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Computer Science Alum Solves Problems, Builds WSU Web Presence

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Nick DeNardis. Wayne State University photo.

Nick DeNardis. Wayne State University photo.

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DETROIT — Wayne State University computer science alumnus Nick DeNardis is quickly becoming a nationally renowned expert on institutional Web presence in higher education. Fortunately for WSU, he opted to stay and lead online communication efforts at his alma mater.

DeNardis began working as a student assistant for WSU Marketing and Communications his sophomore year. He was hired as a full-time developer his junior year and was promoted to associate director of Web communications in 2007. anyone who has set foot on Wayne State’s campus or interacted with the university online has likely experienced DeNardis’ work.

“My role is to discover, develop and maintain the official outward facing digital communications for the university,” DeNardis said. “I work with just about every department on campus to ensure a consistent brand, voice and image of the university online.”

One of DeNardis’ biggest projects and proudest accomplishments is the creation of a university-wide content management system. Six years ago, when DeNardis was still a student assistant working in the Web department, he thought the department could benefit from using a system he had written. The CMS was continuously expanded to fit the needs of the university and now maintains almost all the public facing Web content for Wayne State, more than 450 sites.

“The system allows Marketing and Communications to control the look, feel and organization of the information while empowering contributors around campus to focus on the content they are responsible for,” DeNardis said. “Having all this content in one place has allowed us to make numerous advances that would not be possible if everyone used a separate system.”

While orchestrating such complex efforts may seem like a daunting task, DeNardis says that the problem-solving part of his job is what drew him to the field in the first place.

“I’ve always had an interest in computers and how people use them to accomplish tasks,” DeNardis said. “As I went through school, the Internet was transforming into a platform that anyone could take advantage of, not just large corporations. I ended up turning to the Web to make quick and useful applications that my friends and I could interact with. The ability to have an idea and have it published within hours for the entire Web to interact with really energizes me.”

As a result of working so extensively with higher education Web sites, DeNardis created EDU Checkup, a site where he reviews higher education websites from the perspective of a first-time visitor. DeNardis says his experience with EDU Checkup has opened his eyes to what makes a higher education website a success or a failure, and he has been able to apply what he’s learned every day at Wayne State.

DeNardis stays active in his professional community by maintaining a curated list of higher education Web site user interface snippets at http://edusnippits.com and speaking at national conferences. He is a leader and event organizer for Refresh Detroit, a group of Web professionals who promote Web standards, usability and accessibility locally; he is also on the executive board of TEDxDetroit, an independently organized TED conference that shares positive ideas from Detroit.

DeNardis said he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish what he has without his education.

“There are a lot of people out there doing Web work that don’t have a degree, but I think to seriously make an impact long term as a developer you have to have a computer science degree,” DeNardis said. “It’s about knowing the fundamentals and their roots; this has allowed me to be agile and apply the principles to be successful no matter what programming language or environment is needed to accomplish our goals.”

For more information about engineering at Wayne State University, visit http://engineering.wayne.edu.

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