For commuter students, it can be difficult to make connections with other students when so many people find friends in dorms or at social events near campus. The new commuter lounge in Franz Hall 123 is, on its surface, a place for commuter students to drop off belongings and get work done between classes, but more importantly, it is a place they can spend time and connect with other commuter students.
“You just can't connect with people as easily on campus because you're not around all the time,” Katie Simon, a senior who commutes from Gresham, said. “You have a really structured schedule usually, so free time isn't on your side. You're more here to do school and then you need to do that commute back to make sure you can get home and get some decent home time, as everybody else just walks maybe five minutes back home.”
As part of the planning process for remodeling the former Think Tank, 30 commuter students were surveyed last semester to determine their needs and wants for the new space.
“What came out of that was not only do they need lockers for their belongings, and microwaves to heat up their food, but they really want to build community,” Associate Vice President for Land Use Planning Jennie Cambier said. “They need a space to do that. That's when we started to really think in earnest about what are some underutilized spaces on campus that we could turn over for them.”
Traveling more than 10 minutes to class everyday is an unfamiliar experience for most UP students. Twice a day Simon commutes 40 minutes. When you spend so much time in the day driving, Simon says, you need a schedule with more structure than most students might have.
“My main goal when I start creating a schedule for school in the first place, is making sure that I either have classes really close together or concentrating my days,” Simon said. “So I end up having maybe a 12 hour day on Tuesday and Thursdays, and then a lighter load on the other days or potentially not any classes at all.”
Simon transferred from Concordia after the university closed in the spring of 2020. She usually sticks to her car between classes because she doesn’t know a lot of people and doesn’t fully feel like a part of the UP community.
The highly structured schedules and long car rides make it difficult to justify driving all the way back to campus for another class or a social event in one day. Currently, there are no student groups or clubs directed toward commuter students. The lounge offers a space catered to that.
“It’s nice having a place solely for commuters,” Ian Thompson, a computer science major who commutes from Beaverton, said.
“One of the benefits is it's a smaller community, it’s easier to make a connection with someone and make friends,” Thompson continued. “And it's way more laid back than the library. In the library, people try to stay quiet because it's a library. Because the walls are so soundproof in (the commuter lounge), you can be as loud or as quiet as you want.”
The library and St. Mary’s are the places commuter students are usually expected to camp out and get work done between classes but Thompson says the lounge is better suited for his needs as a commuter student.
“Most commuters don’t have a meal plan,” Thompson continued. “So you have to bring a sack lunch. The fridge is nice and the microwave too, because you can bring a frozen meal and heat that up. The St. Mary’s microwave is real bad. It's just really old.”
In addition to the microwave and minifridge, lockers are coming at the end of the semester, so students have somewhere to store their things during the day.
“Hopefully this is just the beginning for commuter student support on campus,” Cambier said.
Will Mulligan is a reporter for the Beacon. He can be reached at email@example.com.