By: Tom Foley
Walking across campus, it would be easy to assume that most students live in residence halls given the number of them that are strewn across campus. The surprising truth is that around a whopping 60 percent of BSU’s student community is made up of commuters. Students travel from as close as Bridgewater to as far away as Cape Cod. Something even more surprising is that, until recently, commuters had no resources that were meant to help them get involved on campus. BSU hopes to change this with the newly created Off-Campus Student Engagement, Transition, and Services Office, which is located in the East Campus Commons, or, as it’s more affectionally known, the “ECC.”
The idea for the office started in 2017 with the creation of a commuter student task force, which is co-chaired by Vice-President of Student Success and Diversity, Dr. Sabrina Gentlewarrior, and Associate Vice President and Dean of Students, Denine Rocco. The task force found that BSU had a significant retention problem when it came to commuter students and noted a persistent pattern of them leaving after their first year at the school. The task force attributed this to a lack of knowledge about community opportunities presented by the school to commuter students, which subsequently resulted in low engagement rates among them. The creation of the Off-Campus Student Engagement, Transition, and Services Office has the hope of solving this dilemma.
Shelly Keniston, director of the new office, has high hopes that the office will help commuters find a place on campus where they feel welcomed. “I think commuting students are going to be a lot more aware of the opportunities presented to them,” Director Keniston said. “A lot of times, in the past, we’ve had commuter students unaware they could participate in events on campus, events they thought were for resident students only, like bingo.” Director Keniston hopes that Commuter Ambassadors, commuter students who are employed by the office, can help bridge the gap that many commuter students feel prevents them from being involved in the BSU community. Director Keniston emphasized the crucial role played by the ambassadors and detailed that their responsibilities include, “educating commuters in their role about being community partners and helping to break down the stigma that commuters can’t be part of the on-campus community.”
The organization has already begun a high visibility campaign to get commuter students involved. So far, they’ve held events both on and off campus, such as a smoothie giveaway in Crimson Food Court and a pizza night at the local Chessman’s Pizza. Commuters can look forward to Commuter Appreciation week at the end of March and can follow the Off-Campus Student Engagement, Transition, and Services Office’s social media pages to stay up to date.