Expanding Your Team through a Partnership that Benefits Families & Campus Partners

The Background

Hello!  This is Whitney from the University of Cincinnati where we have experienced unprecedented growth over the last twenty years fueled by athletic success (including a move to the Big XII Conference) and nationally ranked programs, such as our #1 co-op program. In the last ten years, we became a Carnegie Classified residential campus with demand for housing dramatically outnumbering our number of beds. A larger student body means they need more resources, more housing, more classes, more everything. And, it means more families, too! It was time for Parent & Family Programs (PFP) to get creative in meeting their needs.

How did it happen?

With record-setting growth on campus, we were already feeling the strain of increased calls on our small team of 1.5 staff members. Then, COVID-19 hit. Navigating the pandemic was a new experience for all of us, filled with challenges and a record setting volume of family communications. Nothing in our education or training could have prepared us for the mental, physical, and financial strain to come.

Throughout the 2020-2021 fiscal year, calls and emails from family members continued to increase. We track and categorize all our family member contacts, so we were able to analyze call and email themes and increases overtime. We found that 41% of our calls and emails that year were related to residential student needs and housing questions. That also represented a 343% increase in calls and emails related to this population and office. Our housing and residence life teams, who were navigating the crisis on the ground, were also experiencing increased call and email volume from families. This presented an opportunity for our office to partner differently with Housing staff to better support families and support each other as colleagues.

Accordingly, we advocated to our VPSA to create a new position dedicated to communication efforts and focused on supporting family members around residential student needs and housing questions. We emphasized that this new role would allow both of our departments to focus on our areas of expertise – Housing on the residential experience and PFP on communicating with and addressing family member concerns. She agreed and asked us to put together a proposal that could be shared with university leadership. Ultimately, we presented the proposal to Housing (which is housed outside of Student Affairs on our campus) and the VP of Finance & Administration. They all agreed this new model would allow us to build on our existing partnership and maximize our teams’ respective strengths. They provided funding for 100% of the new position.


What was included in the proposal?

The proposal included data around the increase in quantity of calls and emails and estimated time spent on these calls (by both our team and time that could be saved by Housing if we addressed their family member calls). Additionally, we described that adding the position would enhance our process by:

  • Establishing formal, intentional messaging to family members about the benefits of the residential experience. 

  • Ensuring family members (often the decision makers and financial supporters) are educated on the housing process, residential experience, and accompanying resources (dining plans, parking passes, etc.)

  • Better equipping the University to respond to inquiries about the residential experience in a timely fashion with a dedicated professional.

  • Reducing call and email volume coming into an already stretched thin Housing staff.

  • Developing a partnership that would allow PFP to always have the latest information to effectively address concerns and promote the important housing/residence life.

What happened? Who got hired?

Hi! Caitlin here! This is where I enter the story. My background is in new student orientation, residence life, student activities, and first-year experiences. Before this role, I was working as a Senior Human Resources Coordinator on the Leadership Team within Resident Education and Development at UC doing a ton of recruiting and hiring. This was good and meaningful work, but I always felt like I could give UC and Student Affairs something more and use more of my skillset. When this position was posted, I finally felt like "this is it!" as I wanted to be in a role where I could get people through some of their toughest days and some of their most special days. It was as if all my skills and experiences were being called on. I started on August 1, 2022, and our Housing team was working feverishly to ensure every first-year student who applied for housing by the priority deadline received a bed. Phone lines were jammed, and I did not have a lot of experience yet, but I was eager to support our Bearcat Families and our overwhelmed Housing staff members. So, I jumped right in and started picking up the PFP line. I carefully navigated tense and demanding phone calls, but by the end of most calls, both ends of the line sighed with relief. I addressed many situations with my knowledge of the housing process and a friendly, listening ear. Other situations required partnering with Housing on solutions, but together we were able to support families in a way that we never had before. Despite the stress and what felt like the bottomless inbox, we were making a difference. I felt like the child in the Starfish storyas I was always thinking “at least we made a difference for this one!”

What tools do you need to be successful in a partnered role?

  • Access to systems – StarRez, or your occupancy management system, is a big one. This has allowed me to see not only where students live, but their meal plan, applications, email communications, roommates, room vacancies, and more. There have been times when I do not have all the information I need from the family member, and I have been able to piece things together to form a more complete picture of a situation. This information has also told me EXACTLY who on the housing and residence life teams I need to contact in each situation.

  • Understanding of the process, the pain points, and the policies – Having an idea of how certain areas work allows you to think creatively to solve issues for students and their families. For example, did a student get waitlisted for housing? Are they interested in joining one of our Living-Learning Communities, which have reserved spots set aside?

  • Regular meetings with their team – I worked hard to normalize that I am not just a campus partner, but an extension of the Housing and Residence Life teams. This means showing up at staff meetings, intentionally going out of my way to stop by their suite to check in and keeping them updated on our messaging.

  • Key contacts and relationships - In ANY office, it is important to know who is going to pick up your phone call or answer your instant message with a moment’s notice. And it is important to be that for their team. Work on building those relationships. You can volunteer for their events.

  • Toot their horn in the right spaces. The PFP team has made it a point to physically show up at our campus residential areas. We show up for the pomp and circumstance, but we also are there during the tough times to speak directly to families and provide backup to Residence Life Hall staff. This has gone a long way for building trust and strong relationships with new and seasoned staff members.

What are the outcomes?

The new model has been highly successful for both PFP and the Housing team. We have been able to reduce their call volume and provide better support for our Bearcat Families. We are communicating housing information much more frequently and families (and their students) are better equipped to thrive within their residential experience. A couple of things I am particularly proud of are:

  • Close Partnership with Housing. During the fall to spring transition in the 2022-2023 school year, University Housing had a ton of change happening. Due to our demand, students were being housed in local hotels. Additionally, one of our largest residence halls, Calhoun Hall was re-opening following a complete renovation. We had to transition all the hotel residents into Calhoun Hall. Housing’s Assistant Director of Communication and Customer Relations and his team spent a lot of time and energy communicating these messages directly with students. He and I have worked very closely to be on the same page regarding housing communications and ensure students and families fully understand what is happening and what steps they need to take.

  • High Engagement from Families. During that same period of transition, we had to make sure our 6,200+ residents had information to successfully move-out for winter break. I posted the critical details for move-out on our UC Family Portal on November 14. We had 4,193 clicks on that post! University Housing reported that it was the smoothest transition period that they had ever had with students leaving when they were supposed to leave and proactively seeking assistance if needed. Families are paying attention!


While our campus is still navigating the challenges that come with rapid growth, I think I have made the burden of communication a bit lighter for our Housing team. In a fall 2022 focus group this year, a student told our division programming group “if you want me to do something, tell my mom.” This really drives home the vital role we play in supporting and communicating with families and the impact we can make on students through these roles. At the end of the day, I am loving the position. It is what I hoped it would be. I go home feeling like I made a difference, and that has to count for something.

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