Via Helps Director Restore International Office After Hurricane Maria
When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, it also decimated the international education office at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (University of the Sacred Heart). Since the office had no software to manage study abroad programs, Laurie Melin inherited a hard drive and paper records in Spring 2019 when she was hired to restart the office.
“No international office staff were left to bring me up to speed on how things worked previously,” says Laurie, director of internationalization at Sagrado. “Going through cabinet files and the hard drive was like digging through a haystack to find relevant data about the history of Sagrado’s international activities.”
The previous staff had used Microsoft Office tools, specifically Word and Excel, to manage study abroad program information, applications, and recordkeeping. An office of one, Laurie began looking for ways to make her work more efficient. By Fall 2019, she had her eyes and heart set on a solution: Via.
Laurie calls Via “a breath of fresh air”
In November 2019, Laurie attended the NAFSA Region VII Conference in Orlando, Florida. It was there that she met Samantha Martin, who founded Via in 2012.
“She took the time to do a demo with me and talk through the program,” Laurie recalls. “One of the things that jumped out right away for me was the user friendliness of Via compared to options I’d used at other universities.”
She was also attracted to Via’s price tag, which was about half the cost of another software system Sagrado had considered. Laurie applied for and received an IDEAS (Increase and Diversify Education Abroad for U.S. Students) Grant, which funded Via for her office for the first year. When the funding ended, and Via had proven its worth, Sagrado’s leadership backed Via 100 percent.
“Via has been a breath of fresh air, from the user friendliness of the platform to meeting our data management needs,” she says. “After juggling lots of spreadsheets and Word documents, Via is a huge relief and a big timesaver. Using Via allows my team to do a lot more and reach significantly more students.”
Data Integration & Reporting Key for Sagrado
In going through the records on the hard drive she inherited, Laurie discovered there had been a great history of study abroad at Sagrado. But before signing on with Via, it had been difficult to collect good data. With Via, she has all of her data in one place, from emergency contacts to notes her team has made while talking with students.
“The comfort that it brings at a professional level of efficiency and confidence in reporting is really important for the wellbeing of a small office,” she says.
Laurie also likes that Via is constantly evolving and improving its software solutions—and looks to clients like Sagrado for input. She finds the Via team “approachable, professional and courteous.”
“That’s what differentiates Via from most customer service experiences,” Laurie says. “Everyone we’ve worked with has been friendly and enthusiastic, not only about their product, which is normal, but about their relationship with us and helping us be successful using Via. We don’t feel stupid when we ask questions, and we don’t feel silly when we have to ask for help.”
Sagrado Expands Study Away Programs with Via
In addition to expanding its study abroad program, Sagrado also has been able to grow its study away program, Laurie says. She’s fielded questions from colleagues who have wondered if Via could be used for that purpose. Her answer: Absolutely.
“We send almost as many students within the U.S. as we do outside the U.S.,” she says. “Via is great for travel no matter where you’re going, whether it’s domestic or international.”
Laurie says Sagrado students still prefer in-person communication and may have less experience with ed tech software than students she encountered in big universities elsewhere in the states.
“I find the Via platform to be really navigable,” she says. “I feel comfortable recommending it to my students. The user experience of the platform matters a lot to me, and the fact that it is visually appealing. Our students aren’t going to look at it and think it’s something from the ’90s.”
Laurie also likes Via’s intake quiz, which matches students with their ideal-fit programs. “I like that it offers students the option to think through some really important questions in a casual way,” she says. “I also like the fact that it’s optional so you don’t have to do it right at the beginning.”
Laurie says her office’s goal is “to give 100% of Sagrado students access to a meaningful intercultural experience.” Laurie knows firsthand the importance of global experiences: At age 15, Laurie spent six weeks during Summer 2001 living with her best friend’s family in Germany.
“That was transformational for me,” says Laurie, who grew up in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area. “There were new languages, new foods, and new ways of interacting. It was eye-opening for me and I loved the experience.”
Laurie, who studied Spanish throughout junior high and high school, spent a month in Costa Rica in high school. Though her university, Ohio Northern, didn’t have a study abroad office at the time, she studied in Chile for a semester through International Studies Abroad. That’s when she knew she wanted to work in international education.
“The International Studies Abroad office had a whole team that supported our learning,” she says. “I realized this is what I want to do. I want to be one of these people. I want to help students have experiences like I’ve been able to have.”
Before coming to work at Sagrado in 2019, Laurie, who holds a master’s in international education from American University, worked in higher education and international education at six universities in Ohio, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. She loves partnering with Via to power global experiences for students at Sagrado.
“Thanks to Via, we have a one-stop shop for students interested in study abroad,” she says. “Having everything in one place is game-changing for a small office like ours.”
Like Laurie Melin at Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, Via TRM 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 TRM.