December 14, 2018

Mike Breitenbach: Behind the Screens

Mike Breitenbach insists there’s no magic or mystery to what he does here at UMW. Or that his behind-the-screens job as director of web communications makes him a wizard.

Mike Breitenbach is director of web communications.

Mike Breitenbach is director of web communications.

But ensuring Mary Washington’s enormous website functions for the rest of us is a pretty big undertaking. It’s also important, as universities increasingly rely on their online presence to attract students.

“I try to be the best steward I can be for the knowledge and resources at UMW,” Breitenbach says of his role here.

Just now, the web team is in the early stages of a website redesign. That means a lot of work ahead, and changes on the horizon, with an anticipated launch date of mid- to late-2020.

Q: What can you tell us about the UMW website redesign?
A: We’re reaching a point where we need to reassess how our website reflects on the institution and the exciting changes happening on campus. At the same time, large parts of our website that are critical for operations haven’t been refreshed or evaluated in many years. We’ll be conducting in-depth user research early next year to focus on how we can best balance our many needs and objectives. This research will shape a plan for the redesign and inform us of how we can have the most impact.

Q: How did you get into this line of work?
A: It started in a “Writing for the Web” course I took in undergrad. The course covered a few front-end web development languages and WordPress, which is what we use at UMW. That same semester, I took a course that covered design principles and taught me a bit of the Adobe Creative Suite. I was really into both of those courses.

Q: How did you come to UMW?
A: I started my career at Germanna Community College. I held a few communications and marketing positions for the advancement office and then for the college. When I interviewed for my current job, I was familiar with the tools and challenges and thought I could be an asset here.

Q: How would you describe your role here if you were writing Web Communications for Dummies?
A: I try to make the website work for the people who use it. I advocate for the users.

Q: Anything that would surprise people about UMW’s website?
A: The scale. We have about 350 sites and 40,000 pages – double or triple our peer institutions. That doesn’t include UMW blogs or Domains of One’s Own. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we don’t want to maintain any redundant, outdated or trivial content.

Q: What’s the most common question you get?
A: “Can I have access to the _________ site?” The website access request form will get you started!

Q: What’s the best part of your job? The most challenging?
A: Best: Constant supply of interesting problems. Most challenging: Constant supply of interesting problems.

Q: So you’re a musician — and recently won the WFLS Country Music Showcase band contest. Can you tell us more?
A: I mostly play guitar, mandolin and banjo. I actually entered undergrad as a jazz guitar major, but switched right before the semester began.

Recently, I connected with a country singer/songwriter through a friend. After playing mandolin and banjo on one of his songs, he told me he’d entered the WFLS Showcase and asked me to play in the band he was putting together. The prize was a spot opening for Dustin Lynch at WFLS Fest at Celebrate Virginia After Hours. In two weeks, we got the tunes together, won the contest and played on the big stage.

Q: Can we see you perform anywhere?
A: I play with a couple of groups, including one with Keith Mellinger, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. We’ll be playing the third Friday at Home Team Grill.