UNH replaces its old database, nicknamed “The Beast,” with Via in 2017
In 2016, the “old rickety database” the University of New Hampshire’s Education Abroad team was using was on its last legs, recalls Leonie “Leo” Meijer, now interim director of education abroad at UNH.
“It was very slow and we could only get so much information out of it,” Leo says. “It was getting very unreliable. Things were added on over time and it just became this beast. We actually called it ‘The Beast.’ It wasn’t sustainable.”
During a conference that year, Leo talked with her International Education colleagues about what systems they were using and the pros and cons. What she heard didn’t give her much hope of finding a solution to replace The Beast.
“It was clear that the existing big (software) providers did not get very good reviews,” she says. “I thought, ‘There has to be something better out there.’”
She found that “something better” when she met Via co-founder Samantha Martin at the conference.
“We got to talking and she showed me a demo and I said, ‘Yes! This is exactly what I’m looking for.’ Actually, it was even beyond my dreams.”
UNH did its due diligence, comparing Via to other products. “Via just stood out,” Leo says. UNH signed on, making it one of Via’s first clients.
UNH’s Input Helps Make Via Better
Via was started in 2012, first as Project Travel, a crowdfunding platform for student travel. The business model and product evolved into Via TRM, a B2B Software as a Service (SaaS) Traveler Relationship Management platform for higher education with a vision to “power the next generation of global citizens.”
“I like to think we helped build Via because it was so early on,” Leo says. “We had long conversations with Via about what we needed and what we thought it should look like. I think we helped create the custom fields because that’s what we used a lot at that point, which is funny because we don’t use custom fields anymore because it’s already integrated.”
While UNH had some hesitancy at first about signing on with a young company, Leo says she believed in Via. In addition to Via’s software solutions, Leo liked that Via was founded and funded by women.
“For me, personally, that made it extra special—and the fact that Via listened and tried to find solutions. What has stayed the same over the years is Via’s responsiveness and the willingness to think creatively.”
Leo also likes that Via was founded by international educators for international educators.
“That makes a big difference,” she says. “We talk the same language. Other providers are more on the business side than the education side. From the get-go, I didn’t have to explain what we were looking for. Via already knew.”
Global Experiences Start for Leo in High School
Leo’s journey into education abroad began when she left The Netherlands, where she was born, to spend a year in the United States.
“That was one of the best years of my life,” she says. “I had graduated high school in The Netherlands. I didn’t know what I wanted to study in college. I just happened to see this poster saying, ‘Spend a year in the U.S.’ and it just clicked. I was lucky enough that my parents were willing to let me go.“
Leo, who had just turned 18, flew for the first time. It was 1987, so there weren’t cell phones or email—or the Internet, period. Even though she had finished high school, she attended a high school and stayed with a host family in Springfield, a small city in southwestern Ohio, northeast of Dayton.
“I called home twice that whole year,” she recalls. “It was a matter of writing letters. It was an amazing experience, but it was not always easy and not everything went well.”
Leo knew when she went back to The Netherlands that she would return to the United States—and she did. While earning her master’s in international business communications from Radboud University in The Netherlands, she came back to Ohio to work on her master’s research for about three months.
She worked a variety of positions over an 11-year career in The Netherlands. Vacations were often spent in Ohio. During one of those vacations, she interviewed for a job at Western Illinois University advising study abroad and incoming exchange students. When she was offered the position, she took it, moving to the U.S. in 2005.
In 2011, Leo went to work at UNH as an Education Abroad advisor. In addition to being interim director of Education Abroad at UNH, she serves as the Education Abroad advisor at the university’s business college.
This spring, the UNH Education Abroad Office had about 170 students travel abroad, only about 30% of where it was before the pandemic hit in 2020. While Fall is looking better already, she expects much higher numbers in the Spring of 2023.“We want to make sure that every UNH student has the opportunity to have a global experience, because it can change the student, and the world,” Leo says. “We’re working hard to make global learning part of the curriculum. And it’s not just study abroad. We want to make sure we also invest in research abroad, in internships abroad and remote global learning. What that’s going to look like, I have no idea yet.“
“(Remote global learning) won’t take the place of actual study abroad because, to me, nothing will take its place. But we have students who may not be able to, or may not want to, go abroad, but they still want a global experience. I see remote global learning as an added product of a global experience.”
Like Leo Meijer at the University of New Hampshire, 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.