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.

UPIKE is a small school nestled in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. Our undergraduate enrollment is just under 1,100 and many of the students develop strong relationships with faculty and staff. It’s on those relationships that the UPIKE Family Connections program was built. 

Our program is fairly new as we are gearing up to begin our third year. Before working with families, my experience was in Public Affairs where I worked closely with Admissions, Alumni, and Advancement. My initial thoughts when hearing about the opportunity to establish this program were to join the Alumni Office at some of their receptions since they invite families of current students who live in the area. Another early idea was to partner with Admissions to host events at high schools. However, sometimes we have to get past our initial mindsets and expectations to be open to new ideas. When we established the program, we knew out-of-town events would be one of our initiatives, but what we originally had in mind and what our UPIKE Family Road Shows have become are entirely different. 
First-year academic advisors are among the front-line advocates for our students. As they start to develop their campus support system, students often want to introduce advisors to their families. Sometimes introductions happen via FaceTime or when families visit campus to pick up their student for fall break and, in our case, it’s nearly always when advisors meet families where they are.
When our football team traveled to Waleska, Georgia, at the encouragement of many of our first-year football players, our advisors traveled on their own time and dime to support their students. However, they weren’t just “fans in the stands.” They sat with the families of our students, hugged them, and swapped stories over dinner after the game. Upon their return to campus, we heard about the number of families that traveled to the game and the appreciation they showed our advisors for making the trip to support their students. We immediately knew that was where we needed to be, and at that moment, the UPIKE Family Road Show was born.
Rather than trying to establish a new event, we knew we needed to meet them where they were already. Seems obvious, right? Students are the draw for families to attend events and families are drawn to their students’ athletic events. Families are accustomed to traveling to watch their son or daughter on the field or court. They are prepared. They have the tailgate supplies, bleacher cushions, and “proud parent” apparel. We are meeting them in their comfort zone, and they love it. Family Connections and Student Success, along with a team of student ambassadors, are there to support them and simply join them in cheering on their students. We also serve a post-game meal so that families can enjoy time with their student before sending them back to campus, as well as get to know the people that support them while they’re there.
The next fall, when we faced the same opponents, we launched the UPIKE Family Road Show. In addition to the 100+ members of football team we welcomed nearly 200 family members during a post-game BBQ, and it was something special. 
To date, we have hosted three events including football in Marietta, Georgia, men’s and women’s bowling in Dayton, Ohio, and the cheerleading squad and dance team in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We have welcomed families from across the country, some traveling more than 25 hours to attend the event, watch their student compete, and get one more extra hug before they return to campus.
Maybe you aren’t building a new program but are looking for ways to re-energize current programming and campus partnerships. We encourage you to look around your campus, follow the energy, trust your campus relationships, and lean into an opportunity that may be right under your nose.
Embrace the idea that everything doesn’t always play out as we imagine. Sometimes it might be better.
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