Createch: USF Students Mix Technology + Creativity To Do Innovative Websites

The age of new technology has heralded a new procedure for businesses -- one that requires a complete, yet creative website with sound presentation, excellent design and creative touches. It is not often that one can find developers who can provide all of this while using the perspective of multiple designers to make a site more complete, aesthetically pleasing and accessible to the user.

Enter Createch at USF, a University of South Florida student organization that seeks to teach the skills needed to design and develop websites as well as the skills to market and manage clients. Add on Createch Consulting, a separate business created by founder Luqmaan Dawoodjee and members of Createch at USF who offer services to meet the ever-evolving technological needs of businesses everywhere.

Dawoodjee came to the University of South Florida as a marketing and business student with a dream of finding other like-minded students on campus. After recognizing a need for an organization, Dawoodjee, along with Jamaal Taylor and Meredith Bollinger, founded the Web Developer Network at USF. His plan, which was to "find and execute web development projects that provide students with the opportunity to build their useful skill sets, while having fun," was so successful, that it evolved into one of the fastest-growing and most successful student organizations on campus -- Createch at USF -- and a consulting and design business that bears the same name.

The Createch model values collaboration in web development and creative technique in both the business and the student organization,  two entirely separate entities that share two factors: Dawoodjee at the helm and a commitment to excellence.

The Web Developers Network at USF (WDN), created in 2010, was divided into three different departments – administration, marketing and production. Meetings were documented online, and at workshops members were able to learn "programming, development, and soft skills" that are not taught in the classroom, according to Dawoodjee. After seeing the enthusiasm of WDN's, Dawoodjee decided it was time to expand.

Createch at USF: The Creative Developers Network, which has quickly become one of the "largest technology and business-oriented student organizations at USF" boasts more than 200 active members -- a noteworthy feat for any campus club that seeks to teach skills across disciplines.

"It is quite rare for students in the College of Engineering to be taught how to effectively interact with clients and customers or how to negotiate like a pro," says Dawoodjee. "At the same time, it is rare for marketing students in the College of Business to be taught how to use Adobe Photoshop. Createch at USF is there to fill these gaps perfectly. Where class ends, Createch begins."

The mission -- to teach students the ability to produce creatively through technology -- is executed and embraced by both displays of technology and workshops offering ways to harness it.

Ingenuity, Skill And Passion

SuperNerd, Createch's first technology social, featured videogames, a showing of "Dr. Horrible's Sing-A-Long Blog," displays of new technology being developed on USF's Tampa campus, as well as a representative from Microsoft who was on hand to display new products and demonstrate their potential. More than 300 students interested in technology and what Createch has to offer came out for the event.

Technical writer Brett Crabtree, Createch's chief of technical communication and marketing, called the event a success, and adds that events like these are a product of Createch's "ingenuity, skill and passion,'' which count as the organization's "greatest strengths.''

Createch events are not simply for education. They also help raise awareness and funds for good causes.

"Not only were we able to use our skills to design flyers and promotional material for the event and test our strengths,'' Crabtree explains, "but we were also able to raise money for cancer research via Relay for Life, which was something we were all very proud of.''

It is, however, in the instruction and sharing of design and development skills that Createch's true strength lies. "We host over 20 events each semester in which students learn useful skills that are never taught in class," Dawoodjee says. "Our free seminars and workshops teach students skills such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP, MySQL, and Adobe Creative Studio with an emphasis on Photoshop and Illustrator."

These workshops were born of a Spring 2011 partnership with the Zimmerman Advertising Program. "13 Fridays," the series of 13 workshops, offered one hour of graphic design and one hour of web design. These interactive classes allowed participants to work on projects with the guidance of Createch members who were there to answer questions and help students develop their skills. Createch officers and members collaborated to develop both rapport and skills with their patrons, a feat that Meredith Bollinger, the former VP of administration, feels makes The Creative Developer's Network unique.

"What makes Createch different is who makes up the team,'' says Bollinger. "Everyone in Createch brings different skills to the table and each team member is current on the latest trends and design techniques to give our student and client base the best experience possible. We thrive on knowing the 'next big thing' and helping our members stay ahead of the curve.''

Andrea Lypka, a participant in Createch workshops and a USF student, credits Dawoodjee and his team for their ability to teach as well as develop. Through Createch, she has learned not only design methods, but the processes of branding and social media. She enthuses that Dawoodjee and his methods "demystified the world of web design,'' and comments that he "is more than an instructor because he offers help and advice outside of the classroom.'' It was her faith and patronage in the Createch at USF that helped inspire Dawoodjee and his team to create her website, as well as a business offering the services Createch at USF taught members to provide.

Createch Consulting -- What's Next

"13 Fridays" was such a success that people with need of website development sought out Dawoodjee and his network. In accepting clients, Createch Consulting LLC, the business grown from The Creative Developers' Network, became a separate entity from the student organization, and a place where members fluent in design and development could test their skills in real world applications.

"USF really fosters a great environment for learning and entrepreneurship," says Dawoodjee, who recognizes that, without the university's support of the student organization, Createch Consulting wouldn't exist.

Members from Createch at USF Network have the option of moving into Createch Consulting as their skills develop and demand for the business grows. As a "creative consultancy specializing in solving business problems and providing creative solutions through a highly targeted and personally tailored strategic approach," Createch Consulting works on the same model as Createch at USF -- one of collaboration of ideas and innovation in technology.

"Createch is proof that passion and ambition can turn a simple idea into a business model," says Bollinger, who is now a part of the consulting firm.

Thus far, Createch Consulting has yielded several satisfied clients. Among them is Bay Area Nutrition, a nutrition and health consulting agency, as well as Dr. Ibrahim A. Salejee of Brevard County, whose site offers information on his practice, and Crazy Mike's Mattress Supercenter's site.

USF student organizations have also sought out Createch Consulting's services. Sigma Phi Epsilon's site offers information not only on its chapter, but on principals of the fraternity and methods of joining. This interactive site lends itself to all users, a challenge of accessibility that the firm has clearly mastered. The Fishing Club at USF's site features a members-only calendar, as well as information for students as well as curious patrons. Photos, event information and a forum make the site complete and comprehensive for all users.

Preparing For Createch's Future

Createch at USF is already planning for the 2011-12 school year and beyond. More workshops and events, including a second, larger Supernerd event in the fall, are on the horizon, and Dawoodjee couldn't be more excited.

"I expect to see Createch at USF working more closely with the School of Mass Communications, the College of Business and the College of Engineering to educate students in topics that just cannot be taught in class," he says, adding that the organization plans to continue to fill the gap "between the skills needed in the real world and the skills taught in class." 

Recognition for hard work and innovation has already started coming to Createch at USF. Dawoodjee and Jordi Lucero, the VP of production, recently accepted a Future Business Leaders of America Phi Beta Lambda award at the national level for website design for their mock University of Southern Floribraska Career Center site. This award for excellence was presented by the Geiko Gecko and ranks these Createch at USF officers first in the nation in web design.

Createch Consulting, like its parent entity, is expanding in both employee and client base. "In five years, Createch Consulting will not be a web design company," Dawoodjee predicts. "Instead, we hope to grow our relationships with our clients to the point that they envision us as their personal advertising agency. I can see Createch Consulting becoming the advertising agency and marketing department of small businesses. What will set us apart, though, is our emphasis and proficiency in marketing through digital media. We have already started taking steps towards fulfilling this vision."

"I'm truly optimistic about the futures of both Createch at USF and Createch Consulting," muses Dawoodjee. "I can hardly imagine or wait to see where the two will be five years from today."

Createch at USF is seeking new members, and can be contacted here. Createch Consulting can be contacted here. The firm is also looking for freelance developers.

Theresa Woods is a graduate of the University of South Florida, freelance writer and literature nerd living in Tampa. In her spare time, she writes, contemplates her place in the universe and enjoys being an all-purpose geek with her friends. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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