Evaluating Study Abroad Software Solutions Leads UMass to Via
In Spring 2020, when the pandemic had all but halted sending students abroad, the University of Massachusetts Amherst International Programs Office (IPO) decided to dedicate staff resources into making their software system work better for them.
Mark Eckman, Director of Education Abroad at UMass, enjoying a scenic bike ride.
“We had experienced a lot of frustrations and challenges with the limitations of our current system in terms of meeting our needs,” says Mark Eckman, Director of Education Abroad, of the software IPO had used since 2007. “We knew we weren’t going to generate revenue by doing this and we were taking away from our workforce, but fundamentally we felt it was important to make the technology work for us. I felt I had an obligation to try everything possible to make this a reality.”
Eckman, an active leader in the EA community who came to UMass Amherst in October 2019, was no stranger to the study abroad software UMass was using. He had used it and other software platforms during his nearly eight years as director of study abroad at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Eckman’s colleague, AJ LeBlanc, EA Advising Center coordinator and EA advisor at UMass, had grown beyond frustrated with the software system.
“The amount of time we were forced into interacting with the software was just not acceptable,” says LeBlanc. “More than once the software had me in tears out of frustration because it was taking me away from students and advising appointments. It was taking me away from colleagues and from work I needed to be doing. I was ready to go back to pencil and paper.”
AJ LeBlanc, EA Advising Center coordinator and EA advisor at UMass.
By Fall 2020, it was clear to IPO that it was time to make a change. In March 2021, after a good deal of research including surveying the EA field, Eckman and his team went with Via.
“What we were seeing with Via aligned with what we had envisioned as our optimal outcome and we just weren’t seeing that with any other product,” Eckman says. “There wasn’t anything else that came anywhere close in terms of meeting our needs.”
UMass made the switch in late 2021. LeBlanc says they couldn’t be happier.
“We really feel like we have a voice and that our opinion matters to Via,” she says. “Our opinions, our feedback, how we use the product, where we find successes and challenges—everyone we’ve interacted with at Via legitimately wants to know and wants to make it better.”
When IPO pointed out a formatting issue, for example, Via quickly fixed it, LeBlanc recalls.
“My mental health has literally improved. I’m not exaggerating,” LeBlanc says. “I joke that Via saved my marriage because I used to come home so frustrated. It was absolutely affecting my out-of-work life too.”
Transitioning to Via “Incredibly Easy”
Eckman and LeBlanc admit they were concerned about changing software systems after so many years with one. “Institutional inertia is hard to overcome,” Eckman says. But they’ve found transitioning to Via has been “incredibly easy.”
“Via is really setting us up for success,” Eckman says. “It’s the relationship management portion of what Via brings that makes us feel like this is an investment that is going to pay dividends very soon. When we look at the volume we’re seeing and the sign-ups and new traffic into our system, it’s very exciting. It’s exactly what we wanted it to be in terms of student engagement.”
Sam, the UMass mascot, posing with peer advisors.
With their previous software system, IPO was unable to interact with students until they applied. That changed with Via.
“We have 850 students in our system that we never would have met last year at this time in our previous software because the students weren’t visible to us until they applied,” he says. “Now we can work with early stage students. It’s a game changer.”
It’s obvious, LeBlanc says, that Via was built by international educators for international educators.
“With all of our interactions with Via, it’s been, ‘We understand what you’re doing. We understand it needs to be easy for admin and students. We understand there’s a huge picture here. Here’s what we can offer.’ We’re all speaking the same language.”
To their colleagues in the EA community who are considering a change in software providers, LeBlanc says: “Just do it.”
“It works. It’s responsive. It’s plug-and-play,” she says. “The response from everyone is immediate and helpful.”
Adds Eckman: “It’s a better solution for our students and it’s a better solution for our office. When you look at this in terms of direct and indirect costs, the math is very simple: Via is a better solution for us and I would be surprised if schools who gave it a close look didn’t find that to also be the case for them.
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’re looking for a true education abroad partner, turn to Via.