When Craig Grimes realized the worldwide coronavirus pandemic might put the brakes on his son Christopher's campus life, the pair flew back to Las Vegas from their home in Missouri during spring break to prepare.
As projections of the pandemic's impact grew starker, the father knew exactly where to go for updates, timelines and to receive accurate responses to his questions as he worked to quickly move his son out of the dorms.
Grimes learned about UNLV's Family Network during fall orientation and figured that joining the group's Facebook page would connect him with his freshman son's higher education journey despite the distance.
Throughout the pandemic, the private group has become a valuable resource to keep up-to-speed with university news.
"Things have changed so fast. We've gotten updates, we've gotten explanations for why things have changed," he said. "Every step of the way, here's been this relatively immediately source of information."
Family Network, which was relaunched last year, has gained rapid attention and success. The effort's fall Family Day attracted more than 750 parents and other family members. During the event, they wrote letters of encouragement to their students in a poignant attempt to offer support for the remainder of the semester. The network also sends out a monthly e-newsletter to keep Rebels' loved ones up-to-date.
It's the Family Network's Facebook page, however, that has acted as its one-stop-shop for campus updates and answers since the coronavirus pandemic began.
"We were so lucky that we had this already set up so that we could answer a lot of the questions," said Heather Rappaport, director of development for the Division of Student Affairs. "When announcements came out from the president to the students, we were able to share those with the parents as well."
Typically, the page is a home for parent and family questions about the minutiae of college life such as parking passes, vaccination records, and housing.
Since the pandemic began, Rappaport has juggled multiple roles on the Facebook page. She's been responding to the parents of incoming freshman who have routine questions about registering for classes and enrollment. She's also provided direct, timely responses to those concerned about the online course shift and the plan for next school year.
The network has helped bridge the transition between parents being in charge of the details of their high school student's daily details to placing that fully in the hands of adult students. Official university communication goes directly to student email accounts.
As students were cleared from campus due to the virus, Rappaport researched hotels still in operation, airline availability, rental cars, and more. Though she couldn't recommend specific businesses, she made the information available to families searching for answers on how to get their students home safely. Collaborating with departments across campus to provide the most comprehensive responses, Rappaport discussed everything from scholarship statuses to storage facilities.
"It's a nice pathway to the university to make sure the parents' and families' voices are being heard," Rappaport said. "I always tell parents, 'I'm not going to know all of the answers, but I can find someone who knows the right answer.'"
Families connected with one another, too.
A group of parents from Texas began messaging on the Facebook page, and their children eventually shared a caravan back home. The families on the page pooled resources, commiserated, and asked for advice.
"For me, the Family Network has been a really good resource for information on what's going on," said Caroline Baughman, whose freshman daughter, Scarlett, attends UNLV. "They have a very close presence to what's going on at the school, and I think they do a good job of deciphering and then passing on to the parents useful information."
Baughman, who lives in North Carolina, initially joined to receive information on events and happenings. She posted a message of thanks and relief after Scarlett made it home successfully, overcoming a flight cancellation and a trip to New York, where her father drove to pick her up and bring her home.
Rappaport has encouraged the Facebook page's subscribers to show their Rebel spirit from afar by baking UNLV-themed treats and posting photos. The Family Network also asked its community for to help students remaining in the residence halls by purchasing needed items from an Amazon wish list. The group responded enthusiastically, buying up snacks and supplies.
The goal is to maintain the student-university connection after the move to online and into the future.
Families shared the sadness of their students felt about leaving campus for the semester, Rappaport lent a sympathetic ear and offered contact information for UNLV's counseling resources.
"Anytime it's something personal like that, I always have them either direct message me or email me. That way I can make it a little more personal of a response," she said. "I always check with colleagues who work in that space and say, 'Does this sound OK?' because I want to make sure I'm providing all the right resources."
The page is meant to be an access point for all UNLV family members, including those who might not be sure how to navigate higher education.
For family members who didn't attend college themselves, it allows them to learn more about opportunities and challenges their students will face while earning their degrees.
"As part of our Top Tier mission of providing access to students, we found that a lot of first-generation students are explaining the process to their families," Rappaport said. "We're trying to provide as many pathways as we can to help parents and families with the tools to support their students' success."
Whether it's a suggestion about scheduling an academic advising appointment or a reminder on registration deadlines, the recent posts still are designed to spark conversations about students' feelings and progress with their loved ones, despite the hectic nature of current events.
"It's an invaluable resource," Baughman said. "They've always kept the finger on the pulse."
Grimes, who drove back home despite a blizzard in the Rocky Mountains, said he believes UNLV’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been as good as anyone could have hoped. Despite the fact that he is many states away, he has direct access to information to help his son and monitor how UNLV is responding.
“Things changed and they changed fairly quickly,” he said. “I’m not having to follow the newspaper or online news of what the state of Nevada is doing. I’m getting it through the Family Network.”