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Parental Guidance

College 101 for moms and dads.

Illustration by Sam Ward

By Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

When the phone rings in the Parents and Families Services office, the staff and student workers are prepared to jump into action to answer questions that run the gamut — from Raleigh restaurant recommendations to roommate troubles to serious questions about a student’s mental health.

The Helpline is part of a growing slate of programs offered through the office that works to cultivate relationships with a vested constituency — the moms and dads of NC State’s more than 37,000 students (including 26,000 undergraduate). Its role has become more complex in recent years amid the COVID-19 pandemic as it serves as the hub for answers to questions about life on campus and how to support newly independent young adults. “NC State is a big place, and it can feel overwhelming to someone who is not familiar with it,” says Kerri Fowler, the office’s director. “We’re building a parent and family community from the very beginning, and we’re giving them resources from the very beginning.”

NC State is a big place, and it can feel overwhelming to someone who is not familiar with it.
— Kerri Fowler, director of the Parents and Families Services office

In addition to the email and phone Helpline, the office also provides newsletters and blog posts with information designed for parents, including a Conversation Calendar with monthly talking points for parents to drum up discussions with their sometimes-reticent students.

And it’s the organizer of events, including Parents and Families Weekend, Spring Fling and First in the Pack — designed for first-generation college students and their families — that aim to give parents a glimpse of campus life.

Student workers serve as what the office calls parent allies, answering Helpline questions, participating in events and providing a student’s perspective. It’s easy to read about student parking online, for example — but hearing from a student who went through the process to secure a spot can provide additional insight, says Brianna Marquinez ’22. “Facts are going to be the facts, but sometimes getting that personal insight is going to be a little bit more helpful,” she says.

As the pandemic bore down in spring 2020, the office regularly sent out university messages and updates to parents as classes went online and students were sent home. “I realized we couldn’t go quiet; it made people nervous,” Fowler said. Virtual coffee chats were added along with a series of live Facebook conversations on topics like dining and student health.

Fowler and her staff are fielding more questions from parents about mental health, a topic that parents previously had mentioned only on occasion. Just as rates of anxiety and depression rose on other U.S. campuses, NC State parents began stating their concerns more frequently and directly. “We have parents who are very open to calling and saying, ‘I’m worried about my student’s mental health,’” Fowler says. Staff directs them to on-campus mental health resources.

The office is making a difference for parents. “Despite the fact that there are young adults milling about, there are helpers at that school,” says Ann Jeffrey-Wilensky, whose son graduated in May and who has been a regular participant in the office’s virtual coffee chats.

The office’s reach is expanding with the launch of Pack Family Regions, developed with out-of-state students in mind. Parents of current students serve region-ally as points of contact — answering questions and holding local events in North Carolina and across the country.

Jim Skotthy, of Lexington, N.C., whose older son graduated from NC State in 2017 and younger son will graduate in May 2023, first got involved with the office during a coffee chat. Today, he’s a parent ambassador and works with the Pack Family Regions program. Parents are sometimes skeptical of official university responses, he says. That’s what makes the connections the office is building even more important.

“If a parent says, ‘Hey, look, no this is really true,’” he says, “it certainly makes them feel a whole lot better.” 

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