Community, Features

New BU club aspires to help nonprofits through web development

What started out as a motivational bribe helped kick start Boston University’s newest and only web development club, Open Web. Ivan Uvarov, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, and the co-founder and president of Open Web, was offered a deal by his mother that sparked his interest in web development.

Members of Boston University web development club Open Web discuss their website design plans for the Public Relations Student Society of America. PHOTO COURTESY OF IVAN UVAROV
Members of Boston University web development club Open Web discuss their website design plans for the Public Relations Student Society of America. PHOTO COURTESY OF IVAN UVAROV

“I had no experience at the time,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about programming… She [my mother] just told me, ‘If you write a website for my company, I’ll buy you a MacBook. If you don’t write a website, I’ll buy you a Windows laptop.’”

Uvarov made the website.

But it wasn’t easy. And when he came to BU and started working on the website for BU’s Global App Initiative, he noticed BU lacked the extracurricular resources to help students learn web development.

“I decided to really go for it and start a club at BU to help people learn web development through real work,” Uvarov said.

After a nearly 10-month process, the club was officially registered as an organization at BU by the Student Activities Office in early October and was able to jump headfirst into their projects.

Within the club are four teams consisting of six to 12 members that are each focused on creating a website from scratch for a partnered nonprofit organization. By the end of the semester, each team’s goal is to present a completed website to their designated organization.

Currently, Open Web is working with four nonprofits: the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), the Piers Park Sailing Center, The Autism Research Foundation and the Liberian Education Fund. It was easy to find organizations for the club to partner with, Uvarov said, “because everyone wants a website.”

Although each nonprofit comes in with idea’s for the website’s design and function, Open Web members are encouraged to propose their own ideas to the groups as well.

“Our goal is to pretty much make this process a give-and-take,” said Derek Mei, a sophomore in the School of Management and the vice president of Open Web. “We don’t want our clients spelling out exactly what they want in the website and having the members just code the website. We want to give our members a real world experience to pretty much work with the clients.”

In addition to the weekly one-to-two-hour team meetings to discuss potential website features, individual members put in hours of their own time, working on the coding and perfecting the design of their assigned websites.

But Open Web is not only for members. The group holds open workshops on Saturdays to give all students the basic skills needed to create and manage a website.

Whether for a nonprofit or a BU student, Open Web wants to give those with an interest in web development the chance to explore the topic and apply what they have learned.

“It [the workshop] really gives students the ability to practice their skills instead of just sitting in a lecture and listening to their professor,” Mei said. “We [Ivan and I] strongly believe that the skills we learn in classes are useful, but it’s really more important to practice the skills in a real life setting and apply them. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to actually use them.”

And while the main goal of the organization is to create websites, the less obvious focus comes from what the members cannot create through code.

“We’re obviously doing this to help nonprofits,” Mei said. “In the future, we hope to expand and get dedicated students who really want to create these websites.”

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article said Uvarov made a bet with his boss. The article has been updated to reflect this change.

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