The muffins were running out, and a new batch of coffee was five minutes from being brewed. So Don Schindel had a chance to sit on an overstuffed couch on a Sunday morning and consider a question:

How is his daughter, Kim, doing as a Virginia Tech sophomore -- from his point of view?

"I've been very impressed with the way she's adjusted," Kim's father replied. "I can see the growth. I can see her independence. I can see her taking more responsibility for her decisions.

"But the best thing is that she's staying flexible in her thinking. A lot of young people have pre-set ideas of what they want to do {at college}. But Kimberly is venturing. She has a better perspective on who she is and who she's becoming."

As he spoke those words, Don Schindel was surrounded by 50 other parents and students in the living room of the brand-new Delta Gamma sorority house. Sunday morning brunch was the final scheduled event of DG Parents' Weekend, an annual chance for parents of sorority members to visit their offspring, attend a Tech football game -- and lap up a little praise.

As chapter President Ann Eisman put it in her greeting to the Saturday night banquet, "this is a chance to honor you, our parents."

But it was also a chance for Don Schindel and his wife, Penny, to take stock.

Fourteen months ago, their only daughter and youngest child had arrived in Blacksburg from the family home in Fairfax as a typical Virginia Tech freshman: eager and well-credentialed, but not sure of which way to go academically and socially.

Sunday morning, wearing gold earrings and a wide smile, Kim stood at the far side of the Delta Gamma living room, chatting comfortably with her mother, a DG sister and the sister's mother. Kim looked as if she'd been a Techie forever.

Don Schindel took in the scene with a contented smile. "I'm real pleased with the decision she made to come here," he said. "It was an excellent choice -- and the important thing was that it was her choice. We wanted to support it."

I asked him to define the difference between Kim in late 1989 and Kim today.

"Confidence, a sense of direction, maturing," he replied. "As I said, at the beginning, it was more our support of her goals, whatever those goals turned out to be. Now, they're her own goals."

This is the 11th in a regular series of columns about Kim Schindel's life as a college student. Thanks to Kim's kind cooperation, and the blessing of her family, I plan to report on Kim's progress approximately once a month throughout her time at Virginia Tech. My aim is to provide an honest look at how a young person from the Washington area handles modern college life.

Don and Penny Schindel had first visited Blacksburg when they dropped off Kim and her suitcases at the start of her freshman year. They had not planned to visit again until Parents' Weekend. But two weeks ago, Kim was hospitalized suddenly for treatment of an ovarian cyst. She called her parents in Fairfax and asked them to visit.

"The location of the school really comes into play there," said Don Schindel. "We were 200 miles away, not 1,000 miles away, so we could respond. It was a nice thing for us to be able to do."

Penny Schindel added later: "It makes you feel good just to come and check on her."

It made Kim feel good too. "When you need them, it's great to know that they're there," she said. But Kim has not turned toward Fairfax only in time of trouble.

"When she's cooking chicken, sometimes she'll call me up and ask me how to marinate it," Penny Schindel said. "That's a good way to turn a $5 chicken dinner into a $15 chicken dinner."

But all three Schindels see such calls as a sign of closeness, not of overdependence. As Kim said last month, "I don't have to check every last little thing with them any more, and they don't expect it any more."

Still, there are adjustments to be made, even 14 months down the college road. As the brunch crowd began to thin, I asked Don Schindel what aspect of Kim as a college sophomore remains hardest for him.

He glanced across the room. Kim and her boyfriend, Rob Hoadley, each had an arm around the other's waist.

"She's still Daddy's little girl," said Don Schindel. "But she's somebody else's girl too."

He chuckled at himself. And as the chuckle faded, his eyes got a little misty.

"She's always been a blessing to us," Don Schindel said. "I've been amazed each and every year to see a new level of development. And here, I still see it.

"Without question, she's always welcome at home. But I feel that the important thing at this time of their lives is that they start to develop independence, start to be able to make those choices. And she can. That's the blessing of it all."