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Designing Interactive & Engaging Family Orientation Programs

If you’re a Family Engagement professional, chances are you’ve spent your fair share of time sitting through classes, presentations, meetings, speakers, etc. Chances are also good that some of these experiences have been energizing learning opportunities, while some might have fallen flat…nap time, maybe?

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Creating a Family Council – Reflections After Two Years of the Family Round Table

I will be the first to admit that I was not sure a family council was the correct course for Ohio State. How do you structure a group when you are trying to make it representative of over 45,000 undergraduate students’ families? Even if we can structure it appropriately, could we provide the level of staffing needed to support it? When our Parent and Family Relations Office was restructured in 2009, the question of having a family council or advisory board was a point of debate. The new office, with a renewed focus on fundraising, created the Parents Advancement Council (PAC), which has a focus on family engagement around fundraising and advancement. Beyond the specific work of the PAC, it was decided that dedicating resources into engaging all families versus concentrating resources into a selective family “advisory” council was the appropriate course of action. With a single staff member leading programming and communications for all families and an additional staff member leading fundraising and advancement efforts, this made strategic sense. For over 10 years the office found remarkable success providing communication and programming for all families while continuing to build on successes in family fundraising and advancement, WITHOUT a specific family advisory board. 

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Making the Most of May

As Higher Ed professionals, when we think of May many of us instantly think of May 1, the deadline for enrollment for many of our campuses, also known as National College Decision Day. Others may consider Commencement ceremonies and wrapping up the academic year. Undergraduate students and families, they may have their minds fixed on final exams and summer travel. But did you know that May is also Mental Health Awareness Month? Now, I feel confident that there are no real ties between the two, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t serendipitous; because whether the decision is where to go to college or which first professional contract to sign, landmark decisions and major events come with major stress. Now, typically, I am not one to couple activities of importance. I’m more of a one-major-event-at-a-time type of person, but if ever there was an opportunity to capitalize and double-down on activities that could benefit one another, May might just be the month for it.

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Jobs for Recent Grads: How to Help (or Hinder)

Parents are increasingly concerned about their student’s employment during and after college. As a result, they have become more involved in their grown children’s search for jobs and summer internships. The involvement is understandable…competition for these positions grows with 2 million students graduating each year, plus a fluctuating job market and the effort is more difficult. Parents are anxious to get a return on their investment after four (or more) years of tuition, as well as get their child financially independent as soon as possible to manage any outstanding debt from student loans and move out.

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Don’t Forget About Spring & Summer Enrollees & their Families

The spring semester brings about new beginnings for students and their families. In the previous semester, incoming students may feel more acclimated to their surroundings, have a better sense of support resources and services, and may have met lots of new diverse people both in class and through on-campus social events. It’s important that we ensure that all students and their families feel that same sense of belonging and acclimation in every enrollment period each year.

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Finally, Family Engagement that is More Efficient, Less Work, and Leads to Happier Parents

Parent and family professionals are doing such important work, and we are inspired by your positive impact. With so much going on today, we hear some common themes from parent & family engagement teams:
  • How can I ensure I’m reaching all parents as a small/one-person team?
  • How can I steer parents from misinformation and ensure they get the right information?
  • How can I show the positive impact of the good work I’m doing?

Fortunately, things are changing in parent and family engagement – and Nearpeer, a new platform focused on family engagement, is leading the charge. Dr. Curtis Wright, SVP of Student Affairs at Xavier University of Louisiana, recognizes the power of this innovation. “Nearpeer has created a line of communication that is not contentious. It has built community with our families, and we have been so impressed.”New practices in family engagement are refreshing because the classic approaches like email, Facebook, portals, and newsletters simply aren’t enough in 2022. These classic solutions are hampered by an overall decline in older tech. Gmail is now 18 years old, and email overall is declining as a preferred communication method. Similarly, Facebook peaked seven years ago in 2015, according to the most recent Survey of College & University Parent / Family Programs. Plus, a staggering 75% of survey respondents report that they are dealing with misinformation spread across unofficial “rogue” Facebook sites and other similar social media pages.

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Students are the Experts

Over the last few years, trends at the University of Kentucky suggest that families have become more willing and eager to believe information provided by student leaders than by professional staff. So, if you are looking for ways to incorporate your student leaders’ expertise into more of your orientation experience, here are a few ideas from the University of Kentucky Big Blue Nation Orientation.

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Less is More

As I sit paused in between orientation sessions, I practice a moment of mindfulness. I soak in the warm Carolina sun, smile at the crowds of excited families, and relish the feeling of familiarity. New Student and Family orientation has arrived, we are in person and seemingly back to all things pre-pandemic. We made it. And I begin to reflect…

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Have you Met Lexie McCarthy?

Get to know Lexie McCarthy, Director of Parent & Family Relations at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. Lexie is a two-time member of the Family Engagement in Higher Education National Conference Team and is this year's Technology Chair.

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Meet our CAS Representative, Dr. Christine Self

Meet Christine Self, Ph.D. - Director of Parent & Family Relations at Texas Tech University and the AHEPPP Representative to CAS.

How did you become involved with AHEPPP? Please also share any past AHEPPP volunteer roles.
I first joined AHEPPP back in 2013 (I think?) when I attended the Fall Conference in San Diego, and I was hooked! It was so wonderful to meet with colleagues from across the country who did the same kind of work with families that I did and experienced the same rewards and challenges of working as a higher education professional who works primarily with families. I have previously served on AHEPPP conference committees and now as the CAS representative. Volunteering with AHEPPP is incredibly rewarding!

What has surprised you most about working with parents and family members?
I’ve been surprised by how rewarding it can be to help families navigate the transition to being supporters of college students and what great partners they can be is no longer surprising to me after all of these years.

What changes do you think we will see in the field of parent/family relations in the next 5 years?

I am seeing more support for parent/family programming and communication from those outside of our areas and I hope this trend continues!

When you're not working with parents and families, how do you like to spend your time?

I love reading, cooking, hiking, and spending time with my partner and our cats.

What is the last book you read?
The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty. I highly recommend this wonderful book about the influence of African cuisine in southern cooking.

Who inspires you? Why?

I am inspired by young people. This past year, they have withstood so much change and challenges to everything we thought we knew about education and social connections. Our young people have shown themselves to be flexible and resilient during trying times, and I find that inspiring.  

If you had to eat only one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be? 


Leaders Wanted

On behalf of the Board of Directors, I am pleased to announce several leadership opportunities available for AHEPPP members.

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Picture This: Family Weekend with a Twist

What is the most important aspect of Family Weekend at my college?  It is not the events we plan, the modality, the swag (although some of our swag is pretty sweet), or the food we serve -- it is the connections we are forging.  

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Sharing the Love

As all of us in AHEPPP are aware, it’s been a difficult 12+ months for the families we work with. They feel for their students who have not had the college experience they imagined. They’ve likely dealt with disruptions to their own work and home lives, and some undoubtedly faced health implications of COVID. 

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Inclusive Practices and Supporting Special Family Populations

I heard a presenter this week that was talking about goal setting. He said to set a big goal and then little goals in order to reach that big goal. I think this is great advice as it pertains many things we do for parents and families especially when talking about race, diversity, inclusion and social justice. 

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Finding the Humor/the Silver Lining During Difficult Times

The year 2020 has proven to be the epitome of difficult times. Since January, much has been written about the many obstacles of that fateful year, but the reality is that we may all still be reeling from our experiences. Due to the significant effects of COVID-19, many of us have lost family members, friends, and job opportunities. Additionally, in this new space of our COVID reality, many of us may be battling virtual fatigue, social isolation, and let’s face it there may be a tinge of burnout looming as well.  

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Navigating New Student Orientation During a Pandemic

It’s safe to say that in February 2020, we were all living the dream. Everything was open, on-campus activity was a buzz. And, for the most part, life was as normal as it can get. 

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Other Duties as Assigned: My Experience as a COVID Test Observer

We all will certainly have very distinct memories of life during COVID that will last a lifetime. There are many experiences from the last several months in my personal and professional life that I know will stick with me—including my newfound responsibility as a COVID test observer. 

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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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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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Parent & Family Coffee Socials

University student populations continue to grow and become more diverse. As such, so do the parent/family populations they "bring with them" to our campuses. Many span the globe, with some never being able to step foot on campus more than once or twice over the entirety of their student’s educational career. UCLA Parent & Family Programs (PFP) is no stranger to this challenge and, in response to a request from families to “build community among other Bruin parents,” produced Parent & Family Coffee Socials, which occur in a number of locations around the world on a single designated date. In 2009, the program began with only a handful of locations in Southern California; however  as word has spread and enthusiastic parents have stepped up to host a social in their area, the Parent & Family Coffee Socials program has grown exponentially each year. In 2017, UCLA Parents’ Council members and volunteers hosted a record-breaking 56 locations with 21 out-of-state and 9 international locations. 

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