30 years later, Office of Parent Services founder leaves behind groundbreaking legacy

Media Credit: Photo Courtesy of GW Today

Founder and Executive Director of the Office of Parent Services Rodney Johnson is retiring after 30 years at GW.

GW is losing its most familiar face for parents.

Rodney Johnson, founder and director of the Office of Parent Services, is leaving his Rice Hall office next month, ending his time at one of higher education’s first offices focused on connecting with parents. He said he hopes his legacy shows he “cared deeply about parents” at GW after spending almost half his life connecting parents and students to campus.

During his time leading the office, Johnson held presentations during Colonial Inauguration, giving parents an overview of the office and what college will be like for their son or daughter. He also launched a fund parents can use to visit their children on campus in case of an emergency.

Johnson, 66, said as head of the office, he’s worked with the “Baby Boomer” generation who “expect better than what they have for themselves” when it comes to their children’s education.

“Because we’re from a generation of the Vietnam War, for a generation of all the different protests and everything, Baby Boomers expect people to listen to them, and they want the best for their children. And as a result, education is very expensive,” he said.

When he was GW’s assistant basketball coach for the men’s team, Johnson said he decided to work for former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and then-senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services Robert Chernak so he could get his master’s degree in higher education, something he said he wouldn’t be able to do if he continued traveling the country as a coach.

Johnson started brainstorming with Chernak and Trachtenberg about how to better work with the parents of GW students.

“We would talk about the need for the University to do a better job of serving and communicating with our parents of undergraduates,” Johnson said.

Chernak said the office now bears Johnson’s “fingerprints,” and that his effort to connect with parents was an example of giving “customer service at GW.”

Chernak added that Johnson was “instrumental” in making sure parents were involved in Colonial Inauguration and Colonials Weekend, and added that the Parents’ Association, a networking group for parents of undergraduates, was Johnson’s “brain child.”

“Rodney has represented GW with distinction setting a gold standard for caring, sincerity and honesty. His presence will be missed, but not forgotten,” Chernak said.

Andy Sonn, the assistant vice president for student and academic support services, said many other universities have modeled their own parent services offices after the one Johnson created, which gave parents at GW a direct line to an administrator and a team who could then connect them with services across campus.

“When you walk around campus with Rodney, with the depth of relations he has at the University, faculty, staff members, all different students and alumni, it’s amazing how far those relationships go,” Sonn said.

During his tenure at GW, Johnson revamped Colonials Weekend, when most parents visit campus each fall. In 2012, the Parents Association and the Career Center joined together for Colonial Inauguration to help connect students with successful parents in similar fields.

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said that as GW searches for Johnson’s successor, officials should be looking for someone who has the same communication skills that Johnson has used to make strong connections with student’s parents.

“It’s sort of an unseen office often because it does work to keep things off administrator’s desks and it does advocate for important issues,” Konwerski said.

Johnson said that he plans on keeping in touch with GW, and that he has tickets to men and women’s basketball games during the school year. He added that he and his partner will also do some traveling and consulting.

“It’s OK to say you love something, and I really love the George Washington University,” he said.

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