Virtual Parent Engagement: Insight Discussion Series

As colleges and universities across the world become increasingly globalized communities, parent and family programs professionals must be creative with the ways in which we engage parents and families and strengthen their connection to our institutions. Often, it is simply not feasible for families to get to campus or, in return, to bring campus staff and faculty to families across the world. In determining how to fill this gap at UCLA, our Parent & Family Programs team recognized that the digital resources at our fingertips presented us with a great opportunity: to create a virtual discussion space where UCLA parents and families can feel personally connected to the individuals and issues their students encounter the most. 

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Creating Lasting Community Partners & Sponsors

All of our universities exist within a community, from small and quaint to large and urban. Establishing bridges between the university and community can reap benefits for both entities, especially in parent programming.

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Active Minds: A Mental Health Resource for Students, Parents, Professionals, etc.

On our recent AHEPPP call, I was reminded of the importance of resources. Hopefully we have all been connecting with the resources on our campuses and those available remotely as well. One of the resources I was connected to early on by our Counseling and Psychological Services department in this crisis is the Active Minds website. There are not only articles that you can share, but there are also webinars that have been offered this week, including one today for "Young Adults, Parents, Remote Workers, Neighbors/Community Members" that might be of interest. You must sign up for the webinars, but they are free and you can sign up here.

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Taking Your PFP Programs on the Road

We know that partnerships on campus are fundamental to a successful family program. Some form naturally, such as joining Admissions or the First-Year Office for summer orientations, while others may develop from a single conversation or, in our case, an opportunity that has been right under your nose.

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A Picture is Worth 1000 Words: Using Pictures to Get Your Message Out

If I had a dollar for every time a parent contacted our office saying, “This is the first time I’m hearing about this” or “Where was that information” or “I don’t think I ever received that email,” let’s just say I would be on the fast-track to retirement. In today’s busy world, campuses are continually challenged to find ways to get important information out to our student and parent/family populations in a timely, relevant and engaging fashion. As emails pile up and attention spans wane, enter the dynamic content options of social media. 

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Bringing Women Together: Celebrating the Multi-generational Relationships of our Students and their Families

We in parent and family programming are often collaboration experts as inherent in our roles we serve to connect our families to the institution in a variety of ways. These partnerships can help to maintain current relationships or create new ones that involve our families and their students in new ways. Our event, Bringing Women Together, was hosted as part of Women’s History Month at the University of Memphis. It was a collaborative partnership with the Parent and Family Services office and the Student Leadership and Involvement office as a celebration of the multi-generational relationships of our students and their families. To celebrate all of the generations at our institution, Lindsey Bray and Rachel Koch of the Parent and Family Services office partnered with Alison Brown, Coordinator for Student Outreach and Support, who oversees programming and services for our parenting students in the Student Leadership & Involvement office. Parent and Family Services invited our parents and their current students and Alison invited parenting students and their children to attend. At the free event, we hosted over 300 students and their family members for brunch and activities with two families in attendance having four generations present. 

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Breathe Nolan

Five years ago, West Virginia University student Nolan Burch died due to alcohol-related hazing activities with a campus fraternity. His death shocked our campus and jump started conversations around Greek Life at WVU.

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Parents, Ask Your Student These Questions

At Hofstra University, we have found that new college parents and family members are eager to hear and learn from our counseling professionals on appropriate parenting as their children transition to college. Dr. Merry McVey-Noble, assistant clinical director of Student Counseling Services at the Student Health and Counseling Center, Hofstra University explained to families in our workshop, How to Mentor Your Emerging Adult, that asking good questions is a great start. Here is some of her advice to parents:

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Making Inclusive Excellence a Priority in Parent and Family Programs: How We Started Our Journey at Clemson

We will start out by saying, creating a parent/ family program with inclusive excellence is a fluid and continuous process. We aren’t where we would like to be yet, but we have made significant improvements in the last few years.

To begin, here is a bit of context: Student Transitions and Family Programs at Clemson University took over retention programs for underrepresented students in 2014. At that time we had many conversations as a team on what this meant and how each and every staff member was going to need to critically examine what we were doing and what we could improve upon to strive for inclusive excellence.  We started to consistently look at what we were working on and would challenge ourselves to make it better. We were lucky to have experts in inclusive practices in our office space, and we utilized their thoughts and knowledge. At that time our unit consisted of underrepresented student retention, family programs, orientation, student leadership (for orientation and welcome week), and veteran and military programs. For the purpose of this post, we will focus on the overhauls we established within the parent and family programs unit. There were three major areas of focus: family publications, family events and our Parents’ Council (PC) (as you read through this post, you’ll notice this name changes).  

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Family Engagement During Welcome Week

As orientation season ends another begins, Welcome Week!  Many campuses are buzzing with fresh new faces of faculty, staff, and students.  Their optimistic attitudes about the possibilities of the fall semester, coupled with an eagerness to feel the spirit of campus pride, make this the most vibrant time of year! Welcome Week is a special time.  Welcome Week indicates that its the beginning of a new academic season.  It is also a time where colleges and universities typically have the attention of all its students.  Students often expect to be oriented at the beginning of the year through a host of events and activities that help remind them about the numerous resources and services available. 

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Sorority & Fraternity Life: Family Influence

I once had a friend, who is a police officer, joke that I must have made someone mad to have the responsibility of working with both parents and Greeks at Ohio State.  Though I had never really given that much thought, from an outside perspective, I can respect that opinion.  As we all know, many of our colleagues on campus have a skeptical view of family involvement in higher education.  When you couple that with the perception about sorority and fraternity communities and the reality of the major risk management issues these organizations have faced, I can understand the sentiment.  As you can guess from my story, I have the relatively unique position of working with both parent and family engagement and our sorority and fraternity community at Ohio State.  Though many family relations offices are in Student Affairs, I have not met many professionals who also directly work with student activities, especially sorority and fraternity life.  Though my role does have unique challenges (if your role doesn’t let me know if you’re hiring) it also offers unique opportunities to strategically engage families.

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A Mom's Approach to Move-In Day Poem

It’s that time of year…when parents are trying to navigate the mixed emotions that come along with launching their college students. Here’s a poem from AHEPPP Associate Member Kelly Radi that describes one mom’s approach to move-in day. She has generously offered to allow AHEPPP members to share it with your parents and families free of charge, as long as you cite Kelly Radi as the source, mention Out to Sea: A Parent’s Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage.

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Book Review: "They're Ready. Are You? A Parent's Guide to Surviving the College Transition" by Liz Yokubison

As a graduate student in Higher Education and a parent of three middle/high school students, Hanan offers her professional and personal view of this book.

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Book Review: The iConnected Parent Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up

For parents who don’t know how to stay involved with their college student, “The iConnected Parent” guides parents in building this connection by creating close communication and strong relationships. The authors—Abigail Sullivan Moore, a New York Times journalist, and Dr. Barbara K. Hofer, a researcher and psychology professor—provide information from a real data and professional research conducted at Middlebury College and University of Michigan. This book is a mixture of information and advice from professionals and parent experiences about how to stay connected while giving their children own space to grow up.  

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Shine Your Light! The Importance of Our Work

I started the Office of Parent and Family Programs at Western Michigan University in 2006 and built it from the ground up. Prior to 2006, we had a dues-based Parents Association that had about 400 members. The current database of family members connected to the department is over 17,000 and it is now known as the Office of Family Engagement. I was a one-person office up until this past year when I was given a graduate assistant who works 20 hours per week. I am sharing this insight with you from the perspective of “lessons learned” in the hope that you can find a nugget of advice from my experience.

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Getting Started in Partnering with your Development Office

Establishing a partnership with your campus development office can be key to providing resources to enhance your office and student success. Depending on your reporting structure and campus priorities, you may need to first determine where current partnerships exist. Check in with your supervisor to understand who in your division may already have existing relationships with development staff.

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My First Year...A Graduate Student Reflection in PFP

In August of 2018, I moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan from North Carolina to pursue my Master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs Leadership. As a recent graduate and convenient store cashier, I had no idea what I was getting myself into but I was excited to take on the challenge. I was lucky enough to not only have the opportunity to be in graduate school, but also to have a job that would give me experience and help me pay for school…but could I actually do the work?

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Student Leaders and Family Connection: Benefiting the University Through Engagement, Retention, and Recruitment

CAS Standards and national family program surveys provide evidence that parent/family programs nationwide are increasing in both number and scope in higher education, most markedly since the beginning of the 21st century.  Since its inception ten years ago, the Gonzaga Parent/Family Office has established an excellent track record in programming, communication, and services for parents and families; because of this established reputation, four years ago it became clear that training student leaders to work with families would benefit the university, students and families.

Preparing student leaders to help support families during university events on campus is becoming increasingly important.  When student leaders can contribute to a family’s feeling of connection, the university, as a whole, benefits through engagement, retention, and recruitment. 

One question we are often asked is, “How can parent/family professionals create competent student leaders to carry out the work that is taking place in parent/family offices?” The answer is Family Speak.  Student leaders have to be specifically trained to speak to family members and conduct themselves in a manner that is different from other student leaders. This is accomplished with intentional student leader training, which targets working with families. All parent/family professionals can benefit from training student leaders to assist them in carrying out their mission to support the new student’s entire family, as well as leveraging student leaders’ authentic narratives, relationships, knowledge and skills when relating to parents. We incorporate current students to help relay the story of our institution to our families. We found that families are eager to hear from current students about their college experience, and that students who were trained in Parent/Family Speak were better equipped for these conversations.

Additionally, this program is designed to meet student leaders where they are, and that means hosting online training with videos and modules.  At Gonzaga University, a decision to train our Parent/Family Orientation Leaders online was a new approach to helping our student leaders become more prepared for working with families during orientation.  Online training serves as a precursor component to critical topics that will be expanded upon during the in-person August Orientation Training. The Gonzaga University Parent and Family team has created modules with videos that cover a wide range of foundational topics to help student leaders prepare for their role as orientation leaders and to best provide support to new families.

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Navigate: A Webinar series for college parents

Program Description

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Working with Parents During a Mental Health Crisis

Five years ago, the University of Houston joined hundreds of colleges and universities across the country who began to hire full-time professionals with mental health backgrounds in their Deans of Students offices to support students struggling with their mental health.

I have had the privilege to be the first person to serve in this role at UH. My experience supporting student through mental health crisis spans 15 years with students from 6th grade to graduate school. I have had the opportunity to help students navigate their transitions back to campus, guide their next steps and connect them to a continuum of care. Hope Pacheco

Although my primary work is with students, I consider my work with parents during a mental health crisis vitally important to helping students make a smooth transition back to campus and begin to develop a plan of action for the rest of their semester. Parent communication during a student mental health crisis in middle and high school is mandatory; however, communication with parents at the college level is limited and can be challenging because of FERPA. I have learned to navigate through the communication challenge and find ways to be supportive and responsive even if I am unable to share specific student information.

My first contact with a parent might be after they have received a call from our university police, who on our campus have the responsibility to contact students listed emergency contact, which is most often their parent/guardian to inform them that their student is being transported to a hospital for mental health evaluation.

This call could come any time, any day of the week. For some parents, this is not an unexpected call. They may have been supporting their student through managing their mental health diagnosis since middle or high school. For others, this call is the first time they are hearing their student is struggling with their mental health. Either call can be devastating for parents and trying to get to the hospital if they live local or get in touch with their student by phone or email if they are not local can also pose many challenges, especially here in Houston, Texas, home to the largest medical center in the world.

By the time I hear from parents, they may have hit a wall trying to get any information from the hospital or it may be at the recommendation from the hospital or their student to call someone at the university to let their professors know they won’t be attending classes because of their hospitalization. As university staff, unless we have a FERPA form signed, we are also bound by privacy laws not to discuss information with parents; however, in those moments when I am fortunate enough to be able to speak to a parent while they are trying to navigate the mental health system with their student, I do my very best to be compassionate, patient and responsive.

I focus on what I am able to share with parents and not what I am unable. I focus on trying to anticipate questions parents may have and give them the space to ask questions that I may have to search for answers for them. I share the process of emergency response, what we offer and how we communication with students who are transitioning back to campus after hospitalization. I let parents know that if the student wants the parent to join us in our post hospital meeting, we are absolutely open to having parents join the meeting with the students permission. I have had to navigate the parent/student dynamics for many years and whether it is a teenager or an adult student, those dynamics don’t change that much.

I put myself in our parents shoes, and think about how I would want someone to talk to me about my child who is an adult, but will always be my child. These are very  nuanced  conversations given that not every parent and student has a healthy supportive relationship. There are some students who do not have a parent that calls, but it may be an aunt or grandmother or older sister and I follow the same approach and affirm the difficulty of the situation, offer compassion and patience if they are struggling with how to respond to help their student.

If students are transported for a mental health evaluation from our campus, they are required to meet with me for a post hospital meeting where we review their discharge paperwork and discuss their intention on following through on their treatment plan, communicating with professors, friends, family and/or roommates, their plans for continuing with their semester, their interest and need for support from on and off campus resources. With a students permission, the parent can attend the meeting and I ask about their communication plan moving forward. Many parents set up an expectation for the student to call or text at a certain time so the parent can know if they are ok. If there is not a plan in place, I recommend they discuss setting up a plan, especially for our students who have had multiple hospitalizations. I also provide information about NAMI-National Alliance on Mental Illness for parents/guardians and siblings who have unique needs and challenges as caregivers to students who have a mental health diagnosis.

At the end of the day, most of the parents I have worked with appreciate the acknowledgement that they are having to walk a fine line of letting their student experience independence and learn from their mistakes while also balancing the need to stay informed and involved while their child, our student is learning to manage their mental health.

As an administrator, I have to remind myself not to rush to judgement about college parents being helicopter parents or over parenting when we don’t always know the full story or how much worry and concern our parents have to let their students who may be struggling with their mental health out of reach. I remind myself to be present and authentic with parents, even if I can't share with them the details of their students schedule or GPA. I know I can share our processes, our approach, our commitment to their child. Working with parents keep me focused and humble.