University of Rochester

A Parent Person

Dawn Bruner is Rochester’s first director of parent relations.
By Kathleen McGarvey
photo of dawn bruner

RELATIONS: As the University’s first director of parent relations, Dawn Bruner hopes to help parents and family members as they guide their children through their lives as college students.

When parents have questions about the University or their children’s experiences on campus, Dawn Bruner’s door—as well as phone line and e-mail box—are always open. And for Bruner, who last November became the first director of parent relations at Rochester, those points of contact are welcome and rewarding.

“I like the idea of lending an ear and helping parents in whatever way I can,” Bruner says.

“We created the position so that there would be one person serving as our primary point of contact for parents,” says Richard Feldman, dean of the College. “We want to make sure that parents know whom to call if they have concerns. They now have one person, who can either respond directly or connect them to the right person.”

In addition to fielding questions, Bruner is also responsible for broad-based communication with parents through newsletters and other vehicles.

A native Rochesterian, Bruner began her career in higher education as a university counselor at Elizabeth City State University and came to her new position after serving as a counselor and coordinator of admissions, recruitment, and student services for the Higher Education Opportunity Program at Nazareth College. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Nazareth and a master’s degree in counselor education from the College at Brockport, State University of New York.

In an edited interview, Bruner shares her thoughts on the roles parents can play in their child’s college education and suggests some tips for parents of new students at Rochester.

What are the goals for this new position?

We want to stay connected with parents. If we’re communicating with them, they have to do less guesswork. It’s giving them more information about the Rochester experience. Parents are sometimes frustrated when they don’t know whom to call, or where to go to get an answer. I try to let parents know it’s okay to call. I welcome it.

What sorts of questions have you addressed in your work with parents so far?

The questions vary with the time of the semester. In April and May there were a lot of questions about commencement. When the unveiling of the new dining plan came, there were questions about that. They’ve also asked about housing options, and about jobs for graduating students. I talk with parents about resources and encourage them to talk with their students about what is available to them here.

How do you strike the balance between working with parents and helping to ensure that students are acting for themselves?

It’s a part of every conversation. Generally, parents are seeking information, but I think they want to convey it to the students, and I reinforce that. I let them know about resources for the students that are here on campus. I think that many parents want to figure a problem out, and have a level of understanding, but not to solve the problem for the student.

How long has the field of parent relations been around? Is this a new trend for campuses?

The field has been around over 10 years. It’s really been around, in one way or another, for a long time, but it’s growing. The relationship between parents and colleges is different than it used to be, and the emergence of parent relations as a distinct field reflects that.

What drew you to parent relations?

I’m a counselor by training, and I liked the idea of being able to continue to use my counseling experience in a different capacity. I think that my background is helpful in being a sounding board. I really enjoy working with parents.

Ideally, what do you hope the experience of a Rochester parent will be?

That they start the experience, and they walk away, knowing that their student is in a good place and has the tools he or she needs to succeed. We want parents to know the parent-child relationship changes when a son or daughter reaches college, but we’re not saying to parents, “You’re done.” There are different ways of supporting your student and helping him or her to grow. And we want to help parents empower their student to grow.

What tips do you have for parents sending a child to the University this year?

Sending your children off to college is like when you taught them to ride a bike. You both were nervous and anxious. As a parent, you were afraid to let go. But when you did, you and your children were excited and proud of the accomplishment. And when they fell off, as they all do at some point, you were there to dust them off, wipe the tears, and encourage them to do it all over again. You would lovingly watch as they would keep trying until getting the hang of it. Though you weren’t physically holding on to the bike, you were still a supportive force. Today, your student may sometimes have a difficult time with the adjustment to college, roommate relationships, or coursework. Just as you have in the past, it’s important to wipe the tears when needed, but also to trust they’ll get the hang of it. Family support is important, but it’s just as important to allow your sons and daughters to find their own way. Even if they’re thousands of miles away, they’re still the people you raised them to be.

To contact Dawn Bruner, call (585) 275-5415 or send an e-mail to Parents of students in the Eastman School can reach Jason Smith, assistant dean for student life at the Eastman School, at (585) 274-1106 or