By: Krista Henry 

To build and migrate more than 1,000 websites to a new content-management system, the University of Waterloo relies on an interdisciplinary team of talented co-op students.

Waterloo’s website development and migration project is one of the University’s most complex technical projects. The project, which started in 2021, will see the University’s website move from Waterloo Content Management System (WCMS) 2 to an upgraded version called WCMS 3.

“This is a complex rewrite of the WCMS which is not one update, but will see every site migrated and remediated individually,” says Charlotte Armstrong (she/her), computing consultant (WCMS team) and WCMS 3 migration co-ordinator.

“It’s quite a big project and co-op students have been essential. We wouldn’t be able to migrate and remediate these sites without them.”

The project entails a new build of the content management software called Drupal. The new website will offer improved user functionality, more creative information architecture options that improve visitor experience, increased responsiveness on mobile devices and added security.

Since spring 2021, the WCMS team has hired 46 co-op students as content migration specialists. Six students have returned for a second term and three returned for three terms.

Returning students join the team as senior content migration specialists. With the support of these co-op students, the WCMS team have migrated more than 500 websites.

Charlotte Armstrong

Charlotte Armstrong

We’re now accelerating and doing larger sites. We’re fixing migration issues, encountering new ones and manually correcting aspects as we go along. Our students are curious, easygoing and understand that tech projects like this are challenging work.

CHARLOTTE ARMSTRONG, computing consultant (WCMS team) and WCMS 3 migration co-ordinator

The WCMS team consists of the web development as well as the training and support team. As content migration specialists, students participate in the site migration process. The experience is helping them to become experts in migrating components and remediating migration issues in the upgrade.

Student roles include assisting with site pre-migration preparation and testing and updating training documents and websites. They also test and document the WCMS 3 migration updates and issues to ensure others know what to do if they face the same problem. Co-op students also assist with WCMS 3 training, including leading remediation training sessions.

WCMS team focuses on interdisciplinary viewpoints

When hiring students, the team looks for a variety of perspectives and backgrounds to bring a holistic view to the project. The team hires co-op students from multiple programs, across faculties including Mathematics, Science, Engineering and Arts.

“We almost always hire someone from the Arts faculty because we need that communications person that is going to update training documents and provide added organizational skills,” says Armstrong. “We look for people with project management skills, with a positive attitude and a collaborative view.”

For Armstrong, working with Waterloo’s co-op students is a highlight of her role. Beyond their technical expertise, students also offer essential attention to detail and problem-solving skills. In the last two years, students have gone above and beyond when it comes to displaying aptitude in their roles.

Fady Ghattas

Fady Ghattas

Fady Ghattas, a Biology student, exceeded expectations with testing, helping both the development and training teams discover and test migration issues. His work was essential to the recent migration of faculty websites. Ghattas work was so exceptional, he accepted a part-time role on the WCMS team.

Willow Carmount

Willow Carmount

Another exceptional example was Willow Carmount, a Peace and Conflict Studies student. Carmount worked with the WCMS team for three consecutive terms taking on a leadership role in coordinating large site remediations. She also assisted with training and coordinating her fellow co-op students.

After working closely with co-op students, Armstrong highly recommends them as sustainable talent to drive projects ahead.

If you have a challenging project, why haven’t you hired a co-op student? An interdisciplinary team of co-op students ensures you will have the skills required to handle any project effectively and accurately.

CHARLOTTE ARMSTRONG, computing consultant (WCMS team) and WCMS 3 migration co-ordinator