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Close to Home, AU Strikes a Chord with the Bartleys

Stewart and Christina Bartley

Twice in the last four years, Stewart and Christina Bartley set out on the familiar college tour, embarking on trips far from home as the family contemplated where their children would attend school. Both times, the perfect fit turned out to be in their own backyard—the Bartleys are now parents of two American University students.

Having kids in college close to their Alexandria, VA home is a unique experience. “It means you almost see them less,” Stewart laughed. Both children are thriving with the balance between the convenience and comfort of home nearby and increased independence. Despite their proximity to campus, the Bartleys describe themselves as “pretty hands-off” when it comes to their kids’ college experience, and have watched each of them progressively seek advice less often from mother and father, in favor of figuring things out for themselves. Though they like to maintain some space, they are much more than mere spectators. “We both think it’s very important to stay active in your kids’ school,” Christina asserted.

Erik, their eldest child, is a senior in the Kogod School of Business, on his way to completing a business and music (BS-BAM) degree, and enjoys playing with his band and working in a used record shop. Their daughter, Emma, is a freshman studying literature in the College of Arts and Sciences, and serves as associate poetry editor of American Literary Magazine (commonly known as AmLit). Both children share their parents’ love of music and the arts. While their artistic and scholastic pursuits have taken them down slightly different paths, Erik and Emma have both been DJs at AU’s student radio station, WVAU (Emma is still a host).

Speaking about what drew their kids to AU, Stewart and Christina were quick to mention the friendly atmosphere. From Erik’s first visit, there was a feeling that they “didn’t find at any other school,” Stewart explained. From day one, “Everyone’s always willing to help you out.” This pattern has only been reinforced as their children have become part of the campus community. Christina added, “After [only] the third week of school, Emma said ‘Everyone’s so nice.’” They also cited AU’s responsiveness and personal attention to Emma when asking questions about potential majors as a factor that separated them from other schools.

The Bartleys have also been pleased to see the opportunities afforded to Erik and Emma at AU. They recall that during Erik’s time as a student, the BS-BAM program has undergone a substantial evolution, and students have played a part in guiding its new direction. Stewart spoke of Erik’s admiration for executive-in-residence John Simson, an industry veteran who leads the program with an unromantic real world view of the music business—educating students about the challenges as well as the perks. Emma’s praise for her professors is equally lofty, even after only one semester, Christina noted. The diverse campus club offerings have also served her well, as she likes to jump into everything. Identifying with smaller subgroups has been important to the success of both children, since each of them consciously chose a school where they would be surrounded by students from all over the globe, rather than the same friends from high school. Stewart affirmed, “Erik said, ‘You can always find somebody with your interest.’”

Since joining the Parents Leadership Council, the Bartleys have become more deeply involved with AU, attending many events, and especially enjoying the wealth of speakers to which the students have constant access. “It was intriguing to me as a parent to send our kids to AU, because there is so much for them to do outside campus, but also people coming into campus. They get to see all these wonderful speakers,” said Christina. She went on, “We love to see the faculty,” explaining that, through their interactions with AU professors, they get to see a glimpse of the students’ vantage point, and experience first-hand what their tuition bills are supporting. “We’ve certainly enjoyed meeting the other parents, too,” added Stewart. “We feel very welcome there, beginning with [AU President] Neil Kerwin. He goes out of his way to say, ‘This is your campus. Come use it.’ And hopefully it’s something we’ll take advantage of more and more, even after our kids are gone.”