Commuter students want to feel at home on campus

Bobby Shipman

Driving to campus creates a daily hassle for thousands of students – from traffic jams to rising gas prices to inclement weather conditions – especially for those driving 30 or more minutes.

For many students, commuting means long days at school, fending off motorists for decent parking spots and gallons of coffee.

People might say USI students complain too much or need to “suck it up” because schools like IU or Notre Dame don’t have nearly as many parking spots and most students who attend those schools walk much farther to class.

Does a student have the right to pitch a fit, however, if they have to drive an hour to campus and park in Lot K behind the tennis courts, adding another five to 10 minutes to their commute?

Out of the 8,658 degree-seeking undergrads enrolled in at least one USI course during Fall 2013, 71.8 percent (6,216) of students have a current address located off-campus, according to the Office of Planning, Research and Assessment (OPRA).

OPRA’s research shows students with off-campus addresses commute from as far as Martin County, Ind.

The Shield asked students what they thought USI could do to improve campus life for commuters.

Music lover proposes priority parking

Not all commuters live on Hoosier soil.

Senior biochemistry major Rob Monsen commutes 30 minutes each day, five days a week from Henderson, Ky.

He listens to a variety of tunes ranging from folk to rap, alternative to heavy metal, while cruising to and from campus in his 2007 black Ford Focus.

Monsen finds living at home more beneficial.

“It’s so much cheaper,” Monsen said. “I also live at home with my mom so I get cooked food there, too. It rules.”

For three years, his 29-miles-per-gallon hatchback has crossed the state-adjoining bridge into Vanderburgh County.

“One time a semi flipped over on the main highway out of Henderson so there was not really any other way to go (get to USI),” Monsen said. “If anything happens wreck-wise, on the bridge, I am just pretty much done for the day.”

Monsen said he must adapt his morning routine by leaving his house an hour before class to account for extenuating road conditions.

“There is nothing I can do because usually I’ll be stuck behind that all day,” he said.

Monsen said being an early riser makes situations like traffic-jams easily avoidable, but he said USI could do a little bit more to accommodate commuters.

“Oftentimes, especially at the beginning of semesters, there are a lot of traffic problems (from) people that have just enrolled,” Monsen said. “That huge volume of people that don’t know where they are going, and parents, and people just checking out the school, makes it a real pain for everybody I know that commutes because there is just no parking.”

Monsen said he knows discussing the lack of parking on campus is “like beating a dead horse” but suggested the university find a way to prioritize parking for upper-class students.

OPRA’s commuter study shows 93.5 percent of seniors and 82.9 percent of juniors have off-campus addresses – whereas only 68.8 percent of sophomores and 48.7 percent of freshmen do.

Gadabout misses involvement

Psychology major Erica Langley once lived on campus but switched to commuting her senior year to save money and focus on schoolwork, she said.

Occasionally dozing off in the library, Langley said she stays about 12 hours on campus on Tuesdays and Thursdays and works weekends at Red Banks Nursing Home in Henderson, Ky.

Langley said she uses her 30-minute commute to mentally prepare herself for the day ahead, while soothing herself with a little rhythm and blues, all the while longing for her campus-dwelling days.

“I actually preferred living on campus because I was able to be involved,” she said. “It is an adjustment going from staying on campus for four years to having to drive back and forth from home.”

It’s hard to find time to spend with friends, to stay aware of what’s happening on campus and be part of campus life, Langley said.

“I think sometimes commuting is a little bit of a disconnect,” she said.

Long-distance commuter seeks housing

Dental hygiene major and Holland, Ind., resident Amanda Ellis drives 45-60 minutes to campus.

Ellis transferred to USI after receiving a degree in chemistry and biology from Indiana University.

“I am lucky enough that my parents live close by so during the week I stay with them and I commute back and forth,” Ellis said. “On the weekends, I go back up to Bloomington. I work every weekend, and I still pay for my apartment up there.”

Her Lincoln Navigator costs anywhere from $85 to $100 to fill, and she does so two to three times each week, she said.

Ellis said she appreciates USI’s free parking.

“When I went to IU I walked everywhere or took the bus,” she said. “Knowing that I can get (to USI) pretty much any time of the day (and) not have to pay for parking is huge.”

Ellis’s local friend provides her a place to stay in Evansville on late or stormy nights.

During the ice-storm in Decemeber, thousands of people cuddled up next to their fireplaces, while slick roads landed vehicles in snow piles and ditches.

Ellis said she would have sought shelter in a hotel had her close friend not provided a safe haven.

One university created a cozy solution to inclement weather conundrums.

Simmons College in Boston offers commuter housing for $25 a night. Students are responsible for their own bed dressings.

Ellis said she would take full advantage if USI provided the same amenity.

“There are nights where I have night clinic and then I have a test the next morning – or have inclement weather,” she said. “That would be awesome if (USI) had some place where you rented a room for the night.”

She said students would also take advantage of the rooms during finals week. The commute proves useful in some instances for Ellis.

“I downloaded that Panopto app on my phone so sometimes I use that hour of driving to listen to those lectures,” she said. “It’s like an added boost because there is a lot going on. I would like to use that time in the car efficiently.”

The Panopto app allows anyone with a laptop or smart phone to record videos with any type of input, equipment and at any scale.

Many professors at USI use Panopto to record lectures.

The time change means Ellis arrives home as late as 11:45 p.m., creating a lethargic nightly drive.

“There have been definite times when I do the nod and I am like ‘OK, I need to call somebody,’” she said.

Ellis said USI should start a commuter’s club that provides free coffee for long-distance drivers.

APB President suggests comfy compensation

Organizations like the Student Government Association (SGA) and the Activities Programming Board (APB) look to students for ideas on improving their commuting experience.

They held a commuters’s delegation Dec. 2, where students could voice their opinions.

A survey distributed at the event asked students why they do not live in campus housing. It found that many students object to the strict rules.

Responses show that students wish housing permitted alcohol-use, lowered its price and improved upon its guest hour policy.

One anonymous response said the student disagreed with how the housing contract is set up and they would rather drive to school than worry about getting fined because the school does not know how to work with students.

Students at the delegation responded positively to the idea of creating a commuter lounge pitched by APB President and SGA Commuter Representative Aaron McCullough.

“It would be kind of this home-away-from-home for commuter students,” said McCullough who is also a commuter. “The goal is to get commuter students to stay on campus. Late-night events are generally considered more fun, but if a student doesn’t get out of class until 4 p.m. and the event starts at 8 p.m. – that is four hours they have to kill.”

He plans to stock the lounge with a microwave, refrigerator and possibly coffee so commuters can bring their lunches instead of driving home to eat, McCullough said.

He said he hopes to staff the lounge with someone who can listen to and be a voice for the commuters.

“It is kind of like a resident assistant (RA), except it would be a commuter assistant,” he said. “People that live in apartments have RAs that they can go to and talk to. Commuters don’t really have that.”

The “commuter’s lounge” exists only as an idea, but McCullough said he hopes a club might take on the task.

“I would like to see a club start up for commuter students or work that in to some already existing club – maybe something we could even fund through the lounge area,” he said.

McCullough brought the idea to Dean of Students Angela Batista and said she told him to run with it.

But he said he has no idea what to do with his idea.

McCullough talked with other schools to get perspective on commuter amenities.

He said with the help of students, the future for a “commuter lounge” at USI is a definite possibility.