This story refers to the violence the Michigan State University community experienced in February. FAQs, important updates, messages from campus leaders as well as mental health and supportive resources are available.
Higher education can often be a long and complicated journey for both students and their families. Supporting students’ academic success and personal well-being is vital for universities within this dynamic landscape. Recognizing the important role families play within this landscape, Michigan State University launched Spartan Family Connections, or SFC, led by Director Laurin Gierman, in 2022.
SFC has since been working to create a supportive and communicative environment for both the biological and chosen families of MSU students. The unit works to foster student success by supporting their families throughout their student’s academic journey.
In its first year, SFC began creating relationships with Spartan families by distributing more than 5,000 stickers, pens and tissue packs during residence hall move-in. It expanded its outreach through a series of nine webinars that were attended by families in 10 different countries. The webinars allowed families to interact with community members and university departments while learning about important topics surrounding student life and success.
Gierman explains how these webinars are held in the larger context of the academic calendar.
“Student experience can be somewhat predictable in a way,” she says. “We know that at various points throughout a student’s educational journey, they are more likely to experience certain things. So, we try to present information to families on those topics at the time or right before the time that their student may need that information.”
This ensures families receive timely advice, tailored to the specific challenges their students may face. For instance, in September, when many students were beginning their first college semester, SFC held a webinar focused on student involvement in the MSU community. The goal was to facilitate a sense of belonging among incoming first-year students.
Informative and timely communication is at the heart of the work done by SFC. Ten monthly newsletters were shared to nearly 48,000 unique email addresses during the program's first year. The unit also oversees a private Facebook group with a membership of 21,000 and growing. The website, family.msu.edu, is an additional source for resources and information. In the light of the campus events of Feb. 13, five situation-specific emails were also sent to the SFC mailing list.
“We have been building relationships with families since August,” says Gierman, “We sent out the first email in August and fostered that relationship with families over the months. So, when the shooting on Feb. 13 took place, we became a trusted source of information.”
SFC also coordinates and hosts Family Weekend Presented by MSU Federal Credit Union, where families can connect with various departments and resources on campus. The inaugural Family Weekend occurred Sep. 23-25, 2022, with 3,800 participants. SFC collaborated with many campus partners to offer an action-packed weekend. Some events included an information fair, tours of the Beal Botanical Garden, a viewing of the Spartan football game at the MSU Union and much more.
At the heart of the unit’s vision lies the understanding that families are vital adult-support systems for MSU students. Students reach out to family members for help and guidance. However, they may not always know of the avenues and resources available to their students and may be unsure on how to effectively help. SFC bridges this gap by acting as a comprehensive source of information and empowering families with the necessary resources or organizations and departments to approach for guidance on specific issues.
SFC actively collaborates with other university departments, such as Undergraduate Education, the Graduate School, Student Life & Engagement, and Athletic Department, to name just a few, to ensure a holistic approach to student success. These collaborations provide avenues for students to find others similar to them in identity and interests. Further, SFC facilitates a sense of belonging to the MSU campus and community in both students and families, improving the overall Spartan experience.
Gierman advises all families to visit family.msu.edu and sign up for the SFC newsletter. The 2023 Family Weekend Presented by MSUFCU will is Nov. 3-5. Registration opens Aug. 14, and the calendar of events will be available on the website.
This story originally appeared on the Student Life and Engagement website.