New Resource Helps to Welcome Students and Families to St. John’s Community (2024)

March 13, 2024

The process of introducing the next generation of Johnnies to St. John’s University begins long before students ever arrive on campus. Website tutorials, newsletter production, and parental get-togethers are just some of the student and family onboarding processes led by Karen Simons, Director, Office of Parent and Family Relations.

The goals, according to Ms. Simons, are to anticipate and answer questions family members might have about St. John’s while introducing them to resources available to enhance student success. The more knowledgeable parents and family members are about the University, the more support they can offer their child.

“My job is that of a connector,” Ms. Simons said. “If family members have a concern, I try to get them connected to the person here on campus who is going to be able to help them. Family members are an essential part of the community at St. John’s.”

Ms. Simons is the first to hold the position of Director, Office of Parent and Family Relations, which was created in 2022 by Sarah Jean Kelly, J.D., Vice President, Student Success and Retention Strategy. The office engages families on matters as diverse as student health and wellness, career development, financial budgeting, and more. Ms. Simons also acts as a point person for family members with questions about the financial aid process, student housing, campus dining options, and just about anything that might be concerning.

Ms. Kelly, who has spent more than two decades in higher-education administration, said the decision to create a position such as Ms. Simons’ was well-timed. She added that Ms. Simons, who previously worked at Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, NY, is the ideal person for the role.

“One evolution in higher education that I have seen is the idea of families as partners in the educational experience of students,” Ms. Kelly said. “Universities need someone to be a voice of families and students to help them feel more connected.”

“Karen’s work at Kellenberg enabled her to interact with both high school families and those families with a student ready to attend college.” Ms. Kelly continued. “That made her the perfect person to be taking on that family liaison mantle at St. John’s.”

Ms. Simons’ resources include a dedicated web portal, Facebook group, and, of course, an open line of communication through telephone, email, and video chat. All of these tools help the office answer questions from family members and students before first-year student orientation begins in mid-summer.

“I firmly believe in having a customer-service response,” Ms. Simons explained. “Parents, families, and students are our customers and we want to make them feel like they are at home here. Receiving feedback and listening to the concerns of parents and families leads to a successful educational experience for everyone.”

Most of Ms. Simons’ work begins once a student has committed to the University. The family is given access to the online onboarding resources and can begin interacting with Ms. Simons’ office. Questions about financial aid and housing deadlines are popular topics of discussion, but many family members seek information on the University’s study abroad programs.

St. John’s students can enroll in the Global Passport program and spend a week studying at the Rome, Italy, campus or Paris, France, location. They can also study for a semester in Rome, Paris, or a combination of those cities and Limerick, Ireland.

Ms. Simons addresses questions about study abroad opportunities in an annual webinar for students and their families.

“Parents and families are curious about the opportunities their kids have to study abroad,” Ms. Simons explained. “They can also be nervous about it. For some, it is geopolitical events. For others, it is their child’s first plane ride, or they have never traveled without their parents. They have questions and we want to answer them.”

The study abroad webinar is just one of several Ms. Simons’ office produces. Others include tips for completing the redesigned Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®); options for students with special dining needs; employment and career advice; and coping with academic challenges.

Services of the Office of Parent and Family Relations are available to students and family members from all class years. Webinars are free to join, advance registration is not required, and viewership is unlimited. Webinar recordings are available on the office’s webpage.

Typically, family members of entering students have the most questions, Ms. Simons said.

“For example, initially, students are advised by those in the Center for Student Success,” Ms. Simons explained. “But as they move on, students can be advised by a professor, or perhaps a dean. It helps parents of incoming students to understand that advisem*nt, for example, changes.”

Webinars and other online discussions are valuable, but many family members find on-campus programs essential to the onboarding experience. To that end, Ms. Simons assists Corinne Gentile, Director, Enrollment Management Events, with several activities, including Accepted Student Day, campus tours, class visits, and more.

Ms. Gentile, with help from Ms. Simons, also works with Samuel Baah, Director, Campus Activities and New Student Orientation, in the execution of several first-year orientation events designed to introduce family members to the University. These include family socials, meetings with representatives from the Center for Student Success, and lunch with department heads from the University’s undergraduate Schools and Colleges.

Separate student orientation events focus on the University’s mission, first-year success, campus safety policies, and more.

“Karen is a present presence for families,” Mr. Baah said. “Through her intentional approach and the collaboration between the New Student Orientation office and the Office of Parent and Family Relations, we are able to create a dynamic experience for our families and students.”

According to Ms. Gentile, parents of St. John’s students are particularly engaged, making an effective onboarding strategy essential.

“Parents want to know what kind of experience their child will have here,” Ms. Gentile said. “It can also help to speak with another parent who maybe has gone through the college process before.”

“On the student side,” Ms. Gentile continued, “students might feel more comfortable in a student-only setting, asking questions about nightlife or classes that are really hard. Events like these help to put everyone’s mind at ease.”

Ms. Gentile manages the University’s Student Ambassadors, who play a leading role at onboarding events, welcoming students and parents into the St. John’s community. With the ambassadors’ help, some might become “forever Johnnies.”

“I tell my ambassadors all the time that they create relationships,” Ms. Gentile said. “And you are building a legacy kind of relationship with people, such as parents who might have multiple children and students who might later attend graduate school. You never know the impact you might have.”


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New Resource Helps to Welcome Students and Families to St. John’s Community (2024)


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