Service is at the heart of a Newman University education and when Professor of Communication Audrey Hane heard that her spring 2020 class could become involved with The Lord’s Diner, she jumped at the opportunity.
Hane was in search of a capstone project for her senior class that involved experiential learning and service-learning, which are both components of Navigator, the new student success program at Newman. When she found out that The Lord’s Diner needed to upgrade their website, it proved to be a perfect task for students majoring in various communication fields.
The Lord’s Diner is a nonprofit organization within the Wichita Diocese with a mission is to serve the hungry in Wichita. The organization is run by a small paid staff and more than 6,000 volunteers who represent various faiths and denominations. Volunteers serve hot and nutritious meals 365 evenings a year.
Jan Haberly, director of The Lord’s Diner, knew the organization’s website needed to include more information to better reach their audiences.
She said, “As part of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, our webpage was linked within their site. We were limited with the information that we could share and we felt like we needed more detailed information … in particular, for potential volunteers.”
Creating a website requires more than ability and skill in web development. Students were tasked with advancing the mission of the nonprofit organization by collaborating with each other and leadership at The Lord’s Diner.
Hane said the overall learning goal was for students to see how the communication skills they acquired as Newman University students could be used to advance the mission of a nonprofit organization.
“I also wanted them to develop team and collaboration skills, presentation skills, exercise leadership and utilize interpersonal skills such as networking, conflict resolution and relationship-building,” she explained. “As an added bonus, they completed a project that they can add to their professional portfolios.”
Hane considered having the students volunteer at The Lord’s Diner in order to orient themselves with the diner but after talking with a colleague with high-level experience in service-learning, she decided to have the students dine with the guests instead.
“This was a transformational experience and changed the way they approached the project,” said Hane.
In addition to learning about The Lord’s Diner, students were challenged with learning new skills within their field to be successful in this project.
“The biggest challenge the students faced was transitioning from pursuing an area of focus that aligned with their interests and strengths (social media) to creating a website, which was more out of their comfort zone.
“They were also challenged when they realized that various organizational members at The Lord’s Diner had different ideas about how the project should best be accomplished. The students had to rely on their interpersonal skills to navigate the varying perspectives of the decision-makers. This allowed them to utilize conflict resolution skills as well as find ways to stay motivated when the project was challenging.”
Kristin Lau ’20, information technology and management information systems graduate, spoke with students in Hane’s class to bring their ideas to life through the creation of the website.
Lau was excited to take on this real-world project for the class. “I was basically taking over from where the communication class under Professor Hane left off,” she said. “They had created the site mock-up (layout) and discussed it with me and Newman University Web Technology Specialist Daniel Murphy. Then, they presented it to The Lord’s Diner who approved with some minor changes. After the semester ended, they shared all the relevant files with me … like the mock-ups, approved content and photos that were going to be on the site.”
Creating a WordPress website from scratch was a new and exciting experience for Lau.
“After all, how often is it that students like the communications class and I would get to practice our skills on helping a real company,” she said.
Taking creative liberties, at the instruction of The Lord’s Diner, was her favorite part.
“The top of the home page was just supposed to be a video with a paragraph of the mission beside it but I decided to put a video as a giant header with the mission overlaid onto it. I also had fun picking the colors for the site,” she said.
Through this project, Lau learned PHP programming language, how to create a WordPress template, various WordPress functions as well as how to add plugins and publish a site. Most importantly, she learned how to work with a client, a highly transferable real-world skill.