U.Va. launches Society of University Families
By Ashley Edmonds
Harry and Min Hsu, parents of a first-year student, were not aware of a U.Va. Alumni Club event happening near their home in Cincinnati. But after attending a luncheon as founding members of a new U.Va. parents’ organization, the Society of University Families, the two learned of the event and were able to attend.
At the event, they met other U.Va. parents and alumni and bonded afterward over Chinese food at their local restaurant some 500 miles from Charlottesville.
Gatherings like that are one of the goals of the Society of University Families, which is working to increase opportunities for involvement in the University for parents and families located around the country and the world.
“Perhaps more often than in prior times, parents want to be involved with the University,” said President John T. Casteen III. “There are many mutually beneficial opportunities for engagement — opportunities for parents to use and support the University resources and opportunities for the University to grow stronger by parents’ energy and talents.”
Casteen met with 18 parent couples over lunch in October to discuss the purposes and activities of the new society.
The society will not raise funds for the University. Rather, it will work with other parents’ groups at the University, assisting parents and families in connecting with existing organizations or creating new opportunities for parental involvement where none currently exists, said Nancy Skancke, a founding member who lives in Great Falls, Va.
“There are numerous other parents’ organizations on Grounds, and the society is not meant to duplicate or replace them,” Skancke said.
Parents and family members including grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and other extended family have automatic membership in the new group, which is free. “The society is meant to be very inclusive,” said Virginia Carter, director of external relations for the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs.
The idea for the society came about during a Virginia 2020 planning retreat held last fall with a group of involved University parents. (Virginia 2020 is a long-term University vision and action plan to achieve excellence in four key areas: the fine and performing arts, international activities, public service and outreach, and science and technology.) “Parents are innately interested in what their students are doing,” said Carter.
According to Carter, the organization is still evolving, and the parents are likely to play a big role in the planning. “We want it to be a two-way street, with parents coming up with their own ideas about programming, while we facilitate their working together,” she said.
To enhance communication between the University and students’ families, for the first time this fall, all parents will receive the quarterly University of Virginia Magazine from the Alumni Association. The bimonthly electronic newsletter, Parents as Partners, and other information from the student affairs office will keep parents and family members up to speed on University events in Charlottesville and in their hometowns.
“The society will promote real-time communication between parents, students, administrators and faculty,” said Sheryl Schwartz, another founding member.
The members have not yet decided on specific programming, but are considering lifelong learning programs that would provide opportunities to take University classes during the January term or over the summer, and the creation of a University hotline for parents.
The society is planning to be more visible early in the year, during events such as orientation, move-in day and Family Weekend, to welcome and engage new students and their families in the U.Va. community.
“The society is a way to bring them into the University family,” Carter said.