Global Engagement Solutions for Higher Education

SUNY New Paltz Takes Control of Their Data with Terra Dotta

Tucked away  in the Hudson River Valley, SUNY New Paltz draws more than 7,700 students to its campus, including more than 400 international students enrolled for semester or year-long programs, degree programs, or Practical Training.

Those students kept New Paltz’s international student services staff busy as they ensured compliance with visa and academic requirements. Until recently, the team could not rely on their international student management system to streamline their work.
New Paltz needed a change—and that came in the form of Terra Dotta’s ISSS solution.
Soon after SEVIS was established in 2003, New Paltz quickly moved to implement software to ensure compliance. Over nearly two decades, the office considered switching to another vendor, but never flipped the switch. “It was just a daunting task,” said Jennie Castro, International Student Advisor.
But, by 2019, the group had reached a breaking point. They had great tech support from within New Paltz, but the software from their previous provider wasn’t meeting their needs.

Bad data
Information had to be updated in so many ways and places that it was difficult to trust any data within the system.

Integration headaches
New Paltz was never fully able to integrate the SEVIS RTI function with its previous software provider. That meant that they couldn’t quickly refresh information within both SEVIS and New Paltz’s own records, triggering the need for a lot of double data entry.  

There was this huge disconnect and a lot of workarounds.

Scattered information
To get the background information they needed as counselors prepared to talk to students, they would have to pull up information from a variety of sources.

Wasted time
The lack of integration, bad information and extra data entry led to a lot of wasted time.

The choice to move to Terra Dotta’s ISSS solution was fairly simple. The Center for International Programs at New Paltz had been using Terra Dotta’s Study Abroad for more than a decade. And the university’s IT department, which appreciated how quickly Terra Dotta resolved tickets and liked the fact that it was a cloud-based solution, was on board. Launching just months before the pandemic, the benefits came quickly.
It took three months to implement Terra Dotta’s ISSS, and it was a daunting process, Castro said. But the team had great support from Terra Dotta, New Paltz’s IT team and Alyssa Fasano, the Center for International Program’s in-house Data Coordinator. All three were key to a successful deployment.
For Fasano, the move to ISSS was a comfortable one because of her familiarity with Study Abroad. “Having that experience with the Study Abroad solution, we were able to troubleshoot a lot on our own,” she said.
And when an obstacle would present itself, Terra Dotta’s support portal usually had the answer. “Before submitting a ticket, that’s the first place we look, and a good percentage of the time, the answer is in there,” she said. “Those articles are really clearly written. The steps are really easy to follow.”
Those articles are really clearly written. The steps are really easy to follow.

  — Alyssa Fasano
Data Coordinator, Center for International Program

With Terra Dotta’s RTI Connect, New Paltz can easily log in to SEVIS RTI to access and download information into its own system. Now there’s a reliable connector between all the systems that ensures the information is consistent and reliable.
Students don’t have to wait for in-person appointments to submit documents and other paperwork. Instead, they can do it on their own time through the portal and get alerts via Terra Dotta when deadlines are coming up or forms aren’t fully completed.

“One of the nice things about Terra Dotta is it puts the onus back on the student” and empowers them to take an active role in maintaining their status.
Because documents and processes were online, Terra Dotta made it possible for New Paltz to act quickly, communicate with students en masse and ensure documents were up to date as the campus shut down and students and staff went home in March 2020. “Had it not been for Terra Dotta, I’m not sure how we would have done our jobs during the pandemic,” Castro said.
campus shut down and students and staff went home in March 2020. “Had it not been for Terra Dotta, I’m not sure how we would have done our jobs during the pandemic,” Castro said.
Instead of pulling up multiple screens and files to prepare for a meeting with a student, counselors can simply look at the SEVIS student profile page within Terra Dotta.
New Paltz can tailor Terra Dotta to its specific needs. They’ve customized the Terra Dotta interface to match New Paltz’s website. The team has added its own tags to help with reporting. And they’ve customized questionnaires and applicant and program parameters to meet their unique requirements. “There’s so much opportunity for creativity, and that makes our lives easier,” Fasano said.
As you implement any new software, take the opportunity to update your processes with an eye toward efficiency and user friendliness, Pollard recommended.
“Regardless of the technology in front of you, if you have some issues with your processes, you’re just going to recreate them in your new software. You have to sit down and get a big view of everything,” he said. “It will free you up for the things we really do like — having those one-on-ones with students or being able to help them with something that’s not a routine request.”
Right Choice
For New Paltz, the shift to Terra Dotta has cut plenty of time-consuming and inefficient tasks from their workload and allowed them to do what they do best — support their international students, particularly during the pandemic.
There are just so many factors that have proven to make Terra Dotta the right choice for us.

  — Jennie Castro
International Student Advisor

See for yourself.
Streamline your international education processes with Terra Dotta: