It’s a Smaller World After All

A CTO’s perspective on higher ed, technology, and studying abroad in 2019.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

More than 332,000 Americans studied abroad for academic credit at their home institutions during the 2016-2017 academic year, according to a report cited by the U.S. Department of State. This was a 2.3 percent increase from the previous year. Approximately one in 10 U.S. students study abroad during their undergraduate career. 

Closely monitoring trends in this area, and the value that studying abroad can bring to a student’s perspective on the world is Brendan Haggerty, Chief Technology Officer for Chapel Hill, N.C.-based Terra Dotta, a leader in higher education travel, study abroad, and international program management solutions. 

With more than 20 years’ experience in software development and SaaS operations, Brendan is responsible for the higher education travel risk management, study abroad and international programs management solutions provider’s Development, Professional Services, and Customer Support organizations.

‘Studying abroad was one of my favorite college experiences so I’m thankful to have a role in making that possible for more students.’

Prior to joining Terra Dotta, Brendan was the Chief Technology Officer for customer experience solution provider Clarabridge, where he oversaw the product as it grew from startup phase to a SaaS solution processing billions of customer feedback records annually. He managed the Operations and Customer Support Organization, which supported global data centers with 24/7 support on 400+ servers. Brendan also previously worked for SAP as a Product Manager for SAP Public Sector Procurement and was a Senior Principal at American Management Systems earlier in his career.

Brendan received his master’s degree from Carnegie Mellon University and his undergraduate degree in Computer Science from Bucknell University, which included a semester abroad in the United Kingdom.

How did your previous roles prepare you for higher ed tech?

Brendan: My background in the public sector and in highly regulated environments has been helpful as Terra Dotta’s international admissions solution, e.g. ISSS, has a lot of regulatory components given the complexity of immigration compliance, interfacing with the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration and maintaining SEVIS standards. In addition my experience in analytics software has been critical to helping develop client-facing solutions that harness the power of data to drive business decision making. Identifying and understanding student trends through ongoing analytics can help continuously improve study abroad programs and logistics management.

What are higher ed tech decision makers most concerned about when it comes to education abroad? Or what should they be concerned about?

When it comes to education abroad higher ed tech decision makers are most concerned about striking the right balance between safety and security and the privacy of the student. The ubiquitousness and availability of consumer technology has made a high level of duty of care more attainable, which is helpful amid increasing global tensions; however, balancing the always on, always trackable tech advancements with privacy compliance and ethics is a delicate balance.

Looks like you studied abroad as a college student – how does that experience influence your role in education abroad today?

Studying abroad was one of my favorite college experiences so I’m thankful to have a role in making that possible for more students. I went to London as part of an internship program during my junior year with a 50/50 split of time in school and working. This experience helped shape my world view and gave me valuable global professional experience. Enabling more students to study abroad is invaluable for getting students out of their comfort zones and broadening their perspectives.

What global dynamics are impacting international admissions and education abroad?

International Admissions has been impacted by recent immigration policies and the global perspective of how welcoming the US is to immigrants. The US has long been a top destination for international students but these policy changes, combined with competition from other countries, have put a damper on international student interest and attendance in attending US institutions. Today, US institutions are facing more competition from Canada and Australia. This increases the pressure to make the international admission process—application, compliance and onboarding—more streamlined and more efficient as timing matters. Also, in education abroad student safety and security are more in focus amid heightened global tensions and decisions about what’s safe and what’s not are impacting where students feel comfortable living and travelling and may even restrict their experiences based on those perceptions.

How is technology making a difference in education abroad?

Technology has been a big enabler for higher education abroad. It may sound cliché but in the case of education abroad, technology is making the world a smaller place. Traditional language or navigation barriers are alleviated by smartphones – whether a student can hold up phone and translate a conversation with someone fluent in another language or use navigation tools to locate their next destination. When I studied abroad, I remember it being the worst feeling to get off a train in a foreign country and not know where you were going to sleep or what you were going to visit and how to get there. Technology has all but erased many of those limiters. On the other hand, technology makes it incredibly easy to stay connected with people back at home – limiting the opportunities to truly be immersed in local culture. It is too easy to self-isolate.

What’s your take on the state of education today? 

Higher education today is in a transitional period. No longer is education only in the classroom or lecture hall. Experiential learnings are becoming more and more important and are impacting the college experience. Colleges and universities are finding the balance of a liberal arts education with more specialized career tracks as students become more focused on the schools and programs that will impact their careers.

‘Higher education today is in a transitional period. No longer is education only in the classroom or lecture hall. Experiential learnings are becoming more and more important and are impacting the college experience.’

Combined with the prevalence of technology it is harder and harder to keep students engaged – this is where experiences outside of the classroom are most impactful. In study abroad this means more week-long opportunities, during spring break or summers, that are tied directly to coursework. We are also seeing more exchange programs where two years are spent at a US institution and two years at an international school.

What role should technology play? 

Technology is critical as it takes the administrative burden off students, faculty and staff. Repeatable processes and communication can be streamlined with technology and free up time and put more time and energy in education rather than administration. Also, technology is changing the way we communicate. In education abroad language assessments are important for both incoming international students and students studying abroad outside the US. Real-time video is advancing these assessments and also exposing students to valuable real-life skills as the use of video in the workplace expands to facilitate global teams.

What’s coming? What are a few issues and challenges on your radar concerning education, technology, or anything else? 

AI has been the talk of the town for a few years but it is now reaching a more practical level with real-world capabilities like virtual advising. However, the key to utilizing AI successfully is to leverage it in smart ways without losing the human touch. We’re also seeing a rise in analytics capabilities, including making the leap from reporting on what happens into using data for more predictive analytics. By analyzing data and traffic patterns, universities and colleges can utilize technology to predict high demand programs and areas of interest, which can help institutions get –in front of budget cycles and new program ideas. Additionally, from an education abroad perspective, we’re seeing exchange programs become more open in terms of automated data exchange with partnered institutions. As a result, students can more rapidly confirm critical information like whether they can secure coursework equivalency.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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