We Are Family: Welcoming Students – and Their Parents – to Mason

Posted: June 26, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

son and mother at Orientation
Admissions, Orientation and advising staff have seen increased parental involvement in recent years.

By Colleen Kearney Rich

On June 19, the first group of incoming freshmen and their parents descended on the Fairfax Campus for an Orientation program, a ritual that will be repeated throughout the summer. It used to be that new students would walk somewhat ahead of their parent or parents or 10 steps behind – but certainly not with their family.

Times have changed. Now you are more likely to see mothers and daughters poring over the “University Catalog” and “Schedule of Classes” like best friends or fathers setting the whole family in front of the George Mason statue for an impromptu portrait. “Some of the mother-daughter pairs even dress alike,” comments one university administrator.

At the recent Green and Gold Showcase, a part of the Orientation program where parents and students get to find out more about student services and organizations on campus, one father was overheard to say: “I should probably go to that session. You know [daughter’s name] won’t be up by that time.”

A recent Newsweek article described the phenomenon of “helicopter parents,” with the clingiest parents dubbed “Black Hawks,” after the heavy-duty military helicopter. Late baby boomer parents are those most likely to fall into the “hovering” pattern, the article explained, and they have been linked to their children via cell phones for years by the time the students reach college age.

Who’s Picking the College?

As director of recruitment for the Admissions Office, Amy Takayama-Perez works with parents on a daily basis. “I have been in this business for 10 years, and the parents are definitely more involved now,” she says. “They are the ones making the calls and sending the e-mails. They are the ones scheduling the campus tours.”

Takayama-Perez recounts a story from two years ago in which she worked almost exclusively with a mother-daughter pair for months. “I knew the mother far better than I knew the daughter,” she says. The daughter was having a difficult time deciding on a college. The mother was sold on Mason, but the high school senior had yet to decide.

parents talking to Orientation leaders
Orientation leaders chat with parents between sessions.
Photos by Evan Cantwell

One of Takayama-Perez’s goals in her interaction with potential Patriots is to get them to be an integral part of the process. “Students should want to take ownership. Ultimately, they are the ones who are going to be here.”

Nancy Dickerson, director of the Academic Advising Center, has been involved in Orientation at Mason for more than a decade. When Dickerson advises students during Orientation, their family members are scheduled to attend another session. This is to help the students focus on the process. However, Dickerson says, students will still call their parents on their cell phones to ask for advice. “The students are used to their parents advocating for them,” says Dickerson. “They don’t seem to mind.”

Sometimes there are clear instances where it would be better for parents to step back and let their son or daughter take charge. For example, parents are often far less tech savvy than their children. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a student call to tell us they were having problems with our online application, but we have parents calling all the time,” says Eddie Tallent, executive director of Admissions.

Tallent recalls a father applying online eight times, each time with a different major, and each time accruing application fees that eventually amounted to several hundred dollars.

“He really didn’t need to do that if he – or his student – was interested in more than one major,” says Tallent, who arranged to refund the excess fees.

Parental Involvement Can Be Win-Win

While most administrators would like students to take charge of their university experience, Dickerson says she thinks the increasing parental attention can be a win-win situation.

“The parents want to be more involved,” she says. “And we need to help them make that connection in a way that is beneficial.”

She points to new Orientation programming that fulfills that goal, as well as the development of a new Mason Family Association through the Office of Orientation and Family Programs and Services. In the association, families can take on as large a role as they want, with opportunities to get involved with the Admissions Office by attending college fairs on behalf of the university or offering to allow a Mason student to shadow them in their work environment.

Dickerson also works with families later if the student isn’t doing well academically. Because of the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), families won’t automatically know if their student is performing poorly in classes, even if the parents are paying the tuition. This is often a source of frustration for Patriot parents.

“And if the student isn’t doing well, they don’t necessarily want their parents to know,” Dickerson says. It is the student who has to involve the family in the process at this point and give the university permission to include family members, particularly if there is advising taking place to get the student back on track academically.

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