Honors College Students Take Course to Community Service and Scholarship

By Vinny Reda (May 15, 2007)

Jeremy Birnbaum, Chris Bouchard and Susan Jones

Freshmen Honors College students Jeremy Birnbaum (left) and Chris Bouchard flank Susan Jones, director of the Capital City Rescue Mission, as they view the Mission's new Website, designed by the students as part of their course in "Social and Community Informatics."

As Honors College students, Jeremy Birnbaum and Chris Bouchard enjoy a broad range of scholarly development — and they took the opportunity this spring to extend that range to help others.

The two freshmen put their information technology skills to work for the Capital City Rescue Mission, a Christian-based mission in Albany that provides meals, shelter and clothing for the needy, as well as counseling, medical clinics, chapel services and rehabilitation programs.

The two found their way to the Mission by way of their Honors College class in Social and Community Informatics, taught by Professor Thomas Mackey of the Department of Information Studies. The class examines the social and cultural dimensions of information and communication technologies.

Mission Director Susan Jones was one of the non-profit-organization leaders Mackey invited to the class early this year to visit and offer volunteer opportunities. "I briefly presented the programs, services and goals of the Rescue Mission — and in particular, our technology challenge," said Jones.

The Rescue Mission, she noted, always needs donations and ways to spread the word about its work, but one important vehicle – its Website -- was outdated, with "layout and usability problems." The staff possessed Dreamweaver, but no one had expertise in it.

Jeremy Birnbaum stands outside Capital City Rescue Mission with Karen Church

Jeremy Birnbaum stands outside Capital City Rescue Mission with Karen Church, the Mission's finance director, who will take over the Website designed by Birnbaum and Chris Bouchard.  (Photo by Mark Schmidt)


Birnbaum and Bouchard were intrigued and went to work, using concepts that related to and informed their studies. In multiple steps and Powerpoints, they developed the Website, and also documented their experiences using such emerging Web tools as blogs and wikis.

"Working on this Website, I've learned more about the tools I've been taking for granted for years, both in seeing how the Rescue Mission uses Dreamweaver in researching templates and in making the updating of the Website easier for staff," said Bouchard.

"The information from the class helps us with the project and the project enhances our knowledge by providing us with a real-life approach," said Birnbaum. "Plus, the community service itself is great. Chris and I like knowing that what we do can help get more donations for the Rescue Mission and help those in need."

The result? "Chris and Jeremy have done an awesome job," said Jones. "They listened to what we wanted, adjusted when we explained changes, were trustworthy and hardworking — they even taught us how to enter a blog! I am very thankful for such competent volunteers who were great to work with."

Birnbaum and Bouchard comprised one of four student teams that performed community service through the course, the others working at Ronald McDonald House of Albany, Upper Hudson Peace Action, and Food Pantries for the Capital District.

"This is the first Honors College course that requires community service and the students are doing an incredible job, putting theory into practice and making meaningful contributions," said Mackey.


Related Links:
Honors College
Department of Information Studies


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