Confessions of an Overbearing Friend
I admit it: I’m a helicopter friend.
I mean, not all the time. Nobody wants a friend who’s always making other people’s lives their business.
The thing about being a successful helicopter friend is knowing when to swoop in and try to save the day. I’m sharing a few of my helicopter moments in hopes of helping you identify similar situations for your friends. Because really, everyone needs a good helicopter friend once in a while.
Help Them Look for Exceptions
We had a student worker in our office who didn’t meet the requirements for his scholarship and lost his eligibility. The situation was really stressful for him because he didn’t know how he was going to pay for school. He was already working three jobs and struggling to get by.
Soon after, my co-worker Leonor and I were grabbing lunch in the UC and we ran into some of the lovely women from the Scholarship Programs Office. We mentioned our student’s situation and asked if there was anything they could do for him.
By asking, we discovered that the university offers a one-semester appeal for our student’s scholarship. The next day when he came into work, I personally walked him over to Scholarship Programs and got him set up with the right people. It felt better than Christmas.
Pick Up the Phone
Leonor was a non-traditional student for a few years, which was fun because all of us in the office got to hear about her struggles and new perspectives as a student. One fall, she worked really hard all semester in a math class. Then, right before finals week, her mother passed away unexpectedly.
She was so overwhelmed with grief and having to suddenly make funeral arrangements that she knew she wasn’t going to be able to study for her math final exam. She called me, and sounding completely defeated, she said, “I guess I’ll just have to fail that class. It will ruin my GPA, but there’s no way I can study right now.”
I could not accept this for her, especially knowing how hard she had worked all semester, so I called her professor and explained the situation. He instantly had a solution.
“She can take an incomplete,” he said, “and then she’ll have until the end of next semester to complete the final exam.”
By doing that, she was able to grieve for her mother and still preserve her GPA. She easily passed her final the next semester.
Give Them a Kick in the Pants
One time, another co-worker and I were supervising a student who was also dealing with an unexpected death in his family. In his grief, he had left town to be with his family and had missed a big test in one of his classes.
Knowing that missing the test would ruin his class grade, he called us to tell us his plan was to withdraw from the university and see if he could still continue working for us as a temporary/casual employee.
My co-worker and I had him on speaker phone and we both freaked out and told him that was absolutely not OK. I told him that he needed to reach out to his professor and explain the situation so that he could make up the test. I’m pretty sure I texted him his professor’s contact info before we even hung up the phone.
That student is still in school and on track to graduate, so it was a definite victory for us.
The Bottom Line
When your friends are dealing with adverse situations, they are rarely thinking clearly. This is the time to step in as a helicopter friend and steer them in the right direction.
The other takeaway is to talk to faculty and staff members here on campus and ask how they can help. Yes, we have serious rules in place, but we’re all human and we all want our students to succeed. So sometimes, you just have to let us know what’s going on.