College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Iowa State student set to develop new social media website

By Erin Coppock,

Heidi Ebert isn’t your typical aerospace engineering student.

As one of the few in the major with a minor in journalism and mass communication, Ebert didn’t have to stray far from her natural interests to begin her new project: the development of a new social media website for the Department of Aerospace Engineering.

Ebert’s main goal for the project is like that of any other social media websites that exist today: to bring people together. However, the project itself is very different than the websites individuals use on a daily basis.

This new website will allow students to communicate with other students, faculty, administration, professionals and alumni in the aerospace engineering and will solely be used as an education tool.

“The project’s design is going to be set up as something different than anything else out there,” Ebert said. “It won’t be like Facebook, the most popular social website, for a couple reasons. First of all, it won’t be as personal of a site. With Facebook, students put up pictures and information that they don’t really want their professors and other professionals to see.

“Another problem is that Facebook is really cluttered and there are too many things happening within the site,” she said. “The project is also different in the sense that it will be centralized, where others are decentralized. It will be user-generated and all content will be related to aerospace engineering.”

The new social media website offers benefits to those using it, Ebert said. One benefit is that the website could close the communication gaps that currently exist between those in the department, for reasons such as time, money or geography.

“Student-to-student communication is the main goal for this project,” Ebert said. “We currently have about 200 freshmen and about the same number of juniors within the department, and I personally know known of them.”

“This website would help freshman and sophomores communicate with juniors and seniors to receive help and communicate ideas.”

This website may also give some students an upper hand in regard to networking and finding career opportunities. This will be done by allowing professionals, companies and other businesses who may be seeking students for internship or jobs to gain access to the site.

By connecting employers and professionals with students, it gives Aerospace Engineering students the chance to stand out and be noticed in a way that the Engineering department does not, Ebert said.

“The engineering department does do a good job of trying to connect students with employers, but their only way of doing it is with the career fair,” Ebert said. “Although helpful, it’s very competitive because you’re not only competing with students in your department, you’re competing with students in all the departments of engineering.”

“This website will give Aerospace students a kind of an edge on other students by giving them opportunities to appeal to companies in different ways.”

Ebert is employed by the Department of Aerospace Engineering, specifically under Richard Wlezien, professor and chairman of aerospace engineering.

“Dr. Wlezien is very interested in using social media as a way to improve the department,” Ebert said. “He has expressed to me how rarely he associates with professionals and old colleagues of his within the field of study, so he’s excited for this project as a way for students to communicate with not only each other, but with other professionals and alumni as well.”

Heidi is also hopeful this project could help the Department of Aerospace Engineering with its continuing problem of low retention rate of students. This will be accomplished by allowing student feedback within the site as well as having students share experiences, tips on classes, projects and other things related to the curriculum as well.

“I think what’s happening is freshmen come in their first year and do a lot of computer programming and loose site of the big picture really easily,” Ebert said. “They think that if they’re not good at or really interested in computer programming, aerospace engineering isn’t right for them. That’s something the department is working on, and I know Dr. Wlezien is excited for the project because he is always appreciative of student feedback.

“Because it is a big department, he doesn’t get the opportunity to talk to all of the engineers,” she said. “This website could help this problem, which could ultimately help the retention rate. It also will offer lowerclassman the opportunity to receive advice and gain insight of some upperclassman within the department, which could help them get through some tough projects and classes.”

Although the project is designed specifically for individuals involved in  aerospace engineering, it offers an opportunity to other students outside of the department, as well.

Ebert’s development team for the project is open to all students of all majors and interests. She is looking for current students enrolled at Iowa State with interests in public relations, graphic design, communications, advertising and writing. Students involved in the project will help with development.

“I really want students to be a part of it because being here at Iowa State,” Ebert said. “I have been given the opportunity to do a lot of things I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do. Iowa State gives students opportunities that are a little out of their league, but I feel that students can surprise not only themselves, but others as well.”