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By John Baker Brown, Campus Life

Approximately 1,000 parents and other family members were among the estimated 2,500 alumni and other visitors who joined the on-campus Emory community last month to celebrate Homecoming and Family Weekend. The event reflects a partnership between Campus Life’s Parent and Family Programs and a range of other university organizations.

Similarly, throughout the year, Parent and Family Programs, which manages Family Weekend, collaborates regularly with other Campus Life organizations and other university entities, including Admissions, Orientation, Advancement and Alumni Engagement, and the Emory Alumni Association. These partnerships offer an array of opportunities for families to engage with the Emory community and support their students’ growth and development.

“Reaching out to and engaging the parents of 15,000 Emory students is a challenging task,” said Bridget Guernsey Riordan, assistant vice president of Campus Life Alumni Relations, and Parent and Family Programs. “It requires close collaboration and committed partners, and that is exactly what we have.”

Homecoming buttonsHomecoming and Family Weekend buttons. Photo by Tina Chang.

Family Weekend

Family Weekend, which began in the 1980s with picnics at Lullwater Park, was hosted this year from Oct. 19 through 21. This is the second year that the university has hosted the event in conjunction with Homecoming.

The 2018 Family Weekend calendar lists more than 30 events for parents and families, ranging from Career Center and Business School sessions to a town hall with Emory President Clair Sterk, brunch at the DUCling, and hardhat tours of the Emory Student Center, which is under construction and scheduled for completion by spring.

Other opportunities for parents included a session on study abroad, a presentation on sorority and fraternity life at Emory, and a walking tour of campus, with notes on university history. The signature event of the weekend is typically the Homecoming Concert, which this year featured Decatur native and Emory alumna Keri Hilson.

“Combining Family Weekend and Homecoming provides synergy that benefits both events on several levels,” said Riordan, who has managed Family Weekend for the past four years. “But, the best part to us is that Emory alumni and family members get to see Emory at its best as an engaged and energized university community.”

According to Riordan, a comment from one parent in a recent parent survey captures the sentiments expressed by many parents.

“I really like having Parents Weekend and Homecoming together. [It] makes it a far bigger crowd generating excitement and enthusiasm,” the parent wrote in the anonymous survey. “It also gives our newest Emory parents a 'mentor' opportunity that is only afforded by us long-termers being on hand.”

Destination Emory

A series of 12 to 16 summer events, Destination Emory is hosted in cities nationwide and occasionally abroad to connect incoming students and their families with other Emory students and families from the same community. This year, Destination Emory offered gatherings in 14 cities nationwide, among them New York, Nashville, Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, Houston, Los Angeles and, of course, Atlanta.

Selected cities have at least 25 incoming Emory College or Oxford College students. The events typically are hosted by individual alumni in their homes or other venues, which have included a restaurant owned by an Emory alumnus, a historic bowling alley, and an ice cream parlor.

“Emory does not offer summer orientation, so we take Emory to our students and their families as much as possible,” said Riordan, who described Destination Emory as an early step toward engaging parents with the larger Emory community. “This past summer, Destination Emory reached about 20 to 25 percent of our incoming first-year students and their families.”

In addition to Destination Emory, Parent and Family Programs also hosts occasional receptions in key cities, often around Emory sports events and always in partnership with other university organizations. The receptions afford opportunities for parents and families of students to meet university representatives and alumni.

Keri Hilson performing at Homecoming 2018Emory alumna and Decatur native Keri Hilson performed at Homecoming and Family Weekend. Photo by Tina Chang.

Advising the Dean and Assisting Parents at Orientation

Kristan Goldfein C90, parent of a son who graduated in May and another who enrolled as a first-year student in the fall, chairs the Campus Life Council. The group of about 12 alumni meet twice a year and advise the vice president and dean of Campus Life on a range of issues associated with the student experience and parent and family relations.

“Not many years ago, most parents essentially dropped off their students at the beginning of the fall semester and many did not return to campus until graduation,“ said Goldfein, recalling her college days. “Parents today are much more engaged, and we are here to help them support their students through the entire college experience.”

Goldfein also serves on an annual Parents Panel during Orientation. She and her older son have participated as panelists for the past several years with four or five other parent-student pairs, answering questions from parents and helping to ease the transition for them and their students.

“Emory offers many resources that students may not always be aware of, so informing parents can really transform the college experience for both parent and student,” Goldfein explained. “We focus largely on such resources, but parents’ questions range from registering for classes to student organizations to study abroad and much more.”

Bridget Riordan and Kristan GoldfeinBridget Riordan and Emory parent Kristan Goldfein during Homecoming and Family Weekend 2018. Photo by Tina Chang.

Engaging Parents Year-round

In addition to Destination Emory summer events, Family Weekend, and other initiatives, Parent and Family Programs works daily throughout the year to provide opportunities that enable parents and families to engage with the Emory community. For example, the organization publishes a monthly newsletter, September through May, with news updates and links to a variety of programs and services for students.

Scores of parents, whether they attend one of the events described above or read the newsletter every month, reach out to Riordan and Advancement staff during the school year with a host of questions and a multitude of requests for assistance for their students.

“No part of our job is more important than talking with parents, usually by phone, and helping them and their students address the many challenges that come with college life,” Riordan explained. “So, we are continually working with other offices to identify ways to more efficiently share information with parents.”

A couple of noteworthy initiatives are in the planning stages, according to Riordan. One is an opt-in portal for parents that will give them access to a variety of information, such as news feeds, services, programs, events, calendars, and – with their student’s permission – class schedules, GPAs, financial status, and other personal information.

Another initiative in development is a series of online webinars designed specifically for parents and addressing some of the most common questions and concerns that parents raise. Riordan hopes to produce the informational presentations in multiple languages, noting that 16 to 17 percent of Emory students are international.

“Our goal is simple. We want to provide parents with access to as much information as possible,” said Riordan. “We want to equip each parent to be the best cheerleader they can be for their student – and to help us ensure their student has an enjoyable, successful, and productive life at Emory University and in the many years beyond.”

Learn More:

Parent and Family Programs

Family Weekend 2018