Rutgers Parents Orientation Helps Moms and Dads Adjust to Their Children’s New Lives

Rutgers Parents Orientation Helps Moms and Dads Adjust to Their Children’s New Lives


Lois and Jeff Ruestle of Staten Island, N.Y., are about to send their daughter, Kimberly, off to the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy. They recently attended an orientation for parents on the Busch Campus.
“Exciting,” “nervous,” “a little anxious” are typical comments one might hear during a college orientation. But these words weren’t coming from the mouths of new students. They were spoken by their parents, who were confronting the jarring reality of sending a first-born – or maybe “the baby” – to a new life away from home.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Jeff Reustle of Staten Island. He and his wife Lois had just dropped off their daughter Kimberly, who is entering the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy’s rigorous, six-year Pharm-D program. “Although she’s gone on sleepovers, it’s not the same,” Reustle said.

Twice weekly during the summer, the Busch Campus Center served as a hub for moms and dads who had delivered their now-young adults to the Livingston Campus for two days of student orientation and were eager to hear what Rutgers has in store for them at their own version of orientation.

 “They want to know everything – what’s available here, safety, the health centers, or what happens in an emergency,” said Lee Schneider, dean and executive director of the Rutgers Parents Association (RPA), which organized the orientations.  “They’re concerned that their kids are going to have a good time and that there’s a safe, healthy environment for them.”

Schneider estimates that about 5,000 families attended this year’s parent orientation sessions, including several large meetings conducted in the spring.

“You want a mechanism such as the parents association to make parents feel more comfortable about sending their sons and daughters to Rutgers,” Schneider said.

Despite the popular notion of modern “helicopter parents” hovering over their children 24/7, Schneider believes it’s not the parents who have changed so much as the ways in which they communicate with their offspring.

“We’re certainly more connected,” he said. “Students and parents have cell phones, they can text message. Moms and dads talk to their students every day.”

But Schneider says there is a difference between staying in touch and doing it all for their adult children. By becoming knowledgeable about the services available for students, such as tutoring or counseling, parents are better able to encourage their adult children to use them.

 “We don’t resolve the problem for the parent,” he said. “We explain what we can do for their child, but we don’t do it for them.”

This hands-off approach is all about easing parents into accepting their children’s new status as adults. The three-hour orientation programs are packed with information on campus services and how students can access and use them most effectively. Areas represented include the Residence Life, Career Services, Health Services, Alcohol Studies, the Learning Resource Centers, the Rutgers Police, Transportation Services, and the Barnes & Noble university bookstore.

At a recent parent orientation, no question went unanswered – except one. When asked if she had a toll-free number and e-mail address, Michelle Jefferson, dean of students for the Cook and Douglass campuses, demurred.

“We give that information to the students,” she said as uncomfortable laughter rippled through the audience.  For some, it was a “eureka” moment. Parents seemed to understand that their children were now legally responsible adults. Jefferson encouraged them to tell their sons and daughters that she would be there for them, whatever their problem. “Basically, you’re my mom on campus,” is what one first-year student told her, Jefferson related to the parents.

Tina Sohn, director of the Learning Center on the Livingston Campus, finds parents are reassured when they learn that tutoring and academic coaching are readily available to all students who need it, free of charge.
“Parents have gotten so used to being involved that it’s hard for them to give up that oversight,” Sohn said. “Now it’s our turn to make sure their students are moving through school.”

Parent orientations aren’t new at Rutgers but they’ve been greatly expanded since the university consolidated its four undergraduate colleges into one School of Arts and Sciences three years ago. The parents association also was a product of those changes, modeled after the Cook College Parents Association, with which Schneider was closely associated while dean of students at Cook, now the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

Membership in the association is free, although some sub-groups may have fees to support annual scholarship programs for their members’ children.

Since its founding, RPA has grown to approximately 10,000 families. It has a 25-member board that sets policy and plans programs, such as the upcoming annual Parents/Family Weekend, Sept. 24-26, featuring the state of the university address by President Richard L. McCormick, the Scarlet Knights football game, a Sunday brunch at the Zimmerli Art Museum and other activities in New Brunswick and on campus. Meetings during the academic year focus on topics of high interest, such as “Advising & Academics: Surviving Rutgers” (Oct. 13), and “Show Me the Money: Scholarships, Funding and More” (Feb. 12).

For more information, visit the Rutgers Parents Association website.

Media Contact: Sandra Lanman
732-932-7084, ext. 621