Some U commuters face challenges connecting

by Jason Juno

University student Jeina Winters said it takes her approximately 30 minutes to drive from Elk River, Minn., to the University every morning on Interstate 94.

Although the drive wakes her up each morning, she said, she doesn’t feel as connected to the University community as she did when she lived in the dorms earlier this year.

The chemical engineering student is one of more than 40,000 commuter students at the University. Some of the students face problems connecting with other students, getting involved with activities and traveling to campus.

“I feel less connected,” Winters said. “I always feel like I’m not as much a part of it as when I lived in the dorm Ö I’m missing out.”

Of approximately 50,000 University students this semester, approximately 6,000 live in residence halls. The rest are considered commuter students, said Jacqueline Brudlos, marketing coordinator for Parking and Transportation Services.

Commuter Connection is a student group that wants to give commuter students a place to go on campus, group member Anthony James said.

James said the biggest thing the group strives to do is make its office in Coffman Union “more of a home for all of the commuters, so they can feel they’re a part of the ‘U.’ “

Approximately 30 commuters go to the group’s office each day, he said.

Commuters also face problems with transportation, parking and finding out what events are happening on campus, James said.

“Knowing what’s going on around here at the ‘U’ is really hard,” he said.

Students are also away from residence hall activities and homecoming events that require being part of a group or residence hall, James said.

But not every commuter feels so disconnected.

Jeff Taylor, a criminology senior, has a six-mile drive from his home in the Highland Park area of St. Paul.

He said he feels connected to the University. When he is not in class, he heads to Coffman Union or meets with classmates for a social activity, he said.

“It’d probably be better to live on campus, but I mean, it’s not that bad,” Taylor said.

He said living at home is a lot cheaper.

Erik Dussault, adviser for the Commuter Connection and the Student Activities Office, said the percentage of commuter students generally increases as they stay longer at the University.

It means that the older the students are, the higher more likely they are to be commuter students.

Khemara Chem, a second-year student, drives less than 20 miles from Eagan, Minn.

Chem said he believes he misses the social life, plus having a classmate or roommate nearby to study or socialize with.

“Even when I lived in Bailey Hall last year, I didn’t feel I was in the action,” he said

He said he usually doesn’t have time to stay on campus unless he goes to the recreation center.

Jon Link, a computer science junior, drives approximately 20 miles from Maple Grove, Minn., to the University.

He said that for him driving is cheaper than living on campus.

“It’s convenient in a sense – I don’t mind it,” Link said. “I can have my own schedule. I’m not stuck down here.”

Dussault said he believes many students, such as Link, make the decision based on finances, such as Link. Living on campus costs more than commuting from a parent’s house, Dessault said.

Dussault said some people on campus want the opportunity to go home. He can go home when he wants and he can keep in touch with his friends at home, he said.

Link stays with friends on campus when he wants, and it does not take long to go back and forth, he said. He comes to the University for events, he said.

Link said he does not mind driving, either.

“It’s just a means of getting around,” he said.

Dussault said commuter students are “looking for some type of connection” to the University.

Commuter Connection welcomes any student not living in a residence hall, he said.