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.”