‘Virtual pub’ reaches alums

BY JUSTIN SUGG | MARCH 23, 2009 7:30 AM

Lacking a dart board, pool table, and beer tap, the UI Alumni Association’s “virtual pub” has little resemblance to an actual bar.

The website, which provides Hawkeye news, music, and memories to UI graduates, has gradually strayed away from its formerly flashy look, but continues to stay popular among loyal alumni.
While the original site, which started in 1996, showcased an interactive graphic of an actual bar, the group decided to switch the pub’s look to be more compatible to cell phones and social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, said Zack Schmidt, the alumni group’s web developer.

“We redesigned it to accommodate younger alumni with iPhones without alienating the older generations of alumni,” he said.

Carol Harker, the Alumni Association’s communications director, said although the virtual pub no longer resembles a bar, the idea behind the website remains the same: to remind alumni of what it’s like to be a UI student.

“We want to provide alumni with the flavor of being on campus,” she said.

Robert Heitman, one of the students who helped design the original website in the ’90s, said the idea behind naming it “virtual pub” was to give alumni the sense of reuniting to celebrate Hawkeye history.

Website visitors can download e-cards with images of UI sports and campus landscape and download such songs as the “Iowa Fight Song,” “In Heaven There is No Beer,” and the Iowa Marching Band’s rendition of “Eleanor Rigby.”

Recently, the virtual pub has started to offer podcasts produced and performed by UI student volunteers. The podcasts, which are updated every Monday, inform alumni on UI news and events.

Older generations of UI graduates, who perhaps don’t receive their news through podcasts or Twitter updates, can still take in what the virtual pub has to offer.

One of the website’s basic features, “Alumni Memories,” lists graduates’ stories from their college days, ranging from an embarrassing tale of a man’s surprise encounter with a woman dressed in an old-fashioned corset to the inspiring recount of Nile Kinnick’s famous punt that sealed the Hawkeyes’ victory over then-No. 1 Notre Dame.

One of the virtual pub’s most popular sections, Gridiron Glory, chronicles more than 100 years of Hawkeye football. For diehard Hawkeye fans, the section’s interactive timeline provides a unique opportunity to view key moments in the team’s history, with an audio clip of Kinnick’s acceptance speech for the Heisman Trophy and sports clips from as early as 1921.

Harker said creating the virtual pub for alumni had little to do with drinking alcohol and serves more as a symbol of alumni coming together.

“It breaks down physical barriers,” she said.


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