California State University, Long Beach
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Program Focused On Getting Family Members Involved

Published: July 15, 2015

At CSULB, various departments and offices have served parents of students in different ways over the years, but there hasn’t been any consistency or centralization of these efforts.

Until now, that is.

With the start of the 2014-15 academic year, the Division of Student Affairs embarked on a new venture of serving students with the creation of the Parent and Family Programs Office.

“We’ve always struggled with the fact that there wasn’t really one area responsible for coordinating the efforts of reaching out to parents,” said Jeff Klaus, associate vice president and dean of students. “Multiple offices have been doing bits and pieces of connecting with parents, but we felt we could be far more effective as a university if we identified a person and a program to be responsible for coordinating all of those efforts.”

Part of the Student Orientation, Advising and Registration (SOAR) Office, Parent and Family Programs will focus on reaching out and engaging parents and families of CSULB students with a mission of supporting student persistence and success toward timely graduation.

The goals of the office include helping parents and family members build a stronger connection to the university; giving them a better understanding of the student experience and familiarizing them with campus resources that can help their student succeed; and supporting the university’s efforts to increase its graduation rate.

According to Ken Kelly, director of SOAR and Parent and Family Programs, the idea of establishing a program for parents and family members to be involved with their student’s education is one that has evolved over the last decade or so.

“When I started my career in the 1980s, we use to keep parents at arm’s length,” he pointed out. “But the more we learned, especially with parents who are very active in their student’s lives, the more it made sense to involve them. It’s a matter of channeling them in the best way to help their student be successful.”

Also helping Kelly lead this new effort is Zion Smith, who moved over from her position in Student Life and Development to take on the role of assistant director of Parent and Family Programs.

Among the first-year objectives for the office is the development and launch of a Parent and Family Programs website, which is nearing completion; establishing the office as the campus’ central contact for parents and families; developing a communications plan and regular newsletter; and collaborating with the Beach Fund to assist with campus fundraising, in particular introducing the Student Emergency Fund to parents and families as a way of giving to the university.

Plans are also in the works for a new summer Parent and Family Orientation Program, which will give parents and family members an opportunity to attend their own orientation program delivered for their perspective. Ideally, it also will coincide with their student’s orientation and registration day at the campus.

This orientation will include sections on the co-curricular experience, academic experience, health and wellness, student safety—which is important to parents, the health center, counseling and psychological services, financial aid and a campus tour.

“Another important part of the orientation will be the student experience,” Kelly noted. “Usually our SOAR advisors talk to parents about what their student’s experience has been like, and we encourage parents to ask questions. We’re also adding a parent perspective component, letting parents whose children have finished at least their first year at CSULB speak to the parents of students who are just starting at CSULB to share some insights with them.”

Tasks the office are targeting for the second and third year include the establishment of a Parent and Family Association to assist with the development and planning of future events; specialty orientations, including those in different languages and different disciplines such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), whose majors who are often at-risk because of the difficulty of courses within the major; and an orientation specific to parents and families of transfer students.

“One of the things that research has shown is that the students of today value what their parents have to say,” Klaus pointed out. “So the more we are connecting with the parents and keeping them informed, the more valuable they become as partners in helping their students succeed.”

–Shayne Schroeder