“I feel like part of the Via family,” says WIU’s Kim McDaniel

Kim McDaniel acknowledges she was resistant to changing software providers when the Study Abroad and Outreach Office at Western Illinois University (WIU) decided to replace its existing system for something more intuitive.

Kim McDaniel, study abroad advisor at Western Illinois University.

“I will admit that I was the one in the office who was not excited about having to do this all over again. I was the one with my heels dug in,” says Kim, study abroad advisor, who has been at Western Illinois for 23 years and the study abroad office for 21.

Her resistance to changing software systems came, she says, because she remembered the effort it took to go from a paper system to an electronic system.

“I wasn’t excited about having to do this all over again,” she says.

But Kim also knew the office had to do something. “We were getting a lot of feedback from students and from faculty that our current system wasn’t very user friendly,” she recalls. “They had to take 12 steps to get one thing to work.”

A colleague discovered Via and scheduled a demo with the study abroad office. Kim recalls thinking Via was great, but remained skeptical.

“I wanted to make sure the features that we were getting were as good or better than the features we were giving up,” she says.

Kim brought her concerns to Via, which made sure the office had the features it needed—and then some. It didn’t take long for her to become a Via fan.

“Some of the things about Via that really won me over was the customer service and that if we had a question, we got it answered really quickly,” Kim says. “If we had an issue, they tried to figure out what the issue was so they could fix it. With our previous provider, they had gotten to a size where we were a minnow in their ocean. We would submit an issue and never hear back. I think they hoped we would disappear.”

Kim in her Steampunk garb! Shop the look and others at her husband’s Etsy shop, M Squared Creations, here: www.etsy.com/shop/M2KraftKrate

Via Helps Kim Weather Office Staff Reductions

In March 2019, a year before COVID-19 hit, WIU made significant budget cuts. Kim watched the Study Abroad and Outreach Office go from four full-time staff to just her within a space of six hours.

The WIU study abroad office remains a staff of one, though Kim does have support from a graduate assistant she shares with the outreach side of the office. Asked what her work life would be like if WIU hadn’t switched to Via, Kim jokes: “There would probably be something besides just coffee in my cup in the mornings.”

“Via streamlines a lot of things for me,” she says. “It also makes the students’ lives easier because they’re not trying to bring in paper documents to our office between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.”

Via’s user interface, she says, is “way better” than their previous provider. “It’s much easier for me to put information in and do all the forward-facing things for students or any visitors.”

Kim Helps WIU Students See Study Abroad as a Viable Option

Western Illinois University has two campuses: one in Macomb and one in Moline, Illinois. Kim works on the campus in Macomb, which has a population of about 17,658.

WIU student, Marrisha Devereueawax-Coates, at the Pyeongchang Olympics in South Korea, 2018.

“We half joke that we’re a campus in a cornfield,” Kim says. “We’re very much in a rural area. Our student population pretty well divides between local students who commute and students from the Chicago area who come down because we’re a very affordable choice as a public institution.

Like students at other colleges and universities, WIU students often have misconceptions that study abroad is only for wealthy students, Kim says. She works hard to show students that study abroad is a viable option for them, too. Students who study abroad often thank her when they return to campus.

“They tell me, ‘You didn’t shove me forward but you didn’t let me back up,’” Kim says. “They say, ‘I’m really glad you kept telling me I could do this.’”

Kim, who grew up on a farm north of Macomb, draws on her own experience when talking with students about study abroad. As a high school sophomore, Kim spent a week in Mexico with the Spanish Club.

“I had a ball,” she says.

Kim graduated from high school in 1990 and then earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a history minor from WIU in 1994. She worked on an agricultural newspaper and then in banking before going to work at WIU.

It was during her early years at WIU that Kim was asked if she would help with a faculty-led study abroad course in Italy. Taking on the assignment meant Kim would get to go to Italy, too, and she could earn credit toward her master’s in history.

“I literally fell into it,” she says of the Education Abroad field. When the position came up at WIU to coordinate the faculty-led courses, Kim applied.

“I remember being asked why I would want to take on all this super detailed, very precise work and I said, ‘Somebody did this so I could go on my (study abroad) course or I would’ve never done it. I need to pay this forward.’ Almost 21 years later, I’m still paying it forward.”

This spring, WIU is sending out the first groups of students to study abroad since COVID struck in March 2020. She’s glad to have Via to help, she says, adding she’s glad she moved past her initial hesitancy about changing software providers.

“Via didn’t promise me the moon and barely give me a streetlight,” she says. “They actually sat down with me and listened. The Via team is friendly, flexible, responsive and receptive—and fun. It may sound weird, but I feel like part of the Via family.”

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Like Kim McDaniel at Western Illinois University, 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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