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  April 21, 2003

Parents Get Answers At Special Forum

Will the student radio station be getting new facilities? Are resident assistants trained to deal with diversity? Why can't parents have their kids' grades sent to them? Is UConn going to become a dry campus?

There are a host of questions on the minds of parents when their children are away at college.

On April 13, parents of UConn students had the opportunity to get answers to their questions direct from some of the University's top policy makers, during an open forum sponsored by the UConn Parents Association and the Chancellor's Office.

The discussion, held in the recently renovated North Reading Room of the Wilbur Cross Building, ranged from the impact of UConn 2000 and 21st Century UConn to the recent report of the Substance Abuse Task Force.

Parents heard that among the construction projects - which have included new academic buildings and a range of different residential facilities - the current renovations to the Student Union will include a new home for the student radio station, WHUS.

They listened as a student described the training he has received each year as a resident assistant, that incorporates extensive discussion of issues relating to diversity.

They were reminded that federal privacy law prevents the University from mailing grades direct to parents unless the student signs a waiver.

And they learned that the University will be working to implement dozens of steps - including closer liaison with parents - that are expected to be more effective in curbing substance abuse and promoting a safer environment for all students than legislatively designating UConn a "dry campus."

The forum, the first of its kind at the University, was the brainchild of the Parents Association. "We decided to hold a forum and bring together high-level administrators and some parents who have interests and concerns, and have an open dialogue," said Pam Sawyer, vice president of the Parents Association. Sawyer has one daughter who graduated from UConn and another who will start in the fall. She also is a state Representative.

The forum attracted about 30 parents from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey - most of them parents of freshmen and sophomores. They had the opportunity to mingle not only with the panelists but with a dozen other staff and administrators, several of whom also are parents of UConn students.

"The 'baby boom' generation of parents have different expectations from previous generations," said Dolan Evanovich, associate provost for enrollment management and a UConn parent. "These parents have been involved in their children's academic, sports, and music activities through high school and they want to be involved in their college education too. They want more information, they want to meet with faculty and administrators, and some would even like to sit in on a lecture or two. The forum is one way to be responsive to their needs."

John Saddlemire, dean of students, told the parents attending the forum that the University is trying to do a better job of keeping both students and parents informed. "Few things are harder than parenting at a distance, and we respect that," he said.

He noted that students can learn what is expected of them as members of the community from the revised Student Conduct Code. "We are trying to give them good information," he said, "and help them make good decisions."

The University also is increasing its communication with parents. "The bottom line is to have students academically successful" he said, "and we need to engage parents more. You've invested a lot, they've invested a lot, and we want them to be successful."

The UConn Parents Association, established in 1999, produces a newsletter that is mailed to 14,000 parents, grandparents, and guardians, three times a year. It also has been actively involved in legislative advocacy efforts on behalf of the University.

"The Parents Association has a crucial role to play in supporting the University's transformation and moving it forward," said Chancellor John D. Petersen, whose son is now a part-time MBA student at the Greater Hartford campus. The Chancellor and his wife Carol have been active participants in the Parents Association.

Petersen also spoke with parents about the significance of their children studying at a research university. "Even as undergraduates, your students have the opportunity to learn from the people who generate knowledge, rather than those who just transmit it," he said.

Muhammad Chaudhry, a junior majoring in physiology and neurobiology and one of two student panelists at the forum, said he welcomed the opportunity to engage in research: "What you read about in the literature, you get to do in real life. Doing research opened up a new world for me. And I am getting the skills I'll need for working as a neuroscientist."

Ron Taylor, vice provost for multicultural and international affairs, told parents about the institution's efforts to ensure that all students are prepared to be effective "in a world that is rapidly becoming multiracial and multicultural."

"Our students come to this university from backgrounds where they've had limited experience of interacting with each other," he said. "Students of color come largely from urban areas where they are the majority. White students come from small towns and suburbs where they too have had limited exposure to others. Being at a university is an opportunity to have a different experience."

The next open forum for parents will take place during Family Weekend in the fall semester. It is expected to become an annual event.