Commuter involvement rebooted

Matt Churella, News Editor

Commuter students can now relax in between classes at a new campus lounge.

The lounge area is the former student government office, situated in the hallway near Brioche Dorée Café.

Campus Activities and Engagement Director Heather Hall said at a Feb. 13 student government meeting she is also exploring different ideas to improve commuter students’ Pitt-Johnstown experience.

Hall said she and Student Affairs Assistant Vice President Bob Knipple are organizing a group of faculty, staff and students who would explore the commuter student experience and would make needed improvements to get more commuter students involved on campus.

Hall said she and Knipple are to meet with some student government senators and Commuter Club members to determine a plan for the remainder of this semester.

“We believe that the true changes and implementations will occur in Fall 2018.

“A lot of great work and development can occur during the summer planning months,” Hall said.

Hall told student government senators that their former office was set to become a commuter lounge by Feb. 14.

She said the decision to convert the office into a lounge was made earlier this academic year but was put on hold until furniture became available.

Student Affairs Vice President Shawn Brooks said the commuter lounge is to have a grand opening once the last furnishings arrive.

“We anticipate that happening right after spring break.

“We are fortunate to have inherited furniture from Blackington (Hall), which allowed us to move forward with getting the space fully converted for use by commuter students,” Brooks said.

Brooks said, if the Student Union is open, then the lounge is to be open for all students to use.

“Although the dedicated space is for commuter students, all students will be able to use it,” Brooks said.

Brooks said he would encourage commuter students to check out the future programming that is to be offered for them in the lounge.

“We will be offering frequent programming in the commuter lounge to help them connect with life outside the classroom.

“Hopefully, we can work to build a stronger commuter student connection, which can certainly help them to be more engaged with each other and with the campus before, between and after classes,” Brooks said.

Hall said that approximately 40 percent of Pitt-Johnstown students do not live on campus.

“The needs of all types of students who do not have a pillow on campus are vast and varied.

“We wanted to put a caring eye on this population of students and to make sure that we were offering resources and support for (commuter) students to be engaged and, more importantly, academically successful,” Hall said.

Hall said focus groups are being planned to better understand changes that could improve a commuter student’s Pitt-Johnstown experience.

Residence Life Director Chris Lemasters is to host a March 1 focus group in the Cambria Room with 10 commuter students.

The group is to discuss their reasons for their decision to not live in a residence hall, according to a Feb. 22 email sent to commuter students.

Sophomore Brianna Facciani said she does not like the idea of having a large commuter lounge because students are able to relax in lobby areas.

Facciani said she spends most of her free time on campus in the Student Union, Biddle Hall’s lobby or Owen Library.

She said she often used her commuter room—a room in freshmen dormitories that can be used throughout the day by up to six commuter students—because she said she felt somewhat able to experience life in a college dormitory.

Facciani said she liked being able to pick who she wanted to share the room with.

“I wish that they had those freshmen commuter rooms for all grade levels, since I wouldn’t like to always share a space with hundreds of students,” Facciani said.

Facciani said her commute to campus is about a 20-minute drive.

She said she is a Commuter Club member, however, she said she does not feel involved as a club member on campus.

Facciani said it is difficult for some commuter students to attend campus events.

“I live 20 minutes away, so driving back and forth can be taxing on myself and my car.

“(I’ll) just come back to meetings or events at (Pitt-Johnstown) that last 30 minutes,” Facciani said.