Website launches for Cornell students with families

Friday, November 20, 2015

Elizabeth Ellis

Families participate in the annual pumpkin carving event held at the Big Red Barn in October.

“When we first arrived in Ithaca in 2012, my husband and I felt a little isolated because we did not have an easy way to connect with other student families,” said doctoral student Stephanie Martin.

For Danielle Collier, the partner of a Cornell graduate student, “it was difficult for me to understand where I would fit in to my partner’s life at Cornell.”

On Nov. 13, Cornell launched a new Web portal for students with families to address these concerns and help student families acclimate and integrate into the Cornell community. The website centralizes Cornell policies, resources and support structures for students with families.

“Combining all information in one easy-to-navigate website reduces the stress associated with the fear of missing something in some buried portion of the Cornell website,” said doctoral student Brandon Gheller.

To complement the new website, a virtual Facebook community launched in mid-October to establish connections between student families. “The Facebook page is great for finding something to do and to connect with people we met at previous events but whose contact information we didn’t get,” said Gheller.

The website and accompanying Facebook page were created in response to the Graduate and Professional Community Initiative (GPCI), a strategic plan developed by the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly to enhance graduate student life. The Graduate School and Student and Campus Life division created working groups around eight themes from the GPCI, including family services.

“The definition of family is as diverse as our student body. Because the experience of being a student with a family is similar regardless of student status, we were intentional that this be a resource for all student families at Cornell, undergraduate, graduate and professional,” said Kent Hubbell, the Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students.

The Family Services Work Group, under the leadership of Janna Lamey, assistant dean for graduate student life, made the website and virtual community a top priority and included staff from units across the university and student representatives, including student-parents Martin and Gheller and student partner Collier.

“We recognize that families are important allies in encouraging student academic success and well-being. We heard that many students were unaware of resources and support structures available to their family unit,” said Lamey.

This fall, Cornell nearly doubled the Child Care Grant Program, which covers some costs of eligible child care based on household income and ages and number of children in care.

The Family Services Work Group partnered with Tompkins Workforce to provide employment assistance to spouses and partners, and opportunities to volunteer on campus and in the Ithaca community; the group also started “Time Out,” a monthly discussion and networking session for student parents with child care provided, and a monthly Big Red Barn happy hour for spouses and partners.

“The Family Services Work Group is a cross-campus partnership between students and units and colleges across campus who came together to improve the experience for students with families,” said Barbara A. Knuth, senior vice provost and dean of the Graduate School . “Funds for this project were jointly made available through Student and Campus Life and the Graduate School. I am impressed with and grateful for the progress they are making to support our students with families.”

Elizabeth Ellis is communication director for the Graduate School.