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.

Senior-Year Expectations

It seems like only yesterday that we were dropping off our son on his first day at UMass Amherst. My wife and I were proud but slightly nervous. Between his outgoing personality, friendly nature, and the many people he already knew on campus, we knew he’d adapt well socially. Our biggest question was about academics. Would he buckle down and do what he needed to do to be successful in the classroom? Fortunately, our concerns were quickly allayed that first semester, and he’s thrived academically and socially ever since. We can sit back and relax, knowing that he has much more time ahead to enjoy his UMass Amherst experience…

But wait. He doesn’t. We aren’t sure how it happened, but that young man — still a boy, really — is now a senior in college. Where did the years go? My wife and I are convinced that we haven’t aged, but one look in the mirror (at least for me, never for her!) says otherwise. 

As our son has grown and matured, in part because of his experiences at UMass Amherst, so have our hopes and expectations as he begins his senior year. We hope that he continues to have fun, makes new friends and enjoys all that the university offers. More importantly, we hope that he will continue to focus on his academics, in which he has clearly blossomed as a UMass Amherst student. This isn’t senior year of high school, where the dreaded (at least by us) senior slump was expected, if not tolerated. We’ve discussed with him finishing strong academically, both for his own personal satisfaction and in case graduate school is in his future. Along these lines, there are several academic tasks that we hope he will remember to do, including:

  • Meet with an advisor to be sure all requirements are met including GPA, number of credits needed for his school/college, General  Education, and his communication major 
  • Don’t look too far ahead. Make the most of the present and stay engaged
  • Continue to attend class

Similar to our hopes for our son, we expect UMass Amherst, as a strong institution of higher learning, will continue to thrive and support our son and all of its students, as it has since his first year. Communication from the school has always been regular and clear. Of course, there will be a new wrinkle this year, as we learn about graduation and related activities. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself in that regard, but even so I’m bracing for the emails and mailings sure to come in the coming months. I hope that he completes all paperwork for graduation. Even though graduate school is not in his immediate future, it may be for some of his classmates. If it is, they should plan for graduate school this fall, take their graduate entrance exams, apply to schools, request recommendation letter, and meet all necessary deadlines.

Along similar lines, we hope that he pursues new opportunities this fall (e.g. an internship or service project), joins a new club or team, travels during winter or spring break, or takes a class in a department he’s never experienced. In addition to gaining new knowledge, we hope this helps him learn the important lesson that discovery and academic passion need not end with graduation.  One way to do so is to join a professional organization related to his desired profession — now — to network and learn about job opportunities in the field.

Looking ahead, we also hope that our son will continue to avail himself of the relevant services available to him as a UMass Amherst student. Specifically, we hope that he will be a frequent visitor to the Career Services office. This outstanding resource connects students to potential employers, career planning, and internships. In addition to daily walk-in advising hours, the office offers many practical services, including resume and cover letter reviews. A quick visit to their website yields important information about upcoming Career Fairs, Job Fairs and the UMass Amherst Alumni Advisor program.

All told, we have been thrilled by the great academic and social experiences our son has enjoyed at UMass Amherst. We hope that he continues to thrive his senior year and becomes an active alumnus, maintaining a strong connection with a special place that has become his second home. 

Chuck Kaufman is the father of a UMass Amherst senior and serves on the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council. 

The Fall Move-In Day: What to Expect

The long-awaited day is finally here. You have been planning for (or at least picturing/worrying about) this day for years and are about to have one less (or no) high school student in the house. Picture of Sam Welcoming FamiliesDepending upon your student, you have been back to school shopping weekly since high school graduation or frantically followed your student around the house while they casually collected their belongings the night before Move-In Day. In my case, having been through this with both my daughter and then my son, I got a taste of both approaches. My daughter discussed color schemes and pored over catalogs before picking out her bedding. She then proceeded to return the bedding and start the process all over again. My son looked up briefly when I showed him the comforter Grandma bought him, said “thanks” and went back to his phone. You may have doubted whether or not you could fit all the dorm paraphernalia into one car or fretted about whether your child would have sufficient clothes and bedding to keep warm come November. I have experienced both ends of that particular spectrum. My first Move-In tip is to remember that student movers (and in some of the high rise residence halls professional movers) will unpack your car and take everything in bins directly up to the room.  Please note you only get help unpacking one car. You’re on your own for additional vehicles!

However long, detailed, organized or disorganized your home preparation and packing process may be, your on-campus experience will have some commonalities. As you approach UMass Amherst, signs will direct you to the east or west depending upon your student’s building. You may miss a sign (we did) and get (only a little) lost on your way to the correct Move-In line. If that happens, don’t stress, there are smiling people everywhere who will help you find your way.

Once in line (and it may initially appear dauntingly long) you will be amazed at how quickly it moves and how organized the process is. The first step is to receive a sign placed on your car stating your student’s building destination. These are color coded and may provide a distraction for nervous students. They will pass the time checking out the other cars and their inhabitants heading to the same building.

As you move forward, you will start hearing applause and welcome cries. These are for your student, who at this point is likely weary of hearing parental Move-In stories from “back in the day.” It gets even better as you round the bend and see scores of Dining Services people waving at you, with one of them approaching your car with a bag of Move-In goodies! There is a reason UMass Amherst Dining Services is ranked number one in the nation and it starts in the Move-In line! Then, you are off to your student’s building.

Once you pull up to the well-marked loading zone, there are plenty of smiling helpers who will quickly unpack your car. The experience will feel familiar to anyone who has cooked Thanksgiving dinner and stood amazed as all that preparation was so rapidly devoured. We had everything moved in to the room by the time my husband returned from parking our car. And we were on the 4th floor of a no-elevator building!

Now it is time to unpack. This process will be directly proportional to the time your student spent planning and packing. You may find yourself trying to squeeze in last minute advice: “Be safe, sleep well, don’t party too much, go to class, never leave a drink unattended, be open to new experiences” will rapidly fall from your mouth with no sign of stopping.  -At this point, you will likely get a look from your student indicating it’s time to go. This may make you proud or break your heart a little, maybe both. The expression will vary from student to student and year to year but will contain some combination of excitement, nervousness, confidence, and fear.  From past experience, I recommend a general plan and timeline: move in, unpack, get a quick meal, return to the residence hall, a quick hug, and exit. Personally, I subscribe to the “pull the band aid off fast” approach.

Your walk back to the car may be tearful. I was more than a little heartsick at this official ending of a childhood and full time parenting of this wonderful, unique person that we had been blessed with for the past 18 years (both move-in times).  -Once in the car, I looked at my husband, who was visibly serene and happy.  Puzzled by each other’s reaction, he said “Why are you sad? We did a great job.” He was right. I still cried – on the way home (and a little after that, too) but once I mourned this natural and necessary ending, I was able to celebrate my student’s new beginning and grateful it is taking place in such a welcoming community.

Almost all of the information you need is on the Residential Life website including links for To Do, packing lists, virtual room tours, etc. There is also an UMass app that you can download with lots of Move- In information. If you are on Facebook, join the UMass Amherst Family to Family group. There are always tons of posts and helpful links to help you plan.

Here are some general (some learned the hard way) tips for you and your student:

  1. Be sure to make an appointment for your Move-In time. Consider your travel time and organization level before picking a time.  
  2. Remember to print your boarding pass when you register for your Move-In time. Forgetting your boarding pass and UCard will add to the time you wait in line.
  3. Bring garbage bags for the packaging after you have unpacked.
  4. Bring a pair of scissors to make opening up packages easier.
  5. Have a general plan for the day (who is coming? If you have 3 or 4 people, there may be insufficient room while unpacking, will you eat before or after, where will the final goodbye be?). This will help if emotions and anxieties run high at goodbye time.
  6. Dress in layers. This is New England and it may be hot or cold or both in the same day.
  7. Remember anything forgotten or newly considered can easily be shipped to the residence halls or the amazon store on campus (please note that the Amazon Store is available only during the Fall semester).
  8. Make early reservations for Family Weekend so you have something to look forward to.
  9. Plan a little treat for yourself and family for when you return home after drop off.

Shannon Cullagh is the parent of two UMass students (senior and sophomore) and a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Association Advisory Council.

My 2017 Parent/Family Orientation Experience

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.

Preparing for Commencement

Having gone through graduation in May 2017, I want to share some suggestions. Your student will be responsible for ensuring they have enough credits, the right courses for their major; for picking up the cap and gown, and for showing up in the right place. These recommendations are for parents and family:

  1. Do plan early. Arrange your lodging (Airbnb, hotel/motel, rental home (good for large families, B&Bs) a year in advance! We waited until August 2016 to book and by then, close lodging was not available. We ended up at a B&B (a llama farm!) in Northampton.
  2. Make reservations for celebratory dinners and also book early!  There will be lots of people wanting to go out (approximately 5,000 graduates) to eat after ceremonies!  When you explore possible places, don’t limit yourself to the Amherst area; there are many great restaurants in nearby towns. We ended up with a 7:30 pm reservation in Deerfield the night of graduation (and needed to change it twice because graduation took longer than expected) and a 5:30 pm reservation in West Brookfield (where my parents took me for my UMass graduation dinner in 1980 – A memorable choice). Both restaurants were no more than 30 minutes away.
  3. Plan on spending the weekend given the many graduation ceremonies. We drove to Amherst very early Friday morning and after checking in quickly at the B&B, drove to our daughter’s sorority for a 11:30 am luncheon, then headed to the honors college graduation for 1:00 pm, and the university ceremony at 4:30 pm. The next day (Saturday) was the School of Social and Behavioral Science (SSBS) ceremony and her second BA’s school (the latter was at the same time as the SSBS so we needed to make a choice and ended up missing this one). While the big university graduation only offers the individual schools standing up when degrees are conferred, the smaller ceremonies offer video screens, your student being called up to the stage and accepting their degree, and opportunities for pictures. I recommend families go to all of them! 
  4. Wear comfortable shoes and plan for the free shuttle if you cannot walk the distance or have family members who are elderly and cannot. While the honors college and School of Social and Behavioral Sciences were at the Mullins Center, the university graduation was at the stadium (rain or shine – be prepared with an umbrella if needed), which is a good ten-minute sprint. 
  5. Lastly, have fun. This is a huge day for your student and for those who love that student! But also realize that your student will want to share their last hurrahs with their friends. This is a stressful time for your student and they will need space, understanding and a balance with you and with their friends. 

We are so proud of a daughter and graduation weekend was a great experience. Best of luck to all of you with graduating seniors!

Seena S. Franklin, UMass Parent Advisory member, parent of a UMass graduate, alumni, and resident of Tiverton RI.