Category: Staff

Mapping the Synapses of International Office Management

Jason Baumgartner, key developer of Sunapsis and Director for International Services in the IU Office of International Services, presented the keynote address at this year's conference.

The International Office management system that came to be called Sunapsis was conceived in 2003 when the U.S. government implemented new rules that required much closer tracking of foreign students studying in the United States.  Increased tracking meant larger and more complex data management; it also meant that a minor failure of reporting could seriously compromise a student’s right to study in the U.S.  To complicate matters, the data that needed to be managed resided in two separate places—one in Homeland Security computers and one in university computers. 

            The earliest version of the software that became Sunapsis provided an innovative link—a synapse—between these two massive sources of data.  Developed by the IU Office of International Services, that office quickly realized that far more than immigration status could be effectively managed with the software tools that were becoming part of Sunapsis.  Orientation and data collection could begin as soon as students were admitted.  Student advising could be more focused and functional in a system that remembered advising sessions as well as important personal data.  International admissions, with its own deadline and tracking needs, could also be served by these tools—and in turn serve to collect vital information for active-student tracking later on. 

            Sunapsis thus became much more than a solution to Homeland Security regulations.   In addition to serving the technical reporting requirements of international visitors better, Sunapsis provided ways to assure that their needs didn’t fall between the cracks and to enhance their experience in the U.S. by reducing the time to sort out red tape and expanding communication and so allow students and scholars to be more fully a part of campus life.

            The unique features of Sunapsis attracted the interest of other institutions and IU found itself heavily lobbied to make the product available to others.  Since 2007, the number of institutions using the software system has grown from one (IU) to 23, representing major universities all over the United States. Once a year, Sunapsis users get together to compare notes and hear about new features. 


Jason Baumgartner, left, is chief architect of the international office management system.

           This week, the Frangipani Room has standing room only crowd, more than a hundred participants from 40 institutions, each participant with laptop in hand, to hear about checklists, encryption, e-forms, and user management.  These new tools assure that documents don’t get stuck in someone’s inbox, that collecting information from students and scholars can be handled electronically and managed without expert intervention, and that messages can be programmed to be sent automatically when needed or desired. 

            The group will also be introduced to a new module that expands the system’s service to students studying abroad.  The module manages students throughout the study abroad cycle, from program search, through application processing and dossier review, to completion and standardized reports.  Photos: Rendy Schrader


Vice President for International Affairs addresses the Sunapsis Conference 2012.


It Takes a Village

Jason Baumgartner and the future of immigration management software


It was not quite a decade ago that Jason Baumgartner proposed a renegade solution to managing the immigration and visa issues of international students and scholars.  No major software developer was attempting to capture information made available through the federal government’s data systems to institutions with international students and then weave that data together with institutional data to produce something that would spare advisors both the constant need for cross-checking and the worry that an inadvertent slip could result in a student’s being sent home.  The thought was too radical.  It couldn’t be done.  No institution the size of Indiana University should build its safety nets from homespun threads.  Too much was at stake.

Christopher Viers, the director of international services at that time and now the associate vice president for international services, went to bat to make Baumgartner’s system the foundation of the immigration services that IU provides to international students and scholars.  Formerly an advisor himself, Viers saw the potential and efficiency of this new approach. “I knew at the time it was either going to be the best or the worst decision I ever made.”  If only Baumgartner could make it work.

Make it work, he did, and the Office of International Services has relied on it for several years now.  Viers relates that “no one thought when the decision was made that other institutions might benefit from such a solution,” but Ron Cushing of the University of Cincinnati saw its potential when it was demonstrated at a regional conference.  He kept after his colleagues at IU to share the product, and his office became the first outside client of the product, now dubbed Sunapsis.  “I was sure at the time that it was the best solution around, and I have never regretted adopting it,” Cushing said.

Now, 23 institutions use Sunapsis, which has become a complete advising management tool and has extended its reach to study abroad and international admissions.  As more and more institutions signed on, it became apparent that their collective experience was exactly what was needed to grow and expand.  Representatives gathered in Bloomington this week for the first annual Sunapsis User’s Conference. They shared their separate experiences, learned new techniques, and listened to Baumgartner explain some of what the future holds for the software system.  It is a future which that group was helping to define, Baumgartner said  at the beginning of his keynote address, for the conference  was “building a community so that we can all resource together.”

For more information see the press release and the Sunapsis website.

Martha Wailes: Lifetime NAFSAN


Martha Wailes, lifetime member of NAFSA: Association of International Educators

Martha Wailes, lifetime member of NAFSA: Association of International Educators

  Martha Wailes, a former international student and scholar advisor in the Office of International Services, has been awarded a life membership in NAFSA: Association of International Educators.  NAFSA is the world’s largest nonprofit professional association dedicated to international education. The award recognizes Martha’s “profound” contributions to the field of international education, both in her capacity as advisor to IU students and scholars for more than three decades and as a member of the NAFSA Trainer Corps, responsible for assuring sound and thorough training in federal immigration regulations for new generations of international student and scholar advisors and directors.

            Wailes began her career in immigration advising when she became part of the IU Office of International Services in 1978.  Christopher Viers, associate vice president for international services said, “Over the years, Martha has taken on the thorniest and most arcane immigration issues, always with a belief that solutions can and will be found.  Success in that search made her a national figure among international educators, who frequently consulted her on their difficult visa issues.  Her tenacity has helped hundreds of IU’s international students and scholars.”

Martha Wailes Retires with 32 Years of IU Service



Martha Wailes is IU’s Statue of Liberty.  She has welcomed countless international visitors to Bloomington and carried the immigration torch for many, many of them. 

 So spoke Vice President Patrick O’Meara today at a celebration for Martha as she completes her 32-year tenure in the Office of International Services.  It has often been Martha’s lot to take on the thorniest and most arcane immigration issues, and always with a “can do” attitude.  She rarely conceded that an immigration problem could not be solved, and a generation of international IU faculty and staff have had the benefit of her stubborn refusal to give up.

 The wisdom of Martha’s advice has an international reputation.  David Fosnocht from the central office of NAFSA: Association of International Educators was on hand at the Dowling International Center to recognize her enduring national contribution. She was brought into the Office of International Services in 1978 by the then new director, Kenneth Rogers.  Current director and associate vice president, Christopher Viers, notes that in her personnel files are comments from interviewers on the hiring committee who worried about her continuing commitment to the mission of the office.  She celebrates her freedom from the daily round with a trip to the Galapagos Islands. 

Martha with (from the left) Patrick O'Meara, Christopher Viers, and David Fosnocht.

Martha with (from the left) Patrick O'Meara, Christopher Viers, and David Fosnocht.