CHAPEL HILL – Study abroad programs, not just on-campus studies, came to a screeching halt at most universities when the COVID-19 pandemic initially struck. Seizing an opportunity, one Chapel Hill edtech company is helping hundreds of institutions – including many big names – not only maintain but enhance global education programs.

Terra Dotta, which counts some 600-plus universities including many of the most prominent in the Triangle and several in the Ivy League as clients, says it has expanded its offerings to help these institutions “reimagine” global engagement. These include virtual options, specialized trips and new safety protocols.

“People are realizing that the virtual engagement over Zoom with people from other cultures is actually a practical representation of how many future interactions will take place,” CEO Anthony Rotoli told WRAL TechWire.

“Some of the cultural immersion is lost, true,” he added, “but the practical experience of interacting with people from different cultures is still there.”

Anthony Rotoli

Distance or virtual learning, triggered by the pandemic, has extended to global education.

For American students who had their study abroad programs affected, many have opted instead for virtual experiences – joining classes and cultural events online. On the flipside, international students who had planned to come stateside are now engaged in online learning with a U.S. institution from their home country.

Terra Dotta has rolled out new software to meet these shifting demands, including advanced reporting, a new student portal, and a “next generation” user experience.

“We have customers that are using our solutions to completely blur the lines between what used to be considered very separate – study abroad and international education,” Rotoli said.

Another bonus: the virtual option has opened up accessibility.

Students who previously couldn’t participate due to lack of funds or disabilities are now taking part.

“This is an example of COVID accelerating trends in society, sometimes for good,” he said.

Pivoting in a pandemic

Terra Dotta was founded in 2001 by Brandon Lee and and Garret Christian, who is also still with the company, serving as chief strategy officer.

It offers cloud-based solutions and mobile apps to automate and streamline all aspects of global collegiate travel and international student programs.

Even in a pandemic, Terra Dotta says it has gained new customers, such as the University of Denver, Wesleyan University and Douglas College – and “a number of Ivy League schools” which the company can’t identify.

Terra Dotta image

A screenshot of Terra Dotta’s platform

“The pandemic has certainly changed the dynamics of international education and introduced new challenges with widespread travel limitations,” said Rotoli, but he maintains there’s a strong “undercurrent of demand.”

“Global education experiences are critical for developing our future leaders,” he explained. “We are proud to continue advancing our solutions.”

Before the pandemic struck, Terra Dotta had reported plans to expand its workforce by up to 30 percent.

It came on the heels of raising $3.4 million in new capital by LNC Partners.

“The pandemic certainly changed the trajectory of our hiring plans,” Ratoli said, “but we have continued to add employees.”

The firm currently has 70 employees, and is looking to hire this year “across development, sales and marketing.”

Poised for growth, Chapel Hill edtech firm Terra Dotta goes on hiring spree