PERSPECTIVES Summer 2000: Inside Story
Perspectives On Line

NC State University Contents Page Features Acres of Opportunity Fresh Markets Rediscovering Discovery Oh Higher Ground A Positive Alliance Noteworthy News Awards Alumni Giving From the Dean College of Agriculture and Life Sciences









































Photo by Herman Lankford

A Positive Alliance


Photo by Herman Lankford

t’s a familiar story: Mom and Dad proudly send Johnny, or Jenny, off to the big university. Johnny has a great time, but Mom and Dad nearly have heart failure when they see his first semester’s grades. They wring their hands, wondering where they went wrong and what they can do to help their child succeed.

The College of Agriculture and Life SciencesAgricultural Institute has developed a system to foster communication among students, parents and university instructors. Known as the Parents’ Network, it is a voluntary program designed to keep parents informed of their students’ academic progress and to help students successfully complete their two-year degrees.

The Agricultural Institute has an open enrollment policy, meaning that anyone who applies may enroll. And though some students do well in the program, others find the demands of a major university to be much more rigorous than they anticipated.

Salle Murray, who served as coordinator of the institute’s writing skills program for 20 years, took on the job last year of serving as liaison between the Ag Institute and parents of students. The program has been a great tool for motivating students, she said.

Some students fall into bad habits, like oversleeping and missing classes, that hamper their academic success, while others are simply distracted by the wide range of opportunities offered at a major university like N.C. State. Some think they can succeed by simply showing up for classes.

“The good thing about this university is that there’s so much to do,” Murray said. “The bad thing is there’s so much to do.”

The theory behind the program is that if bad habits can be corrected early, students have a better chance at success. When families indicate an interest in the Parents’ Network, their students are asked to sign a waiver giving parents access to students’ academic records. Then the network can keep parents informed about their students’ progress so they can intervene, if necessary, before the final grades come in.

Parents can call a toll-free number to check on a student’s academic performance at any time during the semester. When a student is in danger of failing a class, parents may choose to withhold financial resources or force a student to give up the car until grades improve.

“If it’s going to work, we have to make it work, and we have to back it up with action,” Murray said.

“This has been a very important program to encourage communication between students, parents and instructors,” said John Cornwell, Ag Institute director. “It’s reassuring to parents to know that there is a phone number here and a contact person who can get information about their child’s academic progress right away.”

Most parents have a tremendous financial stake in their children’s college education, and for some, it is a financial burden, Murray said. They can be devastated to learn at semester’s end that their student failed for not attending class or for some other preventable reason.

Murray took a real hands-on approach in helping motivate students toward success. When a mother called last winter to say her child was snowed in out of town and could not get back to campus right away, Murray e-mailed the student’s teachers to let them know.

She made regular 7 a.m. phone calls to one student who lived alone and could not seem to wake up for his 8 a.m. class. After a three-hour phone conversation with a distraught parent, she once went to a dormitory at 9:30 p.m. on a Thursday night for a frank conversation with a student who had been neglecting his studies.

“If, early on, we can catch them and stop behaviors that interfere with their success, we can give them a chance,” she said.

In its first year, the Parents’ Network was effective in helping improve students’ academic work, attitudes and involvement in extracurricular activities, Cornwell said. “This is a good way to involve parents in their son’s or daughter’s education,” he said.

Last year, Murray logged 84 parent requests. When parents’ needed information about grades, she would send e-mail notes to the students’ teachers requesting grade information. Faculty always responded promptly to her requests, often with extended phone calls regarding a student’s academic performance and needs.

And though she wasn’t sure what she was getting into when the Ag Institite first offered this service to parents, Murray was very pleased with the response. “One of the nicest parts of my job was talking with parents. I never had a moment with a parent that was unpleasant,” she said. “They proved to be our greatest allies.”

In addition to answering parent phone calls, the network published a newsletter each semester to help keep parents informed about what’s going on in the Ag Institute. The newsletter lists important dates for registration and tuition payments and answers questions that parents might find confusing, such as how a grade point average is computed and where the university sends tuition bills.

In August, Murray left N.C. State for a new job. Frances Stroup, coordinator of the math skills program for the Ag Institute, is the new parent liaison. With Stroup, the Parents’ Network is continuing to be an effective asset to students, with a focus on enhancing their success.

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