A door opener into the wonderful world of the university

5 September 2012

With its internet portal, the association Campus Mainz e.V. opens up new routes of communication at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). It gathers together information and helps with problems. But that's not all: The internet portal also wants to portray the campus in all its various aspects. There is a lot that can be discovered at www.campus-mainz.net with just a few clicks.

The office in the attic of the Forum universitatis building, entrance no. 6, is small. Light falls through the dormer window on three desks with two computers, a small sofa, and a cabinet crowned by a constantly gurgling coffee maker – there is hardly space for any other furniture.

"We are thrilled that we've got this room," says Max Lindemann, chairperson of the new Campus Mainz e.V. student association. Here, at the main entrance to Mainz University, sit the students who have created an extensive portal into the exciting world of JGU. Anyone can use www.campus-mainz.net to look for jobs and apartments for rent, see the canteen menu, find out about study groups, current events, and up-coming concerts. The association not only provides public relations support and links up various groups, but also simply lends out plastic cups and laminators.

Interesting life on campus

"Anybody can reach us here at the office, we're here for everyone. We consider that important," adds Lindemann, drawing attention to the broad range of services he and his colleagues offer, working for the most part on a voluntary basis. The association has only two paid posts – two 400-euro jobs. "There are certain things that you just can't do in your spare time."

Lindemann hopes to graduate in American Studies, Political Science, and Geography next year, so he will be putting in a lot of studying in addition to his work for Campus Mainz. However, he doesn't appear to be feeling the stress: "I like our university a lot," he admits. "So I really am not in a hurry to get out of here."

His assistant Ruth Nientiedt sees things pretty much the same way. "Life on campus is very diverse although many people simply see the university as a place to study." Nientiedt has been at Mainz for ten semesters now. She is studying History and Theology but she does more than study; like Lindemann she is a member of various student committees.

Promote identification with Mainz University

"Our work for Campus Mainz is incredibly important," she says with conviction. "We promote identification with the university and also communication: We bring together student groups and inform students who to contact when they have problems – with the study regulations, for example. Many don't know who to turn to if they get into difficulties. We want to eliminate these hurdles. People need to have a completely different perception of the campus."

The plans for such a portal first took form eight years ago. Back then, Lindemann sat on the General Students' Committee and thought: "There really should be something where everything the university has to offer is gathered together in one place."

Annual budget: 29,000 euro

"We quickly realized, however, that it would be expensive to create that sort of thing." The talk then was that 40,000 euro would be needed. "We also shared the opinion that the General Students' Committee should not do it because it itself is too political."

In early 2011, Lindemann discovered the Campus-Hamburg.de project initiated at the University of Hamburg. "It was exactly what we wanted for Mainz. We were able to set it up relatively cheaply because we didn't want to make any money with it." Lindemann then founded the Campus Mainz association and sought financial support. "It wasn't easy." At the end of 2011, agreements were signed with JGU, the General Students' Committee, and the Mainz Student Union. An annual budget of 29,000 euro was made available.

Clearly arranged pages

"We actually wanted to go online in the 2011/2012 winter semester," claims Lindemann. However, there were a few difficulties that had to be dealt with first. "We didn't like everything about the Hamburg website." In addition, there was much more that needed to be organized than the association members had imagined. They found they needed to grow into the new task but everything was in place by the 2012 summer semester and Campus Mainz finally opened its digital gates.

Information is presented clearly in various site sections. "We frequently get feedback stating that people find our site easy to navigate," states Nientiedt proudly. It is the routine aspects that are the most popular with users, such as what's on the menu at the university canteen or what events are taking place on campus.

"We think the news section is particularly important," says Lindemann. There is a report on the recently opened student bar "Inter" as well as one on the process of the last student parliament election. In addition, there are profiles of student groups and there is also a complaint and comment box, which is intended to be more than just a corner for people to let off steam.

Develop a culture of interaction

"I think we need to develop our Campus Watch concept even further," says Nientiedt. "It is not enough to merely put the information online." Anybody who reports a problem through Campus Watch gets a reply from the responsible institution. Included in the entries posted to date is one complaining that students are encountering problems with using the microfilm reader in the university library. The responsible parties at the library answered extensively via the portal. The main canteen took the same approach when a complaint was posted that not all ingredients they used in their meals were listed.

Campus Mainz has thus opened up new communication pathways and this is something the association intends to promote in future. "We don't want to give a falsely idealized image of our university," emphasizes Lindemann. "We also deal with critical subjects." "But the counter argument will always have a voice on our site," adds Nientiedt. "We want to start discussions. It would be great if we could develop a decent culture of interaction here."

Helpers are welcome

To help it achieve all this, Campus Mainz is always looking for committed students, Alumni, or JGU employees who could, for example, improve the journalistic content of the portal or be canteen bloggers providing some lighthearted input on their culinary on-campus experiences. "We are also planning a relaunch," announces Lindemann. He worries that the site with its design dating to 2009 may soon seem a bit outmoded. "And we want to help freshmen," promises Nientiedt. When the flood of new students washes over the campus at the start of the next winter semester, association members will be ready.

So there is plenty to do in the small office under the eaves of the Forum universitatis building. Anybody who would like to help can come to the office. Or simply click on www.uni-mainz.net. Campus Mainz doesn't just help on the campus, the portal itself needs helpers!