Student Parent Conference Addresses Journey of Learning and Parenthood

December 5, 2023

NOVA’s Office of Student Affairs hosted a conference for parenting students at the Annandale Campus's Ernst Community Cultural Center on November 30. The event served to amplify the voices of NOVA’s student parent population, facilitating discussions on the array of resources available at the College for students who are also parents. Last year’s inaugural conference, conducted in collaboration with Generation Hope, was incredibly well received. This year, NOVA took the lead on planning the event, which was expanded to include even more partners and associations. The result was a comprehensive dialogue and network of support geared toward the unique needs of parenting students. Almost 90 participants attended the conference, with many bringing their children.

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“We are elated that we could provide a space for speakers and community supporters to share stories, triumphs and strategies for overcoming obstacles faced by student parents,” said Dr. Beatrice McKeithen, NOVA’s vice president of student affairs. “The narratives heard were not only relatable but also a source of inspiration for attendees, creating a sense of unity and shared experiences.”

According to a recent survey conducted by Generation Hope, in collaboration with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the Hope Center, one in five college students across the nation is also a parent. Unfortunately, members of this demographic frequently find themselves grappling with a challenging choice: to prioritize their family or finish their education. NOVA aims to support students so they don’t have to make that choice. Through impactful programs, partnerships and resources, NOVA students can provide for their family while taking courses.

Dr. Ellen Fancher-Ruiz, NOVA’s dean of student success, and Dr. Takesha McMiller, NOVA’s interim associate vice president of student support services, set the tone for the conference with a dynamic welcome address that highlighted key presentations and discussions. The morning’s agenda featured engaging contributions from Maddie Hren, scholar recruitment coordinator at Generation Hope; Dr. McKeithen; Dr. Christine Schull, distinguished professor of early childhood education at NOVA; Krystal Edmead, director of accommodations and accessibility services at NOVA and Sherrene DeLong, events coordinator for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at NOVA.

This year’s keynote was offered by Dr. Sonya Anyaka, a distinguished NOVA alumna, renowned professor and accomplished epidemiologist. In a poignant address, Dr. Anyaka shared her personal journey as a NOVA student who was raising small children while trying to get through school. She expressed gratitude for the many staff and faculty at NOVA who provided pivotal support during her educational endeavors. Drawing on her own experience, Dr. Anyaka sought to inspire other student parents to unlock their full potential.

“I am delighted to come back here to NOVA,” said Dr. Anyaka. “This College made me who I am today. I stand before you as a living testament to the power of perseverance, determination and unwavering faith. My journey is one of humble beginnings, countless struggles and ultimate triumph. I started my academic journey as a parent — a young mother with dreams, aspirations and a vision … and I faced the harsh realities of life, balancing the responsibilities of motherhood. Continuing my education was far from easy.”

Later, the voices of other NOVA student parents took center stage in a panel moderated by Dr. McKeithen. Students Maria Gomez, Estella Redding and Tallas Robinson opened up about their journeys as parenting students, sharing their deeply personal stories.

The panel highlighted important resources, including a one-stop webpage featuring helpful information for student parents.

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