“Via takes a lot off our plates so we can focus on other things.”
By the time Denise Leinonen went to work at the Office of Global Education at SUNY Oneonta, the office had decided to move from a paper system to a software system.
“We interviewed a bunch of colleagues from different SUNY schools about the platforms they were using,” recalls Denise, who started at the Central New York campus in 2017. “They didn’t have great things to say about a large provider they were using. The feedback was, it was clunky and, when there were issues, they didn’t get back to them quickly.”
The office decided to go with Via. “Via was the best option,” Denise says. “It was more student friendly.”
Denise, now Global Program Coordinator at SUNY Oneonta, worked with their IT department to transition to Via.
“We were excited to move away from paper,” she recalls. “At first it was a little intimidating, but it went pretty smoothly. Our IT team was super helpful and on board with working with us and with Via so there weren’t any big hiccups.”
The office decided to take its time implementing Via, Denise says. In Fall 2018, SUNY Oneonta was ready to go.
“We loved it. We still love it,” Denise says. “The main thing we enjoy most about Via is that it looks nice and is intuitive. It’s really nice for our students and it’s easy for our admin team to understand the back end of things, like creating brochures and applications and forms. It’s all pretty self-explanatory.”
While the Office of Global Education has varied in size over the years, there are now two professional staff members, including Denise, and an office assistant. The office oversees both domestic and international faculty-led programs, exchange programs, and a provider program.
“We do everything through Via,” Denise says. “It’s just easier to track everything and to look something up quickly. Everything is in one place with Via. Via takes a lot off our plates so we can focus on other things.”
Global Experiences Started in Childhood
Denise, who grew up in Marquette, Michigan, knew the value of global experiences as a child. Her mother is from Austria in Central Europe so, when Denise was growing up, her family often traveled there and to neighboring countries.
“When you have a parent from a different country, you automatically have two perspectives on the world,” Denise says. “It opens you up to other perspectives and creates an interest in knowing where your family’s from and also exploring and seeing things that are different from your own hometown and your way of life.”
While studying German in high school, Denise went to Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. “That was my first trip traveling abroad without my family,” she says. “I gained confidence because I was forced to figure things out a little more by myself.”
Decision to Pursue EA Career Sparked in India
While an undergraduate student at Northern Michigan University, Denise spent a semester studying abroad in Hyderabad, India. She focused on human rights, particularly women’s rights, and tutored underprivileged boys in an ashram once a week in English.
She chose India to get out of her comfort zone, she says.
“I wanted to go as far away as possible to somewhere I didn’t know much about but had an interest in,” she says. “India was far enough away that I was a little scared to go, which is what I wanted.”
Even though she was majoring in international/global studies, Denise says the seed to work in the education abroad field wasn’t planted until that trip to India.
“I just knew I liked to travel so international studies sounded like a good major,” she says. Denise recalls she and other students being frustrated by some of the processes. Maybe she could help study abroad easier for students in the future.
Denise enjoys doing just that at SUNY Oneonta.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, SUNY Oneonta sent about 35 to 40 students abroad each semester on SUNY partner programs. Slowly, the numbers have been coming back. This Fall 2022 semester, the college sent 21 students abroad.
The Office of Global Education moved into the Experiential Learning Center about a year ago, which helped raise its visibility, Denise says. It doesn’t hurt that the office is next to a Starbucks, she jokes.
“Students come here a lot,” she says. “We work with other offices to create different event programming. We’re a one-stop shop for students who want to explore their options for hands-on experiences.”
Her office often meets with students first, then directs them to create a student profile in Via, she says.
Denise remains grateful the office made the switch to Via.
“The Via team is so responsive. If there is an issue we can’t figure out, we always get a response quickly and we’ve always resolved the issue. That’s been super helpful. That tells me that Via cares about their clients’ experience. It makes me feel like we’re being heard.”
Like Denise Leinonen at SUNY Oneonta, 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.