Flashback to 1986: the family car rolls up to the front of the campus auditorium and dad said, “Good luck. I’ll be out front tonight at 8 to pick you up!”
2017: When I first heard that parents and family members were invited to participate in an orientation at UMass Amherst that takes place concurrently with the student’s orientation, I thought to myself, ‘we really have become quite the helicopter parent generation!’ While this might be an accurate portrayal of some families today, I found that attending the orientation did just the opposite – it alleviated levels of anxiety for my daughter and myself, which ultimately reduced the amount of hovering I had to do to make sure she was prepared for the biggest change in her life.
Parent/family Orientation takes place over two days and consists of a perfect blend of presentations/information sessions and interactive, informal lunches and reception (NOTE: as any UMass Amherst student can attest, amazing food was a common theme!).
Some of the many highlights from my orientation:
- Welcome/continental breakfast: Check-in for the day, eat and meet new families and families of upper classmen and pick up some orientation swag and materials
- Academics: A very candid overview from a faculty member about the schools and colleges and everything academics. They talked about what families can and cannot have access to; what they expect from students and what students can expect from them. They also discuss grades, research opportunities, tutoring, extra-curricular activities vital to academic success, etc.
- Money Matters: A helpful intro to financial to do’s and how to pay the bills. We learned of important dates such as the tuition due date, what is/isn’t covered on tuition bills, payment methods; the UMass work study program, and scholarship search tool.
- Campus Health & Wellness: You’ll find that UMass Amherst has a plethora of resources, facilities and tools to ensure your child has what they need to live a healthy life at UMass Amherst and form a strong sense of overall well-being (i.e., Campus Recreation Center, University Health Services, and Center for Counseling and Psychological Health)
- Living at UMass: This discussion answered many questions on family’s mind such as, ‘who are the residential resources my student can go to for assistance?’, ‘how best to address roommate conflicts?’ where do the first-year students live, and expectations for on and off campus living.
- Technology Discussion: IT team members provided helpful suggestions on technology/devices students do/don’t need to bring with them, and squashed rumors about poor Wi-Fi on campus (to date, my daughter hasn’t complained once about this and if the Wi-Fi was indeed slow, I’m sure I’d hear about it from her!). We also learned what an iclicker was and got to use one in one of our sessions!
- Buffet Dinner: Families were joined by staff members – an interactive and informal way to get to know them and other families! As always, the food was excellent!
- Dessert reception in the Old Chapel (just when we thought we could eat no more!): No presentations or talks here – instead a casual event for mingling with other families and enjoying a selection of drinks and gourmet desserts. Dining Services representatives were also available to answer questions about the tiered meal plans.
- Trolley Car Rides to Downtown Amherst: You’re probably wondering how far the campus is to town? Well not very far at all. It was a nice treat to hop on the trolley to visit the warm and cozy college town and get a sense of where my daughter will be spending her time. Members of the BID welcomed and gave us flyers and brochures. Some of us bought ice cream while others took a short walk before heading back to campus.
- Campus Safety: A comforting presentation by UMass Police and two other departments. We learned about the several safety measures and procedures UMass has put into place–(i.e., Walking Escort Service, Safe Celebrations – a campus-wide policy designed to educate students about the rules, policies, and laws surrounding parties, sporting events, and large gatherings).
- The Student Perspective: A candid discussion led by students. This was a tremendous opportunity for students to gain public speaking skills and share their experiences. I was impressed with their candor, professionalism and ability to think on their feet to answer anxious family’s questions.
- Day Two lunch @ Franklin Dining Commons: Foods from around the world were offered and this would be the first time families met up with their students since orientation drop-off. Nothing made me happier than to get the brush-off from my daughter when we ran into each other. She had an ear-to-ear smile on her face and was laughing with her newly-made friend (By the way, they’ve kept in touch throughout the summer and entire freshman year!).
- Detailed presentation around first-year move-in process – can you say well-oiled machine??!!! The presenters emphasized what needed to happen and when (i.e., how and when to book a move-in reservation slot, obtain boarding pass, and where to access move-in checklists). We were encouraged to download the free “My UMass” app – this was key on move-in day as it provided live updates (i.e., local traffic patterns changed specifically for move-in day, etc.). The Office of Parent Services ended the event with a concise summary of key dates; to-do’s and ways families can stay involved and connected with other families.
Throughout the two days, I learned about the various steps my daughter and I needed to take throughout the summer to prepare for the fall and life at college. With the clear direction we were provided at orientation, there was no need for me to hound her or wonder what exactly needs to be done before arriving on campus on move-in day.
It was continuously evident how close the Office of Parent Services works with every department on campus as well as with students and families. This team is truly there for us all! On the drive home, my daughter and I compared “notes” and caught up about the topics that were covered during our sessions. It was reassuring to know that the messages to both families and students were consistent, clear, and honest. The Parent/Family Orientation got me excited for my daughter’s college experience and compelled me to join the Advisory Council to stay active with the UMass Amherst community and to assist other families and students as they find their way along the exciting college journey.
Michelle White is a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council and parent of a rising sophomore.