NEWS

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May 20, 2005

Website to facilitate excursions downtown

At a recent brown bag, President Randel said, "The day we lose those T-shirts is the day we lose something special about the University." It is doubtful, however, that anyone in the administration is especially pleased by the University's image as a soul-crusher. Perhaps in view of altering its stereotype student, the University is embarking on the ambitious task of getting students to leave Hyde Park.

A new website conceived by the Office of the Vice President and Dean of Students in the University is being designed to do just that. The site, called Experience Chicago, will be similar to Metromix.com, but aimed solely at students in the University. In seeking something fun to do downtown, the average U of C student will be able to log on and search through listings of restaurants, bars, shopping and more in at least 15 neighborhoods. If a student goes to a particularly awful club, there's a spot for his review; if a student can't figure out how to get to the loop, there will be detailed public transportation directions.

"Hopefully it will be a site where students can go to communicate with one another about what Chicago has to offer, especially on the social side," said Anne Saporito, the project analyst in the Office of the Vice President who is spearheading the development. "I hope it becomes kind of an institution here—so students think this is a great resource [and] incoming students hear about it ahead of time."

"I find that students are either actively using the city or never leave Hyde Park," said Lori Hurvitz, director of the College Programming Office. "We have to assume that is because they don't know good places to go, so this site would solve that problem."

Ideally the skeleton of the site will be fleshed out by the active participation of its users, but in the meantime it will be filled with information from various campus publications. Chicago Life, OMSA's Alternative Guide to Chicago, and a graduate student tip book are all being used to provide the initial content. In the end, however, the success of the website will depend upon the active interest of a large body of students.

"The success of the program depends on students using it. The expense won't be worth it if they don't," Hurvitz said. "Frankly it doesn't matter what we think if nobody is going to use it."

Saporito is running focus groups and has already had initial meetings with every department involved in student life.

"We're covering every base early on so that when we're in the final stages every one is on board and everyone is excited—especially the students," Saporito said.

If the popularity of a site like The Facebook has proven anything, it is that students enjoy spending hours on the internet, charting even the most mundane preferences and interests of their peers. A University-based online hub filled with the reviews and opinions of involved students may not be the death knell of Dante's forgotten level, but at the very least it marks a step forward in the University's mission to improve the quality of student experience.

"I think the University is always trying to provide as many resources as possible of what's happening in the greater Chicago area. The University is always asking how to make the city more available to students," Saporito said.