Commuter Students Connect Through Common Ground of Lounge
Story by Michael Ferraresi
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Three days a week, Reisto Belovich gets dropped off at GCU in the early morning and returns to his Scottsdale home by taking a public bus after his final class. Being on time is essential.
The 18-year-old freshman pianist, who is also studying addiction counseling, spends time in between his classes with other GCU commuter students in the Commuter Lounge at the Media Arts complex. Unlike his classmates in the dorms, his access to campus events is limited by his transportation schedule. So the lounge has become a place to connect with other students on the common ground of feeling separated from everyday ground-campus culture.
Belovich is one of nearly 3,300 ground-campus students who commute to GCU. As the University considers new ways to meet the needs of its commuter student population, Belovich and other non-dorm students have developed a family-like bond. Like others, Belovich starts his day before 8 a.m. by dropping off some books to lighten his backpack, walks to classes, returns to plug in at the Commuter Lounge, and then heads back out. Rather than heading “home” to a dorm to take a cat nap, commuter students share a single sectional couch in the lounge.
Commuter students spend up to several hours each day in the lounge connected to Wi-Fi or joking around with card games, watching Netflix on laptops and preparing to compete in a commuter-only cookie bake-off next week.
“I think it’s interesting that we all have different backgrounds and different majors – different views – but for some reason we all get a laugh out of everything and get along,” Belovich said. “We can’t explain it.”
On Wednesday, the Associated Students of GCU hosted a commuter lunch open to all students and staff. Student Life organizers said events like the regular lunches would hopefully integrate commuters into the campus community.
|COMMUTING TO GCU|
|Ground-campus students who commute to class use lockers, a microwave, free Wi-Fi and a place to chill out at the Commuter Lounge in the Media Arts Complex in the heart of campus. More information is available at GCU’s Commuter Facebook page and on GCU’s main website.|
Ashur Benjamin, a graduate assistant who serves as commuter coordinator for ASGCU, said he asked his team of commuter-focused student workers to be more “intentional” about inviting commuters to events. A commuter student Facebook page has helped Student Life staff to glean feedback. But Benjamin said his team’s goal is to connect face-to-face with commuter students to help them access events or resources.
Commuters often point out issues such as how the Canyon Café, located next door to the Commuter Lounge, closes at 2 p.m. on most days – preventing them from spreading out into the larger space when the lounge is crowded. Other complaints include how the flat-screen TV in the lounge is exclusively used for GCU’s internal channel rather than cable. Some commuters wondered why a second lounge couch disappeared.
Dean of Students Pastor Tim Griffin said Student Life could eventually hire a full-time staffer to deal specifically with commuter students.
“My hope is that both (residential and commuter) populations would want to know each other,” Griffin said. “We’re hoping to figure out ways to get (commuters) involved with the culture on campus.”
Brandon Thomas, 18, a sophomore pre-med student, lived on campus last year but is commuting from downtown Phoenix this year with his girlfriend, who works on campus. Monday through Friday he is on campus from 10:30 a.m. to around midnight. The lounge is his primary place to work and socialize.
Part of the week, he has a five-hour window between classes – so the constant conversation and activity of the commuter lounge helps him pass the time when he’s not working out at the Rec Center.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Thomas said. “We shout at each other. It’s like a family group. We have people who are in their 30s and 40s coming back for their degrees so they can propel their careers.”
Commuter students said James West has become an unofficial ambassador for the lounge with his team-building mentality. The communications student, an administrator in the Phoenix Veterans Administration health-care system in his day job, said he felt commuter students were largely overlooked last year. He hoped to rally his fellow students of all ages through the humor and competition of the bake-off.
For weeks, West has been beating the drum for the commuter cookie bake-off, which is designed to end all boasting about which commuters can make a better cookie. While West is going with a lemon/chocolate cookie, others plan on everything from classic chocolate chip to red velvet.
One day it’s cookies, or maybe a pie-baking contest around Thanksgiving. But unlike the free Mexican-food lunch that drew a record crowd of commuters and other students and staff on Wednesday, the commuter cooking competitions are exclusive to the commuter loungers.
“We consider it our home for the most part,” West said. “We’re in there five hours or more a day. We do our homework, we socialize, we talk about what’s going on in the world – or we do cookies.
“Our domain is the commuter lounge,” he joked. “We don’t venture out.”
Contact Michael Ferraresi at 639.7030 or [email protected].