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UB Parent Council Gets Involved
Story by Ann Whitcher-Gentzke; illustration by Michael Gelen, JD ’88
Parenting a college student can be a daunting experience—how to extend the mantle of affection while not interfering with a young adult’s personal or academic journey becomes the key question. A group of 45 UB parents is finding a way to stay involved with their children’s education through the UB Parent Council, founded in 2007 as a way to harness parent support for, and understanding of, the university and its larger mission.
The group meets twice annually–in the fall at Family Weekend and again in the spring–and functions not only as a sounding board for parent concerns, but also as a focus group for UB administrators to float or test key campus concepts and programs. The council interfaces with the larger Parent Association, which counts about 8,000 members who subscribe to a free electronic newsletter published monthly during the academic year. (All UB parents automatically are members of the larger association and can request to receive the e-newsletter.) The Parent Council also helps administer the Parent Fund, which benefits student-driven initiatives and student–relevant interests like safety, career services, health/wellness and libraries.
Parent Council members, who are mostly from New York State, serve as ambassadors at events like each summer’s orientation. Several subcommittees confer regularly—most of the time via conference phone–on personal safety, career preparation and other topics. In their interactions, they also grapple with the challenges of finding the right balance between their own campus involvement and fostering a son’s or daughter’s independence.
“I remember when I was in college at the University of Rochester, we called home once a week on Sunday nights–Madeline and I talk or text every day. I think children today are looking to their parents for guidance all the time.” Julie Waldron
Jeneane Reedy, BS ’79, of Buffalo, is Parent Council cochair with her husband, David. She’s impressed with readily available information for parents on study abroad and career internships. A nurse who works for Thomas Hughes, MD ’96, Reedy likes to peruse the Parent Association newsletter for the academic calendar, descriptions of meal plans and even hotel suggestions for out–of–town parents. She plans to stay involved in her daughter Logan’s life when Logan enters UB as a freshman this fall. (Her son John is studying at UB for a master’s degree in occupational therapy.) On the council for three years, she’s twice given the “freshman speech” to new parents. “I tell them it’s only six weeks to Family Weekend, and that you need to learn how to text–never while driving, of course–if you’re not already texting on a regular basis.”
“Like all parents, members of the Parent Council want to know and they want to know quickly when things unforeseen happen,” says Kristen Brill, coordinator of constituency relations for the Division of Student Affairs and the principal UB staff member working with the council. “They are not reticent in asking questions,” says Brill. “I think that although they have faith in the institution as a whole, they are not unwilling to push the envelope if they feel like they haven’t gotten the information they were looking for. They are the child’s advocates–that will always be the case no matter the child’s age. We’ve tried to pull together a group of parents who represent our undergraduate students geographically, as well as educationally. So in that sense, these parents also take on the larger role of advocates for all UB students, not just their own children.”
Reedy, for instance, says parents have occasionally “sounded off” on the meal system, in particular expressing concerns about how students will be served when they return from break and find that some campus facilities are still closed. “We also advocated for the installation of more blue boxes [located on campus grounds for emergency calls to University Police] and for police bicycles,” she says. “For health reasons, a nutrition program has been started. And we’re happy that there’s a drop-in center for depression and other mental health concerns. This is a big thing.”
“Moms and dads up to this point spend their whole lives being worried about student health and safety and wellness and happiness,” says Dennis R. Black, JD ’81, UB vice president for student affairs. “And then they send them to us. We shouldn’t be surprised that these are the concerns that families have. Likewise, we shouldn’t be surprised that these are concerns that we need to be working with them to address. Students are influenced positively and negatively by a variety of sources close to them and afar. Our job is to surround them with positive support, assistance, information and opportunities. Families and parents can make a significant, positive difference in these four years.”
“The UB Parent Council has been very informative in various ways–communication, advisory services, health care delivery and more,” says Cathy Pera, BS ’83, a small business owner in Buffalo and mother of Anne Marie, a junior health and human services major. “I believe the university is doing a much better job with undergraduates than it was doing when I was attending UB. Safety will always be an issue, but there is more. Students now receive more individual counseling. As parents, we appreciated being invited to meet with our daughter’s academic counselor before she started college. The job market is tight, and I feel that students have more pressure now to be career-oriented rather than ‘exploratory,’ as was the case in the past.”
“The university has a four–year window, in most cases, to attract and reap the benefits of parents’ passion for their students–the four years their son or daughter is a student at UB,” adds Rod Rusnak, analyst at Eastman–Kodak Co. in Rochester, Parent Council member since the group’s inception and father of Corey, a senior exercise science major.
“We’ve tried to pull together a group of parents who represent our undergraduate students geographically, as well as educationally. So in that sense, these parents also take on the larger role of advocates for all UB students, not just their own children.” Kristen Brill
“It’s during that interval that the university and the parent body must come together to address their collective top concerns, look for improvements, put an action plan in place and verify the positive results of their actions,” Rusnak states. “That may suggest frequent turnover individually among parents, but collectively, the university and parents can continue to work together for years to come to better their students’ college experience in terms of safety, learning, opportunity, involvement, preparedness and enrichment.”
Certainly, parents are communicating with their college–age children in a far different manner than was the case 30 years ago. “I think that in days gone by, a student would arrive with a suitcase or two for the fall and say, ‘See you at Thanksgiving’ and mom would reply, ‘Please write,’” says Black. “Today they exchange daily text messages; they can go on a website and through Skype not only say hello but see hello. They can look at a webcam of campus every day and see what the campus looks like that their son or daughter is walking through. That connection is far closer than it’s ever been and that has the potential for a richer experience for both, and some bumps and bruises along the way as well.”
“I think we are much more attuned with our children now,” agrees Julie Waldron, mother of sophomore Madeline and owner of a small marketing services and graphic communications firm in Williamsville. “I remember when I was in college at the University of Rochester, we called home once a week on Sunday nights–Madeline and I talk or text every day. I think children today are looking to their parents for guidance all the time.”
Though these parents initially became involved in campus life because of their children’s student status, they report heightened interest and awareness of the UB 2020 strategic plan and other campus priorities. Some have participated in trips to Albany to advocate for legislation benefiting SUNY and UB; others were part of an early focus group that examined the proposed Reaching Others branding campaign. They also find themselves attending more campus Distinguished Speakers Series lectures, Bulls games and other events.
Frank Frohnapple, a math teacher at Lockport High School and father of Caitlin, a sophomore prepharmacy major, has literally run into his daughter while she was on her way to class and he was on campus for a meeting. Like other parents, he makes a concerted effort to become involved in campus issues but not interfere with Caitlin’s day–to–day life at UB. “My daughter, like most college students, wants to be more independent,” he says. “So I’ve been careful not to poke my nose into her college life and experiences.”
“At some point, we need to let go—not go away—but let go,” Black observes. “If we make every choice for our student while they’re in college, are we going to make every choice for them when they graduate and get married? Are we going to make every choice for them when they graduate and get a job? At some point, we’ve got to lighten up on the leash a little bit and allow them to go. The college and university environment provides a great opportunity to do just that.”
For her part, Barbara Przybyla, manager of international operations for FedEx Trade Networks Transport & Brokerage in Buffalo, and mother of Kathryn, a senior communications major, says her family’s campus experiences have dispelled many “misconceptions” about UB’s size and its purported effects on student life.
“Initially, my concern was how my daughter would handle attending such a large university after graduating from high school with 120 girls,” says Przybyla. “Kathryn had originally looked at smaller private colleges and was accepted to several. However, when we toured UB, she knew immediately it was a fit for her. I probably had more concerns than my daughter did when she began her freshman year due to the size of the campus. I also assumed she would receive a better education at a smaller private college. I was definitely wrong!
“Being part of the Parent Council for the past three years has relieved me of any concerns I initially had. I am definitely a UB Believer–being a Buffalo–area native, we have such a gem right in our own backyard and do not always realize that. I do find that when speaking with my daughter’s friends’ parents, I am always boosting UB.”
Ann Whitcher-Gentzke is editor of UB Today.
“UB is a large school and I’m pleased that my daughter, Nora, as she entered as a freshman, became involved in a one-year leadership program where she lived in Governor’s. It helped her to find a place—along with being in the nursing program—and to become involved and connected with the campus. We have thoroughly enjoyed the Parents Council meetings—we are learning so much more about the UB 2020 plan.
I was at a meeting where they showed us pilot advertisements to run on ESPN when the Bulls played on TV. I’m basically not a sports-minded person, but this experience showed me the value of sports and how they bring visibility to UB. I have since taken a special interest in the UB football team and have enjoyed being on campus, especially on Family Weekend.”
—Ellen Balon, BS ’78, Parent Council member and mother of Nora, a UB junior, and Jennifer, a UB dental student
“My favorite thing to do every year is to attend one of the freshman parent breakfasts—they really put the human touch on it. The UB staff does a wonderful job communicating and trying to allay fears, but there’s nothing better than talking parent to parent. So every year, I get to speak to ‘fresh’ parents and talk about the things that went well, things they don’t have to worry about, things they may want to pay attention to. For example, one parent had a medical question: 'How will my student ever find a doctor here and how does all that happen?’ And even though we all get student health information in print, I was able to reassure this parent that my son went to the student health center when he got bronchitis. I was also able to share how my son had a dental emergency while at school. It took a phone call to the university health center and he got a dental appointment the same day. Parent to parent, it’s reassuring that truly all of the students’ needs can be met.”
—Georgine Rusnak, Parent Council member and mother of Corey, a UB senior
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