“I was dropped off right in front of Giles Hall. Two hours later, my parents were gone,” remembers the Houston dentist. “I was scared to death because I didn’t know anyone here. I didn’t have family that had been here. I’d never been to Atlanta. I just knew Spelman was somewhere that I wanted to come.”
With no roommate yet, Dr. Powell, now the co-chair of the Spelman College Parents and Family Association, felt truly alone. “So my folks were gone and I’m looking at all these girls with their mothers and aunts decorating their rooms and helping. I just sat on my bed thinking, ‘OK, now what?’ ” she recalled. “I swore, ‘Lord, if it happens – if I have a daughter – I’m going to be there.’”
And Dr. Powell has – for her daughter, Lauren Ragland, C’2013, and hundreds more. While there was no parents association when Dr. Powell entered Spelman, the involvement of the nearly 10-year-old organization in new student orientation has become vital.
Association members lead parent forums where new parents can ask questions informally about various topics including academics, safety, study abroad, career opportunities, and transfer and international student concerns. Beginning at 7 a.m., association members greet new families, providing valuable guidance during NSO, which draws more than 1,000 people to campus.
“I think hosting a parent table gives us a chance to really help parents connect with someone who has been through orientation because it can be overwhelming,” said Evelyn Russell, Ph.D., co-chair of the association. Dr. Russell’s favorite part of NSO is the order and structure of the day.
“We know you’ve driven eight,, 10 or 12 hours, or flown in, rented a car and made 10 trips to Wal-Mart,” said the former high school principal who is the mother of Samantha Russell-Porte, C’2013. “The smooth and calming order and structure really says welcome and that we’re going to support you.”
Andrea Barber-Dansby, co-chair for the association’s Great Lakes region, has been so impressed by Spelman’s orientation process that she uses it as the basis for the first-year seminar course she teaches to students at Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. This year marked her third accompanying her daughter, Alexandrea Dansby, C’2015, to NSO. It’s hard to tell who’s happier about her involvement.
“I like when she helps me move in. We’re always exploring something new. We went to the aquarium this year in between NSO activities,” said the chemistry/premed major, who is also a recipient of the service-learning Bonner Scholarship for students committed to community service. While the Dansbys cherish their bonding time during NSO, sharing their experience has become even more important.
“Some of my friends didn’t have their parents our first year, so they didn’t really have anyone to send them off,” remembers the younger Dansby. She and her mother stepped in.
“They were kind of tearing up during the send-off celebration, and we wanted to bring them in with us. Actually during the whole weekend, Alexandrea introduced me to girls who didn’t have their parents,” said her mother, who joined the association after being “blown away” by the group’s parent forum during SpelBound. “It’s one of the most important parts that Evelyn and Laurena have always stressed to us: We are committed to not letting any young lady stand on the lawn by herself during the send-off celebration. So we create a large circle and connect with as many as we can.”
The connecting does not end at NSO. The 2,027 member association is busy all year long, being a resource by playing an integral role in Family Weekend and helping parents stay engaged via conference calls, a parent portal available on Spelman’s website and events held in their regions. Sometimes the assistance is more specific.
“I remember a father had a daughter who had never flown before and she was afraid, but needed to fly home for Thanksgiving,” said Dr. Powell. “We were able to find another student who was leaving the same day. He was so appreciative that his daughter was able to fly home with one of her Spelman sisters. Those are the types of concerns we try our best to address.”
The gratification of helping Spelman families motivates the service of those in the association even when their daughters have graduated, like those of Dr. Russell and Dr. Powell. A former co-coordinator of the Northeast region, Dr. Russell joined the association because of the impression left by the previous Northeast region co-coordinators, Debbie Risper and Nisa Muhammad, as well as the previous association co-chairs, Verna Brunson and Raquel Marion. “All were active in the association even after their daughters graduated,” said Dr. Russell. “I see them at homecoming, new student orientation and graduation, so there’s a sense of camaraderie and commitment. They laid the groundwork for us.”
Dr. Powell agrees. “Lauren has graduated, but I am here for life. I will be here forever. I have an obligation. We need to do more than write a check,” she said. “We need to give back to Spelman in whatever way we can – in our treasure and our time. The parent association is committed to working three-fold with the parents, students and the administration to make sure our daughters matriculate successfully.” — Joyce E. Davis is editor of Inside Spelman and associate director of Publications for the Office of Communications.