UMBC’S PROGRAMS for international and study abroad students have grown over the decades. But a simple fact stymied the programs’ potential: Until a few years ago, University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s global education team relied on entirely paper processes to log, manage and update student information.
UMBC’s analog approach meant staff couldn’t focus on the most important work for global education teams — cultivating relationships with students and developing new programs and opportunities that met the needs of the university community.
It was time for UMBC to join the digital age. And that’s exactly what happened when the university deployed Terra Dotta’s solutions for both incoming and outgoing students. The move transformed the way UMBC handles student applications and paperwork — and sparked growth in programs and participants.
File cabinets were stuffed with applications and documents for both incoming and outgoing students. Records were incomplete. Manual data entry led to errors. Staffers were spending about 30% of their time simply on paper processing.
Without a cloud-based system that was accessible wherever staffers were, there was no way to work remotely or pull up information quickly during an emergency. When somebody needed to access information after hours, they had to drive to campus and pull paperwork from the file cabinet. “That’s not an acceptable process anymore,” Middleton said.
One-on-one time with students often focused on the fineprint of international education — polishing applications or answering logistical questions about compliance or optional practical training. There was little time to engage with students about ways to make their experiences more meaningful.
UMBC had just one faculty-led study abroad program with seven students in 2016. Once it deployed Terra Dotta in 2017, those numbers began to grow. Middleton’s team had more time to market the program to faculty and students could apply online instead of via a paper application.
2017 2 programs | 22 students
2018 4 programs | 42 students
2019 8 programs | > 100 students
2020 / 2021 Education abroad suspended due to COVID
2022 10 programs [approved so far]
*Though it’s impossible to know the exact number because UMBC wasn’t accurately tracking the totals.
Information for both incoming and outgoing students is stored within Terra Dotta’s platform, providing a one-stop shop for both sides of the department to access the data they need quickly and efficiently. Students gained an easy and intuitive system to apply, track applications or upload required documents.
Instead of repeatedly answering the same questions during one-on-one sessions with students, advisors can now steer them to Terra Dotta where they’ll find answers to common questions.
“A lot of the advising is now built into the system,” MIddleton said. “So rather than having to sit down with each individual student and have the same conversation over and over again, it’s now self-guided.”
International students also can access draft copies of their I-20s via Terra Dotta, saving UMBC the cost of shipping physical versions via FedEx. For students, that access has been critical during COVID as they attempt to schedule visa appointments in their home countries.
The transition to remote work during COVID was made easy thanks to Terra Dotta’s cloud-based platform. “The portal became the center of the office, and people used it to communicate with each other and their students. It was a seamless step,” noted Adam Julian UMBC’s Director of International Student and Scholar Services. “There’s absolutely no way anybody in ISS could have transitioned during the pandemic without a solution like Terra Dotta.”
— ADAM JULIAN
— CAYLIE MIDDLETON