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The Do’s and Don’ts of Engaging Families with Facebook

Remember this statement – Facebook is your friend. Use it. Share it. Be proactive with it. Most importantly, engage with families on it.

A few years ago, the Mountaineer Parents Club at West Virginia University decided to utilize Facebook groups to communicate with families. Our official Facebook page was often inundated with personal messages from prospective and current families asking us similar, if not the same questions.

“How do we schedule classes?”

“Where can my student park?”

“My student is having issues with their roommate – what can we do?”

“My student chose housing; how do they choose a roommate?”

The list of questions is endless.

With the constant flow of traffic, we began to realize that often, families have the same questions. Why not put those questions into one location where families can see the question and the official response? This is where our Facebook groups were born.

Starting in spring of 2020, we launched our first official “Class of” Facebook group. Each month we would invite admitted families to join the group via email. Each month the group would grow exponentially.

By the end of August 2020, we had over 3,600 families join the group. Our last group, Class of 2025, had over 2,700 families. We’ve approved well over 6,500 posts and answered nearly as many questions.

We should mention we’re a team of two.

Once we noticed the success of our “Class of” groups, we were asked to make a larger, more inclusive group, to accommodate upperclassman families. “The Official Families of WVU Students” group was created on April 15, 2020. This group is run by current WVU parents but overseen by the Mountaineer Parents Club. To date, we have over 6,700 families as part of the group.

So, what have we learned about operating and overseeing Facebook groups? Too much.

Here’s our tips to be successful when using Facebook groups.
 
Do create separate groups. Incoming family’s needs are vastly different from a parent of a junior in college. By having a dedicated group for incoming families, you’ll be able to answer their unique questions and provide a level of customer service they need when starting out.

Don’t keep class pages open beyond the start of school. We’ve learned that once a student is here, we need to ease away from providing parents with answers to questions their student should be asking now. This is where we encourage families to join the larger Facebook group.

Do let upperclassman families help the newbies. We’ve noticed that families love to help other families. Therefore, once we transition our new parents into the larger Families of group, we let the other parents handle the question asking.

Don’t let current students in the group. Students have plenty of spaces to engage with other students. Parents not so much. Therefore, we do not approve students to be part of these groups. We do approve some faculty, staff, and alumni. However, we email them and discourage them from engaging with posts.

Do keep track of your members. We make all our members in all of groups fill out questions – name, email, student’s year, student’s name. If the questions are not filled out, we do not approve them. We store all their information in a Google Excel. This helps up cross reference who are members of the Parents Club and who aren’t.

More do’s:

We make our Class of groups request to post their questions and comments. This gives us time to review the question and find the answer. Often, we require the assistance of an expert. Example - housing, financial aid etc. Once we have the answer, we approve the post.

Find current parents who want to help. We use parents of current WVU students to help us approve posts in our Families of group. Sometimes they have the answer, but often they will let other parents answer the question. This creates a culture of caring, which we strive to have at WVU. Having parents as moderators alleviates a lot of stress on our end.

Make it fun! We host special Q&A’s on our incoming families group. It’s a great time to get them thinking about things they may have not thought of yet.

Create a list of rules for them to follow. This can be part of your website or listed in an announcement within the group. This gives you leverage if a parent breaks a rule, and you need to remove them from the group.

Finally – remember freedom of speech. Just because you don’t agree with their opinions of your school doesn’t mean you get to remove their post or comment. It hurts, but it’s their opinion and they have the right to voice it.

Don’ts:

Don’t allow bullying. Unfortunately, we’ve noticed a lot of parents post unsavory things in response to some questions. We monitor the group and delete any posts with foul language or bullying.

Don’t engage in politics. We’ve made it known that our groups are for seeking help with things at WVU. Therefore, any politics or misinformation is immediately deleted.

In conclusion:

Overall, we’ve loved creating this environment for our families. We’ve seen the success, and more importantly, we’ve heard from our families how much our groups have helped them.

If you’re thinking about exploring Facebook groups and would like more insights, just let us know. The Mountaineer Parents Club is always available to help.

Rickie Huffman is the Marketing Strategist for Admissions and Mountaineer Parents Club at West Virginia University.

Nicki Jenkins Elected to the BOD

Congratulations to Nicki Jenkins! Nicki was elected by her peers to serve as the new member of the AHEPPP Board of Directors! Nicki will serve a three year term beginning in January of 2022.

 

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Have you Met Lexie McCarthy?

Get to know Lexie McCarthy, Director of Parent & Family Relations at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. Lexie is a two-time member of the Family Engagement in Higher Education National Conference Team and is this year's Technology Chair.

What is your favorite part of working with parents/families?
I love having the opportunity to support parents and families who are supporting their students. I most enjoy onboarding families each summer at orientation and welcoming families to our Ram Fam.

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National Conference Creates Lasting Connection

Like many, I fell into my career in higher education. I started straight out of my undergrad in the world of admissions. I took to the open road of the travel season, hustling to recruit applicants and convert admits into deposits. It was fun, but it felt forced. I wasn't as comfortable as other counselors. Small talk isn’t my forte and quiet was how I recharged. I am one of the few that would retreat to my hotel room after college fairs and a day of forced interactions rather than meeting up and debriefing high school visits and travel routes. For years this didn’t change, regional meetings, team outings and professional conferences were all the same--until I met AHEPPP: Family Engagement in Higher Education.

I am, by nature, an introvert. One who has learned how to balance and thrive as an ambivert but on certain occasions, when I am surrounded by the individuals capable of providing me the recharge and rejuvenation I need both personally and professionally (aka the AHEPPP National Conference) I am without reservation an extrovert.

This is the power of the AHEPPP community.

When I attended my first national conference I was stunned to find a membership that felt more like a large family. Rather than retreating after a day of sessions I found myself talking, connecting and naturally building a network that felt made for me. I left that conference in San Diego wanting to dig in and do more. I felt compelled to in a way that didn’t feel forced but rather helped me reevaluate the ways I could grow as a professional. I decided to get involved. At the time, I was still somewhat green to my new parent and family role  but I was excited and wanted to seize the opportunity to learn and saw no better way than to go all in. My AHEPPP colleagues not only welcomed me with open arms but they helped guide me along the way, because that’s what they do.

Admittedly, even with my enthusiasm at an all time high, I was/am still an introvert. There were moments where I would catch myself and ask what am I doing? Am I ready for this? But my mentors only within this great organization helped to provide me the reassurance and support I needed, ultimately landing within the Conference Committee which was just the right fit for me.

As a smaller planning team within the organization, the conference committee consists of highly-driven, task-oriented individuals who have come together with one common goal in mind- to plan and execute the best AHEPPP conference to date; and then, without fail, they do. It is pretty much the best group project a professional could ask for! And as a life-time learner, six conferences later I can say that (in my opinion) we aced it each and every time. Not because of me -- absolutely not -- but because of the team, because of the network, because the individuals in this organization are among the best and when you get great people together with a shared vision and deep sense of care for their community the goal will undoubtedly be good.

This is the power of the AHEPPP network and why I am personally inviting you, and hopefully enticing you, to become an active member within it.

The Conference Committee was my experience. A path that I chose to walk within this community and while I highly recommend it as an engagement opportunity, there are certainly others. Perhaps you aren’t quite ready yet and that’s okay, baby steps. I challenge you to start today by joining a different committee better suited for you, perhaps become a mentor or  if you’re not ready to take on a mentee then become one. Let an AHEPPP leader help guide you to finding your footprint as a member. I assure you there are many of us up for the task and more than willing to do so.

Whatever it is, I encourage you to “grab a spoon” (apologies for the FRIENDS reference but I couldn’t resist)... take-hold of the community that has welcomed you with open-arms and make the most of this small but mighty organization. We are individuals with diverse backgrounds and experiences who care deeply about the work we do, the world around us and the people we share it with and we invite you to have an active role in the difference we make!

That’s the AHEPPP way.

Until next time,
K.F

Kerri Fowler is the Director of Parents & Families Services at North Carolina State University. She is also a member of the AHEPPP Board of Directors. Applications for the 2022 Conference Committee are now open!

Membership Spotlight on Ben Williams

Meet Ben Williams Director of Director, New Student Orientation & Family Engagement at Georgia State University. Ben is the Region 3 Chair and a member of the Equity, Belonging & Inclusion Task Force. Ben will also be hosting an AHEPPP family engagement Spring Summit in 2022 in Atlanta.  

How did you become involved with AHEPPP?
When I got my new role at Georgia State, joining AHEPPP was a top priority and when emails came out I said yes! It's been a great experience.

Tell us how you first started in the field of Parent & Family Relations.
I started working in family engagement when I became the Assistant Director of Orientation at Georgia State. It has been a great opportunity to build a program back up and engage with family members across our 6 campuses.

What has surprised you most about working with parents and family members?
The incredible opportunities to build partnerships that help students and families succeed. Some of my favorite interactions start with frustrated families that allow for us to work together to support their students success.

What changes do you think we will see in the field of parent/family relations in the next 5 years?
I think we will need to focus on how family members are important partners in the enrollment, retention, and progression conversations on campus. Leveraging data to tell our stories of how engaging families help us contribute to student success.

When you're not working with parents and families, how do you like to spend your time? 

As a PhD student and dog dad, most of my time is spent with loved ones and in books. I love my work, but know it is crucial to find ways to recharge my batteries.

What is the last book you read?
Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Who inspires you? Why?

I am continually inspired by my mom, even though she is no longer here. She grew up in the geographic center of Texas with dirt floors and went on to do all sorts of wonderful things. In her final years, she was a House Mom for Delta Zeta at Texas State and reminded me each day it is not our experiences, but how we respond that show who we are.

If you had to eat only one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
breakfast....all the pancakes and bacon. :)

What's in a name? Equity, Belonging & Inclusion

What's in a name? As so many of our institutions have been closely examining what equity, belonging and inclusion means on our campuses, the AHEPPP Task Force deliberately chose its name. 

Equity is a practice that understands that not all people need exactly the same resources (i.e. equality).  You may have seen the popular drawing (courtesy of Interaction Institute for Social Change” that simply demonstrates the difference between equity and equality. Equity is what the Task Force is striving for in AHEPPP; not that everyone gets the same resources, but that resources meet the needs of the membership and by extension, our students and families. 

Why isn’t “access” included in the name?  The Task Force chose the term “belonging”, as the term access does not go far enough.  It is not enough to give our members access to our organization if they cannot utilize the resources.  Similarly, on our campuses, it is not enough for a student from a minority community to gain access to the college through admission.  True belonging indicates that the student gains admission and intentionally has access to the support they will need to be successful. 

equality vs equity
You may wonder why the Task Force rejected the word “diversity” for its name?  The word diversity has been thwarted to mean “others”.  While diversity actually covers everyone, the state of having variety, the usage has become a euphemism.  Diversity has been used to describe the opposite of the norm, which in our society historically has been white men.  Often when a hiring committee states it is looking for diversity in its search, it means that it would like candidates that are “other” than the norm.  Defining people as diverse is defining them by what they are not--white men (and very frequently cis-gendered, straight white men).  Rejecting the word diversity in this case has meant a deliberate non-acceptance of the norm. 

So what is a better definition than diversity?  The Task Force chose the word “inclusion”. Inclusion is not defined by what is lacking but by what is present. 

The Task Force on Equity, Belonging, and Inclusion will become the AHEPPP Equity, Belonging, and Inclusion Council to help our association continue moving forward to social justice.

Meet our CAS Representative, Dr. Christine Self

Meet Christine Self, Ph.D. - Director of Parent & Family Relations at Texas Tech University and the AHEPPP Representative to CAS.

How did you become involved with AHEPPP? Please also share any past AHEPPP volunteer roles.
I first joined AHEPPP back in 2013 (I think?) when I attended the Fall Conference in San Diego, and I was hooked! It was so wonderful to meet with colleagues from across the country who did the same kind of work with families that I did and experienced the same rewards and challenges of working as a higher education professional who works primarily with families. I have previously served on AHEPPP conference committees and now as the CAS representative. Volunteering with AHEPPP is incredibly rewarding!

What has surprised you most about working with parents and family members?
I’ve been surprised by how rewarding it can be to help families navigate the transition to being supporters of college students and what great partners they can be is no longer surprising to me after all of these years.

What changes do you think we will see in the field of parent/family relations in the next 5 years?

I am seeing more support for parent/family programming and communication from those outside of our areas and I hope this trend continues!

When you're not working with parents and families, how do you like to spend your time?

I love reading, cooking, hiking, and spending time with my partner and our cats.

What is the last book you read?
The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty. I highly recommend this wonderful book about the influence of African cuisine in southern cooking.

Who inspires you? Why?

I am inspired by young people. This past year, they have withstood so much change and challenges to everything we thought we knew about education and social connections. Our young people have shown themselves to be flexible and resilient during trying times, and I find that inspiring.  

If you had to eat only one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Pizza.

Get to know Liz Vigil

Get to know Liz Vigil., Senior Family Outreach Specialist at New Mexico State University. Liz is the Region 6 Chair for AHEPPP and a member of our Equity, Belonging, and Inclusion Task Force.

How did you become involved with AHEPPP?  What have been your favorite AHEPPP experiences?
When I came into my first role in family programming, I realized that since there wasn't anyone I knew already that could help me figure out how to develop the kind of programming I dreamed of, AHEPPP was my ticket to sharing in the wealth of knowledge that exists from its members. I jumped right in and volunteered so that I could make the most of every opportunity.

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AHEPPP Tee Shirts Create Conference Scholarships

Now you can both promote and support your professional family... and look great doing it!

tee shirt with AHEPPP logo

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Membership Spotlight on Lynanne Jamison

Get to know Lynanne Jamison Ph.D., Director of New Student & Family Programs at Virginia Commonwealth University. Lynanne is a long-time AHEPPP member and volunteer and currently serves at the Conference Committee Assessment Chair.

How did you become involved with AHEPPP?  What have been your favorite AHEPPP experiences?
I became involved with AHEPPP by volunteering at the conference to help with check-in and registration. Members of the conference planning team and board encouraged me to apply for the conference planning committee. I served for two years as the Conference Programming Co-Chair, one year as the Conference Awards Co-Chair, and am serving my second year as the Conference Assessment Chair.

What has surprised you most about working with parents and family members?
My family was completely uninvolved with my collegiate experience. I remember thinking at the beginning of my journey working with my families that were sort of a bonus for students...not necessarily an essential part of their support system...because I made it through just fine without mine. I have been surprised to learn for this generation just how critical family involvement is and how much easier student transition and success happens with their involvement.

What changes do you think we will see in the field of parent/family relations in the next 5 years?
I think we will see an increase in family involvement both programmatically and philanthropically. I believe family giving will be essential for university funding. I think families will demand both in-person and virtual opportunities to connect with the university, their student, and one another not only during signature events but throughout the year. I believe FERPA laws and access to student information for families will change just as we've seen increased access to student information for families in the K-12 system. I think universities will depend upon families not only when it comes to decision making during the college selection process but also with the retention of students.

When you're not working with parents and families, how do you like to spend your time?
I love spending time with my family, being in nature (especially in the mountains or on the river), antiquing, trying new restaurants, watching or reading something filled with suspense, and being creative with music, art, or baking.

Who inspires you? Why?
My mother. She has been a dancer her whole life and has been teaching dance since graduating from high school. She founded and directed her own performing arts studio and has won numerous competitions and awards. More important than that though, she accepts and inspires young people to set, achieve, and surpass their goals and never to give up. She was diagnosed in 2020 with ALS and is now focusing on herself and keeping hope while losing the ability to dance or to even walk and talk. Her perseverance and tenacity while having everything she has worked her whole life taken from her is inspiring.

If you had to eat only one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
TACOS!!! So many different ways to prepare them!

Mentorship: Advice for Success

Like many institutions, Ohio State had to cancel our 2020 commencement celebrations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Though a long time coming, on August 7, we were able to bring together our graduates, their families, and their loved ones for a celebration of their time at Ohio State.  As part of our evening together, Ryan Day, Ohio State’s football coach, and Christina Day, his wife, served as our graduation speakers.  The Days are very involved in the Ohio State community and focus their efforts on the mental health of children.  You can read more about their On Our Sleeves work here.  On this night, they took turns providing our graduates advice on their future successes.  

Now, I know you’re reading this and thinking, what does this have to do with mentorship?  Let me get to that connection for you.  Christina and Ryan offered our graduates three tips of advice.  They encouraged everyone to find their team, people with whom they could surround themselves who would always be there for them, in the best of times and the worst.  They also encourage everyone to celebrate their successes, no matter how small and to live in those moments within one another.  But their first piece of advice was that you needed to find yourself a good coach.  Now, of course a head football coach would encourage you to find a coach yourself, but their worlds were deeper than that.  Coach Day talked about how many times he had been fired from jobs (more than he could remember).  He talked about Christina, his children and himself having to move over 10 times in a 15-year time span to explore different positions and opportunities.  All along that path, having people in his life to whom he could outreach, ask for advice and seek reassurance when times were at the toughest was crucial to his family finding success.  These “coaches” or “mentors”, would always be honest and transparent with you, telling you what you needed to hear, not what you wanted to hear.  But they would always be there for you, especially when times were their toughest.  Coach Day viewed these “coaches” as critical to whom he had become today.  

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Leaders Wanted

On behalf of the Board of Directors, I am pleased to announce several leadership opportunities available for AHEPPP members.

As a rapidly growing association with a small staff, volunteers are the lifeblood of AHEPPP: Family Engagement in Higher Education. Through the commitment, passion, and expertise of our membership AHEPPP remains on the forefront of important issues in working with the parents and families of college students.

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Tackling Mental Health on a College Campus

16 months. 16 months of Zoom meetings. 16 months of canceled events. 16 months of being in constant crisis mode. The 2020-2021 school year will be a memory we will never forget. 

Do we offer in-person classes? Are we going to be hybrid? How will we handle the repercussions of our decisions and those around us? We thought of every scenario that could happen, and we told ourselves that it couldn’t get much worse than a pandemic. 

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Picture This: Family Weekend with a Twist

What is the most important aspect of Family Weekend at my college?  It is not the events we plan, the modality, the swag (although some of our swag is pretty sweet), or the food we serve -- it is the connections we are forging.  

The fall of 2020 was unlike any other. Faced with a Family Weekend that would not include inviting parents and families to campus, we looked for new ways to engage our constituents. We did offer the typical welcome events, meetups, faculty class showcases, and resource-sharing. As we have a large visual media arts program, we also had a student-produced film competition festival and invited families to screen the films and participate in voting. A live talk-back was offered with the student film directors and the “People’s Choice” award was made. But we were missing the connection piece of the puzzle. We collaborated with an AHEPPP partner, Student Playbook, to try to bridge the connection gap.  

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New AHEPPP Survey Builder

My favorite part about AHEPPP is the way that we share resources. Our members—truly the best of the best—take pride in being able to share their work and programs and support one another. This is something that makes our organization stand out in the field of higher education. One area in which I personally have been able to support my colleagues over the years is by sharing the survey I send to my parents. I know that assessment is an area in which many of us struggle. In fact, data from the 2021 Survey of Family Engagement and Programs at Colleges and Universities showed that fewer than 25% of professionals who work with families are doing any type of survey of their family events, programming, and use of resources. 

Assessment is vital to increasing the value and understanding of our field. While COVID-19 has definitely brought to light the importance of parents as part of our university communities, the hard truth is that, in a budget cut, small offices are likely the first to go. We need to advocate for ourselves and the families of our students to show how the value our offices bring to the university, and one easy way to do this is through assessment. A survey is a great place to start.

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Sharing the Love

As all of us in AHEPPP are aware, it’s been a difficult 12+ months for the families we work with. They feel for their students who have not had the college experience they imagined. They’ve likely dealt with disruptions to their own work and home lives, and some undoubtedly faced health implications of COVID. 

Johnson & Wales University’s Providence Campus Parent & Family Relations office set out to help families, and students, smile with two special projects this year. The first centered on Valentine’s Day and the second was for Commencement.

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Top Seven Reasons to Submit an Educational Program Proposal

Program proposals are due soon for the AHEPPP 2021 National Virtual Conference. Just in case you’re not yet convinced you should submit our Conference Team has compiled the top SEVENish reasons to submit a program proposal. 

1. Your family engagement colleagues are counting on you for inspiration and refreshing ideas.

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Mentally Preparing, Navigating, and Transitioning back to “Normal”

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on every part of our daily lives -- routines have been all but lost, and modalities of connection and communication have been forever altered. For those of us lucky enough to have supportive institutions, this time has provided an opportunity to try new things and meet the needs of families in unique and different ways. On the flip side, this time has also gravely impacted our energy levels and mental health. As vaccine distribution increases there is a beacon of hope that many of our campuses and departmental operations will return to bustling in-person communities for Fall 2021.Yay! 

While I am extremely excited for students, families, faculty and staff to return and breathe life back into our campus, I am also acutely aware of  how hard this year will be, perhaps even more so than while working remotely. As such, I have tried to impress this realization onto my team. Some of you may read that and think, “Gosh, how pessimistic!” My goal is not to be a Debbie Downer, but rather to mentally prepare my team (and myself) for the long road ahead, and help them understand that budgets, programming and expectations are not going to bounce back to the way they were before March 2020. My intention is to help my team (and myself!) set realistic expectations and think outside the box as we will have to continue to be creative and resourceful to meet the needs of our constituents. 

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Using Parent Personas to Streamline Communication & Engagement

What a Year! Well done on surviving and thriving as you serve parents and families. As you continue to adjust and plan for the unknowns this fall, one thing is certain, understanding the needs of the families you serve is critical. TorchStar recently provided the Keynote for the AHEPPP Virtual Communications Summit. You can review the slides to learn how understanding personas can streamline parent communication and engagement. 

As we have discussed this work with colleagues, two questions often arise.

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AHEPPP Endorses College Ready

As the only association dedicated to student success through informed parent and family engagement, AHEPPP is proud to endorse College Ready: Expert Advice for Parents to Simplify the College Transition. This parent resource written entirely by AHEPPP members.

These authors are:

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