There’s no doubt about it: Being a parent gives you a different perspective. Whether it’s the worry (Do you need your jacket, son?), the pride (That’s the best drawing of a tiger I’ve ever seen, honey!), or concerns for the future (But sweetie, if you don’t eat your broccoli you won’t grow up big and strong), when parents look at their kids, they see and think things that others might not.
The University of Iowa Parents Association, of which all parents and guardians of UI undergraduates are automatically members, exists because of that special point of view. Established in 1955 as the Dad’s Association and renamed the Parents Association in 1971, the group was and is dedicated to addressing needs that affect the quality of a student’s experience at the University.
“The Parents Association is a crucial organization for The University of Iowa,” says David Skorton, the University’s president. “Students and their families are essential partners in guiding our progress in achieving an excellent student experience. Parents bring an important perspective to how we provide education for their children and we are fortunate to have the Parents Association to give it voice.”
The Parents Association also serves as a conduit through which parents can learn about University services and events and UI administrators can learn about what’s important to parents. Contact numbers and other important information can be found on the Parents Association web site, www.uiowa.edu/~parent. Belinda Marner, assistant vice president in the Office of the Vice President for Student Services, is the liaison between the University and the group of parents who serve the association as the Parents Association Board of Directors.
Board members gather on campus three times a year for a daylong session to learn about campus issues and share their thoughts and concerns. While some board members are Iowans, a number are from Illinois and some come from even farther away—the board’s interim president, Darlene Schaller, along with her husband Russ, come to board meetings from their home in Ontario, Canada, and a couple of recently “retired” board parents traveled to Iowa for meetings from Hawaii.
Parents offer their services as board members for a number of reasons.
Jim and Susan Fruin of Bloomington, Ill., parents of sophomore Pat Fruin, joined the board last year as a way to share their experiences and knowledge of the University.
“Pat is our third son to attend Iowa, and last year was our ninth consecutive year as Iowa parents,” Jim Fruin says. “We read over the years of the helpful contributions that the Parents Association had made to the University, and we felt that our positive experiences and insights could complement those of other parents.”
While the Fruin’s longevity at Iowa gives them a special perspective, a parent doesn’t have to be a longtime Iowa expert to be a board member. Joyce Cryer, mother of Megan Colleen Miller, a senior from Mt. Vernon, Iowa, joined the board because she wanted to find out more about the school her daughter was attending.
“I was interested in a more intimate knowledge of The University of Iowa and eager to contribute in any way I could, from a parent’s perspective,” Cryer says.
Parents Association members learn about the University by meeting in and visiting different locations on campus and through presentations by various unit and department heads, students, and administrators. Topics have included career services, financial aid, libraries, residence services, public safety, and many others.
“I’ve especially appreciated the willingness of the UI presidents to make themselves available to us in the relaxed, close contact of the board meetings,” Cryer says. “Meeting department directors and hearing about their responsibilities to the University, their plans for the future, and budget constraints brings me up to speed on the status quo. I’ve learned how the University serves the entire state of Iowa. Being on the board is a great educational opportunity for me.”
Each year, two undergraduate students are the beneficiaries of scholarships endowed by the Parents Association. The Parents Association board also works closely with the UI Foundation to help determine how the funds raised through the Parents Fund for Student Support will be allocated. Board members review proposals from campus organizations and, based on established criteria, decide how best to distribute the funds donated that year. Projects funded in the past include the campuswide emergency phone system, alcohol-free tailgating events, e-mail stations in residence halls and the Iowa Memorial Union, Weeks of Welcome activities, Family Weekend events, and many others.
“It’s been rewarding to make the tough decisions on where to allocate available funds, as there are so many good initiatives that groups have presented to us,” Jim Fruin says. “Being a board member is work, but it also brings the reward of knowing that the board helps make a difference for our students.”
Board member Mary Beidler of Lake Forest, Ill., mother of junior Fran Beidler, notes “There is an added bonus—meeting other ‘Iowa parents’ from around the country, sharing ideas and concerns and a real affection for The University of Iowa.”
Darlene and Russ Schaller, parents of two sons and board members since 1991, would agree with Fruin and Beidler, and add that, in their case, their involvement has deepened their connection to the University.
“[Former UI President] Hunter Rawlings said to us, ‘You don’t come to Iowa. You become Iowa.’ In our case, more true words were never spoken,” Darlene says. “Our son Jeffrey graduated in May and is planning to continue in the master’s program in journalism. Our son, Jonathan, earned his undergraduate, as well as his master’s degree at Iowa, and we couldn’t be more proud of his choices. We give Iowa credit for many of them!”
By Linzee Kull McCray