Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Endings and Beginnings

 Endings and Beginnings 

By Stephanie Kepke Kaplan

Tears threatened to spill over my lashes as I sat in the darkened John Cranford Playhouse watching my son play his final concert at Hofstra—Music Fest, Hofstra Concert’s biggest event of the year. His sticks flew over the drums, while in front of him talented hip-hop/soul artist, Tino the Incredible, rhymed and sang his way through a forty-five-minute set. The lilting voices of three lovely backup singers along with the incredibly talented guitarist, bassist and keyboardist rounded out the performance. I whooped and hollered and clapped until my hands turned red. My cheeks hurting from smiling so much by the end of the set. So…why the threat of tears?

College graduation brings a lot of exciting new beginnings, but also profound endings, not just for the students, but for parents and families, as well. I have watched my kids perform on stages in schools from elementary through college for sixteen years, since my oldest was in fourth grade, and it suddenly hit me that this was the last time. Yes, I’ll get to see my son perform on stage again—his “outside of school” band has a gig in June, and that will no doubt be exciting. But there’s something special that comes from sitting in a campus theater, from the moment the house lights dim and the stage lights brighten to the cheering throng of students—a bigger audience than a bar offers—to watching your student slip off the stage, triumphant, past velvet curtains while a professional crew rushes on to get ready for the next famous act. I sat in the same theater and watched my son play with the Hofstra Symphonic Band last spring and oh my—I definitely shed some happy tears then. It was a proud mom moment for sure.

I’ve had lots of those proud mom moments while my son has studied at Hofstra. I’ve witnessed him bounce back from a .42 GPA in the fall of his sophomore year in 2020 to a 3.47 in the fall of 2021 when he was technically a second-semester sophomore after an academic leave in the spring. I beamed with pride while he read me his literature professor’s glowing comments on an essay he wrote and celebrated with him when he was accepted into the music business percussion performance track. He’s on the “five-year plan” or rather four-and-a-half-year plan, so there has been lots to celebrate, along with rocky moments, in this journey. It’s so hard to believe that it’s coming to an end.

It’s hard for my son, as well. He knows that everything will change and the safe embrace of the Hofstra community will not be a daily experience for him, BUT…he will still have that safety

net. He will always be a part of Hofstra as an alumnus. He will have the career resources and the alumni network at his disposal. And who knows, the band members he performed with the week before Music Fest at Hofstra’s bi-weekly Coffee House won’t be graduating until next year, so perhaps they’ll invite him back for a Coffee House performance here and there.

I thumbed through an old journal not too long ago and landed on an entry from the night before my college graduation. I had written, “Everything is going to change. I’ll never be in this moment again with these people, footsteps, and laughter outside the open window, my lace curtains fluttering in the breeze.” I was right, everything did change, but thirty-four years later I know that lots of those changes were good. I know my son will find that too. He’s just starting on his journey. But, for the parent of a graduating senior, it feels like more of a concrete ending to my journey with him as a student (I’m grateful I have a sophomore at Hofstra, as well, so my Hofstra journey isn’t over yet). This isn’t my first child graduating college, so I know once college is over, and your child is out in the world “adulting,” parenthood takes on a different tone. I support my oldest son in any endeavor and love to catch up with him whenever I can and hear about the exciting things he’s doing in the world living in Manhattan, but he doesn’t really need me much anymore. While that’s the goal of every parent, it does take some getting used to—graduation is the first step in truly letting go of our now adults. It’s important and perhaps the most essential ingredient in raising productive, thriving adults…we need to step out of the way and celebrate all the victories but maybe from a bit of a distance, and not a seat just a few rows away from a new life chapter unfolding. And that may spark just a few tears…but they’ll be tears of joy with just a tiny sprinkle of bittersweet.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Student Spotlight: Meet Sorelle Ineza

Student Spotlight: Sorelle Ineza

Meet Sorelle Ineza, a standout student-athlete whose journey at Hofstra University exemplifies the power of dedication, balance, and leveraging campus resources for success. Juggling the demands of basketball, academics, and career development, Sorelle not only thrived on the court but also secured a prestigious postgraduate internship with the NCAA. Reflecting on her experience, Sorelle underscores the importance of leadership experiences, resilience, mentoring, and collaborative campus support at Hofstra.

At the dynamic intersection of sports and career exploration, Sorelle discovered a passion for sports communications during her sophomore year. From there, she sought out industry mentors and participated in formal mentoring programs. On an individual level, Sorelle shadowed mentors in the Hofstra Athletics Communications and Marketing departments, receiving invaluable support from professionals like Rachel Vogel, Stephen Gorchov, Daniel Savarino, and Hannah Geller. According to Sorelle, “They were a huge help in teaching me the skills necessary to be successful in their profession.” Additionally, Sorelle joined the Women’s Sports Foundation/NBC Sport Group Mentoring Program.

In addition to participating in mentoring, Sorelle took the initiative to incorporate career development into her leadership experiences. She served as the media relations coordinator for Hofstra’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) Executive Board for two years, aligning her career and athletics passions with a role through which she honed her media skills. Sorelle also chose to participate in the Pride Leadership Academy, through which she developed her personal leadership style and learned a variety of leadership strategies and tactics that she will take with her into her desired future career with the NCAA.

When reflecting on how Hofstra’s support systems helped her juggle the competing demands of her athletics commitments and preparation for her career, Sorelle noted the importance of mentoring and synergistic relationships among campus departments that helped her navigate Hofstra’s resources. “I have to give a huge shoutout to our director of women’s basketball operations, Shaaliyah Lyons. She played a big part in keeping me focused on my career development. She made sure I used the resources that we have on campus, like the Center for Career Design & Development, and put me in contact with them. I am so thankful for their help.”

Sorelle also noted that the Center for Career Design & Development’s nimble approach to student service was helpful as she balanced competing demands. “They have helped me with my resume, interview process, and confidence building. Even though I had a hectic schedule, they still found time to take me in and prepare me. I would come in after practice or on my off days, or I would exchange emails with them. Sandra Buatti-Ramos is AMAZING! She was available throughout my whole interview process with the NCAA. I truly don’t know what I would have done without her. Every time we met, my confidence would go up. She always took the time to remind me how amazing and prepared I was. She made this whole process a whole lot easier for me. She’s a REAL one!”

When asked how engaging with the Center for Career Design & Development has added value to her experience as a student-athlete, Sorelle explained, “As student-athletes, we often think that we are not qualified to apply for anything because of how much time we spend practicing and playing or sport. I thought that I didn’t have enough experience to apply for the NCAA Postgraduate Internship Program, which was not the case. It is because of the Center for Career Design & Development that I started seeing how valuable and transferable my skills were for the position. Sandra made sure to show me how valuable everything that I have gained while being a student-athlete was. Just to name a few: Hofstra SAAC, Pride Leadership Academy, NCAA Career in Sports Forum, Madison Square Garden, community service, etc.”

Like many college students, Sorelle was initially hesitant to reach out for career preparation assistance, but she explained that her interactions with the staff helped set her at ease. “I was scared to reach out at first, but they made me so comfortable once I got there.” She remarked on her distinguishable experiences with the professionals at the Center for Career Design & Development as a positive influence on her career development. “The staff was very welcoming and supportive. They are professionals who understand what college students need. They ask about your day, classes, practices, games, and more. Very personable people who care about us as human beings! Moreover, they are very flexible and make time for us no matter the circumstances.” Sorelle also reflected on the staff’s ability to tailor their support and services to meet her unique needs. “What stood out to me was how intentional they were in getting to know me at a deeper level. For instance, what motivates me in life, what are my strengths and weaknesses, and more. By doing that, they were able to know who I am as a person and find the tools necessary to connect with me and help me reach my goals.”

As leaders often do, Sorelle reflected on advice she would offer to her student-athlete peers when it comes to navigating the balance between sports and career development. “I would tell them that they are much more than just student-athletes. Yes, it is important to focus on their sports, but life has so much more to offer. It is crucial to make time for career development. Like our coach often says, “the ball will stop bouncing one day,” and you cannot wait until your career is over to find what motivates you outside of your sport or who you are as a person. Get involved on campus, talk to people, network, ask questions, shadow people, etc. We are surrounded by professionals! We often forget how lucky we are because of how consumed we are with our sport. Get outside of your comfort zone, touch on different things, sharpen your skills, and build a network. Put in the same effort in your career development that you put in your sport, and you will understand how powerful and equipped you are to be successful outside of your sport.”

Sorelle also reflected on the importance of connecting with the Center for Career Design & Development. “It is crucial for student-athletes to use the Center for Career Design & Development because of how insightful the staff is. We are much more than just student-athletes and need to think about our future outside of our sports. There's no better place on campus than the Center for Career Design & Development to help us understand our transferable skills, how valuable our experiences are, and how qualified we are to work anywhere we want.”

When asked if there was anything else she would like to note about the support she received at Hofstra, Sorelle stated, “I cannot thank the Center for Career Design & Development enough! They have made my experience a great one and helped me land one of the most prestigious postgraduate internships in the country. Thank you so much!”

Monday, February 12, 2024

That Parent

 That Parent

By Stephanie Kepke

I’ve attended many Hofstra Admitted Students Day events as a representative of Hofstra Parent and Family Council. There is one nugget of advice that’s always dispensed, and that is, “Don’t be that parent. “Who is that parent?” you may ask. Well…if you’re inserting yourself into your student’s college experience—calling professors; checking email; reminding your student about deadlines; calling multiple times a day to check in—you might be that parent. It’s discouraged for obvious reasons.

But…what if you are that parent? Is it ever okay? Maybe not to the extent mentioned above, but there are exceptions to the rule. Full disclosure, I am that parent now, even though I was the exact opposite when my oldest son attended college four hours away at UMass Amherst. I had no idea who his professors were, what his grades were (until I checked once at the end of the semester). I didn’t know if he handed in his assignments on time or if he failed any tests. Never once did I call and tell him to do his work. We spoke maybe once a week and usually only if he called me. And while I would have loved to check in more often, I respected his space. Here’s the thing, though—he did not need me to be involved in his academic life. He made Dean’s List pretty much every semester. He was an early to bed, early to rise type, so I know he wasn’t missing classes. I didn’t need to interfere, so I never became that parent. But, my oldest is neurotypical, unlike my younger boys who have ADHD, OCD and hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, which can cause attention issues. My youngest also has Tourette’s and is on the autism spectrum.

My two younger sons attend Hofstra (a sophomore and a senior). When my middle son matriculated, I assumed the same hands-off approach as I did with my oldest. I didn’t nag him

about assignments. I didn’t check his email. Even though he commutes and lives at home, I gave him a wide berth and didn’t interfere. And then…well, then covid hit, Hofstra went to virtual before any other university in New York, thanks to early positive cases. My son struggled, as many students did. But, I still maintained that hands-off approach…until my son failed three classes in the fall of 2020 and had to take an academic leave in the spring of 2021 (we thought he lost his scholarship and by the time we realized he didn’t, thanks to the amazing Branka Kristic, it was too far into the semester for him to return. (You can read more about that in this essay: Triumph Over Failure.) All of the sudden I realized that my son needed my interference. He had multiple emails from professors unread in his inbox warning him that he would fail if he didn’t turn in his missing assignments. I was furious with myself, thinking that perhaps if I even glanced at the portal or his inbox, I would have known of the impending academic doom. He finished the semester with a .42.

He returned in the fall of 2021 with a new major that truly captured his passion, music business and performance, and a renewed determination to do well. Part of our agreement when he returned was that I was allowed access to his inbox and would be checking it and the portal regularly. I wasn’t overbearing, I simply gently steered him to complete his work on time and answer emails promptly. He appreciated the support and put in the hard work necessary to succeed. He earned a 3.47 that semester and has held pretty much steady with his GPA since, with a slight dip here and there, usually due to extenuating circumstances (for instance, wrist nerve pain for a percussionist guarantees a less than stellar grade).

When my youngest son started Hofstra in the fall of 2022, I requested access to his email and the portal right off the bat. He agreed and also appreciates the support. He was accepted into the PALS program, which could have taken my place as the steady hand steering him (though of

course much more involved than I could—or should—ever be), but we decided that it was not possible financially for him to participate in it. It is definitely worth the money for those who take advantage of it, and I truly wish he could have done it, but it was not feasible for us with two college tuitions to pay, even with my students’ generous scholarships—especially since we had been paying college tuition for our kids steadily since 2016 (with two also overlapping in 2019-2020).

Of course, Hofstra does not let students who do not join PALS flounder, as Student Access Services is ready and willing to help all students with disabilities. And this is another area in which a little push from parents can be helpful. I encouraged my sons to fill out the SAS contract and take advantage of all the accommodations afforded them. I had to remind my son several times to drop off his contract, and I dropped off all the initial necessary paperwork from his high school, and his psychologist and neurologist. Luckily, SAS understands that sometimes students with special needs require a bit more parental involvement. And they are now encouraging students to be proactive by requiring they hand in their accommodation letters to their professors directly. This will help the most vulnerable students learn to advocate for themselves. You can learn more about this by watching The Student Access Services (SAS) Changes on the Hofstra Parent and Family Council Events page. This is so important, because while I keep an eye on the portal and inbox, I do NOT contact professors for my kids. Yes, it can be incredibly frustrating to keep reminding them to answer emails, but they need to learn to speak to professors and to handle any issues that arise on their own.

So, am I bad parent for being that parent—the parent we are all cautioned against becoming? I’d like to think that I’m just doing the best I can to help my kids navigate what can sometimes be a daunting experience for students with special needs like ADHD and autism.

Since I didn’t become that parent with my oldest, but I did with my two younger sons, I’d also like to think that I’m nimble in responding to what each individual child needs at the time.

So…here is my advice (and you can take it with a grain of salt, since it’s against the advice of experts)—if you think your student would benefit from an extra set of eyes on his/her/their inbox, request permission to be that pair of eyes. Request permission to check the portal to help your student stay on track. You should NOT force your way into helping your student nor should you sneak into your child’s inbox and portal. The arrangement works with my kids because I asked and was granted permission—mind you, you can impose conditions if permission is not granted. As I mentioned above, part of our agreement to allow our son to return to school after failing three classes is that we had access to his portal and mail. The same thing with my youngest—he had struggled with turning assignments in on time in high school, so a condition of him attending Hofstra was access to his inbox and portal. If he refused, we would have had to rethink investing such a hefty chunk of change in his education.

Only you can decide what’s best for your student, and just know that if your student is at Hofstra and you’re reading this blog, you’re already doing a great job in being an involved parent who wants only the best for your child…no matter how hands-on or hands-off you are.