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.

In order to create an effective online training tool, many stakeholders were consulted informally for feedback. The Director of the Parent and Family office set the vision for the training outcomes and outlined what she hoped student leaders would take away from the training experience. Below are the modules all student leaders completed in the online training portion, based upon the stakeholder’s feedback. 

As a result of participating in the online training, students took away concrete knowledge and skills and served a leadership role within the Parent and Family Office. The following are the learning outcomes we outline and hope to achieve through participation in our training.

  • As a result of participating in online and August training, Parent and Family crew members will be able to recognize the needs and concerns of first-year Gonzaga parents and families. 
  • After participating in a blended training model (an online and in-person training), Parent and Family crew members will be able to demonstrate and apply their knowledge of campus resources in their conversations with parents and families during Parent and Family Orientation.
  • Student leaders, who participate in the two trainings, will be able to submit any outstanding questions they have regarding their role and receive feedback from the Parent and Family Office staff. 
  • Student leaders, who participate in the two trainings, will be able to prepare for their roles and responsibilities as a Parent and Family Crew leader. 
  • Student leaders, who participate in the online and August trainings, will be able to appreciate Gonzaga University’s mission and discuss how the mission influences the work the Parent and Family Office is doing. 
  • Student leaders, who undergo the online and August training, will be able to evaluate their training critically and provide feedback to the Parent and Family Office about their training experience. 

To document the effectiveness of this program, we conducted surveys with all new incoming families’ parents.  We ask all families to rate their overall satisfaction with orientation and, specifically, their interaction with Parent and Family Crew members. Parents and family members gave the student leaders a 98.2% satisfactory rating.  (Below is an example of feedback received about the student leaders from a current parent.)

What Families Are Saying About the Program

The program and weekend were outstanding! Nice job to you and your team (those student leaders in the pink shirts). Very nice job!   This is the 4th move in/orientation for us and your Gonzaga move in was by far and away the best! Why?  It was stress free, comprehensive, and worked in all ways.  There were plenty of resources and people everywhere to ask questions and to help out—and they did. The people made the difference. They were all engaged, pleasant and willing to help. The Gonzaga sense of community was on display.  We really enjoyed it. Our son felt as though by Sunday afternoon he could focus on the start of his actual college coursework because everything else was checked off." -Steve, dad of Cole

 "We’ve been through orientation programs at Georgetown and University of Portland. Honey – you left them in the dust! The organization and extremely helpful students were great.” -Liz, mom of Nick

I didn't really know what to expect, but parent orientation was awesome! We are so thrilled that our son has chosen Gonzaga, and this weekend only doubly confirmed that for us. What a terrific community of people committed to developing the whole that!” -Anne, mom of Grant

The weekend orientation was amazing! It was beautifully planned and very effective for me and my son. After experiencing orientation, I am more confident than ever that he will thrive at Gonzaga, and that I’m leaving him in the care and support of extraordinary people.” -Lisa, mom of Sean

Gonzaga’s Parent and Family Relations office received a NODA national Innovative Program Award for its student leader training program 2017.

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