Commuter lounge offers on-campus experience for commuter students
- Coffee, events and a place to relax are available for commuters at the commuter lounge.
- Students organized into tribes and can attend tailgates to connect with other off-campus students.
From free coffee to pancake breakfasts, the efforts of Liberty University’s Graduate & Commuter Student Life Center to attract off-campus students are paying off, as the lounge is experiencing an increase of foot traffic this semester.
The freshly-renovated lounge officially opened spring 2017 in Green Hall 1875 after a soft opening in the fall and averaged 60-65 guests each day. This semester, the space is averaging 175 students per day and has had as many as 250 students.
Eric Fehr, the executive director of student life, explained the increase is due, in part, to commuter orientation taking place on Blackboard rather than on campus.
“(The executive director of the Office of Student Life) had actually dreamed up what it could be to do (orientation) on Blackboard,” Fehr said. “(He) had been doing it with online student life previously, so we shot it out there to see if it would work, and it worked really, really well.”
The online orientation requires students to swipe into the commuter lounge at least twice a semester to check in with the commuter student life staff. Through this practice, the staff hopes students will discover some of the resources offered to them and connect with other nonresidential students.
Fehr also believes the increase of attendance to the life center is due to word of mouth from both students who visit the lounge as well as commuter ambassadors bringing people in.
“One of our jobs is to connect with (commuter students) … and become a resource for them so they can continue to be as successful as they were when they were living on campus,” Fehr said.
The lounge offers a variety of resources: printers, work stations, lockers, a conference room and free coffee. Overstuffed couches and chairs provide ample space for students to relax between classes, play one of the lounge’s board games and connect with other commuters.
“(The lounge) has definitely given (me) a place to come on campus,” Meredith Davis, an off-campus senior, said. “When you live on campus, you have a place to go back to … Having the commuter student lounge is kind of like your spot, like your living room.”
Some struggles off-campus students experience include staying involved with campus activities and building friendships with other students. The lounge provides commuters with a welcoming atmosphere to build relationships, relax or work.
“The whole purpose of the lounge is to really help support (commuters), bring them in, help them feel at home,” Executive Director for the Office of Student Life Ted Whitney said. “We want them to feel comfortable, but it also builds community for … off campus student(s), and, in the end, it helps retention.”
Liberty’s Office of Commuter Student Life also provides commuter tribes — small groups purposed to help students get connected with other off-campus students. Currently, there are four tribes averaging 40-50 people each.
Each tribe is led by four commuter ambassadors who connect with off-campus students and ensure they have a group with which to attend campus activities and events.
“We try to support Student Activities, Campus Recreation, Center4ME events and a lot of other events going on around campus,” Fehr said. “We do that by providing (nonresidential students) a community where they can meet people to go to stuff with because no one wants to go to stuff alone.”
Tribes are also in competition amongst themselves. By posting selfies of their tribes attending events together on Instagram, commuter ambassadors collect points that go towards the Commuter Cup. The tribe that wins the Commuter Cup will have bragging rights the following semester.
Though the office of commuter student life offers ways for students to get connected, it does not currently offer spiritual community groups. However, Whitney explained that the office is currently working with the Office of Spiritual Development to create some sort of community group.
Commuter students are encouraged to attend campus events, but Commuter Student Life also hosts events specifically for off-campus students. Fehr said that the Commuter Tailgates held in the Green Hall Pavillion Parking lot are the biggest and best on campus.
With games, catered food, a kid’s zone and four flat screen televisions playing college football, Fehr claimed the tailgates have something for everyone. The events are not limited to undergraduate students, as graduate students and local online students — many of whom have families — are also considered off-campus students.
Nonresidential students appreciate the Office of Commuter Student Life’s efforts. For example, Davis said she enjoys tailgates, especially because they provide parking for the football games, and loves attending pancake breakfasts on Friday mornings. Elementary education major Aimee Fehr also said she likes having a place to eat her lunch and relax between classes.
“I don’t think commuters need to feel distanced because there are plenty of people in the same boat as them and plenty of ways to get involved,” Jessica Grove, a senior psychology student, said. “(The commuter lounge) is a great place to do that, and they have free coffee.”
For more information about commuter events, visit the Liberty University Commuter Student Life Facebook page.