Commuters embrace their 'home away from home'

Freshman Sanai Metoyer, who commutes from Laveen, picks flowers for her bouquet at the GCU Commuter Lounge.

Story by Cassandra Coria
Photos by Ralph Freso

GCU News Bureau 

Decorations of love are scattered around the room. Hearts hang from the ceiling. Commuter students are in bundles, wrapping their bouquets of flowers at one of the many events every month.

It is what Commuter Lounge is all about – a second family for students who choose to live at home while attending Grand Canyon University.

A GCU student relaxes on a couch while checking her phone messages at the Commuter Lounge.

“It feels homey in here, like home away from home. The commuter events are what sold me to be a commuter,” freshman Sanai Metoyer said with a smile.

Said Rebekah Ritterling, one of four students who lead the Commuter Life team, “For students who don’t have that on-campus home, we want to target the Commuter Lounge to be their home. Here, we’re incorporating that through events and planning just to make them feel loved and special, which they are on this campus.” 

Some GCU students might not know that the Commuter Lounge is just west of the Student Union, in Kaibab. Once they learn where it is, they might walk by a few times, wondering whether to go in this time.

When they do, they are greeted by a space that combines a sense of community with useful facilities.

There is a fully furnished kitchen with four refrigerators – yes, four.

There are sofas and tables and cellphone charging stations.

There even is an unfinished puzzle anyone can work on and a backdrop where they can take selfies.

Overseeing it all are the four “DADs” – directors and assistant directors, all seniors.

The sign outside Kaibab directs commuter students to their special spot.

The connections team is led by director Tayler Alonzo, a marketing major, and assistant director Madison Scruggs, studying business analytics.

Psychology major Kailyn Stow is director of the events team, and Ritterling, majoring in hospitality, is her assistant.

Commuter life was under the umbrella of the Canyon Activities Board until this year, when it became a separate department. It is run by Kayleigh Holton, Commuter Life Coordinator under Student Engagement.   

“I think it is really important for our commuter population to know that first and foremost, they are GCU students,” she said. “They have access to essentially everything on campus. It is important that our commuter population knows what is accessible to them.

“Everyone wants community, everyone wants to feel a part of GCU, and I think it is really important to provide connection points for our commuter population and create a space for them.” 

Alonzo and Scruggs talk as they rummage through goodie bags, preparing for yet another commuter event.  

“We are in a unique position where we can talk to commuters and we’re constantly serving the same group of people,” Alonzo said. “We use our Instagram a lot. That is our main source of communication, and it allows us to follow up with them.”  

The Commuter Lounge never has a shortage of events.

Scruggs added, “Commuters are active – active in our DM’s (direct messages) and vocal.”  

The Commuter Life team hosts four events every month, two from the connections side and two from the events side.  

Of the four events in February, the Build-A-Bouquet event was the most treasured, hitting the mark on spreading love for the Valentine’s Day season.  

“It’s a close-knit community, and it’s easy to create connections with the staff and people that come,” sophomore forensic science major Rachael Mitai said.

Her friend Ariana Oehl, a sophomore studying forensic psychology said she prefers meeting new people when she accompanies someone else to the bigger Canyon Activities Board events. The Commuter Lounge is more intimate.

“I feel more comfortable here,” she said, “and it’s smaller so it’s a space I am comfortable with.” 

The Commuter Life team has created events for every season: Create Your Own Mickey Ears, Paint a Pumpkin, Build-A-Buddy, Create Your Own Coasters, etc. But a staple of the Commuter Lounge is the waffle bar.

Senior Lorenza Cordova (left) and junior Ariana Oehl pose in front of the Commuter Lounge's backdrop.

“It’s really cool that we’re actually making the waffles. It’s like we are being the hands and feet of Jesus,” Holton said.

The Build-A-Buddy was even more popular, attracting so many students they were lined up outside the door. Students stuffed the bears from scratch and certified their new creation by giving it a name.

“It was like build-a-bear but for bigger kids,” Oehl said. “They decorated the whole building to where it looked like an instruction site. It was so cool.”

Said Mitai, “You would never think that could be an event, but it’s so cool they brought it to life.”  

“That’s really our goal, to create events that students love, and they can take a break from their classes and have fun for a little bit,” Stow said. 

There’s another good reason why the Lounge is so important: Being a commuter student isn’t easy. Many of them carpool to campus.

“You have this big percentage of students on your campus who have to deal with these daily hardships just to receive an education,” Alonzo said. “Just really think hard of those commuter students on campus and let them know the resources residential students have. There is a whole department set aside for commuters.” 

Senior Gabriela Farias, who commutes from Glendale, now serves as an event staffer.

That spirit of generosity is why Gabriela Farias, a senior who has commuted her entire college career, joined the Commuter Life team.  

“I feel like there is something beautiful here, and it’s really sweet and wonderful,” she said. “I really want people to feel comfortable in knowing they have a spot here and we’re listening to them.” 

Even the Commuter Life team had to find its way this year after branching off from the Canyon Activities Board.

“We were deer in the headlights for the beginning period,” Scruggs said, “so the love that we have as DAD’s for each other and working with Kayleigh, we want to keep furthering those traditions and passions that we are starting now.”

It has impacted Alonzo, too. “I don’t want to leave – truly because of Commuter Life,” she said. “This is a place where my heart grows so much that I have fallen in love with being a voice for commuters.”

These superhero DADs ask themselves the same question at the end of every academic year: Did we do enough to show people what Commuter Life is?  

They find the answer in a stuffed animal peeking out of a backpack on campus.

“Oh,” Holton says to herself when she sees one, “I think they were at Build-A-Buddy.” 

It makes it all worthwhile. 

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Follow @gcucommuters on Instagram. 

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Related content:

GCU Today: Summer school students chill in Commuter Lounge

GCU Today: Saving money, making friends on commute to work

GCU blogs: My life as a commuter

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