Re-Entry to Family Life: Talking to Your Student When they Come Home from College

We can’t say we weren’t warned: so many materials we read and stories we hear tell us that when our students come home from a semester/year away at college they will have changed.  However,  those changes can still be surprising for families.  Students who have never shared a political opinion may suddenly expound on a myriad of issues. Students come and go as they wish, empowered by their freedom and experiences during the semester/year.  Some may be critical of family members. They may challenge religious beliefs or have deepened their own belief systems.  So how do we, as parents/family members, navigate these uncertain waters and talk to our students when they come home during the year on breaks and for the summer?

When students leave home and come to UMass Amherst, they are exposed to many new ideas and beliefs. For many students, UMass’ diversity is new and exciting.  They are in classes that encourage them to question their knowledge and previous assumptions and to think deeply about their own frameworks. It is an exciting time of growth and exploration.  And just like any time when they have been exposed to new ideas, they may want to discuss them and share their newfound opinions.  As a parent, family member, or caregiver, this can be many things: exciting, unsettling, down-right confusing.  It’s ok to feel these and other emotions. Just as they are transitioning into adulthood, so are we transitioning into the parents/caregivers of adults. Below are a few tips to help you navigate these tricky waters and maximize your holidays, summer and vacation times with your UMass Amherst student:

  • Try to build an environment of mutual respect. Stick to your beliefs and values.  However, a good rule of thumb is to agree to disagree and then move on.
  • Set boundaries for conversations.
    • Be willing to table discussions if they become too heated. It’s good to model stepping away from a conversation that has ceased to be productive.
    • Try to keep conversations on topic and avoid accusatory tones and personal attacks.
  • While we are on the topic of boundaries, it is reasonable to have expectations for curfews, chores, and staying in contact. Discuss these and other issues before they come up.  Figure out the ground rules early and try to be reasonable. Common courtesy is important in life and it really is learned in the home.
  • Listen to what your student has to say and ask why they have reached that conclusion. This is an opportunity to develop deeper understanding of each other.
  • Ask questions about the things you don’t understand, but try to ask them in a neutral way.
  • Sexuality is a very complex subject. Being open-minded and caring is essential.  Remember, your adult college student is still your child and still needs you.
  • Try to maintain an open heart and mind; your student may have spent a long time coming to this place.
  • Be prepared for your student’s opinion to change. Part of late adolescence is trying on many different hats until they figure out the one that fits the best.

By modeling respectful behavior, we are teaching our student how to engage in these types of conversations as adults. College is a time of learning and that learning goes way beyond the classroom. As parents, family members, or caregivers, we still have a lot to offer our students.

Sometimes the discussions we have with our students bring forth issues and feelings that are bigger than we anticipate.  If you are still struggling with your student’s new opinions, reach out to your friends or even a professional. Maintaining a strong relationship with your student is paramount.  Taking the time to listen and learn goes a very long way in building more grown-up relationships with our students. And when they return to school, they will know that even when you “agree to disagree,” you will always love and support them.

Melissa Goldman is a UMass Amherst Parent Advisory Council member, parent of a UMass Amherst Sophomore and a proud alumnus.

My UMass Amherst Family Weekend Through the Years

I have been constantly thinking about my student.  I know she is an adult, but she is still my baby.  I cannot believe it has been six weeks since I dropped her off.  This has easily been one of the hardest times in my life.  Not hers.  Mine.

It began long before drop-off day with college visits, essays, acceptance day, check lists, New Student Orientation, back to school shopping. Then, in an instant, it’s here.  The final packing of the car(s) and that awful, gut wrenching drive. You are trying to keep it together to demonstrate to your student, and to yourself, that this will be OK.  This is a Herculean effort no one can prepare you for.  Then, it’s time to say goodbye.

Fast forward six weeks.  There has been lots of texting, a few chatty calls, a quick hello here and there, some tears.  Now it is finally time to visit your student.  There’s a private countdown happening in your brain.  You are dizzy with the excitement of seeing your student.  Has there been growth?  Will you meet their friends and/or their families?  Will you like them?  What are you going to do as a family?  There is so much to choose from.  You are likely to eat at one of the DCs, certainly more than once if you have any say.   You’ll park your car, get out, and restrain yourself from running through the residence hall calling your student’s name.  You are one of hundreds of other families desperately doing the same, looking for signs of their babies.  And then that moment when you spot them looking for you!  You can’t get to them quickly enough.  But, when you do, it is the greatest hug ever.  Tight and long!  You are feeling them for the first time because they have changed and they have grown.  Perhaps not physically, but you can feel the change.  It’s only been a few weeks, but it seems like a lifetime.  You realize that your baby isn’t really a baby anymore.  College confidence and spirit have replaced their uncompleted corners.  Conversation bubbles forth because there’s so much to say.  You listen and nod, smile and watch every little movement.  They wave to friends and introduce their families.  It’s almost overwhelming.

My family has done this transition to Family Weekend three times.  And, each time it has been exactly the same. The change is electric!  It is a true testament to the old adage: it’s not the destination, but the journey.  Both student and family have taken the journey and survived, learned, grown and thrived.  And Family Weekend is the proof.

Reconnected at last! This is their world and you let them lead the way.  You walk and talk.  They point out everything: where their classes are, where they have been, their clubs, where their friends live, where they want to live next year, etc.  They have so much to say.  You have your weekend planner in front of you.  What to do?

Family Weekend in 2011 was very different than Family Weekend today.  Each year has become much more fun and exciting.  In 2011, we did the Family Ice Skating, which was seriously awesome.  The girls still talk about it and gently chide each other.  I asked them in a group chat last night what were their favorite Family Weekend activities and their responses were skating, the Noodle Bowls, and sharing Sushi at Berkshire DC.  The older girls are amazed at the 2017 offerings and are hoping to join in the fun.

This year, I can’t even express the options in front of us! But here’s our tentative list:   Our oldest daughter, class of 2015, wants to do the Sustainability Bike Tour of UMass.  She and her friends truly appreciated UMass’ Sustainable Mission.  Then, she hopes to run the Multicolor Mile with her sisters.  My husband, the history buff, wants to do the Haunted UMass Tour.  The youngest, class of 2020, and I hope to be a part of the Saturday morning “Get Moving UMass”, a 40-minute fall foliage walk around campus.  We will be at Dare to be Aware, where a panel will discuss ways to encourage responsible drinking, and how to help keep students safe.  Maybe we will partake in a classic fall wagon ride through campus or a trolley ride into Amherst.  Another Family Skate at the Mullins Center is an option, too.  Time permitting, after dinner we will take in (my first) UMass Hockey game.

Of course, amidst all of these fun things to do with our student, we will enjoy our traditional family meals in the Dining Commons, especially the Taste of Home Lunch.  UMass Amherst Dining features some of the family favorites submitted for their Taste of Home recipe book.  To be honest, mealtime is my favorite time.  We have all been separated, and it gives us a chance to reconnect and meet our daughters’ friends and their families.  This has never changed over the years.  Family meals with our student’s “new” family is the one constant, all of us reveling in the coming of age of our students.  It is a sight to behold, and we silently pat each other on the back.  They are happy!

Before we know it, it’s time to leave.  It doesn’t matter that you have already survived the most important drop off back in September.  It’s time to do it again.  Hope you have tissues!  You’ll walk your baby back to their room, look at your feet, shuffle a bit, and then say it: “We are so proud of you.  We have had a wonderful time.  You are really lucky and UMass is lucky, too.  Be safe! Have fun! Study hard! See you at Thanksgiving! And we love you.”  You’ll hug.  You’ll keep yourself together.  You’ll try to smile. Emotions will stir as you walk away. You’ll cry in the car and maybe a little at home, but this time it’s different.  Dinner conversations revolve around other things now.  How grown up your student has become.  How alive the campus was.  How much there is to do.  How much your student is doing!  Sadness has turned into amazement.

Your baby — now your young adult — is fine and you are fine.  It’s all good!  Really!  Be proud!

Leslie Mitchell is a member of the UMass Amherst Parents Association Advisory Council, and the parent of two UMass Amherst alumni and a current sophomore.

Holding On and Letting Go: Reflections and Some Friendly Advice on What to Expect During Transition

As the last few days of August roll around, we can well imagine the frenzy and tempo picking up in each and every household that is gearing up to make that long-anticipated trip with their college-bound students to their new home and life on campus. As we reminisce about our own experiences from just a few years ago, our hearts are overwhelmed with the need to reach out to each one of you parents/caregivers that is going through this experience for the first time. Here are insights from two fellow UMass Amherst family members on what to expect during this exciting (albeit challenging) time of transition, and how to handle the process:

  • Take care of business before move-in by using both the students and family checklists as your guides.
  • Expect some degree of ‘organized chaos’ – for both you and your student.  If this is your first child going to college or attending UMass Amherst, this is a new experience and territory for both of you.  You’ll experience excitement, nervousness, anxiety, etc. all at once.  The most important thing is to check-in with your student during the next few weeks to see how they’re doing and handling things, listen, and offer words of encouragement. Showing your enthusiasm for this new experience will inspire your student to stay positive and embrace this new life, even when they feel overwhelmed.
  • Expect a few setbacks: At times, your student may feel a bit homesick, and you as a parent or family member may feel a bit “lost” without them.  Encourage your student to get involved from the start. Having a part-time job on campus, for example, is an excellent way for them to stay busy while learning new skills.  As for you, keep yourself busy by volunteering at different events and doing something new, or something you always wanted to do but haven’t had the chance to do it. In addition, take advantage of support from friends and family members who have already sent their young adult off to college. Joining our Advisory Council Facebook group “Family to Family” can also help. We offer advice on a range of issues including financial aid, tuition payment plan, roommates, traveling for breaks, being out-of-state, gym membership, dining facilities, course registration, final exams – and the list goes on and on.
  • Making friends can be a bit challenging for some students, especially during the first few weeks.  Encourage your student to participate in the Fall Orientation and Residence Hall activities.  There are numerous clubs, performing groups, and intramural teams on campus designed to help make a large school feel smaller.  As a parent/caregiver, try to strike a balance between asking about your student’s social life and giving them room to develop on their own.  “One of the best things my son did was join an online gaming team with fellow UMass students.  He met a number of like-minded souls in an activity he was interested in doing.  Not something his dad or I ever would have thought of suggesting, but he found some of his good friends there,” says Melissa Goldman.
  • Let your student know that it’s ok to not know all the answers, but that it’s not ok to not try to find out. Students should gradually try to become aware of the myriad of resources available on campus for every aspect of their academic and residential life; and they should learn to effectively use these resources as needed. During their college years, there will be countless times where they will have to ask a faculty member, a tutor, an RA, a coach, or a friend for help.  Let them know this is OK.  Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; rather, it is an indication that they are mature enough to recognize their strengths and challenges and take responsibility for their situation.  Also, even if you are pretty sure of the answer yourself, encourage your student to find the answer out independently.  Working out your own solutions is one of the biggest lessons the college experience teaches students.
  • Adjustment is a process.  It takes time to get acclimated to a new situation.  It is ok for students to take a “wait and see” approach to some activities.  As parents/caregivers, we often want to swoop in and fix things or share our experiences from when we were in school.  While there is a time and a place for that, allow your student to work through things on their own terms.  Going through the adjustment process, while challenging at times, is really important to students’ growth at this time in their lives.  “As a parent, I have found it important to be a listener and a cheerleader, not the decision maker or head researcher,” says Melissa Goldman. Don’t expect an organizationally challenged student for example to suddenly develop great organization skills.  It’s ok to have a few missteps along the way.  Just as you let them fall safely when they were learning to walk, you also have to let them fall safely when they are adjusting to living independently.
  • Independent thinking is also a process but essential to being successful.  The most important advice you can give your student is to advocate for themselves and not necessarily through you. The University is well equipped to accommodate your student’s needs regardless of the situation.  Experts are available to help them navigate the University and find answers. Give them the space to make their own decisions and seek resources. “Even though my husband and I are both alums, we have stepped back and let our son do his own ‘figuring out,’” recommends Goldman. “Many things are different now and while we are excited he gets to experience some of the same things we love about UMass, ultimately he is the student and his experiences are his own.”
  • Remember, as a parent or family member, you still play a major role in your student’s success.  Don’t be ambiguous in your messaging around health, alcohol or substance abuse, and safety; your voice matters a lot. Share your counsel even as you let them be the key decision maker of their own lives. Be available as a sounding board – just listen – even if you may not always appreciate the content or substance of their argument. “I am so glad I just gave her the space to be heard without holding any judgement,” says Neena Verma, about her own daughter who is now a successful and happy senior, and one of the VPs of her sorority. “Soon enough, she seemed to always arrive at really sound and judicious decisions that always moved her in a positive direction.”

And last but not least, call, email, text, whatsapp…whatever…but do check-in using your student’s choice of communication mode – even if you don’t hear back. Remember, the adage ‘no news is good news’ still holds valid! They are most likely way too busy settling down, making friends, getting the hang of campus life and college academics, or just adjusting to a very new and different life. College students don’t usually run on a typical 9-5 schedule, so try to be flexible about when you all communicate. Trust yourself for having raised them to be capable and independent young adults … take a deep breath…and let go. They will be just fine, and so will you! Life soon becomes a balancing act of ‘Holding On and Letting Go.’

A very warm welcome to all of our new UMass Amherst family members/caregivers, and our heartfelt wishes for a smooth and successful transition!

Neena Verma/Melissa Goldman

UMass Amherst: Large University, Small Communities

Among current and prospective families and students, UMass Amherst is recognized as a wonderful, cost-effective university garnering increasingly positive recognition on the national and international higher education stage. The university offers a stunning array of majors, access to leading thinkers, and opportunities to support and participate in a wide range of sports teams, clubs and extra-curricular organizations. Campus is well-maintained and pride-of place is evident. And oh yeah, the food isn’t bad, either.

Yet some accepted students begin their UMass Amherst journey with trepidation beyond the usual first-year nervousness. For the very same reason, high-achieving high school students are sometimes reluctant to apply, with their families sharing their concern. The reason? They consider UMass Amherst too large. Yet, it’s been my family’s personal experience that the numbers are deceiving, and there is a welcoming community — or multiple communities — for everyone.

If one merely considers total number of students, it’s a fact: UMass Amherst is large compared to many universities. However dig a little deeper and you’ll soon discover what our family did. UMass Amherst actually consists of many smaller communities offering something for everyone and a comfortable place for all. Whether it’s a specific college, major, residence hall, fraternity or sorority, sports team or club or other extracurricular organization, there is an easily accessible group of friends sharing similar interests awaiting virtually every student who attends UMass Amherst.

Some students easily and naturally identify and jump right in to their community (or communities; there are often multiple potential communities of interest with varying degrees of overlap). Others may need more time, with the options being somewhat overwhelming initially. As noted earlier there are many choices, and not knowing where to begin may be intimidating. Here are some basic suggestions for where to begin to identify potential communities with your student:

  • The Student Life section of the UMass Amherst website offers a manageable gateway to numerous potential communities of interest. From community service options to Greek Life to hundreds of registered student organizations; this is a great place to start.
  • All Schools and Colleges offer various opportunities to get involved with a community of like-minded students, professors and others, including events, journals and other publications, institutes, lectures, and social gatherings. A great side benefit is the opportunity to meet others outside of the regular classroom setting.
  • UMass Amherst offers a wealth of living and learning community options as well. These options provide welcoming communities to students from diverse backgrounds, cultures, academic needs, and interests.
  • Early each fall semester, there is a club fair on campus known to students as the Activities Expo. It is publicized well ahead of time, so encourage your student to attend. They can gain useful information about various organizations on campus, and begin to get a better feel for what’s available. Their biggest challenge may be walking away with too many interesting options!

Bottom line, don’t let the overall student population numbers of UMass Amherst cause you or your student to overlook what could be a great academic and social experience. In the case of UMass Amherst looks can be deceiving. It is not the large, overwhelming place it appears at first glance. In reality, UMass Amherst consists of many smaller, highly accessible and welcoming communities. Viewing the university from a community perspective, this is one case where the parts are greater than the whole.

Chuck Kaufman serves on the UMass Amherst Parents Advisory Council. 

UMass Amherst Transfer: A Parent’s Perspective

After much careful consideration, during his freshman year at another college, our son decided that he wanted to transfer.  Although he did very well academically, started every match as a freshman on the men’s volleyball team, and made friends, he sought greater academic and extra-curricular opportunities.  Extremely outgoing, funny, and social, he wanted access to more clubs, activities, and a larger student population. After researching several options, and after a visit to UMass Amherst, he knew it was the school for him.  He was accepted as a transfer student and hasn’t looked back since, throwing himself into his classes and extra-curricular activities with great enthusiasm.

Naturally, we were thrilled for him, but as parents we had many questions and a few concerns. Going from a small college to a large university, we hoped he wouldn’t “get lost” or be treated as a number rather than as an individual. He had flourished academically during his freshman year. We wanted to ensure he would have ready access to professors and other academic resources when necessary, especially while adjusting from small class sizes to potentially much larger ones. As parents of a transfer student we were also concerned that his previously attained academic credits wouldn’t transfer into his UMass Amherst curriculum.  After reviewing his submitted coursework from freshman year, UMass provided clear documentation indicating his credit status. Much to our relief, our transfer student would be able to graduate on time.

As the academic year draws to a close our son is thrilled with his choice, and UMass has far surpassed our expectations in every way.  Commencing with comprehensive orientation sessions for transfer students and family and friends, the transition has been seamless for our entire family. Every new student attends an orientation session where they receive assistance in course registration, meet faculty, and get to know the campus. This is also a great opportunity to meet other transfer students.  As parents, we found the family and friends orientation particularly helpful. This detailed program proactively addresses several important topics in great detail, with plenty of time for questions and to meet other parents of transfer students. Topics include academics, financial matters, health services, living at UMass, student safety, technology, and student emotional health. All of that information coupled with a great lunch in a dining hall (yes, the stellar reputation of the dining services is well deserved!) made for an outstanding day. In addition, each fall, UMass Amherst offers a variety of programs beginning Labor Day weekend for transfers. These sessions, meetings, and activities are designed to create a supportive community for new transfer students. You can learn more at  UMass Amherst New Students Orientation – Transfer Students.

Once accepted, one of our initial questions was, where would our son live? While transfer students can live in other residence halls, many choose to live in Sylvan. McNamara residence hall in the Sylvan area is specifically geared for transfer students, enabling them to begin their UMass Amherst experience together.

Our son has found his place, thriving academically while pursuing numerous opportunities outside of the classroom. He’s interested in so many courses and potential fields of study that he’s likely to change his major…again! In terms of campus resources, he has availed himself of the writing lab and always finds his professors and TAs available when needed to discuss an upcoming paper or exam. This has empowered him to become an even stronger self-advocate, confident that his inquiries will be received with care and respect.  As parents of a transfer student entering a new environment, we have been impressed by the various resources available on campus. A great place to start for parents of transfer students is the Office of Parents Services . This outstanding resource contains campus offices, contacts for emergencies and campus safety, FAQs, a parent checklist, and links to other useful pages, among other information.

Similar to its outreach to families of incoming first-year students, UMass Amherst encourages family members of transfer students to get involved with the university. Involvement could start with a one-off blog post similar to this one on a topic of interest to others. Among other volunteer opportunities, family members of transfers are encouraged to apply to serve on the UMass Amherst Parent Advisory Council.  This is what I did. As the parent of a transfer student I have received a warm welcome to this group of like-minded parents working to serve as a resource and better the UMass Amherst experience for all of us. Information that families of transfer students may find valuable is available   from the UMAPA Advisory Council web page.

Created as a resource for students, families of transfers can also access the Dean of Students Office. Another helpful resource for families of both transfer and current students is the Office for Parents Services Facebook page: UMass Amherst parents page on Facebook.  Family members can ask questions, and valuable information is regularly posted there. In addition, every Tuesday the page offers a useful tip to help with our student’s success. Another useful Facebook page for UMass Amherst parents is UMass Amherst Family to Family, which is moderated by volunteers from the UMass Parents Advisory Council in collaboration with the Office for Parents Services.

Between the resources available and the welcoming culture of UMass Amherst our son has never been happier. Transferring to UMass Amherst was one of the best decisions he’s ever made. As parents, we could not be happier.

Submitted by Chuck Kaufman, parent of a sophomore at UMass Amherst, and a member of the UMass Amherst Parent Advisory Council.


Encourage Students to Exercise and Eat Right

As the weather improves our students often feel like they have no time to enjoy being outside.  The end of the semester is approaching and they need to double down on studies, projects and preparing for finals.  Many are also still on the hunt for summer jobs or internships and may be sorting out where they want to live in the fall.  Students may call home feeling overwhelmed and feeling like they have no control over the stress in their lives.

This type of call can be a true teachable moment to remind them that part of growing up is taking control of the choices we make and the way we spend our time. They can choose what to eat and how much to eat. They have control over choosing to exercise regularly and having enough sleep at night.  Helping your student to make positive choices about nutrition, exercise, and sleep can go a long way towards a successful semester.

Exercise can be particularly important for students who spend much of their time sitting in classes or labs. Help your student find solutions to typical justifications like:

  • I can’t find time
  • My knee is giving me trouble
  • It is too hot or too cold
  • I get tired so quickly
  • I hate running or exercising

We all experience challenges in our lives. That is a part of life. Ask your student: How can you tackle those limitations and make exercise or other wellness activities a routine part of every day?

If your student does not have a daily exercise routine, encourage them to start with just 15 minutes of low intensity activity a day. Encourage them to increase the duration and intensity about 10% every week (that’s about 1.5 minutes more in week #2). Note: Students with disabilities should work individually with the Rec. Center staff to understand the types and amounts of physical activity appropriate for them. Students can run, walk, go to the Rec Center, participate in wheelchair basketball, practice meditation and yoga, do aerobics, play intramural sports, and practice self-care activities to improve the physically strengths and stay mentally sound.  They will feel the difference every week as they get stronger. Talk to them about setting exercise goals for themselves and for their physical and mental health. In addition, encourage them to find a running/workout partner since this is very helpful to staying motivated. The joy of reaching the goal is one of the best personal achievements.

Eating right is very important for a healthy lifestyle as well.  Encourage them to follow these simple rules – eat a good breakfast and at least three meals a day; eat plenty of foods rich in fiber; limit sugar intake and drink a lot of water to avoid dehydration; and diversify food intake – UMass Dining offers countless choices of nutritional and healthy food options.

Here are some great links to UMass health and wellness resources:

UMass Amherst, with its magnificent Western Mass location and its beautiful campus, is a great place for students to prepare themselves to face the real world – academically as well as by building a strong mind and body.

Benny Joseph is an experienced Marathon runner and the parent of a Computer Science Major, UMass Amherst Class of 2018.

Look in the Mirror: Talking to Your Student About Alcohol Abuse

I am in healthcare and can quote ad nauseum the long term effects that alcohol and drug abuse can cause a person.  Those pearls of wisdom sometimes seem to fall flat in my house, where there are lots of blank stares and the occasional eye roll when I speak to my college age kids about various topics, but, especially when discussing serious issues such as alcohol abuse.  The cautionary tales dredged up from (and occasionally elaborated upon) my youth have all been heard.  Even though “Jim” my college friend freshman year who quickly moved from binge drinker to alcohol rehab patient and ex-college student all in the course of 2 semesters was at the time their age, they still hear “Jim” as something that happened a long time ago and not really relatable.

Alcohol use continues to be a challenge for many UMass Amherst students and causes concern among many parents and university staff.  Yet, when you are 19, you viscerally believe you will always be 19 or 20 or 21 and look and will feel exactly like you do now — despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Specifically, below are 6 physical changes that can start after just one or two nights of even moderate drinking, let alone 12 hours of nonstop day and night drinking.  Ask your student to look in the mirror and consider:

  • Dehydration: Alcohol dehydrates your body in general (hence the hangover headache) and this includes your skin.  This happens EVERY time you drink and also deprives your skin of vital vitamins and nutrients.  Blood shot eyes and face bloat can result from a night of heavy drinking with pimples and rosacea (red skin that can be permanent) not far behind.
  • Fat deposits: Many believe that the toxins in alcohol contribute to the buildup of cellulite.  In addition, alcohol is fattening.  A pint of beer or 2 gin and tonic equals eating around one hamburger with the fixings.
  • Body odor: The liver processes most of the alcohol you drink but some of it leaves the body directly through your breath, sweat and urine causing a telltale odor that is difficult to cover up.
  • Hair: the dehydrating effect of alcohol also affects your hair making it dry, weak and brittle.  Hello split ends!  Excessive alcohol use can also trigger a zinc deficiency which has been shown to cause hair loss.
  • You may fall asleep more easily after a night of drinking, but you are much more likely to wake up multiple times during the night causing fatigue and sleep deprivation.
  • Unhealthy eating: Alcohol is a highly acid forming substance which changes your pH balances causing you to crave salty, fatty foods because your body is trying to find balance -hence the late night Domino calls or McDonald’s trips.  Also please refer back to #2 where alcohol contributes to increased cellulite deposits.

In trying to help your student fully grasp the dangers of alcohol abuse, concentrating on the immediate changes in a college student’s body after a night (or a semester) of binge drinking can often get his or her attention.  Turns out you don’t have to abuse alcohol for 10 years in dive bars to begin to exhibit some negative physical signs of alcohol abuse.    For young adults worried about their looks, letting them know how alcohol abuse will impact their appearance and health can make a challenging topic highly relevant and open up a broader conversation.

Submitted by Shannon Cullagh.  Shannon holds a Masters of Physical Therapy degree and is the mom of a UMass sophomore political science major class of 2019.

Be a Part of UMass Amherst’s First-Year Foster Care Initiative

Do you remember all that you and your student had to do in preparation for their landmark move to campus– buying towels, toiletries, coffee makers, bedding, computers, etc.?  While your student tried to meet their new roommate and make new friends, you helped with things that needed to be collected and transported, worrying and fretting about every conceivable need they might have during their stay away from home, and making sure that you were able to provide for all of these things so that they were not inconvenienced in any way.

Unfortunately, not every student attending UMass Amherst has the invaluable support of family.  Students that come from our foster care system frequently face significant challenges and often do not have the resources needed to purchase even the smallest items.

In Fall 2016, the UMass Amherst Parents Association (UMAPA) Advisory Council, in collaboration with the Dean of Students Office and the Office of Parent Services (OPS), launched an effort aimed at trying to make the transition to college a little easier for foster youth attending the university as freshmen.  The idea was first floated by UMAPA Advisory Council member and Chair of the Community Service and Outreach Sub-committee, Mike Burk. As a working professional in the child welfare field, Mike had seen too often, the seemingly insurmountable challenges and problems faced by youth in the foster care system, many of which seemed so easily resolvable with just a helping hand, or a little bit of caring by a kind soul.  When he approached the Council with the suggestion that we should try to do something for this vulnerable student population, the members wholeheartedly embraced the opportunity to make a difference.

Word about the initiative was quickly spread via the campus’s OPS website, as well as the UMass Amherst Family-to-Family Facebook group. It was heartening to see the enthusiastic and encouraging response from other UMAPA members.  Mike also reached out to the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families with a connection finally made in October 2016.  Key contacts were provided by DCF as well as suggestions for improving outreach.

The very first drive (Fall 2016) was one based on gift card donations to stores such as Target, JC Penney, Big Y, Stop and Shop, and Amazon.  Fellow parents were encouraged to make contributions of any size, no matter the dollar value.  It seemed so rewarding and fulfilling to know that as a UMass parent/family member, one was making a difference in another student’s life.  With the collaboration of the Office of Parent Services and the Dean of Students Office, identified students received a welcome message inviting them to pick up their gift cards confidentially at the Dean of Students Office.  When they did, they also had an opportunity to learn about support services available to them. OPS in partnership with the MicroChill company also provided each student with a UMass welcome mat for their residence hall room.

The inaugural drive raised $1,385 from 11 families. With these funds, we were able to provide an average of $200 in gift cards for seven incoming first-year students from foster care.

We are now looking forward to our second drive.  So, come join us in this wonderful cause for the UMass Amherst family! We welcome your ideas, feedback, and full support as we work towards its launch. Please be on the lookout for additional information on this initiative in the coming weeks at the campus’s OPS website, as well as the UMass Amherst Family-to-Family Facebook group.  If you have questions or ideas that you want to share, you can do so on the Facebook group or contacting Mike Burk at

Submitted by: Neena Verma, the mom of a current UMass Amherst   Political Science and English double major, class of 2018.  Neena works full time in the UMass President’s Office and is  the current Co-Chair of the UMA Parents Advisory Council.



College Wellness: Creating a Community

I believe that the key to wellness in college is community: ensuring students (our children) develop a healthy, personal community. If students can find that one place that they can belong, whether it be a club, a friend or group of peers where they can be themselves and feel comfortable, they will have planted the seeds for their own community. I want to share my experience.

Our daughter is graduating in just three months! Her four years at UMass Amherst have given her a strong academic education (preparing her for a great job in advertising we hope) but equally important, her four years at UMass have brought her great friends, positive experiences and a healthy sense of herself.

Our daughter easily transitioned from being a very involved student at a small out-of-state high school to one of the thousands of students at UMass. I’m not sure if it was due to the years away at summer camp or just her independent nature, but once at UMass, she began creating her own healthy community. I recognize that some students can get lost in such a large university but from her experience, I learned that there are many ways to develop that small town feel.

UMass does an excellent job of making a large school feel smaller. With residential programs like RAPS, common readings, floor and hall activities, and the whole host of first-year only experiences during that first month of school, the university promotes a sense of community. Our daughter met friends in her residence hall, through classes and even became friends with students who lived in other residential areas. All of her chosen peers spent their time in constructive ways; we didn’t hear about student drug use, binge drinking, or other at-risk behaviors. While we were/are not naïve about the range of college experiences for some students, and we know she didn’t tell us everything, our daughter clearly found like-minded friends who wanted to experience college in successful ways.

Our daughter’s school days were filled with academics, working out at the (gorgeous!) Recreational Center, great dining common’s food (definitely take advantage of that parents!), exploring Amherst (in the latter two years), and experiencing the best this wonderful university has to offer.

While I had my own feelings about our daughter’s choice to pledge a sorority, this enabled her to again create a smaller community. She made great friends, expanded her ‘only child’ status with lots of ‘sisters’, provided herself with a flexible but helpful structure, and found her voice. Since our daughter was engaged in a positive school culture, she wasn’t swayed by the risks often associated with college independence.

As mentioned, community can include a religious organization, an intramural or competitive sport, a UMass activity (the list of student groups and clubs at UMass Amherst is truly endless!), or one of the many sororities/fraternities; it can also be a professor or other adult connection that provides a sense of belonging (I remember my own UMass experience with the late Julie Berwald, advisor for the College of Arts and Sciences Information and Advising Center – CASIAC. She was my ‘mom’ away from home and I needed that.).  All of these things can help ground students, promote community, and give them opportunities and reasons to stay clear of at-risk activities/behaviors.

Encourage your students to get involved and make even small community connections. It will help them feel part of this great institution and be safe and well at UMass.

Congratulations to all the 2017 graduating seniors and their families!

Submitted by:   Seena S. Franklin of Tiverton RI,  the proud mom of a soon to be UMass graduate, a 1980 alumni, a member of the UMass Parent Advisory Council and co-chair of the Wellness Committee.

Tips and Resources for Navigating Spring Semester Transitions

IMG_7718As students and families reconnect over winter break, grades are published and students start planning for the Spring semester ahead. Based on recent conversations on the UMass Amherst Family to Family Facebook page here is a quick overview of 4 topics that parents/families and students may want to consider discussing at this point in the academic year.

Topic #1: Roommate and Housing Changes

It is not unusual for a roommate to move out due to a move off campus, study abroad, or any number of reasons.  Similarly, your student may opt to change rooms and residence halls or might decide to move off campus.  It can be confusing as to how these changes impact second semester room and board charges.  The Residential Life web page details the specifics but, a few rules of thumb are important to consider:

  • If your student gives late notice for a move off campus, there will be a fee even if the move is due to illness, study abroad or moving home. The longer you wait to notify the school, the higher the fee so don’t delay.
  • If your student is changing between rooms of the same rate there is no fee but, housing charges can go up if they move into premium housing such as the Commonwealth Honors, North Apartments, or break housing. Costs can also change if they move from a double to a single.

If the roommate left during fall semester, your student may have had a temporary single but, don’t expect things to stay that way unless your student is offered and pays an extra fee to retain the room as a single.  UMass Amherst welcome’s hundreds of mid-year transfer and first-year students as well as study abroad and domestic exchange students.  Expect that empty bed to be filled at the beginning of the semester.

Topic #2:  Class Registration Changes

Most students completed Spring class registrations during the fall but, some may want to make changes before the new semester begins. In some cases, students want a different time slot or are hoping a closed class opens a spot.   In other cases, if a student earned a C- or lower in a class, they may opt to re-take it for a higher grade to replace the original grade in their GPA calculations, although the original grade will stay on the record.

Whether or not your student is 100% happy with their current class listing, it is vital that they be registered for a minimum of 12 credits in order to retain full time student status.  Without that, they can lose some financial aid and risk losing their right to live in the residence halls unless special arrangements are made.

Students who what to make changes can log into SPIRE and search for available slots.  Slots will open up in many classes but may quickly be grabbed so it pays to keep checking.  It is recommended to use the SWAP feature in SPIRE in order to ensure that the student retains at least 12 credits at all times.  The add/drop period extends through the first two weeks of class but, students are responsible for all work in a class — even if they start late.

If students are planning to change majors or add minors or second majors and need specific classes that have restricted availability, the student should reach out to their departmental advisor to ask if they can be approved to register. Students also need to make sure there are no holds on their account and be aware that SPIRE will not authorize a change that results in scheduling conflicts.

Finally, it is important to note that SPIRE is to be used by students – not parents/family members!  Parents/families are encouraged to discuss options and tradeoffs and help their student consider if the selected mix of classes makes sense in terms of majors and workloads but, it is up to the student to do the heavy lifting!

Topic #3 Declaring or Changing Majors

Many students entered UMass Amherst with a declared major while others started on an exploratory track.  All students must declare a major by the end of sophomore year, however, some majors – particularly science, engineering and business – often have predefined course sequences that build over time so waiting until the end of sophomore year may require the student to stay on at the school for more than 4 years to complete all requirements.

If your student is struggling to make a decision, the UMass Amherst Career Services office provides access to a number of self-assessment tools  that can help students explore career options and better understand the education requirements needed.

Each College within the University has its own specific process for meeting with advisors and declaring majors so, it is important to check in with departmental advisors and get the paperwork done.  If the student wants to move into a restricted major such as engineering, business, or computer science, they will need to work closely with the department to demonstrate that they have successfully completed the predictor courses and then follow the major’s application process.

It is not unusual for a student to have to apply more than once into very competitive majors so understanding the process and staying in communication with the department is important.

Topic #4 Joining the Commonwealth Honors College

While a number of freshmen are invited to join the Commonwealth Honors College at the time they are accepted to the University, many other students join after they arrive on campus.  Honors College students represent all majors and most departments offer dedicated Honor’s advisors and Honors colloquiums associated with upper level classes.

Current UMass Amherst students are eligible to apply to the Commonwealth Honors College if they have completed one full-time semester of 12 or more graded credits and earned an overall GPA of 3.400 or above at UMass Amherst.  Admission is competitive so meeting minimum eligibility requirements does not guarantee admission. Applications are rated on a) the quality and content of answers to application questions, b) writing skills, and c) the strength of GPA. The current application cycle closes January 9th but applications will also be taken in May 2017.  Upper classmen can apply to pursue Departmental Honors or Multi-disciplinary Honors. First-Year students can apply for the full Honors Curriculum.

Submitted by Mary Turner, the mom of a recently graduated UMass Amherst Economics major, Class of 2016 and a UMass Amherst sophomore geology major, Class of 2019