2019 Award Winners: Where are they now?

Are you thinking about nominating someone for a National AHEPPP Award?  Have you ever wondered what the impact is for someone winning the award?  

The 2020 Awards Co-Chairs had the opportunity to check in with two 2019 award winners: Bryson Purcell (Outstanding Student), former student at Bloomsburg University and current Assistant Director of Admissions at American University, and Alexandra Brown (Outstanding Mid-Level Professional), Senior Director of Student Alumni Programs & Family Engagement at UCLA.  Here’s what they have to say about their involvement with AHEPPP, working with parents and families, and about what provides magic in their work.

What provides you magic in your job?

  • Bryson: The best part about my current position (Admissions Counselor) is the fact that I get to work with both first-year students and their parents as they search for the right college fit. Being a first-generation student myself, the “magic” comes from working with both groups, sharing my story, and advocating on their behalf to ensure they are on the right path before they even begin their academic journey.

  • Alexandra: I’m so grateful for the relationships I have built with our Parents’ Council members. These individuals consistently go above and beyond to be incredible ambassadors for UCLA, and champions for our office. Their dedication and positive presence (i.e. volunteering at events on/off-campus) have really created awareness and appreciation for family involvement amongst many of my colleagues at UCLA. The true magic has been witnessing the evolution of campus partners’ attitudes toward parents/families in the 7 years I have been here, recognizing their partnership can positively impact the student experience, and personally feeling valued as an expert of P/F engagement for UCLA.  

How has AHEPPP supported you through challenges?

  • Alexandra: AHEPPP has been an integral source of support to me in a multitude of ways: I’ve built a network of colleagues across the US that I often turn to for advice when facing uniquely challenging or new situations with our constituency; I consistently walk away from the annual/regional conferences with new ideas and inspiration to introduce on my campus; and I’ve had the opportunity to serve in various volunteer leadership positions with the org, which has stretched and grown me both professionally and personally.

How do you win over or inspire parents to be your advocate?

  • Bryson: The biggest piece of advice with this is to be relatable. You aren’t just a Higher Ed Administrator, you are human too! Empathize with your supporters, share your personal experiences, be their ally. The more you can show that you are a support system for not only their student but for them, the more trust they will instill in not only you but your institution. 

  • Alexandra: Honesty, transparency and authenticity. In particular, I employ this approach with our Parents’ Council leadership and work to provide them with the information and tools they need to be superior advocates to their peers.  

What is the most impactful program that you do?

  • Bryson: New to the university this year, we changed our annual Accepted Student Day to an Accepted Student Weekend adding an overnight aspect to the event. This not only gave the students a sense of belonging to the university but also allowed parents of incoming students the ability to connect with each other and share their stories. The feedback we received was overwhelmingly positive and I hope to expand it next year.

  • Alexandra: This is hard to narrow down –I find so many of our programs impactful, but I would say at the core of all programming and events is our Parents’ Council. The members of this org are infused into every single thing we do and are truly an extension of our full-time staff, providing support and advocacy to the broader parent/family community.

How did winning an AHEPPP award effect how you feel and what you do?

  • Bryson: I was completely shocked when I heard the news! I didn’t even know that my former supervisor had nominated me. Like most individuals in this field, I don’t do it for recognition, I do it to support the family members and supporters of first-year students. Watching them take a sigh of relief after fielding their questions and concerns is internal satisfaction enough for me. I am extremely grateful to have been selected for this award and I hope to continue involvement within the organization. There are so many passionate individuals in this association that I can learn so much from! 

  • Alexandra: I was honestly shocked to be recognized as Mid-level professional. I literally love going to work every day – I love the families I get to interact with (the nice ones AND the more challenging ones), my team is fun and dedicated to our work, I could go on and on. Being recognized with this award was icing on the cake and inspired me to “double down” so-to-speak in all the ways I lean into my work and leadership (with my team and my AHEPPP colleagues).

If you had one piece of advice for those who are new to the field, what would it be?

  • Bryson: Flexibility and Confidence. Having those two attributes in this line of work are KEY. Things are going to change, difficult questions will be asked, and you will succeed. 

  • Alexandra: Find your “people” – both on your campus and through AHEPPP. Build a network of trusted advisors and supporters so you can confidently navigate and advocate for the parent/family world on your campus.

Anything else you would like to share….?

  • Bryson: I would just like to thank AHEPPP and the award selection committee again for this award. Being a recent graduate and new professional, I am forever grateful have received this honor and to be a part of AHEPPP. I look forward to becoming more involved as I progress through my career. 

  • Alexandra: This work is not always easy or straightforward, and sometimes we may feel challenged beyond our limits. This is my favorite quote to help me through those moments: "Learn to smile at every situation. See it as an opportunity to prove your strength and ability." -Joe Brown

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