Staying engaged to overcome the commute

Commuting anywhere can be a Herculean task. Commuting to school, on the other hand, takes even more time that traditional students would typically use to socialize and make friends during off-time.

“When I started at TCNJ in the fall of 2011, I did not realize how hard it would actually be to make friends as a commuter,” said junior biology major, Avi Yehudai, who drives over an hour to school every day. “Although my grades were excellent and I made the dean’s list, my social life at school was basically non-existent.”

In fact, according to a study done by the U.S. Office of Educational Research and Improvement, “more than 86 percent of U.S. College students” commute to school. Then logically, their voices must be heard.

This fall at the College approximately 100 out of 1,400 incoming freshmen live off campus, according to the Office of Student Affairs. While this number may seem small, these students contribute equally to campus life, especially due to the extra effort they must put in to stay involved.

“As commuters, I think it’s the idea of putting yourself out there that helped me become integrated into campus affairs,” said senior biology and psychology double major and SG vice president of Equity and Diversity, Sadia Tahir, who drives about an hour to school as well. “We don’t have a floor so we don’t get this automatic group of friends to be with 24/7.”

One solution the College has come up with on the matter is the Commuter Lounge, located by the ATMs in the Brower Student Center, which harbors an environment otherwise unavailable to students who did not get the typical freshman year experience.

In addition, the College’s OCSO holds regular meetings for just that purpose. The College also allows commuters to use the lockers in Green Hall to store their belongings during the day.

“Try not to feel intimidated and remember that even if you commute, you’re still a part of (the College),” said senior history major and vice president of OCSO, Ashley Isola, as advice to fellow commuters. “OCSO aims to unite commuters with resident students and campus to promote a connection between off- and on-campus life.”

While the College does not have any mention of commuter resources in their 2012-2015 Strategic Plan, in an internal focus group conducted by the college in 2012, one member asserted commuters often feel “welcomed and encouraged to stay on campus,” even after class.

“It is a living document that continues to evolve,” said Provost and VP of Academic Affairs Jacqueline Taylor of the plan.

The focus group served mostly as a reference point and was not indicative of institutional agreements, according to Taylor.

Angela Lauer Chong, associate dean of students and director of student conduct, pointed to the success of freshman Welcome Week as cause for keeping off-campus students involved.

“We had a more intentional and concentrated effort this year,” Chong said.

Approximately 40 off-campus students not only stayed for programming, but also for social events. Lauer Chong also spoke of an initiative beginning this semester where free coffee and doughnuts will be provided for commuters in the while they are given time to discuss what they think the College could do better to serve their population.

Yet, it is clear that this doesn’t entirely eradicate the daily difficulties they face. Commuters’ worries run the gamut from where to store food and how early to get to campus to when to schedule meetings and more.

“People don’t realize how tiring driving long hours actually is,” Yehudai said. “Students should be mentally prepared to drive after a full day’s class and to stay alert. This means sometimes not being able to drive home.”

Yehudai explained that involvement in the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and being able to rely on his fraternity brothers for housing has saved him on countless occasions. With that said, a commuter’s best bet is to stay involved.

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