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Campus & Community

Armed With Encouragement

Parents Provide Hugs, High Fives to Terps in the Midst of Midterms

By Lauren Brown

A mom offers a high five to passing students

Jen Albers, a Terp parent from Frederick, Md., on Friday, greets students on Friday afternoon for the Hugs & High Fives events. Volunteer parents wore matching T-shirts that read, "Dear person behind me, You are worthy. You are love. You are needed. You are enough. You matter. — the person ahead of you."

Photos by Jess Daninhirsch '26

With her flowing white sleeves under a red T-shirt, Kristin Pierson looked like an angel, or a tiny plane coming in for landing, as she opened her arms wide and called out with a smile, “Who’d like a hug or high five?”

Terps, at least the ones I saw on Friday, were mostly high fivers.

But that’s all good, said Pierson, a freshman mom who drove nearly three hours from Villanova, Pa., to join about 30 other parents outside McKeldin Library for a few hours to offer snacks, high fives, fist bumps and embraces to students needing some midsemester TLC.

“There are all these stressors in their lives, and they need sunlight,” she said. “Mental health is so important, and that’s what’s going to get them through.”

Terp Family Hugs & High Fives, a new partnership between the Office of Family Engagement, Office of the Dean of Students and Terp family volunteers, delivered not just warm words of encouragement, but also antics from Testudo, selfie-ready “I got a hug” signs, balloons, upbeat music and Costco-size boxes of potato chips, fruit snacks and mac-and-cheese bowls.

It debuted during finals week last May, after Tonya Piccilomini, a parent of senior twin daughters from Frederick, Md., learned that Virginia Tech hosts a hug-sharing event. She’d heard over the years of two students dying by suicide and determined to do something.

“I know when my girls feel down, I can hop in the car and come here and take them out, or they can come home, and there are kids that just can't do that,” she said, getting teary-eyed. “And I just want them to know that there's a support system outside of the school.”

She recruited 15 parents for her first outing and was thrilled to see it grow so much for this midterm-timed one; she hopes to continue working with Family Engagement to hold the event twice a year.

Red sign that says "Terp Family: Hugs and High Fives" with an image of Testudo in front of a table full of snacks
Students stock up on portable snacks provided by parents.

Brian Watkins, assistant dean of students and director of family engagement, said the timing felt right, and not just because students are in the thick of midterm exams.

“Given the violence in the Middle East in Israel and Gaza, and the pervasiveness of antisemitism and Islamophobia so many are experiencing, it's a good opportunity to provide some love and encouragement to students,” he said. “We want students to know they are worthy, needed, and matter just as they are.”

Madeline Seck ’24, a double major in journalism and communication, accepted a high-five, two packets of oatmeal and a clementine. She’d just finished an oral presentation in a Spanish class and appreciated “the endorphins rush” from the event. Krishnarjun Pesalal Saravana, a graduate student in cybersecurity, said he hadn’t been having a good day until stopping by.

That instant uplift is what excited Mara Stenger, a mom from Long Island, N.Y. who signed up to volunteer during a planned visit to her junior son.

“I see students with really serious faces and either they're concerned or they're studying or listening to something,” she said. “The moment they get the high five or the snack, they smile. It just breaks up that worry or concern.”

As a parent of two current Terps, I can vouch for that. Despite their weekend forecasts of homework marathons, both of my sons were upbeat as they each gave me a hug. Or maybe they just were glad to score some free Gatorade.

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