With a clear vision, mission and tagline in place the Penn State Parents Council is poised to make a positive impact on all parents and families

By Russell Napolitano, Parents Council, Son R.J (class of 2017) and daughter Betsy (class of 2019)

Since its formation in 2012, the Penn State Parents Council has been providing general guidance and support for Parents Program initiatives. Comprised of a group of 40+ parents and family members who volunteer their time to provide input regarding parent and family engagement and involvement efforts through various connections and forms of outreach. Over the past six months, the Penn State Parents Council leadership team launched a strategic plan initiative, which identifies four key goals, one of which focused on the development and refinement of a mission and vision.

The development of our vision and mission statements along with a tagline is the foundation to help us set the stage for completing all four goals. My role as Chief Operating Officer for a New York branding firm allowed me to bring my experience, knowledge and discipline to lead a team comprised of tenured and new Parents Council members who also brought a range of expertise to the process. In order to ensure that we were getting a 360-degree perspective to help inform our strategy, we audited many communications vehicles that would give us that more “personal” insight into the many challenges and opportunities that parents and families face when navigating through such a large university:

  • Our own experience being on the Parents Council
  • Our experience being parents and family members of students currently at Penn State University Park
  • A sharing of alumni perspectives
  • A review of Parents Program research and assessments and a review of information found on the Parents Council, Parents Program and Penn State Parents Facebook pages
  • A review of similar programs at other colleges and universities

All in all, we found no shortage of material that would help us understand the role that the Penn State Parents Council needed to play within such a diverse community – a community coming together from different racial, religious and cultural backgrounds not to mention a community coming together from many different states from east to west and from north to south. Through the aggregation of all of our findings, we created our vision, mission and tagline, which were officially launched during our April meeting over Blue-White Weekend.

Our vision

WE ARE a resource enriching the Penn State experience for all parents and families.

Why this vision statement works: Our vision clearly captures who we are, what we do and for whom we are doing it. It is our inspiration and aspiration that will guide us well into the future. It recognizes that we are a resource for parents and family members, including grandparents, siblings, relatives, friends and guardians who may have the responsibility of helping students successfully navigate the college years.

Our mission

The Penn State Parents Council is comprised of a representative group of University Park parents and family members who:

  • Make a commitment to volunteer our time and to share our knowledge and expertise across a range of initiatives and programs that support the mission and the goals of the Penn State Parents Program
  • Act as an advisory group working in close collaboration with the Parents Program to help undergraduate parents, families and students foster a positive and lasting connection to Penn State

We achieve a sense of balance between interests, knowledge, expertise, experience and tenure through the thoughtful recruitment of new members, and we make Penn State feel like a close-knit, supportive community by:

  • Welcoming a diverse group of parents and families into our University Park community
  • Learning more about on- and off- campus life at the University, including its administration, academics, career development, student activities, personal enrichment and sports programs in order to become better informed so we, in turn, can serve as a well-informed and knowledgeable resource
  • Helping all families and their students feel connected through the development of both on- and off-campus programs, services and outreach that address a wide range of needs
  • Listening and extending a helping hand to parents and family members who are seeking information
  • Sharing our knowledge and first-hand experiences through frequent communication via our website, newsletter, blogs and social media
  • Connecting with University administration to become better informed, share our concerns and support their efforts

Why this mission statement works: It captures all aspects of who we are, what we do and our overall intention.

Our tagline

Welcoming. Sharing. Connecting.

Why this tagline works: In just three words our tagline adders up to our vision and mission and applies whether we are speaking to internal or external stakeholders. Our actions, whether at programs, events or meetings must always being welcoming. We are committed to sharing our knowledge, talents, experiences and resources with one another and with parents and families so that we can help them become better informed. And lastly, we are about making connections across the entire Penn State community to help enrich the Penn State experience for all parents and families.

Stay tuned for my follow-up blog, which will take a close look at our core values; the personality attributes that guide our behavior in all that we do as Penn State Parents Council members.

Time Flies When You Love Penn State

By Mandy Rofe, Parent Ambassador

I cannot believe it is the end of my daughter Jacqueline’s freshman year. 

It feels like it was only yesterday when we were touring the University Park campus and immediately fell in love with Penn State.  It was a freezing day but we loved yelling our first “WE ARE”…as instructed by our reverse walking Lion Ambassadors!  Current students rushing around smiling and laughing and welcoming us to the campus. There was no doubt our daughter had made the right choice!

It feels like it was only yesterday when we were packing up to make the long drive from NY to deliver our only child to her destination.  That was a really long drive, and we were all feeling different forms of nervous. This would be the first time my husband and I would be without our child.  When we saw the sign for Penn State University we were all so excited!  When we finished moving her into her dorm we hugged and cried.  We knew she would flourish at Penn State…needless to say it was an even longer drive home!

It feels like yesterday we made our first visit to our daughter and attended our first football game! Wow, what an emotional experience. First, of course, to see Jacqueline…less than one month felt like an eternity!  Second, to experience what she was experiencing, watching that Stripe-Out Game feeling the amazing energy from the student’s section…having her text us that she was in the “S Zone,” just fantastic!! Even if you are not a football fan you must go to a game.  As the Blue Band played I had tears in my eyes, the school spirit is amazing.  Of course that first visit we also went to the Creamery, YUM…and visited the Arboretum, beautiful.  All the things we hoped for our child were coming true…a wonderful education, great new friends, tremendous school pride and more activities than you could ever wish for.

Fast forward and in a flash, her first year is about to be complete.  I am so excited to return to pick my daughter up in less than two weeks.  Part of me is sad for her that the year is over, although I’m sure she can’t wait to get a break, and part of me is sad for us that the year is over, although I can’t wait to have my daughter back in her room!!

We have all become part of the Penn State Family, I will miss it over the summer and I am sure Jacqueline will too.  Time flies…when you love Penn State!

“So what do you want to be when you grow up?”: Lessons Learned Along the Way

By Deborah Dort, Parents Council

“So what do you want to be when you grow up?”  This is a question our children in college are most likely feeling pressured to answer, especially those nearing the end of their college years.  If truth be told, I sometimes joke that I am still trying to figure out the answer to this question myself.

Some will easily answer this question, find a job that suits them, and stay with one company until retirement.  Others will change careers and/or companies multiple times throughout their life.

My intention upon entering college was to have a medical career but I never imagined where that would lead.  I attended a very small liberal arts college that my mother had also attended.  As a senior, I applied for medical school, somewhat nervously as only one female had ever been accepted to medical school from my college, and that had been ten years prior. As luck (and a lot of hard work) would have it, I became the second!

I entered medical school aspiring to be a pediatrician, but graduated wanting to be a radiologist. Soon after my radiology residency, I married my wonderful husband, gave birth to adorable twins a year and a half later, and spent approximately ten years in private practice.

Then comes the second half of my career – work for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  This has turned out to definitely be the best and most meaningful part of my career.  It is such an honor to serve Veterans! Last year my career took another turn when I accepted a position in administration at the VA Central Office in Washington, D.C.  What an exciting time it has been to be in D.C., working to improve healthcare for Veterans.

Along the way I have been well served by these words of advice that I often share with new employees: “Show up on time, bring your A-game, and do it with a smile!”  Networking and establishing those key professional relationships with others has also been invaluable to my success along the way.  You never know when you will make an impression on someone that will change the course of your career.  Our children, as students and graduates of Penn State, are advantaged in that they will be leaving college as part of the very large Penn State family network.  I anticipate this will help open up opportunities for them as they pursue their careers.  How fortunate for them!

Penn State Excels at Supporting Students in Recovery from Substance Use Disorders

By Silvia and Jim Hatzell, Parents Council

We both graduated from Penn State in 1987.   We were married in 1988. Like many young Penn State alumni couples, we dreamed that someday we would have children, and they too, would go to Penn State.  Fast forward thirty years later, and yes, all three of our children went on to Penn State!  Collectively, they have had some of the best opportunities Penn State has to offer; a great education, Schreyer Honors College, Presidential Leadership Academy, academic scholarships, excellent internships and job placement, study abroad, research assistantships, learning assistantships, Thon, club sports, intramural sports and just an overall, fun and balanced education.  However, no program has meant more to our family than the Penn State Collegiate Recovery Community, or the CRC.

In the summer of 2013, between his sophomore and junior year at PSU, our oldest son, Jimmy, crashed from a struggle with drugs and alcohol.  During that time our family was in crisis.  We had no experience with this addiction and our immediate reaction was that the last place we wanted our son to be was at Penn State.  While we were frantically searching for a substance use disorder rehabilitation facility we also placed a call to Jason Whitney, the Director of the CRC.  During the conversation, Jason affirmed that Jimmy should go to rehab, but he also assured him that his best days at Penn State were still ahead of him.  While we appreciated Jason’s sentiments, we were extremely skeptical that Jimmy would ever return to Penn State.

After Jimmy completed treatment in early September of 2013, he stayed home with us for that fall semester.  He was determined to continue his education and graduate in four years.  He took twelve credits through Penn State World Campus and frequently attended support group meetings.  We had told him, that if he did all that was agreed, we would permit him to return to University Park in January.

January came.  We were a little nervous about sending our newly sober son back to a campus with a big party reputation.  However, he had maintained communication with Jason during the semester, and had made some new friends who were part of the CRC.  Jason had also made arrangements for Jimmy to share an apartment with another student in recovery.  (Penn State has since added sober living dorms.)

Jimmy did go on to have his best years at Penn State when he returned as a student in recovery.  The CRC is not just an office in the Pasquerilla Center.  The CRC is the family and support a young person needs when he returns to an environment that is hostile to recovery.  The CRC’s mission is to provide a caring and supportive environment for students working to recover from addictions. The CRC communicates a message of hope, links students with recovery-related services and persons in recovery, and facilitates the development of healthy and sustainable habits of mind, body, and spirit.  Through the pairing of education and recovery, students are positioned to transition into fulfilling lives as productive members of the campus community and the larger society. The CRC encourages students to continue their education while in recovery in order to create the life of their wildest dreams.

The Penn State CRC has grown rapidly since it was established in 2011. Beginning with just a couple of members back then, there are currently about 25 active members. Students attend weekly seminars and lunches, as well as participate in community bonding activities. Students annually attend the Association in Recovery in Higher Education’s Student Leadership Summit and Skiathon in Colorado with students from other CRCs across the country. There are so many fun opportunities made possible, including spring break trips, hikes, game nights and more. The Penn State CRC also offers the option of on-campus recovery housing for members in R.O.A.R. House, an acronym for Residence of Addiction Recovery. There are currently 8 students living in the ROAR house who have become great friends.  You can obtain more information about Penn State CRC at their website, sites.psu.edu/pscrc/.

Because of his determination, and the help of many people at Penn State that really wanted our son to succeed, Jimmy did graduate in four years, with two degrees, in IST.  He made Dean’s List every semester when he returned as a student in recovery.  He is now in his fourth year of recovery, he is gainfully employed in IT, he just purchased his own home and he maintains a very active social life with many other young people in recovery.

The following are a sample of other testimonials about the Penn State CRC:

The CRC was my first experience with students who were happy, who were sober, and who were living their dreams. When I got there, they told me, “Your best days at Penn State are ahead of you.” I thought there was no way that could be true. But they were 100% correct.

— Jimmy H., IST. Class of 2015, free of alcohol and other drugs since 8/1/2013

When I entered recovery, I had to adopt a new lifestyle. If I continued to hang around with the same people in the same places, I would be at high risk for repeating the same behaviors—and that’s a risk I wasn’t willing to take. I found new friends who understood and supported me and started navigating the world with a totally different attitude and outlook. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to return to school — especially at a large university like Penn State. I used to fear that my life would be boring or that I’d feel out of place as a sober student, but that couldn’t be further from the truth—as a member of the CRC, I’ve found acceptance, love, connection, and laughter beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.

—Melissa B., free of alcohol and other drugs since 5/4/2015

When my career at Penn State was off the rails, and before I had even considered quitting drinking and working a recovery program, I learned about the CRC. The other students convinced me that I could do it, and I jumped in with both feet. I attend seminars at the CRC, and I work a program outside the CRC by attending 12-step meetings and going to counseling, and I’ve stayed sober and I really like this whole way of life.

— Jack W., free of alcohol and drugs since 12/18/2015

My first encounter with the CRC allowed me to see that I was not alone in my battle with addiction. I found the support I needed in this community on the first day with a warm welcome and encouraging messages of hope. It was a pivotal moment in my undergraduate career to find the friendship and help I needed. The CRC has supported my goal to graduate while providing a safe place for me to be a sober student.

—Robbie E., free of alcohol and other drugs since 2/21/2014

Last year I had disenrolled from Penn State to go to rehab, but I returned, and with the help of the CRC, I’ve found belonging and happiness, I’m staying sober, and I’m doing great in school — my dream of going to medical school has been revived, and I am back on track.

— Ryan M., free of alcohol and other drugs since 4/11/2016