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Sac State program targets student parents, families to create a path for academic success

Sharon Rodriguez, who is seen here with her daughter Aria Joy and recently graduated from Sac State with her bachelor's degree, said "I don't think I would have been able to do it" without help from the Parents and Families Program. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

The transition to college can be bumpy at times, and not only for incoming students.

Their parents need answers, too.

Studies show that college students whose parents are involved and informed are more likely to graduate. That support is part of the mission of a Sac State program, now in its 10th year, that is gaining momentum and attention.

The Parents and Families Program, which recently received key funding from the CSU, seeks to build a partnership between the University and parents and families of Sac State students.

Haley Myers Dillon portrait
Haley Myers Dillon is the director of Sac State's Parents and Families Program, which is in it's 10th year. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

“We want parents and guardians to know that there is a place for them at Sac State,” said Haley Myers Dillon, Parents and Families director. “They get to be a part of Sac State in a variety of ways.”

The program also offers services for students with children, including financial assistance for day care while parents are in school. About 30% of Sac State’s students are parents, a three-fold increase since 2017, Myers Dillon said.

Student Sharon Rodriguez faced the prospect of juggling classes, study, work, and caring for her young daughter, Aria Joy, when she transferred to Sac State from community college in spring 2020.

“Without the help I received from Haley, I don’t think I would have been able to do it,” said Rodriguez, who graduated with a degree in Communications in December 2021 and is enrolled in a master’s program.

A sometimes confusing and overwhelming transition process can overlook parents of incoming college students, Myers Dillon said. The Parents and Families Program offers parents a dedicated space where they can gather information, ask questions, and learn about how to help their students navigate college life.

At a recent orientation for parents of incoming transfer students, Myers Dillon talked about campus diversity, popular majors, mental health resources, and other topics. She offered information about communication techniques to help students to a good start at the University, as well as how to respond to students who are struggling to adapt.

“Basically, we’re here for you,” she told the group.

Myers Dillon encouraged participants to consider becoming volunteer “family ambassadors” to help other parents become familiar with the campus and advocate for their students.

The CSU’s Chancellor’s Office recently awarded $25,000 to Sac State to revive its Family Ambassador Program, which the pandemic left dormant. The Sac State program inspired CSU to provide $25,000 in funding to three other campuses in the system to launch similar efforts.

The program will recruit ambassadors from across California who reflect the University’s diversity and student interests, including majors, athletics, and living arrangements.

Ambassadors will help coordinate communications and events for other parents and guardians of first-time students, building a community that ultimately will help more scholars achieve their goals, Myers Dillon said. Participating families will learn about academic support, student success initiatives, and the University’s commitment to antiracism, among other topics.

“The community engagement will forge bonds and trust between Sacramento State and the families who support our students,” Myers Dillon said.

Haley Myers Dillon, standing on a stage in front of an audience, while a screen displays a slide reading "Welcome to the Hornet Family."
Haley Myers Dillon shares information about campus diversity, popular majors, mental health resources, and other topics at a recent orientation for parents of transfer students. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Kris Baker, a parent of a Sac State undergraduate, said the connections have helped her and her student.

They contacted the Parent and Families program twice recently for help obtaining a student housing loan and securing a needed medical insurance document.

“I was so surprised by how quickly and thoroughly Haley was able to help us,” pushing through bureaucratic roadblocks to accomplish the tasks, Baker said. “It took away a lot of stress and opened up a huge window for our family. She came up with a plan and got everything on track.”

Rodriguez discovered the Parents and Families Program during her orientation in 2020, just before the pandemic prompted a citywide lockdown.

“I was really excited about being accepted at Sac State, but I asked myself, ‘How am I going to do it logistically?’ ” she said. “I found out that the program would pay for half of my child care.”

That allowed her to send Aria to day care four days a week, time Rodriguez used to focus on academics. “It was a huge help right off the bat,” she said.

When the pandemic sent everyone home to study, Myers Dillon arranged weekly evening Zoom meetings with student parents, allowing them to get together after their kids went to bed.

“It really gave me a sense of belonging at Sac State,” said Rodriguez, who aspires to be a lawyer. “I realized that I wasn’t the only one going through all of this. I felt reassurance that all of the hard work was going to pay off.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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