I have 3 little kids and 100 big ones…

With graduation approaching, I reflect heavily on the group of outstanding students who are preparing to “leave the nest” and become professionals.  At the end of the day, they will always remain my flock.

Like any “mother”, I proudly puff up my chest to talk about the accomplishments of my kids to anyone who will listen. The difference is, I’m not always talking about my beautiful 3 little boys. When people ask me how many children I have, my typical answer is 3 little boys and nearly 100 public relations and non-profit college students. Though I usually have a few people raise their eyebrows following my answer, others simply smile if they know me.

My job description as an Assistant Professor of Public Relations at Central Washington University discusses teaching classes, advising students on class schedules, service to the community and research. No where does it say “mom away from home” though I assume this role for many students.

Alex Homer, junior Public Relations student, said, “Having a mentor and “mamma bear” figure while attending school away from home has made all the difference in my receiving a quality education. I have never felt more confident about myself and my ability to be, in Liz’s words ‘a rock star’ while living 3,000 miles away from my own mom. Having a figure to mentor and help me along in anyway possible could be one of the greatest things I could ever ask for while attending school.”

Professors and other staff interact with the nearly 10,000 college students floating around Ellensburg on any given day. We are their community and family away from home. They look up to us and identify with us as role models.

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide”. As a mother to 3 young children, I find myself under that same definition to my “littles” as I am to many of my big college students… “a trusted counselor and guide” through life. While I have a lifetime to counsel and guide my small children, I have a short time frame to not only educate my students about public relations or non-profit management, but also mentor.

Families send their children away to college and entrust the administration, faculty and staff with their most precious items. Mia Patterson, Sophomore Public Relations student, said, “I really enjoy having someone on campus that has been able to help me whenever I’ve needed that mother figure. It’s hard moving away from home and transitioning to the real world, but having someone like Liz around so that if I’m ever in a bind, she’s there. She’s reliable and very passionate about her extended kids and it’s comforting as well as motivational to have a mom so far away from home.”

Like any parent, I find myself watching my “kids” grow up and leave the nest of CWU quickly. I usually only have 2 – 3 years to bond with these young adults and impact their lives. Most recently, I have watched my students announced to the world on Facebook and Twitter that they have picked up their cap and gowns for graduation in June. While my heart swells with pride that it is time for them to graduate, another part of me is screaming “No, Wait, I haven’t had enough time.” I’ll admit that tears come to my eyes when I watch them cross the stage on graduation day. I wasn’t there to watch them learn to walk, nor was I there when they spoke their first word, but I was there when they found their passion in PR or non-profit management. I held their hand as they learned how to write a grant. I was also there when they came to my office attempting what they should do next with their lives next. I watched them socialize with their friends and find their calling in life.

Makaiya Simmons, Senior Public Relations student, said, “Going through an experience like college has been both stressful and exciting. Having someone who cared for me and looks out for me like a mother has made a huge difference”

I don’t take it lightly that they have trusted me when asking for both personal and professional advice and know I am here to be honest with them without judgment. I am also grateful they have accepted me and my family into their lives.

“As a transfer student, Liz welcomed me with open arms and provided advice and comfort as a mentor and friend,” Abbott said. Aubrey Abbott, Senior public relations student, took an open communication class as another major. I saw a twinkle in her eye as I do in many students and helped her discover her calling. “I wouldn’t have seen the public relations path if I hadn’t met Liz.”

When the time comes to meet my “kids” parents, I am always nervous yet excited because I learn who shaped these amazing young adults. I also worry about their approval of the mentorship I have provided to their children. In the end, these “kids” come to us as students, but leave part of our family. We watch them grow up and blossom into their professions. I brag about them as if they were my own kids and often call them that. My “PR babies” will always be part of my family because I have invested so much time, passion and love into them. Being a “mom” to them will always be part of who I am, regardless of what my job description says.

Melinda Miracle, Senior public relations student, described it this way, “When students come to college, we are like tables with 3 legs. When something goes wrong, the “family” leg may not be there to support us, so we look for other support. Professors have the unique opportunity to be that third leg of support. They encourage us when we do something well, mentor us, and make us better students. Just like our own mothers would. Professor Liz is my mom away from mom.”

Finally, Sara Melton shared a reflection:  “Family doesn’t always have to be blood related and Liz definitely fits into my alternate family. She treats us as adults while still showing us the ropes. She embarrasses us just like a mom, but has all the most wonderful intentions. She pushed me personally to take on responsibilities I never knew I wanted. She knows our potential more than we do and she pushes us until we realize how incredible we really are.”

No, my students are not blood related to me, but they are still family… Period.

Thank you to all my students who have allowed me to be part of their lives, thank you to their families for entrusting me with their children and thank you to my own husband for willingly adopting these 100 big kids as our own annually.

All my best and good luck to the class of 2013 – Liz  …  aka, Mother Goose, Mama Bear, Mama Kerns to an amazing flock of kids.  Make me proud!  And please, remember 2 things…  Dress professionally or I WILL FIND YOU and send you back to your room to change….  and remember your roots.  #PRLOVE

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