“Via ensures more students can see themselves in our programs,” director says.

When she became the inaugural assistant dean and director of global education at Oglethorpe University in August 2018, Marisa Atencio, EdD, inherited six file drawers of papers and historical ways of recruiting and communicating with students about study abroad. 

“I’ve worked in international education for 20 years—I grew up using paper—so it wasn’t like, ‘What do I do with this?’ It was more like, ‘OK, I have paper forms and processes and no systematic ways to recruit and communicate with students.

Dr. Marisa Atencio, Assistant Dean & Director of Global Education at Oglethorpe University

How do I translate that into something that is usable and makes sense from a student perspective?’”

Marisa contemplated how to streamline the application and forms for students at Oglethorpe, a small liberal arts and sciences university in Atlanta. She then began investigating study abroad software that was designed for a small, one-person office (though Marisa has a colleague, she is the only one who works with study abroad).

Oglethorpe Student Studying Abroad in Budapest Overlooking the Landscape (2023)

Oglethorpe Student Studying Abroad in Budapest (2023)

Marisa, who spent nearly seven years as director of international student and scholar services (ISSS) at Georgia Institute of Technology, knew what she wanted in study abroad software. 

“I had very clear ideas of what I wanted when I did my exploration of different options,” Marisa says. “The key thing was I wanted to make sure I had a place where all program information and data could be housed. I wanted a way to easily pull reports because I’m definitely data driven. And I wanted to be able to communicate with groups of students versus having to do individual communications.”

Marisa achieved all her goals with Via. Oglethorpe transitioned to Via in 2019.

“You’ve got to have a tool that feels accessible if you want to be accessible,” Marisa says. “We have a lot of study abroad options. Via ensures students can see themselves in any one of the programs we offer, whether it’s a virtual option, a one-week program or a semester-long program. Via meets students where they are. You’ve got to have a tool that students can use on their phone.”

Marisa learned about Via from colleagues in the University System of Georgia. “I also talked to a couple of small schools that were using other products that didn’t sound like they were going to last,” she says. “Interestingly, both of those schools have now moved to Via.”

Via Helps Oglethorpe Grow Study Abroad Participation

Once Via was fully implemented at Oglethorpe, Marisa had the tools she needed to promote broader global experiences and engage a wider audience.

“Via has allowed me to expand the diversity of location students are going to and the diversity of students that are participating,” she says. “Those are two really important values for me. Via has allowed me to achieve some of those vision and mission goals I had for the office.”

Much has changed in the field in terms of making study abroad accessible to all students, says Marisa, who started in the field in 1999 as a program assistant at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. Over her career, she worked primarily with international students, so when she made the decision to focus her career on global education experiences, she knew what she wanted in her next employer.

Oglethorpe Students on a Walking Trail in Neo Chorio, Cyprus

Oglethorpe Students on a trail in Neo Chorio, a village in Cyprus

“It was important to me to find an institution where I could have an impact and help students feel like, ‘oh, study abroad can be accessible for me,’” she says. 

Tools like Via’s Program Match, where students can take a quiz to determine best-fit programs and locations for them, help her achieve that goal, she says.

“Students don’t have to see me first. They can explore options at their own pace. Then when we do connect, whether that’s in person or in a virtual meeting or by email, I can look in Via to engage with them around what’s important to them. I can help them through decisions that are daunting. Those are much easier conversations than if I had to get students to come to my office, stop and see me at a table outside the cafeteria or after a classroom presentation.”

Since Oglethorpe began using Via in 2019, Marisa has seen it evolve. “It’s more robust from the administrator’s side and it’s more user-friendly for students,” she says. 

Marisa Comes ‘Full Circle’ With Move to Oglethorpe

Oglethorpe students dressed for festivities in South Korea (2022)

Marisa’s Oglethorpe students dressed for festivities in South Korea (2022)

Marisa first studied abroad in Venezuela as an undergraduate student at SUNY Geneseo, where she received a bachelor’s in international relations. Once she realized she could work with college students as a career, she returned to school. Marisa earned a MEd in college student affairs administration at the University of Georgia (UGA) where she interned in the Office of Student Life and the Office of International Education. After 15 years in International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) roles, she returned to UGA to earn an EdD in student affairs leadership in the Mary Frances Early College of Education.

Though Marisa’s titles and roles have changed over the years, her focus, she says, has always been about “helping students have intercultural experiences and build relationships with others that come from cultural backgrounds that are different than theirs.”

The impetus to get back to working with U.S. students around study abroad came after many years of working with international students, she says. 

“It was a full-circle moment for me when I came to Oglethorpe where it reconnected me to working predominantly with U.S. students,” Marisa says. 

She was also purposeful in choosing to work at a small university. Founded in 1835, Oglethorpe has about 1,500 undergraduate students from more than 35 states and 30 countries. 

“At large Research 1 universities, you can lose sight of the one-on-one impactful relationships you can build with students and the transformations they experience over their time in college. If I was going to make this big professional shift, I wanted to do it in a small, student-centric environment. Oglethorpe is that kind of place. For having just 1,500 students, we have lots of diversity around experiences and demographic identities, so every advising conversation is quite unique. Most importantly I continue to grow alongside the students I serve.”

Let’s Connect

Like Marisa Atencio, EdD, at Oglethorpe University, 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.

 

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