Programs help

by Erin Ghere

Like hundreds of other freshmen this year, Hoang-Uyen Nguyen commutes to the University, having missed out on a residence hall assignment.
But Nguyen has taken advantage of newly established commuter programs to substitute for the community of a residence hall.
“I wanted to know more people,” she said. “I needed a community within the larger community.”
It is students like Nguyen that commuter programs are targeted for, said Susan Stubblefield, coordinator of Housing and Residential Life.
From a brainchild nearly a year ago, the program has developed into three components — the Commuter Connection, the Commuter Council and Gopherville — and has been successful at reaching out to first-year students in particular, Stubblefield said.
“We, as a university, are taking great interest in the first-year experience of all students,” Stubblefield said.
The initiative to begin commuter student programs began in 1991 with grant funding. At that time, programs such as the Gopher Guide and “Wow, What’s on Wednesdays” were started.
With additional funding in 1995, the student development and athletics office employed a community events planner and began funding small grant programs, primarily those for commuter students.
The latest developments for commuters are the most focused, according to Jane Canney, associate vice president for student development and athletics.
A possible disparity in scholastic performance and general collegiate experience between students living on campus and those living off campus was first addressed during the administration of former University President Nils Hasselmo.
It was determined at the time that the on-campus residents had a much more positive experience, said Bill Brady, director of University News Service.
So through the remainder of the Hasselmo administration, more emphasis was placed on raising the number of students living in the residence halls, Brady said.
When University President Mark Yudof’s administration began, the focus on residence halls continued, along with a renewed emphasis on commuter students and services designed specifically for them.
The Commuter Connection was established in July as a social and support group, particularly for first-year students. The connection organizes events and staffs two commuter assistants to answer students’ questions.
The second ingredient, the Commuter Council, was also formally initiated over the summer. The council is working hand-in-hand with the Commuter Connection, as it is still in the process of defining its role — which planners hope will include event planning.
The University also boasts the only interactive Web site in the country for the sole purpose of student interaction. Called Gopherville, the interactive online community was initiated during fall quarter.
Last quarter, an estimated 2,500 students used Gopherville, Stubblefield said. While using the site, students can create their own avatar, or icon, as a representation of themselves and maneuver through 80 different chat rooms, including a “South Park” room and a “Xena: Warrior Princess” room.
In addition to the rooms, virtual gopher get-togethers take place on certain nights for students to interact on a wider level.
The software is only available to University students and is marketed expressly to commuter students. It is free and can be installed on a personal computer or accessed at any of the computer labs on campus.
The Commuter Connection and the Commuter Council are looking forward to the Coffman Union renovation and a possible commuter lounge and Commuter Connection office there, Stubblefield said.
In addition to focusing on more than first-year students, the number of students involved with the commuter services will grow as the years pass and more first-year students become involved, Canney said.
For the students who are now involved, the newly established programs do what they were designed to do.
“When I graduate in a few years, I want to say I lived at the U, not just went there,” Nguyen said. “This has helped me feel like the U is my home.”