“Get the Picture”: CCCU BestSemester Print, Web Redesign Tells Student Stories

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"Get the Picture"

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When CCCU BestSemester staff began brainstorming a total redesign of web and print materials nine months ago, students were heavy on their minds.

With so many amazing stories from current students and BestSemester alumni, it was clear that the new BestSemester website and print materials needed to showcase the programs through their eyes. Who better to tell about the student experience than actual students?

With those stories as their guiding vision, the BestSemester staff and a team of designers at The Image Group, a Michigan-based design firm, dreamed up “Get the Picture” -- a vibrant, image-driven campaign that uses student photos to convey stories from BestSemester programs around the world. Student input was integral throughout the concept and design phase, said Image Group project manager Sara Hogan.

The entire print and web redesign process took nine months to execute, from concept to architecture, design, and content. According to Hogan, the new website is designed to complement the Instagram-inspired brochures, or lookbooks, that BestSemester distributes to pique students’ curiosity and provide basic information about its 12 off-campus study programs.

“Our print team worked very closely with the web team to develop a campaign that worked for both,” said Hogan. “It involved a lot of brainstorming, research, and becoming an expert in Instagram.”

Launched on July 16, 2013, the new site is organized by program location -- a design move that BestSemester hopes will reach students who are actively seeking to study in a certain area of the country or world.

Colorful tiles on the site’s homepage highlight actual student photographs from BestSemester programs. Select an image of college students walking the Great Wall of China, or the Capitol dome draped in snow, and you’re invited to “read the story behind the photo”: a vignette authored by a recent student offering viewers a glimpse behind the scene.

Deborah Kim, interim vice president for student programs, envisions a continuous stream of fresh, student-generated content on the site. A new initiative, “Share Your Stories,” prompts BestSemester alumni to submit photos and brief reflections online where they can be reviewed and published.

“We are thrilled to have launched this new platform that allows us to share compelling visual and written stories of students, as well as the programmatic particulars of each program,” said Kim. “We now have the ability to show how the day-to-day experiences in BestSemester programs around the world are making life-changing impacts on our students and in the communities they are blessed to engage with each semester.”

Hogan credits students’ natural documentation of their stories with being the best possible depiction of a BestSemester experience.

“The fact that the website is visually appealing is due to the nature of the design of the page -- but even more so, the quality of the pictures the students are capturing. We believe they would capture those pictures regardless. But we can use them to help tell the BestSemester story even more poignantly,” said Hogan.

Edward O. Blews, Jr., president of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities, praised the website overhaul for emphasizing students’ personal stories while serving as an efficient tool for parents and campuses.

“This website captures in pictures and prose the uniqueness and amazing opportunities of each of our BestSemester program sites, and the collective commitment of all our programs to academic quality, experiential learning, and the integration of biblical faith,” said Blews. “And it does so in a way that we think will capture the imagination of new generations of media-savvy Christian college students looking to experience God's great world.”

“As I surf the site, I wish that I could experience each of these programs as a student,” added Blews.

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About BestSemester: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities offers 12 off-campus study programs, collectively branded BestSemester®, which expand learning opportunities for students from CCCU campuses and are designated as culture-shaping or culture-crossing programs. Culture-shaping BestSemester programs are: American Studies Program (Washington, D.C.); Contemporary Music Center (Nashville); Los Angeles Film Studies Center (Los Angeles); and Washington Journalism Center (Washington, D.C.). Culture-crossing BestSemester programs are: Australia Studies Centre; China Studies Program; India Studies Program; Latin American Studies Program; Middle East Studies Program; Programmes in Oxford; and Uganda Studies Program. Visit www.bestsemester.com for program details.

About the CCCU:  The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 173 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 119 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 54 affiliate campuses from 20 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.