Family members provide GSU students with scholarship opportunities

Parents of Georgia State University students can put their sons and daughters in line for a $1,000 scholarship—along with extra attention and other perks—by joining the GSU Parents Association.

For a one-time membership fee of $50, a GSU parent or family member gives a student the opportunity to apply for three annual scholarships awarded by the association

GSU’s Parents Association offers resources for any family connected to GSU through a student. It serves as a resource for GSU students who are the first in their families to attend college. It links GSU to parents in other countries.

“If we can keep the parents happy, we can keep the students here,” says Melissa L. Ohlfest, program specialist for parent relations. She answers the Parent Hotline available to association members who need help with a student or campus matter. She coordinates care packages for students during finals and a career workshop for families.

“We provide the extra oomph for parents to be involved at Georgia State,” she said.

The Parents Association has grown from 20 members in 2005 to more than 1,500 today. As membership increases, the association expects to fund more scholarships.

“There is great financial need for our students, and $1,000 really is important for their journey,” said GSU assistant dean of students Matthew K. Robison. “Our students need money, and so our primary benefit when we started this association was financial relief.”

Continued involvement pays off

Parents at GSU are part of the “millennial” generation distinguished by high involvement in their children’s lives, and many want to stay supportive during college. Parents’ participation in the association, Robison said, also reflects GSU’s transition to a more traditional, residential campus.

For GSU senior Tori Pearson, the Parents Association led to a highly competitive campus job and some free meals. For her mother, Wanda Pearson, joining meant a greater connection to her daughter, social contacts and career planning.

“When she came here in 2008, I wanted to join this because it was like the PTA at her high school,” said Wanda Pearson, who lives in Acworth.

“We all know that kids don’t always tell you what’s happening. That’s my pitch now to parents – that for $50, you can’t beat this for the information and activities like Family Weekend [a September tailgating event]. The perks more than pay for the membership.”

Wanda Pearson joined the association’s executive board and is now president. At one meeting, she heard about a job opening as a student fundraiser at the Panther Calling Center. She told her daughter, who she knew was looking for a campus job.

Student fundraisers must be articulate, enthusiastic about their Georgia State experience, reliable and persistent. They speak with of hundreds of constituents and raise thousands of dollars for the university.

Tori Pearson beat out several hundred applicants. As a student fundraiser, she sometimes makes calls soliciting GSU parents to join the association.

“Most people I talk to are interested in the scholarships, because of the changes with the HOPE funding, that really draws people in,” said Tori Pearson, a studio arts major with a concentration in graphic design at the Ernest G. Welch School of Art & Design.

“I also mention that we do community service. It’s a pretty easy call, because most parents care about what their child is doing in college. Some do say, ‘They’re in college and I’m done,’ but mostly they want to know more, and I share with them the impact on my mom and me.”

More than money

The association offers practical benefits, like helping solve housing and other campus issues. Tori Pearson appreciated the snacks and goodies during finals week. Her mom’s campus meetings usually end with a mother-daughter meal together. “Mom usually pays,” she said with a laugh.

Parents also benefit from social contacts and career resources. While their students establish independence at GSU, parents can find new friendships with other parents, and take advantage of student services themselves.

Wanda Pearson met fellow parent Cynthia Thomas, who like her was from Chicago and whose twin sons at GSU also attended North Cobb High School with Tori Pearson. Next year, Thomas will take over as president of the Parents Association.

“That’s what I like about it – the people you meet,” said Wanda Pearson, an IBM customer account manager for 30 years. The spring career workshop “was supposed to be for students, but it was informative for me, too. My original field is social work, and if I get back into it, how do I write a resume? It really helped.”

Roots and wings

The association owes its start to several parents who pitched in early, Robison said. Founding members include Lourdes Abreu, GSU’s former financial aid director Dave Bledsoe, and Robin and Calvin Daniels. They got involved on behalf of students Natalie Abreu, German Abreu II, Joanna Bledsoe and Zeneta Daniels.

The Parents Association also grew with university support, including the hiring of Ohlfest in 2010. She helps recruit parents at campus events, such as Panther Preview and Accepted Students Day.

In the spring, scholarship applications will be accepted. Requirements include a minimum 3.0 grade-point average and an application with an essay.

In 2010, the parents association awarded two scholarships from a pool of 13 applicants. In 2011, there were three winners out of 26 applicants.

The essay of one applicant, sophomore Margaret Garred, focused on the deep support of her non-musical parents for her career in musical composition.

They “listen to each melody that I compose as if it were worthy of a Pulitzer Prize,” she wrote. “Their support, both emotionally and monetarily, has really helped me to aim at the stars. They have been faithful to me as parents in every valley and mountaintop experience….

“I want them to see that I am … continuing to aim for the opportunities within Georgia State University. I want to thank them by having a little less loan money and showing them that I can make it out of debt.”

She did just that, by winning one of the Parents Association’s $1,000 scholarships.

—By Michelle Hiskey; Contact Kim Cretors, (404) 413-3424