January 14, 2014

Knowledge Is Power—for Parents, Too

In late 2012 WPI launched the Parents Association (PA). PA’s mission is to help parents help their children get the most out of education, career-planning, and managing emotional growing pains. “All current WPI parents are members of PA,” says Ann Tomassini, associate director of Annual Giving, who oversees the program.


Traditionally in higher education, parents become shut out from what they may need to know about how their children are really doing during their undergraduate years. Yes, there are orientation sessions and Parents Weekends. However, privacy laws prevent the release of the information they could find useful in picking up on developing problems and giving the right kinds of guidance and support to their children. PA hopes to bridge the gap between moving day and graduation—with a model that could be a part of the solution for challenges facing higher education.


PA membership gives parents, no matter where they are located in the nation, a front-row seat to information and insight about how WPI operates. Through PA they get to know the administrators, faculty, and staff members with special expertise—such as counseling young adults. So, when they are curious about the utility of a particular course or concerned about their children’s slip in grades, they have a network in-place to turn to. PA members meet in person twice a year (fall and spring). In addition, informal get-togethers among parents take place around the nation. PA has established a real sense of community for parents—with their children, with WPI, and with other parents.

An Executive Committee was created in order to guide the association at its founding. Officers are selected to serve a one-year term, and any PA member can apply. So far, the committee has set up volunteer functions, both on and off campus. One group might focus on the pros and cons of study abroad; another, having been through the ordeal of move-in day, makes it their business to figure out how to make it easier for the next class of parents. In addition, the Executive Committee has developed a parent-to-parent blog for swapping experiences.  The sharing can save hours, days, or months of research, contacting the powers-that-be, and/or grilling their children.


Nancy Ryan Gray, whose day job is president of Gordon Research Conferences, is on the Executive Committee. Her twin sons are double-major sophomores—Keenan in computer science and interactive media and game development, Kevin in environmental engineering and writing. She says she became active in PA because “although they text and on rare occasions call, they are so happily entrenched in classes, homework, extracurricular activities, and their ‘posse’ of friends that they rarely have time to provide updates on how they are navigating their paths. They are only slightly embarrassed when I write about them on the PA blog.” Gray has also participated in volunteer activities ranging from Parents Weekend to GRAD Program events.


Mankind is a social animal. So it makes solid emotional sense to strengthen the connections between students and their parents, parents and the university, and parents with other parents. That kind of multi-layered community can provide exactly the platform educational institutions require to educate effectively and cost-efficiently as well as produce new knowledge.

By Jane Genova