Attending college as a student-parent can come with work, family, and financial responsibilities. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than one-fifth of all college students are student-parents. That’s nearly 4 million college students with children.
At George Mason University, parenting and expecting students are seen as valued contributors to the community. To augment existing resources available to student-parents on campus, Mason’s senior leadership partnered with Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Generation Hope to better support this student population.
Founded by Mason alum Nicole Lynn Lewis, Generation Hope focuses on supporting student parents through mentorship, financial resources, and systems- and policy-based advocacy.
“Mason and University Life have been working with Generation Hope since 2017—initially working to set up a partnership with the organization to eventually supporting student-parents at Mason through their Scholars program,” said Sally Lorentson, assistant vice president of University Life.
In August 2021, Mason joined Generation Hope’s inaugural FamilyU Cohort, which is a comprehensive, customized, evidence-based, two-year capacity-building experience designed to build and refine institutional competencies to improve student parent success. Mason was one of four institutions participating.
“Being among the first cohort of FamilyU means that we were able to work alongside and in collaboration with other [Washington, D.C. area] colleges and universities who have committed to making their campuses more family-friendly,” said Shyama Kuver, associate director of Contemporary Student Services at Mason.
“FamilyU [helps] institutions identify barriers, set goals, and stay focused to achieve them, while working alongside advocates and experts in the work of supporting student-parents,” Lorentson said. For the FamilyU Cohort experience, Mason targeted four main areas of the campus ecosystem: people, policy, culture, and data.
Based on national and Mason-specific qualitative and quantitative research, Generation Hope provided Mason with a work plan that supported Contemporary Student Services and the Student-Parent Task Force to make direct impact on student-parents’ access to success and support campus partners in connecting with these students.
“Some of the direct benefits of this work were more consistent and robust student-parent and family-friendly programs across the three Mason campuses in Virginia, a toolkit from Counseling and Psychological Services that speaks to the many mental and emotional well-being obstacles that student parents may face, and the expansion of child-friendly spaces on campus,” Kuver said.
Kuver shared that Generation Hope also “provided funding for us to have a student-parent fellow who supported our efforts by connecting directly with other student-parents and hosting a monthly student-parent community gathering.”
Throughout the two-year program, Mason student-parent fellow and psychology major Valeria Fernandez provided great insight by offering her lived experience as a student-parent at Mason. Fernandez also helped kick off the first Student Parent Outdoor Fun Day event on Aug. 5 through the Student Parent Community Spaces program she helped establish.
The time I spent as a FamilyU Fellowship member was something that I will never forget because it completely changed my student-parent experience for the better.
"Being a student-parent fellow helped foster a new level of pride and confidence that I did not have before," said Fernandez, who has a three-year-old daughter. "It also helped me see another layer to being a student-parent that I didn’t even realize before. Student-parents are not only changing their own future along with our families, but we are also providing our children with the knowledge that they can do anything they put their minds to by setting the example for them."
The FamilyU Cohort celebrated its “finale” in July at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington, D.C.
Looking ahead, Mason is considering additional funding for the program through grants, actively seeking the FamilyU seal from Generation Hope, and leading the Student Parent Task Force, which was commissioned by Provost Mark Ginsberg and University Life Vice President Rose Pascarell last fall.
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