My daughter has started her senior year. It’s cliché, for sure, but it feels like her last year of college snuck up and caught us all by surprise. For her, it’s not necessarily a good surprise – like so many of her friends, she’s not ready for it to end. College didn’t measure up to the traditional experience she’s been envisioning.
The Class of 2022 will forever have shared an experience that won’t require context for the audience to understand. I wonder how long it will take to talk about these years in a similar manner as we discuss traumatic events that are (almost?) behind us, that changed us forever but didn’t stop us from moving forward. And how will their growth as human beings be measured in the aftermath?
When I talk about silver linings of the pandemic, I qualify it every time. Our family didn’t experience the tragedy of lost life or prolonged illness, our housing wasn’t impacted, and we didn’t worry about whether we’d have food on our table. We are immensely grateful. If it’s possible to characterize something positive that’s emerging from this dark time, it is the personal growth I’ve seen in my daughter and her peers. Generally, I’ve observed the way they measure what’s important has broadened and deepened. There’s greater priority given to relationships and the welfare of others – and an understanding of how fragile life can be.
This particular group of students has had an extraordinarily accelerated path to growth and development. As a parent, I fully expected when my daughter started her college experience that her learning would not be limited to just academics. I knew she’d be expanding her coping and people skills, stepping out of her comfort zone regularly, and experiencing opportunities to see her future self-reflected back at her in emerging clarity.
But no one expected what we got. What has struck me is that the tools to support the development of humility, humanity, and wisdom in a college student finding their way through a pandemic are the same tools required on any given day. Listening, validating her experience, and holding space for her fear help me navigate life with my young adult. It’s been the amount of time and duration that these tools are put to use that’s markedly different.
Lolli Fleming is the parent of a UMass senior and current member of the UMass Amherst Parent Advisory Council
Entering college, your student may have been mapping out an idea of what their life will look like based on their major. They may have told you of their dreams of being an engineer, a doctor, or a scientist and explained to you how their classes were going to help them achieve those goals.
Then you get that phone call. Now they have a different dream! They tell you they took a class, talked to a professor, or read a book that has inspired them to change their major and pursue a different career path.
As parents, we should not panic when our children change majors. College is the perfect time to really figure out what interests your student and what doesn’t. Through research, clubs, internships, and course experience, your student will get a more accurate picture of what they want to study in their four years at UMass. It is also okay if it takes longer than four years to achieve their college and career goals.
Entering college, my student had a strong image of herself double majoring in Political Science and Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies (WGSS) at UMass. She saw herself working in the policy sector with a focus on gender issues. However, after two classes in the WGSS Department, my daughter’s vision for the future changed. As an entering college student, she could only make assumptions about what her courses were going to be like. Once she had taken two WGSS courses, she felt her interests aligned more with the History Department. With this major change, her future plans in policy changed with it. Though I was worried that she would fall behind by changing her major from WGSS to History, she created a curriculum plan or a list of courses she needed to take each semester with the help of her advisors and professors. Ultimately, she successfully completed both her Political Science and History degrees and even added an Economics minor in four years.
By changing majors, your student is taking a leap to follow their interests and make their UMass experience better for themselves; and if they do not know what they want to major in or are looking for careers outside of their major, the Career Development and Professional Connections office can help. They have multiple resources including one called, “What Can I Do With This Major” that helps students explore different careers for a given major. Students are truly supported by advisors, professors, and peers in their college journey, and hopefully you too!
So don’t fret if you get that phone call, text, or email from your student exclaiming about their new and exciting major they have switched to. UMass is the perfect institution for students to feel comfortable switching their major because there are so many highly accredited programs.
It is fantastic that your student has identified a major that better fits their interests. Go on their journey with them and UMass will be there for you both.
Tracey O’Neil is a parent of a UMass alumnus and a current UMass junior & a current member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.
Over the summer, I had the honor of sitting down with Leslie Toner, a psychotherapist, anxiety specialist, educator, wellness coach, and certified breathwork facilitator, for a one-on-one conversation to learn more about the health benefits of breathwork. Her advice is simple but powerful. Regardless of age, anyone can learn about how to control reactions to stress through the power of breathing. Below is an excerpt from our conversation.
Bernadette:Well, I’m so thrilled to talk with you today. I learned about your great work using breathwork to help clients heal and find clarity in their lives. Please talk more about breathwork—how it can help a person manage stress and help a parent help a child.
Leslie: Breathwork is amazing. It is a bit unknown here on the East Coast. It is more popular on the West Coast. It is a conscious and intentional breathing pattern that, when practiced, intentionally and specifically, can activate one’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is the calming nervous system. Breathwork can become a person’s superpower. It can put a person in a calm frame of mind to react to challenges intentionally and calmly.
I regularly talk with my clients about how our breath truly is our superpower. When you learn these breathwork techniques, you know how to—in any moment—activate that calming center in your brain. So many of us were never taught emotion regulation skills in childhood. It’s never too late to learn these skills—they’re transformational.
I know I did not learn these skills as a child. Now, as a therapist, I love sharing these tools and practices to help families. When we can make our emotions better fit with our kids’ emotions, we can avoid being reactive and triggered. Learning about breathwork and how to calm my nervous system when my teenage child is triggered, wow, it really helped to weather those storms.
Bernadette:Thank you for sharing your experience, Leslie. Would you mind talking a bit more about how a newcomer to breathwork can begin?
Leslie: Yes. So, the first step is awareness. If we’re not aware of our body’s sensations and that triggering feeling, it’s tough to change it. So, the first step is awareness and recognizing the sensations in our body when we start to feel triggered. For me, the feeling starts in my belly, and it moves to my head. So, pay attention to what your body is feeling when triggered. Start to connect with that and know that you can control that triggered feeling with your breath.
In the past, I would just let that emotional reaction come out. When we are triggered, we become reactive to our children. We’re really coming from a place of emotional dysregulation.
When we consciously choose to pause, utilize the power of our breath, we can change our emotional landscape from being reactive to responsive. We have the option to make a better choice of how we want to respond to challenging situations. An easy breath to do is inhaling through your nose for four counts and then exhaling slowly out your mouth, as if you’re breathing through a straw, for six counts.
–Breathe in through the nose for four counts
–Slowly exhale out your mouth for six counts
This breathing pattern signals the vagus nerve to trigger our parasympathetic nervous system and release the calming chemicals in our body. In contrast, when our nervous system is activated, we’re in a fight or flight response, and the opposite happens. That signal goes to our brain to dump cortisol and adrenaline, and all of the stress hormones.
Bernadette:You’re right; we need to educate ourselves about the power we have within ourselves to have the best outcome in any given situation. Do you have any examples from your own life or from a client’s life where they practiced this, and it did change the trajectory of something in their lives?
Leslie: Yes! Implementing a conscious breathwork practice has helped me and my clients relieve stress and anxiety, improve sleep and digestion, improve creativity and mental focus, and improve energy and overall feelings of psychological and physical wellness.
That’s what I love—helping other people achieve this higher level of self-awareness and mental and physical wellness.
Bernadette:Clearly, you’re practicing what you’re preaching. Have you seen your child also using breathwork techniques? Does breathwork help her cope better? Young adults’ lives are so stressful these days. They have suffered so many losses because of this pandemic.
Leslie: She has. Growing up as a child and having a therapist as your mom, there have been many years where she rejected my advice regarding improving mental wellness and the different things that we can do to take care of ourselves, which is funny. I admit I hurt a little bit in those moments.
As my daughter has gotten older, she has recognized that breathwork, meditation, yoga, and movement are so important to our overall mental wellness.
I ask myself each day, what can I do for my mind, body, and soul today to be my best for myself and others? She has started doing this as well.
Bernadette:Please give some tips for young adults navigating big transitions in their lives. I know many of your clients are young adults.
Absolutely. Breathwork is like active management of your nervous system. It’s important to practice it at least three times a day. Begin with just three minutes, three times per day, and see how you feel. I find young adults prefer breathwork over meditation many times. Breathwork actively calms your nervous system. Whereas if you just sit and meditate and don’t know how to calm your nervous system, the desired result is not achieved. That can be a very frustrating process.
Breathwork gets the mind offline. I think so many of us look externally for distraction or numbing, and really, the key is learning how to turn inward. You see your true self through that work of calming the mind, the body, and really listening to your intuition. Breathwork can lead you on a journey to heightened self-discovery.
I love working with younger adults because they have fewer habits and patterns that are ingrained. They tend to be more receptive to change, trying new things. Many people don’t come in for therapy or counseling until their midlife and have these “aha” moments. They wish they knew about breathwork and other emotional wellbeing tools 20 years ago. So it’s just so great to get these tools, these practices, and this knowledge into the hands of younger adults now.
Also, I think as families—and I know for myself—our children are watching, and they’re modeling our behavior. We as families can possess and utilize the best tools to address our difficulties, stress, and conflict.
Bernadette:Talk more about the practical applications of breathwork. You are so great about practicing what you’ve been discussing with me today. How have you, on a day-to-day basis, brought breathwork into your life? Has it become a daily habit for you, and how did you do that?
Yes, it has. At first, before I found out about breathwork, I tried meditating. It didn’t work for me. I have struggled with anxiety. But I found that I could calm my nervous system with my breath, with breathwork, which absolutely changed everything.
So I do practice breathwork each day. I have a morning routine where I’ll do 15 minutes of breath and five minutes or so of journaling. Then I do about 5 minutes of free-form stretching, just kind of whatever my body needs at that moment.
So it’s not very long. It’s about 30 minutes—and boy does that set up my day. If I don’t do it, I notice I am a little bit more stressed and anxious as I go about my day versus the times that I take 30 minutes to calm my nervous system, to pour into my mind and body, and set intentions on how I want to show up in my day.
Bernadette:That’s so great. Did you build up to half an hour each day?
Leslie: Yes. It was a gradual process.
I’ll tell some of my clients, can you do one minute, three times a day? It’s important to start before you get out of bed—a minute before you open your eyes in the morning before you get out of bed. It’s not as effective after you have opened your eyes. I would open my eyes, and suddenly, my mind would be racing about all the things that I needed to get done that day.
If you want to extend it to five minutes—great. Whatever you can do, but at least one minute to just calm that nervous system.
After a minute or so, open your eyes. Then I would set an intention for the day, and I would ask myself, how do I want to show up to that event on my calendar? How do I want to show up today? By doing that practice, we actually start to build new neural pathways with the mind-body connection. We’re reprogramming our minds. Because again, if our brain is stuck in an overwhelmed, stress cycle, where stressful thoughts will trigger anxiety, we’re continuing to be stuck in that conditioning. We have to reprogram the mind.
There will be times when you catch yourself in your day–when you slide into old patterns. It’s crucial just gently to move yourself back. Anyone can learn to have a different relationship with anxiety and stress. By calming that nervous system and restarting, you can make different choices at any given moment throughout your day.
Bernadette:That’s amazing. Something that stuck with me is “we can have a different relationship with anxiety and stress.” When I heard that, it was an eye-opening thought–that you have control over your relationship with anxiety and stress.
Leslie: Yes, it’s true. When you start to have this awareness, you can ask, “what role is stress currently playing in my life now?” For many, it becomes the driver of your life, thoughts, actions, and behaviors. So when we start to pull back and say, okay, through breathwork, calming my nervous system through reprogramming my subconscious beliefs, I can be in the driver’s seat; I am the driver of how I relate to stress.
This is so empowering when we can learn that and be in control. It’s life changing.
Bernadette:Do you have any closing thoughts?
Leslie: I want to encourage everyone, especially young adults, to take action. Thinking about it isn’t enough; you must take that one step, take action for anything to change. I encourage people to practice breathwork, commit to 30 days of it.
Bernadette:That’s great. Committing to 30 days of starting with three minutes, three times a day.
Leslie: Nothing’s going to change unless you take action.
I hope fellow UMass Amherst families and their student will try breathwork. It can help anyone successfully handle stressful moments in relationships, manage time, navigate work life, college life, and most importantly, how we see ourselves in the world.
As Leslie said, we can control our relationship with stress and anxiety.
Committing to the 30 day challenge of daily breathwork has improved my life. Take the challenge and feel better!
Bernadette Carr is a co-chair and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council and a parent of two UMass students.
Please tell me I am not the only parent who feels this way. Anyone else feel as if they just dropped their child off at kindergarten? And in one split second you blinked and your now young adult is about to start college? Welcome to the club new families! That was me, twice, and last year for my daughter’s first year at UMass Amherst. Yes, I am the proud mother of a student from the infamous high school class of 2020; and if I could do it, you can do it, too.
Mentally, how does one prepare for your young adult leaving the nest? I am not an expert, and your mileage may vary, but I wanted to let you in on a little secret right up front. You will be fine and your child – now young adult – will thrive. But if you have any doubts, may I suggest the following 5 step program?
Step 1: Breath! When in doubt, always remember and repeat Step 1 as often as necessary.
Step 2: Let them take the lead! If they go shopping with their roommate-to-be and buy matching EVERYTHING, let them. If they feel they don’t need a coordinating color scheme, that’s fine, too. After all, they want to make their room their home for the academic year. So, go with it. For the record, my daughter and her roommate went with option 1 (everything, and I mean everything was coordinated!).
Step 3: Remember how excited and possibly nervous they were when starting kindergarten? Realize they are likely feeling the same now and more than likely they don’t know how to express these feelings in a manner that you appreciate. Listen to them and don’t (or try not to) offer unsolicited advice. This step is very tough, and in my situation, I found myself referring back to Step 1 several times a day.
Step 4: Resist the urge to go into their bedroom the night before they leave and hug them like they were a toddler in a deep sleep. Or cry in front of them when you drop them off at Move-in. However, feel free to stand outside their childhood bedroom door and cry, a little or a lot, your choice. I have no guidance on this particular step except to do right by your student.
Step 5: Remind them how proud you are of them; how much you love them; and that you are here for as much or as little of their college life as they are willing to share. Then tell them that over and over and over again.
You have raised a young adult who is ready to take on everything in their path, of course, in their own way and on their own timeline. They will make mistakes, period. They may ‘fess up and ask for advice, or they may not. Either way, we as parents and guardians need to remember what this journey meant to us “back in the day” and how much it means to them “right now”. And expect the unexpected – the unexpected texts, calls, memes, pictures or radio silence. No matter how their journey goes, pat yourself on the back and be proud not only of them and their accomplishments thus far, but of yourself as well. Remember your young adult is ready to spread their wings and test the waters of adulthood. You each played a huge part in that process.
Nevertheless, when in doubt, just breathe!
Gina is the parent of a UMass Amherst sophomore student and a member of the Parent Advisory Council.
With all that we as individuals and a community have been dealing with around COVID-19 and the restarting of the academic year we thought that, as a committee, we could share some of our personal experiences on how we’ve dealt with various issues last semester and previous years in the hope that you can take solace and understand that you are truly not alone.
Adapting to the COVID situation as a senior!
My daughter was a senior last semester. She was living off campus with her good friends. During winter break she went to Shanghai, China and when she returned she was notified the semester would be online only. She came home immediately in order to quarantine with our family of four instead of her eight roommates. She adapted quite well even though they had to cancel their Spring break trip to Mexico. By the fifth week, she slowly started reintroducing herself to a couple of roommates and they were very careful. Alas, no live graduation. Very upsetting but we adapted.
Bronwyn Cooper is an emeritus of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.
My son finished up his junior year in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, when he had to leave his off campus house to come home to Eastern MA. He had a full course load of classes that definitely would have gone smoother in person. He was able to do well in them because the professors were very understanding of the situation. The students of each course had an open line of communication with the professors. If there was a problem with connection at home, a time difference, or if another family member was affected negatively by the pandemic and had unanticipated needs, the professors encouraged the students to inform them of this early.
Something that is important to remember is that letting the professors know of any conflicts and problems in advance is always a good idea rather than telling them last minute. His professors were incredibly understanding when they knew he was proactive about his academic needs.
Kimberly Chamberlain is a parent of a senior and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.
My son picked UMass Amherst over several other schools because of the program he wanted (at the time Animal Science/PreVet) and the fact that several of his closest friends were going to be there. He did the research and ended up in a RAP for his first semester and settled into Cance Hall to begin his UMass Amherst journey. His first semester had its trials (as it does for many first year students), but he changed his coursework for the 2nd semester and was making progress.
He was on his way home for Spring Break when we got the news that the rest of the semester would be virtual. We worked as a family to make sure he had a place in the house he could consider his study space. It was somewhat disappointing for him as most of his courses ended up being pre-recorded videos by the Professors and TA’s and that made it hard for him to fully engage in his coursework. He was able to stay in touch with his friends and classmates which helped make it more ‘real” for him. He was grateful to get through the semester and finish his first year.
This summer he changed his major and communicated with his new dean and advisor to make sure he’s on track. He now has a course load that should be manageable as he prepares to have the first half of his sophomore year virtual. In trying to decide if he would go back to campus or not, he primarily talked to his friends that are in our area, and they all decided to do the semester virtually from their homes. They are all equally hoping that the COVID situation will provide a better outcome for the spring semester so they can return to Amherst to continue their college experience.
It has been a series of family events to make all this happen with our son as the owner of the decisions. If we all have conversation with our students and understand what they believe is best for them, then we can all feel comfortable with the journey they are on regardless of how rocky their first year experience might be.
J. Alan Bird is a parent of a sophomore, a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council, and Co-chair of the Wellness Committee.
My daughter has returned to her studies this year as a junior. She began her college experience at UMass Dartmouth in fall 2018, and soon realized she wanted to be at a larger school. She transferred to UMass Amherst as a sophomore for fall 2019 and loved it from the start. The large campus has provided the diversity my daughter was seeking, and she’s met many new students, faculty, and staff. Her transfer experience was essentially seamless, and she’s been able to connect with several different departments on campus and develop a support system.
Before the University determined that students with an all-remote schedule were not invited back to campus, my daughter had decided that spending this semester at home was the right – albeit very difficult – choice for her. She’s found living arrangements close to home, but separate from her family, which enables her to continue her experience of growing independence. Today (August 24) was her first day of remote classes, and while Zoom experienced global challenges and she wasn’t exactly where she wanted to be (back on campus), she texted to let me know she had an awesome first day. Our students are resilient, and they’re finding their way through challenges – all part of the college experience.
Lolli Fleming is a parent of a junior and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.
One of the best things you can do for your student is to give them power to be independent. College is a time of emergence into young adulthood. Your student will have more freedom now than any other time in their life. This exciting journey can also be a wonderful time to teach them about the role of taking responsibility for themselves.
I remember a faculty presentation that discussed the need for parents to be supportive but not overbearing. She showed this cartoon which brought it all home for me. I thought for sure that I was going to be that parent holding on to my child for dear life! But I quickly learned that the more I did for my student, the less independent he was in school. This time in his life is about him, and not about me!
I thought of a few tips that have helped me over the past 4 years:
Encourage independence any way you can. The only way to become a strong adult is to be given the chance to behave like one. The student should take charge of communications/emails from the university, and make their own decisions. Mistakes are inevitable; this is part of learning.
Teach your student to reach out to their advisors. Their job is to guide them through their academic curriculum. They are the experts, and your student should trust them.
Add/Drop period is stressful. There always seemed to be class selection issues in the beginning; I empowered my son to work it out on his own, (I resisted the need to fix the problem myself) and his trusted advisor helped him.
Teach your students to find their “helpers,” those people in their lives that can guide them along the way with whatever is needed, socially or academically. We all have helpers in our lives. They are everywhere; paying attention always brings them more into focus:)
Kimberly Chamberlain is a parent of a senior and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council.
The goal of the Wellness Committee is to serve as an advocate for undergraduate parents in allaspects of student’s health and wellbeing. Among its responsibilities, the Committee identifies key issues of concern as they relate to students’ safety, security, health and wellbeing. Additionally, the Committee gives feedback on new initiatives and policies proposed by the Office of Parent Services in the areas of students’ wellness and wellbeing.
As I look back at your childhood, I am struck at how easy keeping you healthy and safe was when you were young (and I was young).
I would establish boundaries and limits, share them with you and your brothers and sisters, and you would mostly all listen. When you didn’t, I would think up a consequence that would connect your behavior or actions to the boundary you crossed and highlight why it mattered to your health and safety or the health and safety of others– sometimes me, yet most often your siblings and friends. My hope was that these consequences would provide a learning opportunity and over time you would grow to connect “cause with effect.” When you threw the toy or misused it, it was gone. Simple and effective. Those were the days.
And yet now, how does a mother prepare her college-age son or daughter to live a healthy and safe life amidst a pandemic? How can I help you define healthy and safe when the science seems to be changing daily, sometimes several times within the day? How can I help you and your housemates communicate around setting boundaries during COVID–for yourselves and each other? What have I learned by watching your older siblings as they navigate these challenges with their housemates? Who are the experts I can call on to help me, help you? And finally, what have I learned along the way throughout these last six months during the pandemic?
I’ve learned it isn’t easy. I’ve learned that I don’t always know what to do or how to do it. I’ve learned that I have biases that cloud my judgment about what is safe, and so will you.
So to help me see through my cloud, I reached out to a friend, a professor at Columbia University Medical School in NYC, who lived, taught, and practiced through the COVID 19 outbreak. She was a Godsend and helped me create this list.
Take a COVID test with negative results before moving in.
Follow the most up-to-date mandates by the university, town, and state and wear a mask when outside the house, especially when in close proximity, and wash hands immediately upon re-entry to the house.
All gatherings are outdoors w/ social distancing and masks.
No guests allowed to use the bathroom, yet if there is an exception, make sure the bathroom is wiped down/disinfected.
Consider taking temps daily, although not much enthusiasm for this one. 🙂 The thought process is that as the young men/women’s pod increases in size with outsiders, their likelihood of getting virus increases. A temp is one way to catch it early. We will send a Contactless Thermometer.
If close friend/study group member or significant other of one of the housemates is COVID-positive, that mate either self-quarantines for 14 days and follows the guidelines below or if a local, will go home and self-quarantine.
If one of you is displaying symptoms:
Alert all friends of a possible link to a COVID positive friend.
Get tested within 24 hours (University Health Services).
Self-isolate in your own room until the results of tests are conclusive (or go home).
No visitors in the house.
Wear a mask if interacting with people coming into your room or to use the bathroom.
Visitors bringing in food for isolated mate wear gloves and mask and use hand sanitizer.
Only housemates use the bathroom,
Space out bathroom visits, with quarantined housemate to use the shower at end of day so possible particles have time to disperse.
Fan always on and window open in the bathroom.
Spray disinfectant and wipe down door handle, sink, etc. after each use.
Now it’s your turn. Make it a great year. Knowing you, you will absolutely make that happen.
I love you,
Amy Hilbrich Davis is a member of the Advisory Council and parent of a junior majoring in Math and Engineering
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.
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.
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.
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
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.