Pictured: Julie Puckett and her daughter Wren. Photo provided by Julie Puckett
George Mason is the best higher education bargain in Virginia, but for parents of Mason students, writing a tuition check still bites. That’s why it’s impressive that so many Mason parents make it a point to provide financial help to students other than their own.
The Parent and Family Council was established to give parents and families ways to actively engage with the broader Mason community. One of its most important initiatives, the Parents Fund, empowers parents to improve the educational experience for all Mason students. [editor’s note: in 2021 the fund’s name was changed to the Parent and Family Fund].
Five years in, the Parents Fund has awarded more than $250,000 to a variety of causes at Mason. Many projects fall under its umbrella—from the Patriot Pantry, which provides food, toiletries, and basic school supplies to students in need, to Gowns for Grads, which lends a free cap and gown for commencement to those who can’t afford the normal fee. Dozens of initiatives have been funded, often providing enough money to take a worthy plan or project to the finish line.
“There are student needs that could fall between the cracks were it not for the Parents Fund,” said Tom Johnson, a member of the Parent and Family Council, whose daughter Molly is graduating this December from the School of Integrative Studies. “I see the Parents Fund as kind of a safety net to fill in the gaps here and there.”
Julie Puckett, another council member, is one of Mason’s most active ambassadors. “Personally the Unpaid Internship Scholarship fund is the one that excites me, because it just makes so much sense,” said Puckett.
This scholarship gives students who can’t afford to work for free the chance to accept valuable career internships they might otherwise have to pass up. “It’s one of my favorite things that I’ve done on the Parent Council,” Puckett added.
For some students, help in meeting unexpected costs of living can be the difference that allows them to stay in school versus dropping out. Other Parents Fund initiatives focus on advancing the student educational experience itself. “It’s not unreasonable to ask for a little bit extra here and there so someone can go to a leadership course, or figure out how to better retain certain students, or better communicate with recent immigrant communities or first-generation communities,” said Johnson.
Council members like these are ambassadors, helping new Mason families make the transition to being college parents, or even deal with empty nest syndrome. During summer orientation in July, sporting bold blue “Mason Parent, Ask Me a Question” shirts, both Puckett and Johnson could be found talking with fellow parents who were eager and worried about what comes next.
“[The mission of the family council is] to make sure we are supporting other families,” said Puckett, whose daughter Wren is studying abroad at Oxford this fall. “We go to move-in day. We’re not helping to move—we’re helping by handing out tissues to parents who just might want a hug. Just making them feel like it’s going to be okay.”
Puckett, Johnson, and their fellow members exemplify the spirit of the Parents Fund: to support Mason in ways big and small, to make an impact in places that are easily overlooked.
And despite the name, the Parents Fund is not restricted only to parents. Anyone can give any amount to bring about small changes that create a big impact in students’ lives.
“There are all sorts of ways you can volunteer, or contribute, and it’s for a really worthy cause,” said Johnson. “Whatever you have time to do, whatever resources you have, this is a good place to direct them.”
—Christopher Bobo, 8/20/19