Implementation of Terra Dotta improves Off-Campus Study Processes
By Tim Borfitz
As one of Colgate’s flagship programs, the Office of Off-Campus Studies (OCS) has always been a strong component of our liberal arts education. In 2016, Nicole Simpson, associate dean of international initiatives, and Joanna Holvey Bowles, director of off-campus study, identified the need to improve the application process, marketing, and risk management for all off-campus study programs and Colgate-sponsored international travel. Used by a majority of universities nationwide as well as by the New York Six schools, Terra Dotta software was recommended as the best solution for Colgate.
As the leader in study-abroad and international travel management solutions, Terra Dotta couples its feature-rich, flexible, and easy to use software with employees who are experienced in higher education and off-campus study offices.
Working with (ITS) to ensure data security and software integration, and to secure funding, the project kicked off in the summer of 2017.
We could do better
Without Terra Dotta, the OCS application process involved cumbersome manual processes with Google documents and spreadsheets to flow information between offices. The inconveniences for students, faculty, and staff were apparent and the processes were ready for improvement.
“Having a database tool would free up staff time to concentrate on the goals of cross-cultural learning, individual advising, faculty support, and effective crisis response. We also needed to focus on improving online procedures and data collection to assist with specialized advising for nontraditional locations, which is a strategic goal,” said Joanna Holvey Bowles, director of OCS. It’s all about the process As with any new software implementation, process review is key to its success. Project leads Holvey Bowles and Aaron Solle, operations and communications manager for the Center for International Programs, led the staff through process discussions and decisions to help manage the change that was needed. Solle did the lion’s share of the work setting up the Terra Dotta user experience and configuring the application process to match Colgate’s needs.
Joe Alfonso, ITS, worked with Terra Dotta to set up single sign-on so users can use their Colgate credentials to access the system.
Jim Jerome, ITS, created the data interface from the Banner student system to enhance the functionality and usability of Terra Dotta for students and faculty.
With Terra Dotta, it is easier for students to apply for off-campus opportunities. Programs with different housing requirements can feature different questionnaires based on the accommodations available. Students receive digital reminders during the application phase and student profiles can dynamically drive the questions asked on an application. For example, students with specific majors may have to complete additional questions on their applications.
The application and study-abroad information in Terra Dotta is accessible for one-stop shopping across campus for those with a need to know. The system allows for “Learning Content” before, during, and after admission, so that specific readings or assignments can be recommended to Colgate students in preparation for going abroad. Destination-specific informational videos can be made available to better prepare travelers for their experience.
As the Terra Dotta system administrator, Solle explained they “want to improve student access to Colgate-sponsored study groups, specifically through streamlining admissions procedures, avoiding advising complexity, and providing flexibility in programming and support.” He adds that “OCS wants to implement higher standards in off-campus programming and advising to the Colgate community instead of spending time tracking individual, manual paper systems.”
At the end of March 2018, OCS used Terra Dotta for the extended-study application for the first time, which went off without a hitch. In October 2018, Terra Dotta will be used for Study Group applications for Fall 2019 and Spring 2020.
Traveling abroad and risk mitigation
Also in March, OCS rolled out the travel registry to Career Services, the Center for Leadership and Student Involvement, and the Office of Undergraduate Studies. The purpose is to collect independent travel information from students and faculty outside of study groups, approved programs, and extended studies. With this new travel feature, the goal is to know where the off-campus Colgate population is located in case of an emergency, and to be able to communicate directly with them. Terra Dotta offers unique features including side-trip registration, location search, and text communication to help locate and communicate with travelers in the unfortunate event of an incident in their location. For example, during an international or domestic incident, the system can be used to send special instructions to Colgate groups or individuals who are traveling away from campus, allowing Off-Campus Study to better serve the Colgate community in times of crisis