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Web Site Review: Minorities in Aquatic Sciences

The Minorities in the Aquatic Sciences (MAS) Web site is an electronic storage and retrieval database targeted toward underrepresented minority students interested in the aquatic sciences. MAS is sponsored by the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography ( ASLO), as well as Hampton University in Virginia and Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, both of which have their own minority-targeted ASLO programs. The fundamental purpose of the MAS program and its sponsors is unsurprising: to combat the lack of underrepresented minorities doing research in the aquatic fields.

The MAS Web site reverses the current trend toward gaudy Web site design, but with mixed results. The simple white background, black text, and blue-text links reflect its substance-over-style approach. Outside of some profile and event photographs, there are no real graphics, but the content gives the user the essentials. Similarly, the navigation is simple and easy. Although the site could use some creative design to capture wandering surfers, the minimalist approach makes it easy for those with older browsers to use. It?s a refreshing change from the bevy of needless animations and technological tricks that have lately been creeping even into the academic side of Web design.

The content is focused into sections that can be reached via the main navigation links. The main navigation links are self-explanatory and rational, with the exception of the welcome page. Being near the top of home page, that link is unnecessary. This minor complaint is the exception that proves the site?s otherwise excellent content organization. The site has many standard features, including the organization?s purpose, history, profiles of scientists (all races), and links. The user is treated to succinct yet informative writing about the MAS program?s establishment, structure, and support system. The list of links features sponsors, internships, minority institutions and minority-targeted programs, aquatics and limnology, government programs, professional societies, informational Web sites, careers, and publications. Although the scope and number of links are certainly extensive, the collection?s lack of focus tends to detract from the site?s purpose.

The site attempts to go beyond the standard academic program page by adding an interactive component for current and prospective MAS members. This businesslike customer relationship management approach may seem inappropriate, but that is far from true. Instead it gives the user the latitude to register and interact with other members and mentors without using a third party or going offline. This strategy adds value to the user experience because it gives the user more control. Students can register and add their information to the student directory to become a part of the MAS community. This focus on the communal aspect of the organization is in hopes that users will want to return and find the site to be an evolving tool. Unfortunately, this is where the lack of technical sophistication fails. The HTML programming does not give the simplicity and intuitive interaction that JavaScript programming would have done.

Ultimately, the MAS site is successful in providing a simple, community-oriented site for underrepresented minorities interested in aquatic sciences. It contains and links to a wealth of information, and it is easy to find. Users can register directly on the site and connect to the community of students, instructors, and professors within the field. Ironically, the site?s lack of technical prowess prevents it from being as effective an interactive tool as it could be for current and prospective MAS members. Hopefully the site can be upgraded to fulfill this promise with a more professional approach without losing its simple, substantive approach.

Clinton Parks is a MiSciNet freelance writer working in Virginia. For further information, please e-mail him at