soon became a group effort. While Dawn designed and built much of the site, Professor Rhoda and her peers were right beside her each step of the way. Their class split into two groups and every week one group would present their work. This enabled peer revision and a chance to get an onlooker’s perspective.
“I had help from classmates, other designers, and the professors,” Dawn recalls. Not only were they a considerable aid, her professor also assisted Dawn in her work with the BHS board during the review and approval process.
“Professor Rhoda gave me a list of questions that he personally used with his own clients,” Dawn states, “questions like, ‘What is the goal of your site?’ and ‘What do you want the look and feel to be?’”
While Dawn was working on the BHS website, her professors suggested that she use a site builder instead of Photoshop, with drag-and-drop functionality and very limited coding, enabling non-designers and non-coders to make quick changes. This enabled her to easily give BHS a website that could launch immediately, and allowed the school board to take the reigns soon after, making her senior thesis project look even better. In addition, she advised BHS to set up their own domain name, which helped its search engine optimization tremendously.
Today, BHS has a completely new and up-to-date site. “Now when you search ‘private schools’ and ‘Bridgeport’ in google, we come up on top,” reports Deshotel. “Plus many of our parents have complimented us on the new website, saying it was well done, has a nice displays of pictures, and is also very responsive. Parents can now easily track school events, pay their tuition online, and make donations right on our website.”
Dawn’s work not only turned the Bridgeport Hope School website into a more user-friendly, accessible, and attractive marketing tool, it also led to a sharp increase in the school’s enrollment to the point of having to turn students away – a happy problem to have!
“I think that a mother and daughter working professionally could be difficult. However, with Dawn I never experienced conflict of that kind. My husband and I have tremendous pride in Dawn and are so moved by her desire to help our little school,” says Deshotel.
By the look of pride in her mother’s face, Dawn feels that she obtained more than academic and professional success from her senior thesis project.