UMW Parent and Family eNews recently sat down with Sheri Robey Lapan, whose daughter Kiki just completed her first semester at Mary Washington, to talk about the college transition for both mother and daughter.
Q: Why did Kiki choose Mary Washington?
A: For her, it was a combination of size, character, and opportunity. The other schools she was considering ultimately did not have the character and the wide range of opportunities she was able to see at Mary Washington. She just didn’t feel connected to any of the other schools, and she appreciated Mary Washington’s emphasis on creative thought.
Q: What is the number-one thing you want Kiki to gain from her UMW experience?
A: There are so many things I want for her: to get involved, learn how to solve problems, make lasting friendships, engage, build empathy. It all falls under uncovering what she loves; I want her to have the opportunity to learn what she loves because she doesn’t know yet. One of the things she and I both appreciate about Mary Washington is the breadth of the liberal arts experience; she can explore in ways that aren’t possible at other universities. UMW’s academic requirement structure enables students, almost forces them, outside of their box to learn things they would not otherwise. Kiki took a music theory class to satisfy a general education requirement, and it turned out she loved it and is enrolled in another class next semester. I’m so happy about that, because learning to love learning is so important.
Q: How did the first semester go, for you and for Kiki? Any challenges or triumphs to share?
A: Her first semester was an amazing experience. She chose to go to a school where she didn’t know anyone, so it was interesting for me to watch her make her way socially. At first she wanted a magic wand for making friends, but I encouraged her to be patient and reminded her that everyone else was in the same boat. She put herself out there and signed up for a bunch of clubs and activities, and one stuck in a big way. Through the club she has found a community she loves and a roommate for next year.
Academically, she learned that college isn’t a cake walk like high school. There are no easy A’s, and she had to work really hard in her classes. She learned to think and organize in ways she had not mastered in high school, and she learned time management and the importance of reaching out to her professors.
The experience Kiki had in her first semester is because she chose to engage. If she had not had a positive first semester, I believe it would have been her fault, not the University’s. There are so many opportunities, and ultimately it’s up to the student to take advantage of what’s offered.
Q: What has been the most surprising aspect of being a college parent?
A: It has been a happy surprise for me to watch Kiki take the initiative to engage fully in her college experience. My ability to step back has also been surprising. I have supported her decisions, rather than guiding them. We talk every day; she lets me in on her experiences, but I don’t pass judgment. I feel like she’s almost patting me on the back and telling me I’ve done well at this whole “letting go” thing. I’ve always wanted her to take off and fly, but I didn’t know if I would be able to let go. It’s hard to step back after 18 years and say, “My job is to pick you up if you fall, not to carry you.”
Q: Have you received any great advice about “parenting from afar,” or do you have any of your own advice to share with other parents?
A: I am lucky to have a friend who is also a Mary Washington parent, and it has been helpful to be able to discuss the kids’ shared experiences. Connecting with other parents on Facebook has also been a good opportunity.
My best advice for other parents is to empower your child to make independent decisions and help them understand that the college experience is what they make of it. You have to push your kids—by asking questions, not giving directives—to put in the work, explore, and not give up.
Sheri Robey Lapan owns a marketing services firm and lives in Northern Virginia. Her daughter, Kiki, is a member of the Class of 2022. Sheri is a member of UMW’s Parent Leadership Circle. To learn more about the Parent Leadership Circle, please contact Beth Hunsinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or 540-654-2068.