Via Removes Study Abroad Barriers; Gives UCM Quality Student Data It Can Use
Via helps develop a path to better support students, coordinator says.
The University of Central Missouri needed a software system that was easier to work with and more manageable for its one-person study abroad office. The office, housed within UCM’s Center for Global Education, found what it was looking for in Via.
“With the old system, we were using the most basic functionality because to use all the bells and whistles would require more staff, training, and support. We just didn’t have the capacity,” says Matt Chiesi, study abroad coordinator. “We spent as much time keeping up our website as we did interacting with students, programs, and teachers.”
Matt likens the switch to Via from the old system to pruning an overgrown bonsai to help it grow.
“I cut off most of it,” he says.
The result: an easy-to-use and easy-to-manage platform that allows Matt time to focus on what’s most important to him: engaging students in global experiences.
“With the old system, I spent a lot of my time explaining to people where to click, how to click, which button to click,” Matt says. “We had to make guides for our students on how to use the system.”
Matt began looking to change providers in 2019. He attended a webinar Via hosted and later saw Via in action at a NAFSA conference.
“I was really impressed,” he says. “It looked a lot more accessible and easier to use, instead of a database with a lot of numbers here and there. I thought, ‘This looks intuitive. This looks like everything else people use. It looks like you could even use it on your phone and it wouldn’t shut down.’”
Matt took his findings back to UCM and, while there was support and excitement for switching to Via, learned the office was still under contract with its previous software provider. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shutting down study abroad.
In 2022, UCM’s study abroad office was up and running and ready to switch software providers. That March, Matt met with Via’s Bob Specking at Forum. By summer, UCM’s study abroad office had transitioned to Via. Via’s ability to simplify internal processes has given Matt time back in his day.
“I can just go into Via and take care of something, and it’s done,” he says. “When I want to get information, it’s easy to get a report. I can show a student worker how to do it and it’s easy for them to pick it up. I don’t have to do it all myself.”
Via Puts UCM on Path to Better Serve Students
Via also makes it easy for Matt to gather important student data, including race, ethnicity, and gender identity. The old software system didn’t give that information so Matt would have to survey students outside of the system.
“If you’re an LGBTQ student, if you’re a veteran, a student-athlete, those are the kinds of things we really want to know from our students,” he says. “With Via, we’re able to get information on those multiple identities and get that information pretty fast.”
From the Via-generated data, UCM now knows it has a high percentage of students from underrepresented groups applying for study abroad. The next step is to meet with students to see what challenges keep them from moving from interest to action.
“Via is helping us develop a path to better support our students,” Matt says. “It’s so much easier than trying to do that with our previous system.”
Matt shares the student data with UCM’s Center for Multiculturalism and Inclusivity, which provides services, support, and resources to make all people feel welcomed at the university, located in Warrensburg, Missouri.
“We have a first-year experience program (UCM Kickoff) that’s new this year,” Matt says. “I’ve been working closely with the person in charge of that to say, ‘What kind of students do we need to be reaching as freshmen? What are their needs and how can we get study abroad information to them where they are instead of hoping that they find us eventually.’ We have a better strategy in terms of how we reach students.”
Even though UCM is one of the largest schools in Missouri to offer study abroad—and one of the first—studying abroad isn’t often top of mind for new students. They are focused on getting a college education that will lead to a job, Matt says.
“We’re a very practical-major school,” he says. “If you want to work in law enforcement, there’s a great criminal justice program. If you want to work for John Deere or the USDA, there’s a great agriculture program. It is challenging to help students see they can study abroad. As part of our strategy, we’re trying to meet students earlier and get them connected to study abroad programs. Via is an important part of that strategy,” Matt says.
“Via is helping us to get our feet underneath us,” he says. “We’re getting really good data that can help us move forward. With Via, it’s been easy to get that data. And it’s been easy for students to use Via so that barrier isn’t there.”
Matt says UCM feels much more comfortable with Via than with its previous provider.
“Before Via, we were always frustrated in our office,” Matt says. “Our faculty were frustrated. Our students would get really confused and we’d be frustrated because we’d have to help them not get frustrated. Now we literally just tell them to log into the portal and it’s right there for them. It’s straight forward and then we move on.”
“Because of Via, we’re spending less time wrestling with the website and more time actually advising and communicating with students.”
Like Matt Chiesi at the University of Central Missouri, Via believes global experiences will change our world. That’s why we created traveler relationship management and travel risk management software, which helps universities and study abroad program providers to empower global experiences. If you want a true education abroad partner, turn to Via.