“We feel like we’re part of a team,” says Director Melissa Ochal.
Pre-pandemic, the Center for International Education at the College of Charleston was sending about a thousand students on global experiences while using a free software system. Five years ago, it became clear the center needed to make a change.
“We were hitting a number of limits with what was possible to do with the free system. We needed more functionality,” says Director Melissa Ochal. “That’s when Via came into our world.”
Melissa, who started as associate director in March 2013, says she and one of her colleagues discovered Via back in 2015 at a NAFSA Regional Conference in Savannah, Georgia. After an RFP process, the College signed on with Via.
“Via’s been great,” Melissa says. “The team has been amazing. They respond. They take our feedback. I feel proud that some of what we’ve seen Via improve came from our suggestions as one of the first big schools to sign on with Via. We feel like we’re part of a team.”
Via, she says, “actually listens. We work with other IT companies that don’t. They don’t even respond when we put in tickets for requests for help.”
Melissa was on maternity leave during the RFP process. She was very pleased with her team’s decision to go with Via.
“We saw demos from a large software company, but we weren’t blown away,” she says. “Via is more visually appealing for students. I also like the functionality. We were all pretty excited that Via was the choice at the end.”
Melissa says feels like her team and Via are “building things together.”
“Via actually came to campus to see firsthand what our work process was like so they could understand where we had frustrations, where our sticking points were,” she says.
Via Helps Improve Efficiency
Spring semester was the first time the College offered a faculty-led study abroad program since the pandemic started in March 2020. And this past summer was the first time the College ran faculty-led summer programs. With about 800 students expected to study abroad this academic year, they’re nearly back up to pre-pandemic numbers, Melissa says.
“It was busy, but it was also good to get back into it. It’s been nice to get students overseas so they can have those awesome experiences again. We needed to hear about those experiences to re-energize us after canceling programs for so long.”
But the year hasn’t been without its challenges, she says. Like many institutions, the center’s been dealing with staffing issues. At one time, there were seven employees. Now there are four and Melissa is in the process of hiring a fifth.
“We’re trying to figure out how to best manage our workload and be most efficient because we don’t just do study abroad. We also support our international students and scholars. So that’s a hefty load, all around. We’re trying to use technology to our advantage where we can, and that includes Via.”
Via, she says, helps the center engage with students earlier and be more efficient.
“We used to be very paper-based and Via has helped us become almost completely paperless. We use Via’s notes feature a lot. We really appreciate Via’s ability to message en masse. That’s been a big help. We’re also working to get faculty members to message in Via more. Those who do so really enjoy it.”
Melissa Chose IE Career Over Law School
Melissa attended Miami University and graduated from Boston College with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Her plan was to go on to law school to study environmental law. But she worked on her capstone with the dean of first-year students for Boston College’s College of Arts and Sciences. That opened her eyes to another career path.
“I didn’t want to do actual counseling, but I knew I wanted to help people in some way,” Melissa says. “My professor really inspired me to consider higher ed as a field of work. I hadn’t thought of it before. She inspired me to attend a graduate program in higher education and student affairs.
Melissa would go on to a nearly seven-year stint in international education at Ohio Dominican University before being named associate director at the College of Charleston in March 2013. She was promoted to director in October 2021.
Melissa also has been very active in the field, serving first on the NAFSA Region VI team and currently as the state representative for the South Carolina Association of International Educators (SCAIE) and for NAFSA Region VII for the past three and a half years.
“It’s been really great to get involved and to help others entering the field,” she says.
Since the College of Charleston has been with Via for five years, Melissa’s office will soon go through an RFP process, which is required by the state when a contract is over a certain amount. Melissa says they hope to remain with Via.
“We’re too busy to switch, but even if we could switch, we’re very happy with Via,” she says. “We feel supported by the Via team.”
Like Melissa Ochal at the College of Charleston, 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.