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Parent Program uses time of change as an opportunity for growth

Stephanie Carroll, assistant VP for Annual Giving, Alumni and Parent Program, shares the ways in which her office uses the technology available to enhance parent engagement

Cate Zenzen  | 

Family Weekend

When a young adult goes to college it can be a major transition for the whole family. Not only are students beginning a new life chapter, but their parents experience great change as well. The Lipscomb office of Alumni and Parent Engagement, a division of the Office of Advancement, recognizes the implications of this transition and works with parents to provide the support they need through communication channels and in-person events. While the global pandemic has changed the ways in which the program reaches parents, it has also sparked some creative points of connection that may even enhance engagement in the future. 

As the Assistant VP for Annual Giving, Alumni and Parent Programs, Stephanie Carroll is at the head of this parent engagement. She said the goal of the Parent Program is not only to promote communication with parents, but also to update them on University events and news. Her office is a steady source of information that parents can reference when they talk to their student about life on campus.  

“A lot of parents are really involved in their student’s life when they’re in high school. They may be serving on a PTO or they’re in a booster club, so we want to make sure that, when their students are at Lipscomb, parents still feel like they know what’s going on,” said Carroll.  

The priority of the program is communication. In many ways, students continue to rely on support and guidance from their parents even after starting college, and parents like to have the resources to provide that guidance. To keep all parties in the know, the Office of Advancement sends a monthly email newsletter that features insight on academics, student life, helpful tips for parents, and general University information such as the date of semester breaks, the deadline to drop a class, and who to contact with specific questions. With an extensive number of offices that provide services for students, navigating the campus directory can be overwhelming and complex. The Parent Program acts as a reference point for parents to contact the right person to answer their questions. 

The program also ensures parents can interact with each other. With students from all over the world, it can be comforting for parents to connect with another family from their home state or country. A Facebook page was created last year as a platform for parents from the same area to connect and support each other both emotionally and logistically as they go through a similar experience. 

“I love it when we can connect parents geographically. If a student is trying to find a ride home, how great is it to know there are other students from that population?” said Carroll. 

Traditionally, the program planned regional summer send off events, mostly within the state of Tennessee, as a way for incoming freshmen to meet others who lived nearby. Hosted by a current parent or alumni, these gatherings served as both a social celebration and information session. While these events looked very different this year due to social distancing and safety guidelines, Carroll argues that, in some ways, they were more effective. 

“We pivoted and did virtual parent gatherings. We had current parents host them along with representatives from both our office and Student Life. It was an opportunity for them to ask questions and a time to see everybody’s face. At the end we put them into breakout rooms, based off the major of that student, so they could meet other families whose students were going to be in a similar academic program,” said Carroll. 

Pre-pandemic, Carroll and her colleagues also hosted families on campus for a taste of the Lipscomb Community, including the newly merged events, Family Weekend and Homecoming. Parents were invited to experience a day in the life of their student, as well as to connect with University alumni. Previous years included meet-and-greet events with staff, faculty and the Board of Trustees, basketball games, choir concerts, a featured performance of the fall musical and a fair in Bison Square with inflatables and barbecue. 

“Last year, for Homecoming and Family Weekend, we had over 1,000 people in attendance. It was a really great weekend for alumni to share what Lipscomb continues to mean to them, even after graduation, and for parents to check in with their students to see how things were going,” said Carroll. 

While the Parent Program is still relatively new, Carroll argues this also makes it more adaptive and receptive to change. In addition to the ingenuity of the online summer connection events, the program made move-in weekend even more special with a hospitality room for students and their parents to take a family photo and have refreshments. Located in the Student Center, this space worked with the already unique circumstances of the year to create a memorable moment for families.

“We’re continually trying to innovate and come up with new ideas on how we can build out parent events. We try to find things to add throughout the year and we hope every year we’ll just  continue to build on it and improve our program,” said Carroll.

Parent engagement is considered to be a high priority in the Office of Advancement, and technological capabilities only expand the capacity to grow. Carroll and her colleagues use online surveys to gather feedback from parents as they transition to more virtual events. 

“I feel like we’ve seen a lot of positives. COVID has been awful, but it’s forcing us to innovate and rethink things. With our virtual parent gatherings this summer, we would have never thought to put parents online to meet with one another. Now that virtual engagement is becoming more comfortable for people, it actually opens up the avenue for us to do more, not less. I’m excited for the day when we can do a hybrid approach with both in-person and virtual gatherings and people aren’t going to be intimidated by that,” said Carroll.