Driven to Change

How Commuters Can Make a Difference on Campus

Editors Note:  This story has been amended since it ran in the Fall 2017 Arches print issue.

Mount Mary University has a commuter population that makes up 80 percent of the students that you may see here every day. That is a very large number of students commuting to campus, which sparked an investigation into the resources available to Mount Mary commuter students.

“We know that it is a different college experience for our commuter students than it is for our students who are residents on campus,” said Sarah Olejniczak, dean of student affairs. “We try to build everything with our commuter students in mind.”

Campus resources available to students are based on a survey of need and staffed positions that handle resource distribution. There are a number of ways to access these resources: particularly, a quick search of the Mount Mary web portal or asking people in campus offices.

“I see flyers here and there but they don’t draw me in or catch my eye,” said Tataya Luang, a biology major in her junior year. “If it’s not in the e-newsletter, I learn about events for commuter students via word of mouth.”

There is a limit to tangible resources readily available. UW-Milwaukee, as an example, has made provisions for all students with the need to travel to campus via public transportation. Students need only show their student ID, typically called a U-PASS, and be able to use the Green Line through the city. This resource as an option for UW-Milwaukee is unsurprising due to the largeness of overall student enrollment and additional funding available to the school because of that same reason. Mount Mary has bypassed this as an option for commuter accommodation because this change would result in an additional fee to student accounts.

A study surveying commuter population needs at Mount Mary University prior to the 2014-2015 academic year has resulted in additional focus on programming for commuters and incentives for participation from commuter students, like the gas gift cards.

Making Changes in the Here and Now

What we have now is a welcome week and new student orientation that boosts excitement for all that Mount Mary does have to offer, and consistent advertising of clubs and organizations open for commuter students and residents alike to take part in.

“The downfall we are seeing is that clubs or events have their meetings during later hours or times when commuters are at work,” said Amber Brown, a representative of the MMU Student Government. “We want to incorporate a variety of times so that commuters can be more involved. We want a happy medium.”

Challenges faced by Mount Mary commuter students mirror those of commuter students on other (even larger) campuses. 

“You kind of have to think of everything before you leave the house – it’s not like you can run back to a dorm if you’ve forgotten something,” Luang  said. 

So, we know that even as a junior, Luang at times still has difficulties managing the commuter life.

“I’m also in soccer season right now so I’m here by 6:30 a.m.” Luang said. “which is great for me to find a parking spot but I have to know everything I’ll need that day.”

If a commuter has an idea that could better meet the needs of commuter students, such as proposing a campus carpool van, how would she determine if that idea is plausible?

“The starting point would be coming to a student government meeting with your proposal, get the ideas and input of our representatives, and then bring in different reps from business office and financial aid to see if it’s a possibility,” Brown said. “Once we have the critiqued and polished proposal, we can bring it to the head of student affairs. The great part is that the student presenting the idea can and should be an integral part of every step.”

Commuter accommodations at Mount Mary are works in progress.

“Knowing that a majority of our students are commuter students, it’s important for us to build what we can to work for all of your schedules,” Olejniczak said. “We’ve provided special incentives for commuter students to come to Welcome Week programming, like fuel gift cards. It has been different every year depending on student feedback and what we learn.”

Next Steps

The best method for Student Government and student engagement staff to learn what commuter students needs is for you to raise your voice.

“I think commuter students shy away from the workload of being a part of a club, but you don’t have to commit to a title or position,” Brown said. “What matters most is having your voice heard, and you can show up without a proposal and accomplish that. We also know a lot of clubs do offer incentives to those involved, and that aspect of involvement should be advertised more.”

The student herself is the best advocate for change.

“A year or two ago they used to have Waffle Wednesdays, and it was free, and it was very hard to miss because you could smell the delicious waffles,” Luang said. “I would love  to see it make a comeback.”

Whether it’s Waffle Wednesdays, a campus carpool van, or more opportunities to win gift cards, the best thing to do is speak up about it.

“What is really important is feedback,” Olejniczak said.

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