#HigherEdHero — Meet Kayla Albano

While they might not scale tall buildings or catch villains, there are super heroes walking among us. These heroes use their powers to support and guide students and families through their high school and college years. They are creative, energetic, resilient, organized, empathetic, hard-working professionals who make a difference in the lives of those around them.

As an author and speaker, it’s a  joy to work alongside these heroes of higher education, providing guidance and reducing anxiety for students and families as you navigate the high school-to-college transition.

This is why I share their insights (and superpowers!) with you. My goal is that by sharing their experiences and advice, we can provide information that will reduce anxiety and build confidence–and help set students and families up for success through the college launch and beyond.

Today, I’m so excited to introduce you to Kayla Albano!

Kayla is the associate director for UCLA Student Alumni Programs & Family Engagement, where she has supported parents and families of undergraduate students through the university’s Parent & Family Association since April 2017. She is also involved as a member of AHEPPP: Family Engagement in Higher Education, currently completing her third year on the organization’s national conference planning committee. Next year, she will serve as the conference chair for the 2022 AHEPPP National Conference in Orlando, FL. She holds a B.A. in Political Science from California State University, Fullerton and a M.A. in Student Affairs Administration from Michigan State University. Kayla lives in Redondo Beach, CA with her husband, Steven, and their pup, Bella. She is also an avid home chef and enjoys using food as a way to express love and care for others.

KR: What are some of the biggest challenges college students are facing today? How are they overcoming these challenges?

KA: By far, I think the biggest challenge students currently face is adjusting (and readjusting!) to the in-person college experience. Roughly 75% of our student population at UCLA have had little to no experience with college beyond a computer screen; our third-year students left campus during their second quarter, our second years spent their whole first year online and our current first years are coming to college in an environment that is not only new to them, but also so different for the rest of our community.

The students I see successfully overcoming this challenge are putting themselves out there to find their community on campus, and giving themselves (and the campus!) a lot of grace as they adjust. They acknowledge the gravity of this transition (not only to college, but to being around a lot of people and having a faster-paced life after 18 months at home) and are protecting their mental health in the process.

KR: Giving grace is so important–especially right now! So tell us more about what you do. What is a typical day like in your career as associate director of UCLA Student Alumni Programs & Family Engagement?

KA: Truthfully, there is no typical day! I do try to start each morning by getting a handle of what I have on my calendar that day, identifying the top three things I want to accomplish, and checking in with my teammates. Beyond that, depending on the day I may be focused on our Parents’ Council members and the various needs/projects they have going on, or I may carve out time to complete responsibilities that require chunks of undivided attention like producing our Bruin Family Insights podcast or building out our Bruinlink digital newsletter. I try to set my weeks up so that there are some days where I am dedicated to volunteer and partnership components of my job, and others where I can really hone in on finishing projects.

KR: As a higher ed professional, what is your philosophy on parent involvement in the college experience?

KA: Parents are incredible partners! We always tell families at orientation that college is a time where they fully transition from being in the driver’s seat of their student’s development to being a co-pilot. When we invite families to be part of our institutional communities, we get to help shape what that co-pilot role looks like. At UCLA, it’s our goal to bring families to a place where they see themselves as instrumental to their student’s journey of self-advocacy and independence. If, along the way, parents/family members find themselves wanting to create their own Bruin experience by serving as a volunteer and supporting the broader UCLA community, even better!

KR: What’s one tip you could give regarding the college admissions process?

KA: For students, I would say: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket! It is, of course, natural to have a dream school, but it’s also important to be practical about the realities of acceptance rates, how an institution aligns with your career aspirations, and what your financial impact may be. Give yourself at least a few options – you might be surprised to find you end up exactly where you need to be even if it isn’t where you thought you’d be.

For parents: This is a great time to start that co-pilot transition! Let your student be in the driver’s seat of this process, while also finding ways to encourage them and help them maintain perspective.

KR: One of the questions I hear students ask—especially now with COVID-19 and many campuses placing them in single rooms—is “How will I make friends?” In your opinion, what are the best ways for students to connect with one another?

KA: As I alluded to before, students have to put themselves out there to make connections. If you’re living on campus, go to events in your residence hall. If there’s a campus club fair going on, go explore your options. Introduce yourself to your classmates. If these prospects feel overwhelming, so many opportunities are easily accessible online now as well, so check out campus social media accounts and websites to see what might interest you and narrow it down from there. One of our parent volunteers once told me that her students joined a handful of groups that interested them and then slowly narrowed their involvement down based on what ended up feeling like the best fit. The moral of the story there is that it’s okay to change your mind and it’s okay to say no, too!

KR: How can parents/guardians help their students become college-ready?

KA: Start preparing them now for all of the life skills they probably aren’t learning in high school and will be expected to know in college. Your student should know how to do their own laundry, make some basic meals for themselves, navigate proper email etiquette, manage their schedule, etc. If you’re a parent that is still very much in that driver’s seat when it comes to your student’s development, now is the time to start shifting that to your student. Your student’s institution will view them as an adult from the get-go, and you’ll want to do everything you can to help set your student up for success in that regard.

KR: What words of wisdom would you give to a current high school senior as they prepare for their college years?

KA: Just as it’s common to have a dream school, I know it’s also common to think you know what you want out of college and beyond. Set goals, have dreams, make plans….and prepare for some of that to be turned upside down in the best way possible! College is the time when you will truly learn more about who you are and what you want. My life today looks nothing like I imagined it would when I started college; those years shaped who I am right down to the career path I chose. Instead of willing every single one of your own plans into existence, be open to the ways this experience can shape you.

KR: What is a favorite memory from work in the last six months?

KA: We just had Bruin Family Weekend where over 4,000 parents and family members came to campus for the first major on-campus event in 19 months. Despite some added stress and wait times due to COVID protocols, everyone was truly happy to be there and be together again. After such a long time of only seeing our parent and family community on Zoom, I got to be with them in person and do the work I love with actual in-the-flesh humans! The event was a great reminder of my ‘why’ and I feel a renewed sense of hope that we’re taking steps every day toward a more typical campus experience.

Want more information on how you can help your student successfully navigate the college years? Order your copy of  Out to Sea: A Parents’ Survival Guide to the Freshman Voyage today!

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