Mentally Preparing, Navigating, and Transitioning back to “Normal”

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on every part of our daily lives -- routines have been all but lost, and modalities of connection and communication have been forever altered. For those of us lucky enough to have supportive institutions, this time has provided an opportunity to try new things and meet the needs of families in unique and different ways. On the flip side, this time has also gravely impacted our energy levels and mental health. As vaccine distribution increases there is a beacon of hope that many of our campuses and departmental operations will return to bustling in-person communities for Fall 2021.Yay! 

While I am extremely excited for students, families, faculty and staff to return and breathe life back into our campus, I am also acutely aware of  how hard this year will be, perhaps even more so than while working remotely. As such, I have tried to impress this realization onto my team. Some of you may read that and think, “Gosh, how pessimistic!” My goal is not to be a Debbie Downer, but rather to mentally prepare my team (and myself) for the long road ahead, and help them understand that budgets, programming and expectations are not going to bounce back to the way they were before March 2020. My intention is to help my team (and myself!) set realistic expectations and think outside the box as we will have to continue to be creative and resourceful to meet the needs of our constituents. 

We may be approaching “the other side”, but the question remains … “on the other side of what?” The effects of COVID-19 and the past year’s social justice awakening will continue to reverberate throughout higher education for years to come. Our economy, our institutions and our students and families have been impacted financially, and there is a trend right now in mainstream media prompting individuals to question: “Is college even necessary?” Now that we have proven virtual and hybrid programming is possible, there is likely to be an expectation that we will continue to offer these formats in addition to any in-person programming. This new reality will further stretch our already limited resources and pose unique challenges with our expected budget reductions in the coming years. The landscape of our work has changed and the sooner we recognize this and plan to adapt, the better off we will be moving forward. 

Now, I recognize the outcomes of this past year are not all doom and gloom. For some of us this time has also opened up space to be more flexible and leverage remote work. In turn, this may afford us more time with our own families and loved ones, shed long commutes, and help us become more efficient in the way that we work.

Once we have reflected on the challenges and opportunities ahead, we need to prepare tools and resources for ourselves to best navigate the year. I imagine this will require a bit of introspection in conjunction with leaning on our amazing colleagues in AHEPPP. With regard to introspection, we need to clearly define our own mission and goals, and confirm that they still align with those of our institution. We may be asked to take on new or different responsibilities in our roles, our office structures may be altered, and we may gain or lose staff. At the core, we need to be prepared to ask ourselves “Is this still where I want to be?” and, if the answer is “No,” then we need to have a plan and timeline in place to pursue other opportunities. As for leaning on our colleagues, I hope we all have the opportunity to attend the virtual AHEPPP conference this November and engage with one another on the new and creative ways in which our fellow PFP professionals have approached their work in supporting families. In addition, these professional development spaces afford us the opportunity to commiserate with one another, and share in the familiarity of the work and challenges we’ve experienced over the last year. Having time to do the latter can really be cathartic and helpful to our own mental health and resolve to get through another uniquely challenging year. 

Perhaps more than ever before, universities around the world are recognizing the importance of parents as partners. In your role, you can lead your institution to successfully engage with families and harness the power of this partnership. Whatever the future holds for us, know that you have the capability and compassion to navigate through it. When all is said and done, I hope you, dear reader and colleague, know that you are valued and OF VALUE to the incredible families you serve at your institution; and if/when you are not feeling that, plug into AHEPPP and connect with me or anyone else in this organization to help lift your spirits and remind you that you are not alone in this work. 


Alex Brown is the Senior Director, Student Alumni Programs & Family Engagement at UCLA and a member of the AHEPPP Board of Directors.

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