Student affairs office unveils ambassador program to replace parents’ council

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Keegan Mullen | Hatchet Photographer

Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said the student affairs office is consolidating positions before laying people off.

The former advisory group for parents has been dissolved and replaced with a new program aimed at parents around the globe, the University’s top student affairs official confirmed this week.

The Parents’ Association Advisory Council officially shut down and the Family Ambassador Program launched this semester, Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said. The new ambassador program will allow both international and domestic students’ parents to get involved with what’s happening on campus, instead of limiting the work to a small group of elected parents, Konwerski said.

“Twenty-five years ago when the PAAC was created, we were more regionally based,” Konwerski said. “We are now a global institution so we have parents in three or four different time zones, more than that probably. How do you accommodate all of those different groups? This is one way to really increase our reach.”

Members of the former parents’ council said they were surprised that officials disbanded the group. Some said they were left out of the decision to shut down the council and wished they had more input.

This is the most recent in a string of major changes to parent services: A year after Rodney Johnson – who founded the parent office – retired, the office was dissolved due to budget cuts. Parent services shifted into the new Department of Student Support and Family Engagement.

Shift to volunteer program
The Family Ambassador Program will recruit parents to volunteer at events, assist students in career and internship searches and expand communication with families through things like blogs, according to the program’s website. The ambassador program will involve parents on a volunteer basis, rather than through an election process.

Officials first considered an ambassador program last year when discussing ways to improve family engagement, Konwerski said.

Konwerski said although the structure for the parents’ program is different, officials will continue their attempts to actively engage parents and families, and they are finding ways to make it easier for parents to participate, regardless of where they live or the amount of time they have to commit to the group.

“There are opportunities for people to participate and be active through a blog post or a webinar back in their home community as opposed to feeling like they actually have to come to campus,” he said.

Last year, Konwerski said officials in the Division of Student Affairs were focused on offering increased resources to international parents and families.

Konwerski added that the ambassador program has officially launched, and it will continue to grow throughout this academic year.

Members of the program will participate in panels during Colonials Weekend, discussing topics like helping students find internships in D.C. and the transition from fall to spring semester.

Family ambassadors will not go through one standard training, because they can choose to volunteer in the areas within the University that interest them most, University spokeswoman Kurie Fitzgerald said in an email. Parent volunteers can attend online or in-person trainings.

“The bottom line is we want to be able to meet parents where they are and will continue to identify what works best for them,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald added that the budget for the ambassadors program is within the Division of Student Affairs and that resources are not being diverted from other areas to fund the new program.

‘Shocked’ by disbanded council
Rebecca Lawson, a former member of the Parents’ Association Advisory Council, said officials’ move to dissolve the council demonstrates that administrators do not have parents’ interests in mind when making decisions.

“I am sad to say that the PAAC is being dissolved,” Lawson said. “Believe me, none of us are happy about it. Provost Maltzman, Peter Konwerski and others in the GW leadership clearly do not see the value in having an active parent voice in the mix – a shameful act on the part of the University.”

Lawson added that the ambassador program is seeking parents to volunteer who will donate to the University.

“The ambassador program does not replace the PAAC, although I am sure there will be value in the ambassador program,” Lawson said. “They make it clear they are looking for volunteers who are also donors, a pay-to-play opportunity.”

Members of the council raised their concerns about terminating the group with University President Steven Knapp over the summer, Lawson said.

Knapp acknowledged that parents from the Parents’ Association Advisory Council were against the decision to dissolve the group, according to an email he sent Sept. 16 that was obtained by The Hatchet.

“Thank you once again for letting me know your concerns about the University’s decision to change the way it plans to seek input from parents and families,” Knapp said. “I regret that you were not brought more fully into the decision-making process.”

Provost Forrest Maltzman said in an email sent Sept. 21 the decision to move away from an elected council model was made after the group’s last meeting in June.

“While I understand that some of you are unhappy about this decision, I believe, as does Vice Provost Konwerski and President Knapp, that this is the right decision as we look to engage even more GW families in the future,” Maltzman wrote in the email.

The advisory council collaborated with the Department of Student Support and Family Engagement and met three times per year during Colonials Weekend, Colonial Inauguration and once in February, according to the website.

Ellis Gardner, another former council member, said although he was “shocked” to learn that the University was disbanding the council, he does not think it is a sign that parents are being pushed out of decisions.

“There is no question that Peter Konwerski has the best interests of GW at heart,” Gardner said.

Some former council members will transition to serving as ambassadors or into positions on the Student Affairs Advisory Council, Konwerski wrote in an email to parents Oct. 6.

David Shaffer, a former council member, said parents and former advisory council members should not be alarmed by the changes. He added that opportunities like the ambassador program will likely be more representative of parents than a 30-person elected group.

“They are not getting rid of parent involvement. They are instead making a different use of parent involvement,” Shaffer said.

Dani Grace and Elizabeth Konneker contributed to reporting.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.