Via Helps UH Learning Abroad Office Weather the Pandemic Storm

When Paris came under a series of terrorist attacks in November 2015, the University of Houston Learning Abroad office found itself at a crossroads of an old record keeping system and the need for new technology.

“To respond to that risk situation, we had to put so much more work into it because we were on such an archaic system,” recalls Maggie Mahoney, who joined the UH Learning Abroad team that year.

Maggie Mahoney, Assistant Director of Learning Abroad.

UH’s students were safe, but the Paris attacks made it clear to the UH Learning Abroad office that it had to move away from its outdated paper system, says Maggie, now assistant director of Learning Abroad. “New and fresh” was at the top of the office’s wish list, she says.

“Gen Z students are different from even millennials,” Maggie says. “They want new and fresh tech. They want good-looking designs. They want it to continually adapt to their needs. We wanted to partner with a software company that was focused on that—and cost was also another factor.”

UH, the flagship institution of the University of Houston System and the third-largest university in Texas with over 47,000 students, found what it was looking for in Via TRM.

Via Helps UH Send Record Numbers Abroad

In 2017, the UH Learning Abroad office chose to partner with Via TRM. Going from an archaic paper system to Via was “like night and day,” Maggie says.

“It brought a lot more confidence in our data and confidence in supporting our students,” Maggie says. “In 2015, I couldn’t support our students in France at that moment until I could physically get to campus and take care of it. But with Via, I was able to have more confidence that I could support our students, wherever they were in the world.”

Maggie also found Via “easy to work with and communicative.” That’s still true five years later, she says. Another plus: UH could engage with students earlier, thus broadening its pipeline. That was impossible before Via, she says.

“We all know that we need to catch students as freshmen to get them abroad as juniors and to help them apply for fellowships as seniors,” she says. “Before Via, we weren’t able to fully do that because we weren’t tracking student interests. We weren’t tracking programs or events.”

Maggie says Via’s functionality, reporting and filters are “fantastic” for her office staff.

“The application dashboard is my favorite part,” she says. “That’s been a life changer. It really helps us be more efficient and quicker about processing applications.”

In 2018-2019, with Via’s help, the UH Learning Abroad office sent 908 students abroad—an increase of more than 120% since 2014. UH was on track to surpass its goal of sending 1,000 students abroad by 2020 when the pandemic hit in March 2020.

Group photo of the global guide family!

Via Serves as “Passive Advisor” During Pandemic

Like other institutions across the country, UH was impacted by the pandemic, which caused mobility to come to a screeching halt. The Learning Abroad office also dealt with staff shortages.

“During the pandemic, I was both interim director and advisor, and then we lost the other advisor,” Maggie says. “I was literally having grad students helping me out to do advising. For full-time staff, it was me and our admin and that was it. Until I hired advisors late last summer, Via was a passive advisor for us.”

Her mantra over the past two years has been, “Do what we can with what we have.” The office’s goals were to continue to provide service to students and to be accessible. This year, the office has a new goal: increase visibility. Via’s helping achieve just that.

“We’re able to show up more with Via because students can access Via and our portal 24/7. When students are Zoom-ed out, when they’re tired of advising appointments and just want to do some dreaming and wanderlust-ing about going abroad, Via is there for them.”

UH Looks to Via to Bolster Pipeline

As the UH Learning Abroad office rebounds from the pandemic, the office is counting on Via even more.

“We’ve not had the bandwidth to strengthen our pipeline again,” Maggie says. “This term and this summer, we look forward to using Via to help us really strengthen and bolster our pipeline. I want to get back to some of the more nuanced reporting and really leverage Via for all that it can do.”

As her office gets back up to speed, Maggie says she really appreciates Via’s ongoing trainings, tutorials and webinars—both for herself and for her staff.

In addition to Via Global, UH Learning Abroad is looking to add Via Travel to its arsenal. Via’s solo and group travel management software would allow UH to manage information and communication for every traveler—and allow travelers to create and manage their own travel. Via Travel also allows direct-to-traveler communications features in addition to group travel registration. With it, UH could know where its travelers are—anytime, anywhere in the world.

Maggie in Antigua Guatemala, a city surrounded by volcanos and famous for its Spanish colonial buildings.

“Dating App” for Learning Abroad

Maggie says she likes how intuitive and easy to use Via is, not just for the Learning Abroad office but for UH students.

“My favorite part of Via is the way it can be so different for every student,” she says. “I love to jokingly call Via’s a dating app for learning abroad.’ I like that it is a young product. I like that it is geared toward our students. We want to get on their level and Via helps us get more on their level. The design is really appealing for our students.”

In Fall 2021, UH sent about 20 students abroad, 13 over winter break, and about 35 in Spring 2022. Summer numbers aren’t in yet.

“It’s pretty small right now, but we’re growing.”

When colleagues in the IE community contact her about switching to Via, Maggie shares that UH has been able to have Via work for them.

“That’s not always the case with other systems,” she says. “I like that Via works for our needs here at UH. I also like how responsive the Via team is in helping us meet our functionality needs. I also like the customizable design and the competitive pricing.”

Maggie believes it’s time for the higher education community to “refresh” its travel management software.

“We need to adapt to evolving technologies and the way students consume technology,” she says. “We need our offices to be able to customize things quickly and not have to wait for someone to do it for us. We need to meet our students where they are, on their own time, in the way they consume information and how they want to see that information.

“I’m trying to sell a product to 47,000 students and I’m trying to sell learning abroad. Students aren’t interested in coming to me. They already have too much coming at them. We need to meet them where they are. Some of the other software options out there are just outdated.

Let’s Connect

Like the University of Houston Learning Abroad office, 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.

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