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Behind the Scenes With Parent & Family Programs

Priscilla Childress


Many people are surprised when they learn that colleges and universities have a department specifically to help family members empower their students to be successful.

When someone finds out I work with family members, they ask me why such a program exists — and my first instinct isn’t to answer as an employee, but as a mom.

We often forget that the student isn’t the only one going through a transition — it’s a process for the whole family. I had lots of questions when my daughters left for college, and having someone to talk to about my concerns was very helpful.

Then I get asked if I really spend all my time helping family members. Short answer, yes, I do. Like many Parent & Family Programs around the country, mine is a one-person office. My days fly past as I multitask on many different projects. It’s a fun job!

In my program, I live by the motto of “engage, educate and encourage.” Here’s what that looks like…

Engage

This is my favorite part of the job. I love getting to know our family members and their students. I spend four years with them from orientation through graduation, and love seeing each student’s growth.

Communications

I engage my community in several different ways. First is my e-newsletter, which offers family members an inside look at our university. I lean on different campus offices to provide content, ranging from housing info to details about internships to upcoming athletic events. If your student’s school has a parent newsletter, be sure to sign up for it!

I also engage via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, posting at least twice daily. Some of my posts are done ahead of time but I also post photos of things happening on campus in real time. I’m always looking for opportunities to showcase our students and their activities to our family members!

Events

One of the biggest parts of my job is planning events such as orientation and Family Weekend. These events require year-round planning — for example, the day after our September Family Weekend is over, I start working on the next year’s Family Weekend!

Since I love planning events, I really enjoy this aspect of my position. Everyone who works in Parent & Family programming is excited to be able to host in-person campus events again although pandemic health and safety protocols will still be in place.

Be sure to take advantage of whatever your student’s school offers — it’s so fun to visit them on campus and get to know their world.

Educate

Since none of us come from the same backgrounds, same experiences, or have the same opportunities, it’s so important to help students and families learn about the campus, its workings and the fundamentals of attending college.

Orientation is a great example of how we do this. I once asked my mother what she remembered about my orientation. Her response? “What orientation?” Back in the caveman days when I went to college, there was no one specifically to answer my mother’s questions. Thank goodness things are different now.

There is no cookie cutter orientation — it’s different at every school, every year, and for every student and family. I spend a large amount of time planning unique sessions and activities for our family members. Summers are tiring and long…no vacation until late fall for Parent & Family Program staff!

But that’s okay, because when students and family members leave orientation, they are so excited for the upcoming year. Their questions have been answered and their fears have been eased. That is what the job is all about for Parent & Family Program professionals.

Encourage

In my opinion this is the most important part of my job. I am the face of the university for our family members — their resource, their shoulder to cry on, a person to vent to, and the one they reach out to when they have concerns.

I get phone calls, texts and emails from family members daily and answer questions from “When is Family Weekend?” to “Who does a student talk to if they’re having trouble in a class?” I’m a lifeline for parents, giving them tools to help their student be successful. It’s an amazing feeling!

I do hear from family members at all hours of the day and all days of the week. Luckily they understand that I’ll get in touch with them when I’m back in the office or have the information they’re looking for.

If I don’t know the answer right off the bat, I assure them that I’ll soon be able to point them in the right direction. That eases their mind. They know someone cares about their student, and that’s all that matters to them.

That is the joy of being a Parent & Family Program professional. Yes, we work on weekends, often with understaffed offices, and have very little downtime. But, for me, the trade-off is worth it. Helping family member from the very beginning of their student’s college journey to the day they graduate provides a wonderful sense of satisfaction. And that can’t be bought!

Priscilla Childress has worked with Parent and Family Programs for more than a decade and currently serves as Director of New Student Orientation, Family Programs and Student Affairs Special Events at Missouri State University. Priscilla is the mother of two college graduates.

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