Commuter students often have a hard time feeling connected on campus. They may not have a meal plan, so they cannot always go into the dining hall. They cannot just step out of a dorm room to meet people: and if they do not drive, going to campus events can be difficult.
Because of these circumstances, commuter students also may have a harder time making friends. Director of Student Support and Parent Programs and Title 9 Coordinator Erin Stoner wants to help bridge the gap between commuters and the University of Indianapolis campus, and after doing some research, she got the idea to create a lounge for students.
According to Vice President for Student and Campus Affairs and Dean of Students Kory Vitangeli, the Vision 2030 survey showed a need for commuters to have a spot of their own on campus in order to feel connected and to meet people and socialize. Stoner’s research into the matter supported this, and she wanted to start a program that could help commuters with their wants and needs.
“Research shows that the No. 1 reason that people leave a university is because they don’t feel connected to campus,” Stoner said. “So we want them to not only stay, but we want them to be successful at UIndy. So we’re hoping that this program will help them feel more connected and help them in knowing that there are resources available if they need them.”
Stoner found that many campuses had a lounge where students could go. The lounge at UIndy will be open for all students to use, even if they are not commuters. But one of the hopes is that the lounge will provide a spot for commuters to gather and meet.
Stoner said it will be located in the Schwitzer Student Center, and there will be couches, some chairs, a TV and a refrigerator. Another resource students will find in the lounge is the group of commuter assistants. Over the summer, Stoner emailed commuters students asking for volunteers. Those who were interested in being commuter assistants were asked to fill out an application and go through an interview process. Stoner said commuter assistants are like resident assistants, so their responsibilities include helping commuters with their questions, informing them about events and even setting up things for commuters to get involved in. Stoner said that when picking the assistants, she was looking for people who really cared about student success and had an outgoing personality.
“We were looking for . . . people who genuinely care about student success,” Stoner said. “In particular commuter student success, and really had a genuine interest in helping commuters be successful and get connected to campus.”
Five students were selected to be commuter assistants, one of them being sophomore computer science and electrical engineering major Han Shih. Shih said that she had had some difficulties during her freshman year, and when she received the email asking for assistants, she wanted to help other people who may have had the same issues. She said she and the other commuter assistants want students to be open to the idea of the lounge and to take advantage of it when it opens.
“Our idea of the lounge is actually [that] we want it to be like a home,” she said. “Like a place [where] commuters can come if they want to hang out or just find a place to rest or do homework before classes, because the libraries are available, but sometimes they [students] want an alternative. And we just want to be there. If you want to chitchat, come to us. But if you just want to rest, we’ll leave you alone.”
Shih said being a commuter assistant has helped her feel more connected and excited about campus as well, especially in interacting with the new freshmen.
“It’s really interesting to see new commuters and seeing how . . . this new bunch of commuters is so enthusiastic and ready to go,” she said. “It’s sort of influenced me to learn from them and be more proactive and really be enthusiastic about almost everything on campus.”
Also, to help students get connected with each other, Stoner started The Yellow Sticker Club group on Facebook. Commuter students at UIndy are accepted into the group and can post questions they have, post information about events and use it to meet other commuters as well.
Until the lounge is ready, Shih said she and the other commuter assistants are located on the Second Floor of Schwitzer in the President’s Dining Hall. Her office hours are 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Thursdays and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays. The other commuter assistants are Rochelle Short, Megan Vandergrift, Daniel Buergler and Jordan Marckel.
Until the lounge is ready, Shih said the best way for commuters to contact them would be through email or on The Yellow Sticker Club Facebook page. She said she hopes people will see them as “not like a counselor, but like a friend” and encourages commuters to contact them.
“We welcome any form of commuter students – be it sophomore, senior, junior or even grad students – to come and give us your suggestions on how we can do it [assist commuters], because this is a new initiative,” she said. “And even though we know what we want to do, it doesn’t hurt to have more advice or suggestions from people who know it better.”
The biggest incentive for doing this is to make commuters feel less alone as if UIndy can be a second home and overall to help them be more successful.
“I think it’s just [that] too often the commuters in the past haven’t felt that connection to the university,” Stoner said. “And just didn’t know what resources were available to them and were either too scared to ask or didn’t want to take the time to figure it out or whatever it may have been. But hopefully, with this program, they can begin to feel that connection and get the help they may need or want.”