Conference attracts Web professionals from Penn State, beyond

Katie Jacobs
July 02, 2014

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Ryan Morejon was attending Confab — a content strategy conference in Atlanta — when he first heard the buzz about the Web Conference at Penn State. He said that after hearing people he admired mention the University’s conference, he was inspired to look into it himself. 

“I saw the program had a good mix of speakers from within and outside of higher ed, which I thought was interesting because I like getting different perspectives,” said Morejon, a social media strategist at Florida International University. “One session that stood out was Dave Tyler’s on crisis communications, which is something all of us in higher education need to be thinking about.”

When he got home, Morejon pitched the idea to his team and they agreed — he’d be traveling more than 1,200 miles from Miami to State College to attend the Web Conference at Penn State from June 9 to 11.

When the conference was born in 1998, registration was restricted to the Penn State community. Its doors were opened to the public in 2010, and this year more than 80 of the conference’s almost 550 attendees and presenters came from 55 institutions other than Penn State, continuing the trend of more people from outside the University attending each year.

“This was my first year coming to Penn State, and I feel like I’ve been missing out all those years I didn’t go,” said Tyler, social and digital media manager at the College at Brockport State University of New York. “I loved seeing all the energy and getting inspired. It gets my batteries recharged and gets me going again in the office.”

Tyler spoke about crisis communications in his session “How a School and a Community Responds to a Student Death,” one of the must-see presentations on Morejon’s list. Tyler discussed the ways he and his colleagues handled a student death that happened at the college in September 2012.

“This was obviously a sad situation we had to deal with, and I wanted to talk about how we worked to be human on social media and got out from behind press releases,” said Tyler. “Sometimes you feel you need to use the typical corporate crisis mentality, but social media is teaching us that’s not the case anymore.”

When he wasn’t presenting, Tyler had time to catch other sessions, and some of his favorites included Penn State’s Derick Burns and Jennifer Montminy’s presentation on internal social media strategies and Monroe Community College’s Colleen Brennan-Barry’s session on project management.

In addition to the speaker sessions, the conference also featured four keynote addresses, delivered by Josh Clark, Jeremy Keith, Alexis Ohanian and Tiffany Shlain. While everyone had their own favorite, Laura Herring, Web content coordinator at American University in Washington, D.C., connected most with Shlain’s.

“All the keynotes were great, but Tiffany’s openness about some of her own failures as she’s explored crowdsourced video was really powerful,” said Herring. “She also really got me thinking about stepping away from technology more often and just living life.”

It wasn’t just the sessions and keynote speakers that made an impression on attendees, though. 

Tyler said that even though he graduated from the University of Notre Dame, he left the reception at the stadium on the first night feeling the Penn State pride. Herring even got a chance to hang out at the Penn State Berkey Creamery with keynote speaker Ohanian and a new group of friends she met at the conference. (Morejon, who enjoyed a few scoops of Pralines N Cream, was impressed Penn State had its own creamery.)

“We had great ice cream and talked about creativity, Reddit and — believe it or not — cow tipping,” Herring said.

Next year’s Web Conference at Penn State, “Design the Future,” will take place June 22 to 24. For the latest news, as well as to watch session videos and view photos from this year’s event, go to

For more stories about IT at Penn State, visit Current at

  • Tonya Oaks Smith speaking

    Tonya Oaks Smith gives a presentation relating social media to the Muppets.

    IMAGE: Sherri Jordan
  • Attendees in Penn Stater garden

    Attendees take a break from the sessions in a Penn Stater garden.

    IMAGE: Sherri Jordan
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Last Updated July 03, 2014