New ASU families get advice, resources through Direct Connect program
When Paulette Parker’s daughter Crystal was preparing to start her career at Arizona State University in 2020, it was a dream come true for the Oakland, California, native.
The stay-at-home foster mom of two young children, ages 3 and 6, and three older biological daughters, was excited that Crystal was about to become a Sun Devil as a first-generation college student. But at one point she wasn’t sure the dream would happen.
“One day I was feeling confused, defeated and overwhelmed,” Parker said. “We were applying for scholarships, my family was helping with tuition, and my church gave me a sum of money, but it wasn't enough. We didn’t have a bank account or 401(k) that we could just tap into. Crystal was excelling academically, and I did not want her to stress over finances.”
Having attended ASU Family Orientation and Coffee Connection sessions via Zoom, Parker remembered hearing from ASU Family staff that "we are here to help." So she reached out and within a few days she was referred to a new ASU Family program called Direct Connect.
Through Direct Connect, families can connect one-on-one with ASU "family guides," volunteers who are family members of an ASU student, to ask questions about their experience at the university and get advice.
That’s how Parker got to know ASU family guide Suzanne Allen, or “Coach Suzy” as Parker's family affectionately refers to her, through email and Zoom.
“I have learned so much in this relationship with Suzy,” Parker said. “She is committed, experienced and very smart. We were able to apply for grants and other ASU awards that we received additional funds from. Without Suzy I would not have known about these resources. Crystal's tuition has now been paid for the fall and spring semesters.”
Allen, a fellow Californian who lives in Santa Rosa with her husband, Tom, remembers well what it was like when their daughter Kyra was just starting college.
“To this day I remember what it was like to be a new, out-of-state parent,” Allen said. “I remember feeling lost, entering into this new world knowing nothing about it.”
With her Sun Devil now in graduate school at ASU working on her master’s degree in construction management and technology, and having been a volunteer for various ASU Family programs for five years, Allen jumped at the chance to be a Family Guide and to meet one-on-one with new families.
“For new families, this whole world opens up and it can be very overwhelming. To have someone step in and welcome them, letting them know they are not alone and they have someone to help navigate, is priceless.”
During their Direct Connect conversation via Zoom, the two ASU family members covered a lot of ground, chatting about everything from financial aid to health services and tutoring resources, Allen said. They discussed the Western Undergraduate Exchange program, which offers discounted tuition for students from western states for students in certain majors at the West, Polytechnic and Downtown Phoenix campuses.
Allen shared strategies on obtaining storage units for when it’s time to move out of the residence hall, referring Parker to a storage company they used in Tempe to store Kyra’s things instead of bringing them home each semester. They even talked about resources for car rentals and where to find the best pricing.
“I asked about her student, getting all excited about her accomplishments and her first year at ASU,” Allen said. “I told her, 'I’m here to help with whatever you need, or questions you have,' and it just took off from there. I feel like I’ve made a lifelong friend. This has been such a rewarding endeavor.”
Over the years, the Allen family has become an integral part of the ASU family fabric. Tom, who is part-owner of a caulking tool manufacturer, and Suzy, who works at Santa Rosa Junior College, are both five-year members of the ASU Family Leadership Council. They have been ASU Family Scholarship donors, assisted with two Sun Devil Send-Offs in San Francisco, and hosted an ASU Family Coffee Connection event this year.
Sun Devils Send-Offs are meet-and-greet type events where incoming students and families connect virtually with representatives from the ASU Alumni chapter in their region before the school year begins. Similarly, ASU Family Coffee Connections enable family members to meet with other Sun Devil families via Zoom to share experiences and learn about resources.
Back when Kyra was starting out as a first-year Barrett Honors student five years ago, the Allens had no intention of getting involved. But then they talked with Robin Okun Hengl, the executive director of parent engagement at ASU, and things changed.
“Tom and I hadn’t planned on volunteering for ASU, it wasn’t even on our radar,” Allen said. “But then we met Robin and she was so welcoming. She made the time to get to know us and by the end of our first meeting, we felt like we belonged. Being Sun Devil family members has given us our own ASU college experience, one filled with laughter, compassion and new friends.”
Allen said what began as networking for their own benefit, learning about the different departments and who to contact for their various needs, quickly turned into a community that welcomed them with open arms.
“It was no longer about ‘us’ but how we could help other parents and families, reaching out to them, saying ‘I know how it feels, we’re here for you.’”
Now that Kyra has graduated (magna cum laude) with a Bachelor of Science degree in interior design, and is now working on her master’s degree in graduate school at ASU, Allen is able to focus even more of her time helping other families as an ASU Family Guide through Direct Connect.
She’s able to offer emotional support and guidance based on her own experiences.
“I’m so grateful to have been paired with Paulette,” Allen said. “She has been wonderful to work with, and truly it’s been a gift meeting her. I feel like I’ve known her for years! I look forward to following her and Crystal’s journey and meeting them in person one day.”
As for Parker, she heartily recommends that new ASU families consider the Direct Connect program.
“I believe the variety of background and experience that the leaders with Direct Connect have can be matched up with any ASU Family in need. You have the chance to develop a partnership that can help you and your student enjoy your time at ASU. After talking with Suzy I no longer felt confused or overwhelmed, and had hope that my dream for Crystal to graduate from ASU was attainable.”
Visit ASU Family’s Direct Connect webpage to get started with this unique program.