Commuters offered array of connection services

Heather Fors

As a student who has commuted to campus since she was a freshman, senior Jordana Whyte knows how disconnected from the University first-year commuters can feel.
“Campus was a place I came for a couple hours every day,” said Whyte, a senior in cultural studies and comparative literature.
That disconnection is a disadvantage for commuters. Students who live, eat and sleep on campus find it easier to focus on school and establish social connections. To even the odds, University administrators are organizing activities, such as weekly lunches, regular trouble-shooting meetings and cooperative Internet games, to bring commuters together.
“We want commuter students to create their own community,” said Whyte, who recently took a job as a University commuter assistant.
University President Mark Yudof also empathized with the plight of commuter students. He remembered the days when he lived with his parents in a Philadelphia suburb while going to college at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I was a commuter student,” Yudof said. “I couldn’t afford to live on campus.”
For students in dilemmas similar to Yudof’s, administrators created a virtual University community on the Internet comprised of informational World Wide Web sites and chat rooms. Ideally, the sites would make it easier for commuters to hear about and organize campus events.
Another resource for commuters is the commuter connection, the office where Whyte works, which is sponsored by the Office of Housing and Residential Life.
Chad Pahl, another commuter assistant in the office who previously worked in the dorms, was amazed that no services existed for incoming freshmen to answer simple questions like how to buy books and how to get to the library.
“I think a lot of times (freshmen) just get lost in the shuffle and they’re left to answer their questions on their own,” said Pahl, a sociology senior.
The commuter connection will be available to answer any questions new students have to make them feel more comfortable.
The commuter assistants gathered information about many student organizations and services for curious students. If they don’t have information about what the student is looking for, they know where to get it.
The office is located in room C110 in Centennial Hall, 614 Delaware St. S.E., where Whyte and Pahl hold regular office hours for students to come and ask questions.
A plethora of maps, bus schedules and other transportation information is available at the office, in addition to information about student organizations and services.
Officials with Parking and Transportation Services plan to work closely with the connection throughout the school year, said Cari Hatcher, public relations representative for Parking and Transportation Services.
“I’m glad that there’s a designated place where people can go and get involved,” Hatcher said.
But the difficulties involved in making commuter students feel at home at the University prompted the commuter connection team to expand their services onto the Gopherville Web site. “Fun communication” is how Fay Choban described the site. Choban is the IT professional for special projects for housing and dining services.
Working to create a virtual University campus, the programmers aim at bringing students closer together.
Commuters can play games, meet other commuter students, find out about different campus services and perhaps even have online forums to discuss specific topics with University officials.
Unlike other chat rooms, which are text only, Gopherville is like a comic strip. Each individual can pick a representative character, such as Yoda from Star Wars or a yellow smiley face, and when they want to “talk” the text appears in a bubble.
Each room has a different theme and the characters have free range in the rooms. The rooms are also connected to various University-related Web sites that offer students a wealth of knowledge.
“It’s going to be a little addictive,” said Susan Stubblefield, the coordinator of residential life for the Office of Housing and Residential Life.
“You can’t see the person but you still have an essence of who they are and their personality.”
Some working on the project say they hope Gopherville can be more than just informational entertainment.
“It can kind of be the bridge between the real world and all the activities that are happening and the students sitting at home or in a computer lab trying to meet people,” Choban said.