Meteorology and Atmospheric Science at Penn State
Since 1942, it has awarded over 3,000 Bachelor of Science degrees, 750 Master of Science degrees, and 230 Doctor of Philosophy degrees, making it difficult to visit any weather-related company or attend any weather or climate meeting without running into an alum of Penn State.
Its website is a key driver of enrollment at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and of the department’s international presence, showcasing its groundbreaking research, speakers, and programs.
The department wanted to update its website with a modern look and current web technology to reflect its position at the forefront of atmospheric research.
Website Migration and Technology Upgrade
Meteorology’s website had been implemented in 2009 using the open source, enterprise-scale Plone web content management system, with the assistance of the storied PSU WebLion Group.
In addition to using Plone version 4.0, Meteorology’s website included custom content types, which are structured documents representing job postings and special calendar events, such as thesis defenses.
Meteorology made heavy use of online forms built using PloneFormGen and of the popular FacultyStaffDirectory add-on that includes a searchable directory, committee memberships, and research specialties.
The website also used content rules that automatically notified administrative staff and the graduate program administrator when an event such as a thesis defense was added to the calendar by the graduate student.
The total size of the website database was 10 GB containing 3,000 items, such as pages, folders, collections, personal profiles, and calendar events, and an additional 20 GB of images and documents.
A Streamlined Project Plan
To stay within Meteorology’s timeline and budget, Wildcard proposed a project plan that included
- An upgrade to the latest Plone 5.0
- The new Mosaic layout engine that lets content editors create pages and use tiles
- A new, modern website theme
- Responsive / Mobile device support
- Full accessibility compliance to the highest standard: WCAG 2.0
- Migration of all existing website content to the new platform, including conversion to the new Dexterity content type framework and preserving all document versioning history, metadata, and security settings
- Transitioning of legacy Archetypes custom content types to the new platform
- Updating the venerable FacultyStaffDirectory and other custom content type add-ons to work with Plone 5
The project team deployed a test server and configured the final live production server with a customized Plone 5.0.2 buildout. It included versions of all the add-ons used in the old site, updated to work with this newest version of Plone.
The initial migration of the old site content was followed by a thorough quality assurance (QA) phase that identified and corrected migration issues, relinking of website content using the newer, location-independent universally unique identifier (UUID) mechanism, and conversion to new-style collections (listings of preconfigured search results).
The new, modern website theme was implemented using Plone’s powerful Diazo theming engine. Then Wildcard’s responsive support / accessibility compliance expert proceeded to adjust and enhance the theme to ensure full cross-device and WCAG 2.0 support.
Further adjustments were made to carry over customized elements of the old website, such as unique view templates that highlighted the different kinds of calendar events shown and the prescribed PSU campus-wide search.
A final content migration phase carried over all remaining website changes that had taken place over the course of the project.
Wildcard’s project methodology is a blend of classical and agile. Weekly meetings ensure clear, consistent communication between the client and project team. We frequently assess deliverables and milestones to safeguard all parties from unwanted surprises.
Going Live, Enthusiastically
As Meteorology’s new website took form, combining the migrated content with the new theme, Plone 5 editing, content management interface, and Mosaic layout engine, there was growing excitement and enthusiasm to launch the site officially.
After a final transfer of content changes from the old website to the new, and a finishing polish of view templates, Wildcard officially handed off the site to Meteorology. They made it go live the very next day.