Amherst Magazine

And We All Sign On

By Barbara Sieck ’05

At 10:32 a.m. on Jan. 31, Matthew Weber ’02 became the first alumnus (well, the first not employed by the college) to create a personal home page on the new college Website. Weber wrote about his life as a graduate student at Princeton (he’s getting a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology) and his short story in Nature magazine. (“I’m hoping to follow it up with a cognitive neuroscience paper in the New Yorker. Don’t hold your breath.”) And he extended an offer: “I’d be more than happy to talk to alums or current students about any and all of these things.”

Weber’s invitation is what the college had in mind when it unveiled the new www.amherst.edu/alumni a mere 92 minutes earlier. The site features class and association Web pages that are interactive (think multimedia Class Notes). What’s more, it offers the chance for every alum to add content—not just text but images, too. The site makes it easy for individual alumni to build home pages; pages might include a blog about work or dating or retirement, for example, or vacation and family photos. Depending on the wish of the author, a home page can be open to anyone in the world or limited to the Amherst community or to a few friends. The new content is searchable, so alumni who type the word neuroscience into the search box will find a link to Weber’s page.

“With this Website,” says Jennifer Voter Beane, associate director of alumni and parent programs, “alumni can build on the common base that is Amherst and find new ways to interact.”

No knowledge of traditional Web design is necessary. Alumni need only a new PIN to log on (numbers were mailed in January and are also available by calling the Office of Alumni and Parent Programs at [413] 542-2313). The site first guides the user to a portal, a page with customized “feeds” that only the user can see. “You might have Amherst athletics headlines, recordings of all campus lectures and even a feed from The New York Times on your portal,” explains Willa Jarnagin, director of electronic communications in the Office of Public Affairs. You may subscribe to friends' homepages so that when you log in, you can see who's updated what.

Thanks to new hires by Peter Schilling, director of information technology, the college was able to build the site in-house. David Hamilton, director of Web services, and his staff worked closely with Jarnagin and others to build the feature-rich site atop the college’s central database.

Since the entire site functions like an expanded, password-protected online directory, alumni searching for old friends—or career contacts—can find detailed information. Current students also have access. “This is going to dramatically increase the number of alumni who will work with students,” believes Rosalind Hoffa, director of the Career Center.

Rob Longsworth ’99, president of the Amherst Association of New York, envisions the association’s new Web space as a one-stop shop for event registration. “People can post if they’re looking for an apartment,” he adds, “or publicize a book signing or gallery opening, or list a job that only other Amherst people will see.”

Within a month, 2,142 alumni had logged on to the new site. Like Matthew Weber, John Williams ’75, a life trustee of the college, was an early adopter. Williams created a home page about his family and his career at Bain & Co. and North American Jet Charter. David Moldawer ’00, also among the first to add content, built a home page that links to his comedy podcast. George Bria ’38 posted about his long career at the Associated Press.

“Social networking sites like this are most valuable when people participate,” Jarnagin says, “whether it’s by finding an old classmate in the directory or writing a blog. The more that people explore and post content, the richer the site will be.”

To find a lost classmate, search for alumni in a particular career field, upload family photos, create your own home page or all of the above, go to www.amherst.edu/alumni. For help using the new site, see Getting Started Using the Amherst Website and Top Ten Tips for Using the New Alumni Website.