Student Parent Services serves as safety net at PSU

As the term winds down and finals loom large on the horizon, many students may feel overwhelmed by the demands of balancing school, work and a social life. But for a large number of Portland State students, that balancing act also includes raising a family in a single-parent household. PSU’s Student Parent Services (SPS) provides a number of services to student parents to help them manage the many demands of their lives.

Housed in a tiny office next to Subway in Smith Memorial Student Union, Lola Lawson is the heart and soul of SPS. Lawson has been helping student parents connect on campus since 1989, when the program officially started.

“Our job is to help student parents navigate all of their different roles and responsibilities and student parents and employees,” Lawson said.

Lawson connects student parents with a wide variety of services, primarily childcare and emergency loans, and all services she provides are free. A lending library in the SPS office has shelves stacked to the ceiling with information on childcare on- and off-campus, child development, family communication, discipline, divorce and single-parenting.

Over the next couple weeks, almost a dozen departments and twice that number of student families will be taking part in the Adopt-a-Student Parent Family program. Students turn in “wish lists” for their families and themselves, ranging from food to toys, and PSU departments or organizations fill as many needs as they can.

Flipping through student applications, Lawson noted that most parents only wanted basic items for themselves but asked for things for their children they would not otherwise be able to provide. Some wrote down specific things, such as hats and coats, while others wrote stories. One woman’s daughter “likes bright colors, but not too gaudy.” Another asked for Barbie dolls.

With delays in financial aid this term, Lawson has seen an increase in requests for emergency loans. Most PSU students qualify for $400 emergency loans through Financial Aid, and SPS offers $50 zero-interest loans on a limited basis for student parents experiencing financial hardship. The SPS loans are funded by contributions from faculty and staff, and Lawson says that, unfortunately, “people get into situations where $50 is a much-needed thing.”

PSU students have the opportunity to get involved with SPS through various departments on-campus. “We work closely with Child and Family Studies, and we’ve had several practicum students come in and offer insights on our issues,” Lawson said.

Other students have created annotated bibliographies of the lending library, or volunteered at various events sponsored by SPS. The Speech and Hearing department, as well as the Counselor Education and Special Education programs, also collaborate with SPS to provide guidance and volunteer opportunities.

Over the next month, Lawson hopes to complete a database of student parents willing to exchange childcare and other services. Eventually, the PSU Child Care Cooperative will consist of a secure database on the SPS website, where people will post the services they are willing to provide. Students would search the database for, say, an hour and a half of childcare on short notice, and it would provide a list of other parents willing to fill that need.

Student Parent Services is located in SMSU 124, 503-725-5655. Their Web site,, has links to resources and services for student parents, in addition to a chat room and the upcoming database, or contact Lawson at [email protected].