Get Involved

The transition to college can seem overwhelming for a multitude of reasons: new living situations, new people, academics, freedom, and responsibilities to name a few! It would seem the statement “Get involved” would be the last advice we would give our students, but that is exactly what we have told our college age children, and that suggestion has served them well. Each of our children’s involvement in their college/university was unique, but it allowed them to find a comfortable balance, forge new friendships, and expand their horizon beyond their academic major and dorm room.

Getting involved allows students to experience all different types of people! It helps broaden their knowledge, find their passion, pick up a new hobby, or have a social outlet in college! UMass Amherst is the perfect place for this, with over 200 registered student organizations and a very active residential life program. They include, but are not limited to academic, service, artistic, religious, and athletic groups; students can be sure to find something they enjoy. If students do not find their exact passion, they can even create their own as long as they follow the Student Government Association (SGA)’s guidelines and procedures!

Our student at UMass is involved in registered student organizations, takes electives outside of his major, and attends social events! As a future engineer, he is also a part of the student chapter of his major’s professional society. His involvement with his major led to his volunteering (and paid work) at UMass Open Houses, New Students Orientation, and Engineering Visit Days for future students. He enjoys singing and is a proud member of the UMass University Chorale; he has sung in local concerts in the Amherst area and in Springfield Symphony Hall! His love for singing has even led him to the entertaining Open Mic night, where he shares a late evening snack of “#1 college dining in the nation” at one of the many dining halls while singing karaoke.

During the week, our student loves to attend events within his residence hall and residential area! Organizations like House Council allow students to put on events for their halls. This can be anything from a game night to a paint night. During the last weeks of the semester in his freshman year, our student helped organize a stress reducer night for students in his hall cluster. Additionally, the House Council our son was a part of organized a movie night and bought several tickets for students wanting to attend the Avengers: Infinity War premiere.

After a long week of classes and homework, he loves to unwind at a UMass Hockey game. He is a member of The Militia, an avid follower of the team, and he loves the excitement of cheering them on in the student section with his fellow Minutemen at the Mullins Center. We love joining him on occasion. From attending a few of the games with him, we understand how he loves the electricity and excitement of the games, listening to the UMass Ice Band, enjoying the pizza delivery of the game and making an appearance on the jumbo-tron!

It doesn’t mean that becoming involved doesn’t come with a little bit of apprehension during the first semester, but he has found his way to his UMass experience and your student will too. So, whether getting involved is something as small as a cocoa and paint in your resident hall or as large as a concert or sporting event, our suggestion to your student is to grab a friend or two and see all that awaits them when they get involved at UMass Amherst.

Maureen and Kris Provost are parents of a junior, and Maureen is a current UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council member and co-chair of the Special Events committee.

Our Facebook Group: Be in the Know

Many departments within the university utilize Facebook pages to share information with the world. The Office of Parent Services (OPS) has a Facebook page for the purposes of sharing family/student support information, announcements, and tips. Many student clubs/organizations/individuals also have Facebook pages and groups (i.e. Rideshare, Buy/Sell). Unlike a Facebook page which is public, a group is private and community-based and often connects people around a specific topic. The main difference is a group is closed meaning you have to get permission to join the group. Just like students the UMass Amherst Parents Association (UMAPA) Advisory Council also has a Facebook group. It’s called Family to Family.

What is the purpose of the UMAPA Family to Family Facebook Group?

One of the goals of the Family to Family Facebook group is to provide avenues for parents/family/guardians to network, connect with, and support each other. To that end in 2015  Neena Verma (Former Chair of UMAPA), Kathleen Sweeney Small (Former Board Member – emeritus) decided to join the trend and started the UMass Amherst Family to Family Facebook Group. Family to Family is for all undergraduate parent/guardians of current and alumni students. The group was created by and is managed and maintained by parent volunteers (in their spare time 😊). It is not monitored 24/7 and posts and comments do not reflect the opinions of the University nor the Office of Parent Services. Representatives from the Office of Parent Services and support areas are members of the group not to  respond to posts/comments but to learn more about families and what’s on their mind.

All in all, the group provides a medium for families to connect and support each other – after all it’s not only our students transitioning to another chapter in their lives but also us as parents/family members.

Are there rules?

The rules are described in detail online in the “About this Group” section. Since its inception, family volunteer admins/moderators are committed to keeping this private (closed) group a productive, positive, and safe place for other families. There are common sense rules that fit the purpose of the group. In summary, we ask families to also:

  • Be kind and courteous and treat everyone with respect
    • Being part of a group requires mutual trust.
  • Be mindful of students’ and members’ need for privacy
  • Refrain from being political
    • It’s simple. There are other forums for political and controversial debate/discussions. This isn’t one of them.
  • Recognize the humanity in everyone
    • No hate speech, discrimination, harassment, bullying or degrading comments

In addition, self-promotion, spam and irrelevant links aren’t allowed, and we reserve the right to remove non-productive posts/comments without notice.

What is it not?

As stated earlier, our Family to Family Facebook members share experiences and knowledge and therefore are great assets to each other. However, university policies and procedures change from time to time, so it is essential that as families we take the time to review the UMass Amherst website and/or contact the relevant department before commenting, giving advice on a particular topic, or embracing others’ opinion as facts. We also need to remember that one size does not fit all when it comes to students’ development and college experience. What may have been the best course of action for one family may not be right for another. The Office of Parents Services website is a wonderful resource as well as the Single Stop Resources page. These are great sources to refer your student to for information (or the My UMass app).

In short, if you have questions on the University stance or communication on a topic, we encourage you to contact the university directly. Remember, we are families with opinion and experience to share NOT University administrators, faculty, or staff who know the ins and outs and are well equipped to assist in various situations.

How can I utilize the Family to Family group?

We are continually learning about new features to enhance the group. It’s quite the experience! The following are some effective tools to use:

  • Type any topic of interest in the search bar (identified by a magnifying glass and located on the left side of the page). All discussion threads related to that topic will get highlighted and will be available for you to review more easily thus providing you with a wealth of feedback on the topic from fellow parents/families.
  • Use the Topic Tags icon on the right side of the page (known as Popular Topics in Posts) to find relevant posts. Please note that not everything will be tagged. The goal is to make it easier for the user to find information and to reduce redundant posts. What is nice is it automatically sorts topics by newest first. So, the next time you have a question about study abroad for example, just go to Topic Tag, click on Study Abroad, and scroll through!

Are you interested in joining?

Many of us (Kathleen and I included) have formed friendships through the group and according to members, the group helps them feel more connected to life on campus and their students. So, if you are not a member of the UMass Amherst Family to Family Facebook group, we invite you to join the group to connect with other undergraduate families. In order to join, you will need to answer three specific questions, including agreeing to adhere to the rules of the group. Note: You will not gain access otherwise.

Happy Bonding!

Penny Nichols-Cordero is the parent of a senior and the Chair of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council and Kathleen Small is the parent of a former UMass Amherst student and a former member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.

Undergraduate Student Success Resources at UMass Amherst

Have you ever wondered how students like my daughter successfully graduate when there is so much to overcome in adjusting to college life. How do they manage their time? How do they study effectively? How do they make life-long friends?  How do they choose a career?

At UMass Amherst there is an Office of Undergraduate Student Success which helps with finding resources along those lines. I recently interviewed Kathy Weilerstein, the Director of Residential Academic Programs (RAP), a unit within Student Success Office, and found out many pearls about where the office has come from, the present offerings, and where it is likely to go in the future.

As recent as three years ago, the office was reorganized and reconfigured under the leadership of the Associate Provost, Carolyn Bassett. As I went to the two websites that Ms. Weilerstein directed me to: www.umass.edu/studentsuccess and www.umass.edu/rap, I noticed how thorough and inclusive they were. With well organized and user-friendly tabs to click, depending on if you are a fall semester or spring semester student, a transfer student or a first-generation college student, the websites put forth a feel of thoroughness and care. Tying everything and everyone together, is the promise of student success translating into higher rates of retention and graduation which are goals of the University. In this new structure, the office reports to a dual source: Academic Affairs and the Student Affairs & Campus Life. As new initiatives are established, there is a commitment to working toward a balance with new roles in a thoughtful, interactive, intentional and reflective manner.

What are the key offerings of the Office of Undergraduate Student Success? One is the Residential Academic Programs which gives first semester and transfer students the opportunity to participate in a variety of rewarding academic/social experiences. RAP allows students to quickly become part of the UMass community and helps transition successfully to college life as they live and learn in a common class and residence hall. Almost 50% of new students sign up as they are matched with classes ranging from Introduction to Black Music, to Education and Film, to College Writing-on monsters, for a single semester and a common residence chosen from residential areas such as Northeast, Central, Orchard Hill, Southwest or Commonwealth Honors College for the year. The instructors are passionate and engaging and the class size is small; thirty or less. The popularity of living-learning communities has grown around the country as teaching both academic skills with soft skills such as time management, organization and career choices are becoming more popular. Students are quoted as saying, “It has opened my eyes up to new study habits and gives me a small class experience within the large university.” “I found that the RAP course taught a lot of skills that will be useful in my years here that other classes would never have taught me,” said another student.

Another key offering is the 126-page Student Success Planner. Including the 2019-2020 Academic Calendar, it also provides blank pages for students to fill out A-Week-At-A-Glance as well as monthly calendars showing dates of exams, study periods, vacations and workshop offerings to help manage and prioritize their time to include academic, social, family, financial and well-being priorities. In a “Don’t Let Stress Prevent Success” campaign, the Planner gives all sorts of information such as: how to goal-set and map timelines, how to connect with peer and other mentors, how to connect with professors and career advisors, how to find health and well-being resources as well as other resources including those for students with disabilities or interested in Education Abroad, the Five-College Interchange or the Writing Center. There is even a Success Toolkit – Discover, Learn, Reflect – among which are workshop offerings such as how to be an active learner, what to expect beyond the first year and preparing for final exams.   Another new addition, is the tab for “Smart About Money” which is a peer-to-peer financial wellness program where students trained in financial literacy provide personal finance education to help other students manage their financial life at UMass and beyond. The office has also organized workshops for general wellness such as Mindfulness, Meditation and Self-Compassion through the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health as well as peer wellness coaching.  Today, with so much work and stress, it is vital that students know their resources to help gain a healthy balance in their lives.

This entire endeavor is a work-in-progress since the office is not yet fully staffed. They are also redoing their website currently; adding to the home page, for example. Two months ago, they hired a website designer and there is a third Director yet to be hired. They are, indeed, ramping up their staff with the expectation of broadening their outreach to include the majority of students across all four years. The idea, according to Ms. Weilerstein, is to inform, not convince. She wants to connect to students in the best possible way. As a previous Special Ed teacher for over twenty years, she has taught at all levels. Now, with over twenty years’ experience at UMass Amherst, she, with the other members of her office are firmly committed to bringing more first-year students into RAP and to bringing the Academic Planner, which had been focused on first-year students, to include all students. This is a tall order, with 2,000 students already participating in RAP and over 23,500 as the total number of undergraduate students.

In short, the Office of Student Success staff are firmly connected and committed, and we thank them for helping all students to be successful at UMass Amherst and to graduate in a timely fashion. My daughter will be one of thousands making it to the graduation finish line next May.

Bronwyn Cooper is the parent of a senior and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council

 

 

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

One of the scariest moments in my parenting journey was when I received a call that my son had been in an accident at school and was in need of medical care. He had managed to stay in a little bubble of protection while in my home but anything is possible, and preparation is key. Of course, at this time, my son was four years old and “school” was daycare. He had bumped his head on a file cabinet and received quite a gash. I rushed from work to pick him up and off to the hospital we went. I was his mom and could make it all better, which made both of us feel warm and fuzzy back in 2004. The only preparation required was that I have his insurance card to present at the emergency room and my photo identification.

Fast forward to 2018. Whether I like it or not, and whether I believe it or not, my son is now considered in the eyes of the law as an adult, fully capable of making his own decisions in every respect. Therefore, I am no longer considered to be a decision-maker when it comes to his medical care. The thought of this is terrifying, and thus, again, preparation is key. As I am now the parent of three adults, I am acutely aware of how little control their father and I have over their lives. We no longer make their meals, know all of their friends nor know their comings and goings. We are hopeful that they are making good decisions for themselves, but our real concern comes when thinking about possible emergencies when they will not be able to make decisions for themselves.

Due to privacy rights, once your child turns 18, you no longer have access to their medical information without written authorization from your child. This is due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA. Getting information about your child’s medical information would be as easy as accessing the information of a total stranger. Even if your child is covered under your insurance and you are the one paying the bill, you have no right to access the information and rightly so. Under certain circumstances, a medical provider can choose to disclose information to you if determined to be in the best interest of the patient, but most will hold fast to the patient’s privacy, especially if the medical provider is not the child’s primary care doctor who is familiar with the family. The same procedure holds true for University Health Services (UHS) at UMass Amherst. “By law all UHS visits and medical records are confidential. No information can be released, either verbally or in writing, unless a student sign a consent form if they are 18 years of older” See patient Rights and Responsibilities for more information.

There are two ways that your student can authorize you to receive information on his behalf, and by having these two signed legal documents, you can be sure that you can get the information you need when your student is unable to give consent – one would be a simple HIPAA Authorization form, and the other would be a Health Care Proxy in which your child has appointed you to be their Health Care Agent. While the HIPAA Authorization form authorizes information to be shared with the named individuals on the form, the Health Care Proxy gives authority to an appointed Agent or Agents to direct medical care for the student in case they are not able to authorize treatment for themselves.

Once the forms are executed, they should be scanned so that they can be easily accessed and forwarded to the appropriate parties when the time become necessary. They can be proactively sent to the University Health Services department at UMass if preferred.

Knowing that these documents have been prepared and executed can give a certain amount of peace of mind for families and caregivers alike. We live in an age of information. If we are unable to access information, we feel helpless. When having a conversation with your student about this important topic, I think it’s necessary to let them know that you’re in no way trying to spy on them and that you won’t use the forms unless there is an emergency. This age group can be particularly concerned about their privacy due to their newfound freedom in college life. Be sure to let them know that if they want, they can restrict the information you can receive so that they feel as though what they consider too private can remain their own personal business.

After having a long conversation with my son, who is an overthinker by nature, we both agreed that it would be important to have the documents in place to be sure information could be given in case of an emergency. I almost think he was a bit relieved as well, knowing that his dad and I could still be there as we always have been, just like when he was little and getting stitches for the very first time.

Remember, HIPAA is put in place to protect the privacy of every loved ones including your college student. However, planning ahead and having these important legal documents in place can give you a peace of mind and ensure you are there for your student when they might need you the most.

Amy Chisholm is the parent of a sophomore and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.

 

Let Your Student Narrate Their Own Story

Everyone has a story. This story has a past, present, and future.

In the early years, you and other adults are the authors of your child’s story. You hold the pen and choose the story’s setting, the characters that they interact with, the overall theme, learning opportunities, and conflict resolutions. At this point, your child is a somewhat “passive” reader of their story. At a young age they do not yet possess the mental, emotional or physical capabilities to be on their own and make important decisions. At this very young age, the narrative of your child’s story is being formed. As they grow older, they will use this narrative as a foundation to begin to author their own story.

As the early teenage years arrive, your child attempts to control their story. They seek to take pencil in hand and write the next paragraph. Sometimes this manifests itself in “pushing the line” as they try to incorporate their family’s background into their nascent narrative voice. They may author the next sentence or paragraph. However, they have not yet been promoted to “executive editor,” a position we typically maintain as the original author(s). They write their story, but we oversee it and ensure that it develops within particular literary guidelines. If they author a situation that places them in danger or conflict, as “executive editor” we revise the story to safeguard them from harm. It’s during this time that conflict as well as independent foundational relationships start to form. This is to be expected as there are multiple first-time authors penning their stories and some narratives will inevitably run into each other. At this point as “executive editor”, we attempt to teach the new author how to be nimble and flexible in their writing and that a great story often emerges from a “re-write.” It’s also when the author begins to realize that their story is just one story among many.

As our child enters their high school years, their talent as an author improves. However, they still need “executive editors” (even if they won’t admit it). One’s teachers, coaches, religious leaders and others become increasingly important contributing editors as well. As the emerging author, your child has the ability to write parts of their story that we editors may never see. On those occasions, we must rely on the foundational narrative we helped create many years ago. Our young author has matured; their grammar has expanded; and their style is becoming their own (albeit some of our original prose remains). While the editor still has an eraser, the author has opportunities to write in pen. This is when the permanency of the story begins to take hold.

As they become “college student”, they receive a blank piece of paper. At this point, those of us that have been instrumental in their story can only wait to hear them read it back to us. As the original authors, we hope that our child as the author shares their draft before submitting final content. But if they choose not to, we must realize that this is their story now. While we can still make suggestions and recommend edits, they now wield the pen.

One truly sees this during the student’s first long break back home. When they walk through the front door of the family home, you are so excited to see them.  But you will notice a change. You may not be exactly sure what it is, but it’s there. They too will sense it. This is when you both recognize that your roles in crafting their story are different. This becomes increasingly apparent as the break progresses. The young adult, who previously would get up by 7 a.m., now decides that the day starts at 11am (or vice versa). Clean clothes are now “optional.” Bedtime is 3 a.m. There is unlikely to be a text or call letting you know when they will be home. And when you inquire, they “logically respond, “If I was at UMass you wouldn’t know what I was doing or when I was coming back.” The discussion now proceeds along the lines of, “you are now attempting to write in my studio. Consideration is required.”

Your student likely realizes that a new chapter in their story has begun. Life went on at home while they were in Amherst. High school friends, while still close, have been writing their own story. Your student may have changed from main character to supporting cast member in the stories of some of their friends. At the same time, rather than serving as just a key player in your narrative, you recognize them as the leading character in their own story.  You can no longer seize the pencil. Rather than hampering their unique “literary style” try to:

  • Be a guiding voice, an interested and engaged reader
  • Share knowledge based on your story, but always remember it is THEIR story (and what a wonderful story it will be!)
  • Praise their victories, commiserate over their losses, and remind them that you would stand in line for three days in the rain to be first in line to buy their book.

Finally, remember you are not alone. There is a club of concerned, potentially anxious and proud original authors available to help. It’s called the UMass Amherst Parents Association. We are all going through this transition.  Think of us as a “book club” here for each other. We’ll always have a voice in our students’ stories, but just not control of the pencil.  As Robert Ballard stated, “Follow your own passion – not your parents’ – not your teachers’ – yours”. This is the narrative journey you’ve prepared your student for.  Congratulations. You did a GREAT job!

Brian Brady is the parent of a former UMass Amherst student and a former member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.

 

Some Thoughts as My Child Graduates from UMass Amherst

As the countdown to graduation begins, so many memories flood my mind. Our youngest of three, our “baby,” is graduating from college. How did this happen?

Some background: It wasn’t always easy. Among our three children, our youngest was always the least interested in school. Don’t get me wrong, he was an A student in high school — when it came to socializing, sports, and girls. If you wanted a lovable comedian in the classroom, he was your guy. Academics? Not so much. And he paid the price, attending another school that he didn’t love as a freshman in order to improve his grades. Fortunately, he did. He worked hard, and earned a strong GPA. Even though he was accepted to every college to which he applied for transfer, the question of “where next” was easily answered after he visited UMass Amherst. It had everything he wanted in a larger university. Best of all, his good study habits stuck, and he’s maintained strong grades all three years at UMass Amherst.

As he prepared for senior year, we discussed balancing his classroom performance with enjoying his final year of college. It can be a challenging balance for some, including those with outsize personalities such as our son. Fortunately, he heeded our advice and has had a great senior year. Those conversations we had last summer occurred at a point when we still had “plenty of time.” Graduation was nearly a year away, not yet truly on our collective radar. Yet, here it is, and as it approaches my wife and I are experiencing a host of different emotions.

Yes, it is emotional. Personally, I’m experiencing a variety of feelings, including uncertainty about his future employment as he waits to hear back from several companies, as well as recognition that this is another milestone on life’s journey reflecting the inexorable passage of time. But most of all we feel pride in our son’s accomplishments. And, truth be told, a bit in our own. It’s not easy to raise children, including the concern and expense of educating them. 

As we prepare to watch our son cross the commencement stage, memories of his birth and life to this point flash through my mind. Through highlights and lowlights (fortunately, many more of the former) he has been a source of caring, humor, and outright fun. Although he hasn’t yet articulated it, we know the great sense of pride and accomplishment he feels. He’s worked hard and made many great friends at UMass Amherst, all while receiving a fantastic education. UMass Amherst has become a special place for all of us. Personally, as I conclude my term on the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council, I rejoice in the friendships I made with other parents and staff members. I recall my first meeting two years ago when outgoing members were recognized. Just starting, my departure from the Council seemed far away then. Now it is my turn to say goodbye.

But in a way, even as a parent, I’ll never truly say goodbye to UMass Amherst. As such a special place to my child, a bit of the UMass Amherst magic wore off on me. Undoubtedly reinforced through my tenure as a member of the Advisory Council, I feel like I made a small but meaningful impact on the college experience of my son and other students. As such, I encourage you to get involved, either by applying to join the Council or by some other means. It is clearly worthwhile, as evidenced by the smiling faces we’ve come to know who are preparing to cross the graduation stage. So this isn’t goodbye, UMass Amherst. I’ll continue to visit your website, read these blogs, and follow your sports teams, among other things. No, it’s more, “we’ll continue to stay in touch.” And we will. 

Chuck Kaufman is a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council and the parent of a graduating senior.

Wellness in Academia

As a parent and a professor in higher education, the topic of “wellness” is one I have come to see as critically important for all members of a higher education community to understand, especially students.  I want- to take this opportunity to share some basic information around the ongoing developments, and related initiatives associated with wellness and campus life.

In general many colleges around the United States are more intentional about providing and implementing wellness programs and centers on their campuses. As a general overview, wellness has now come to address the general well-being of a student’s life. It’s no longer solely directed to academics and stress levels, but rather the current practice is more encompassing of acknowledging the values and decision-making students encounter when trying to live and study on campus. It was not too long ago that the three main tenets of wellness were measured by paying attention to physical fitness, nutrition, and weight loss.  Today those three areas have expanded to include such areas as student purpose; social life; financial status; community engagement; as well as physical and spiritual well-being. 

To demonstrate how this evolution within wellness initiatives resonates on college campuses, here are some key terms or concepts to consider. At the risk of oversimplification, these brief descriptions of key tenets of wellness are only meant to help one get some sense of the tone and tenor of this area of focus.

  • Self-care: In general this is a term that has, and is, becoming more and more connected to wellness initiatives and programs. It’s a basic mindset where one can focus on love and attention for your own body, mind, and soul.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Although not a new concept, it’s a basic tenet for many wellness programs and endeavors. Emotional intelligence refers to one’s skills and abilities to handle one’s emotions, interpersonal relationships, as well as one’s own emotional development and maturity.
  • Mindfulness: This concept alludes to how individuals should strive to enhance one’s consciousness and awareness of the moment. It aims to focus one’s attention to intentionality in all our actions and communications. It’s common to find wellness programs connecting mindfulness to such activities as yoga or meditation.
  • Well-being: This term directly relates to assessing one’s sense of contentment or fulfillment. It’s intended to refer to an overall sense of how ‘well’ one is functioning in life. The term refers to one’s entire spectrum of emotions both physical and spiritual.

The overarching mission of the majority of wellness programs on college campuses is to nurture the mindset, and practice, of understanding the importance of wellness in regards to both professional and personal fulfillment. They attempt to connect the personal factors of challenges and obstacles into one that best addresses non-academic realities in an academic setting; but the overall intent is to make clear students understand how wellness applies to anyone’s life beyond academia. For myself, as a parent and a professional in the classroom, I have come to embrace and share with my children and students, the importance of paying attention to every part of your life when assessing one’s success, challenges and obstacles. Academia is as emotional as it is intellectual. In fact, I have consistently held that going to college and studying, is much more emotional than anyone is led to believe. This is why I sing the praises of wellness programs. Therefore my advice to family members is to encourage your student to practice self-care, pay attention to their physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being and to seek help when help is needed.

At UMass Amherst, the three main places a student can find out about and receive the services of wellness programs are the Campus Recreation, the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, and the Center for Health Promotion. More health related information and resources available on the UMass Amherst campus can be found on the health and safety section of the Student Affairs and Campus Life website.  

For further information, you can visit the web site of The National Wellness Institute. 

George Emilio Sanchez is the parent of a sophomore and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.

Off-Campus Move-in Tips and Advice

 

Many families dread the day when their college student says to them, “I want to live off-campus.” Months later, they realize that their initial dread is being replaced by the “move-in day” dread. This often comes about a week before the actual move-in date. Some families might have worked hand-in-hand with their student from housing search to lease signing to planning for the move. However, it’s not surprising to hear that others feel out of the loop.

Regardless of which group you fall into, here are some quick tips and advice to make the off-campus move-in day a little less stressful for all. Feel free to share these ideas with your soon-to-be living off-campus student and let them manage the move.  

  • Be sure to work with the Off Campus Student Center to learn the ins and outs of being a tenant. Students can get certified to live off campus, search for off campus housing, learn about tenants’ rights and responsibilities, and so much more. 
  • Create a budget before searching for off-campus housing and stick to it. Unlike living on campus and depending on the property, your student will probably be responsible for utility bills, renters insurance, security deposit, and more. It’s also essential that they pay their rent on time. Some landlords may require direct deposit payment to facilitate that.
  • If you have the availability to look at the apartment with your student before signing the lease, it is highly recommended to do so, especially if you end up as a guarantor on the lease.
  • At the time of lease signing, be sure to determine if the landlord or property manager has set a date and time for moving in. It’s often the case, especially in apartment complexes, that there are strict limits, and some require a reservation. Don’t find out, when the U-Haul pulls up in front of the building, that your student can’t move in that day. Get it in writing!
  • If your student is moving in with other housemate or a friend, be sure all housemates fill in this housemate agreement which helps to determine the rights and responsibilities of all those who live in the apartment.
  • Work with your student to make a list of what they need and what, as a family member, you are expected to contribute. One word of caution — don’t over-stuff the place with a lot of furniture that might fit— but might not. Once it’s there, it’s even harder to get it back home. Here’s a good checklist to help get the process started.
  • Before moving in and start unloading the furniture and personal belongings, take the time to walk through the entire unit being rented. Try to do this with the landlord or property manager a few days before and inspect everything! Turn on faucets and flush the toilet to make sure they work. Look carefully at walls, floors, doors, and windows, fire hazards, etc. and make sure they are damage-free. This is the last chance to get the landlord to acknowledge any prior deficit conditions inside or outside of the unit. Create a punch list and have the owner sign it. Here’s a helpful inspection checklist.
  • Even if your student doesn’t think they need it, or they’re not that handy as a DIY’er, make sure they pack and have a few basic tools, including hammer, screwdriver set, different size nails and screws, metal wire, and scissors at their disposal. If the bed or other furniture needs to be put together, they’re going to need the tools. I sent my daughter off with a plastic bin of these esoteric items, plus a power drill and bits. A few weeks later she mentioned how glad she was to have them.  
  • Invest in a broom, dust pan, mop, cleaning bucket, and a few different cleaners and disinfectants.  Broom clean is not clean and spotless. They’ll be happy to have all of those items within a few days. 
  • Bring plenty of plastic food storage containers for all of the home cooked or take-out left-overs and label them. Periodically, your student should clean out the refrigerator. It’s better to do biology experiments in the lab than in the kitchen.
  • If they really do expect to cook, consider investing in a good set of kitchen knives, some utensils and even a nice sauté pan and 3-quart sauce pot with cover.
  • Almost as soon as your student is settled on the first day, make a point to encourage them to introduce themselves to their neighbors and to be a good neighbor while living there. Those neighbors may be a life-saver one day or night when something goes wrong, and the landlord or property owner is off-duty.  

If any legal issues come up off campus, remind your student about Student Legal Services Office (SLSO) which offers support in a number of housing matters, from providing legal information, to reviewing lease, to full representation. SLSO also offers Community Legal Education programs (Renting 101 & 102 workshops) to help students learn about their rights as tenants.

Encourage your independent living student to stay connected to campus activities by visiting the Off-Campus Student Life website and the events page.

Living off-campus is an exciting step and a big deal for your student. It may also be stressful for you. Good communication and planning will go a long way to reducing anxiety and stress and smoothing the transition from living in a residence hall to an apartment or house.

Patrick Hayes is the father of a sophomore and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.

Homesickness: A Parent’s Personal Journey

Professionally, I don’t do much writing, technical or otherwise. As a small business owner my writing skills revolve around proposals, estimates and budgets, none of which are very flowery or flowing. So, please bear with me as I do my best to write about this month’s topic.

I’ve always heard that it’s best and easiest to write about a subject that you know, so that’s why I chose homesickness. My daughter, who is a sophomore this year, went off to college and never looked back. She has always been a social young lady with a lot of friends. She’s well organized and skilled at scheduling social activities with sports and homework. My son, though not as well organized or as social as my daughter, has always managed to fit in wherever we have dropped him off over the years. The first day of camp, anywhere he went, he always had a friend by the end of the day…always. Going off to college was no big deal for either one of them. However, they were both close and could have come home anytime they wanted, which they didn’t…ever.

By now you should know that this story is obviously NOT about them.  I’m the one who got homesick when I went off to college, two-thirds of the way across the country and far away from comfortable, friendly New England. I wasn’t homesick right away, mind you, because I had a girlfriend that I moved to Colorado with the winter before. We spent half the winter being ski bums (what’s not to love about that!?), then went back to Maine for the summer. However, young relationships often come to an end and half way through the first semester at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, we broke up and for the first time I was alone. No friends, no family, no way to get home.

You see, I’m from rural Maine and while Fort Collins was not that large as far as cities go, I might as well have been in New York City. My apartment building, as I remember it, only had about a dozen or so units, so nothing overboard there. My neighbor, however, was a graduate student from India and he cooked at home all the time. The oils and spices he used produced an unfamiliar scent to my nose. Two-lane streets with cars and people everywhere; stores and malls were now minutes away instead of an hour. The foothills along the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains with the wide open plains that stretch eastward for several states had no feel whatsoever of New England. In the fall, the hillsides were awash with yellow from the aspen and green from the pine trees, but no brilliant reds and oranges from the maples. Fall in New England is so beautiful. Needless to say, all of these made for a difficult transition to college life.

Damn it! I wanted to go home! But I couldn’t because I didn’t have any money for a flight or even a bus ticket. So, I kept going to school every day. In those classes I started talking to other students and making friends. The deep desire to go home began to weaken day after day. I started participating in other activities and going out with my new friends. Within a few weeks my homesickness was gone altogether.

Students may experience homesickness at different stages in their college career.  For some it’s when they go away to an overnight outing.  For others it may be during their first semester or year at college; while studying abroad; or while doing an out of state internship.  Yet for others like me it could be right after a breakup. Regardless of when it occurs, if your student is experiencing homesickness now, know that there are things you can do to help ease their ordeal. First, go visit them if you can but not often. It doesn’t have to be a long visit, just an hour or two. Take them to breakfast or lunch off campus and bring the family pet, if there is one. A well-timed visit or two may resolve the problem. Second, if a visit is not possible, encourage them to take advantage of one of the many activities available on campus, such as sports, music, theater, lecture series, etc. to meet people, make friends, have a good time and therefore taking their mind away from “HOME.” Third, be available to listen and offer advice if they ask for it. As much as you would want to fix things, remember that homesickness just like everything else in life is a process and a challenge that your student has to overcome. Constantly remind them why they‘re at college. If nothing seems to work, maybe a visit to the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health (CCPH) “Let’s Talk” session might be appropriate. By the way, they also have some great apps on their website, which I wish were available at Fort Collins when I was at college. These apps are designed to help students cope with stress or anxiety, find strategies to overcome challenges, promote mental wellbeing, and succeed in college life and beyond.

Following are a few helpful pages/links:

Center for Counseling and Psychological Health (CCPH) Resources
Campus Recreation
Student Affairs and Campus Life “Get Involved
UMass Events 

Ultimately, homesickness will pass and your student will become a better person and a stronger individual for it. I like to think my life turned out better and richer for seeing it through to the end.

Joel Lord is the parent of a UMass Amherst sophomore and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.

Building Relationships with your Student: Food for Thought

 

Sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers, sisters and sisters, brothers and brothers, mothers and sons, the list ofrelationship combinations goes on and on and yet there is no rule book to guide us through any of them.  We rely on our own upbringing, our past experiences outside the home, and advice we seek.

The college years offer us an opportunity to change our relationship with our students.  It also represents the natural change of distance from extended family our students once came to accept as regular visitors. Siblings who are close, feel loss.  Those whose relationships are strained may feel guilt over the relief of the sibling leaving for school.

One proven way to have a positive experience with your student is through lunch and dinner conversations.  Coming together to share food is a practice that has been around for years.  Through food we forge relationships, share stories, provoke laughter, celebrate successes, and overcome challenges. In other words, lunch and dinner conversations bring back for your student the vulnerability — as well as the strength — of their relationship with you in a safe, nurturing, fun setting.  Free from judgement, they can express their feelings about style, taste, texture, value, and authenticity. 

Regardless of our respective cultural backgrounds, the preparation and eating of food is something we all have in common with one another.  But food is much more than nourishment, it is the vehicle through which we communicate sentiments, express our creativity, and create memories.  And it is in the sharing of food with others that we stay connected.  There is almost always a story tied to food, and it is those stories that connect us.

If your child has a UMass Amherst meal plan, they have been exposed to many different types of food and cuisine.  This exposure makes them uniquely skilled in discussing food, good or bad.  Just eating their daily meals, they may have taken the opportunity to eat everything they were never served at home, or perhaps have never heard of. UMass Amherst dining is literally a trip around the world. In addition, Amherst is a land filled with one-of-a-kind bistros and cafes with world class original offerings.  Pick a cuisine none of you have ever experienced, or at least a few menu items.  Share your thoughts and opinions about freshness, preparation, presentation, and more.

My daughters, five years apart in age, recently returned from their first visit to Wildwood Barbecue in Hadley, MA, compliments of their Uncle Joey and Aunt Stephanie. As they poured into the house, giggling about their “sistering” experience, my husband and I asked how they liked their meal. “Well, the ribs reminded us of our Easter in Texas with Cousin Lisa’s family,” Crissy spouted. “We can see that the craft beers must have intrigued Uncle Joey – I think Dad would like to go there, too,” Sophia offered.  “Mom, you could bring your friend Carly there because they have a gluten-free menu,” advised Crissy.

All of their comments linked a part of the restaurant experience with someone in their lives. Food acts as a glue.  We can love food together, hate food together, try to avoid it together and indulge in it together. Most importantly, we can remember it together.

 JoAnn Roselli is the mother of a sophomore and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.