news-category: Student Success

Gardner-Webb Division of Student Success Opens Lounge to Support Commuter Students

two people sitting at a table talking

New Space Offers Students a Place to Relax, Study, Access Lockers, and Eat

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Gardner-Webb commuter students now have a new dedicated space on campus to relax between classes, study, have access to lockers, or warm up a packed lunch. The Commuter Commons opened Thursday, April 18, on the Third Floor of Tucker Student Center next to the Student Success Main Suite. Refreshments were available and Dr. Josh Parrott, Vice President of Christian Life and Service, prayed over the space and offered a blessing for the students who will use the Commons, as well as for the staff involved across campus who support commuters. 

Shaun Donovan, left, and Jonah Hill checked out the Commuter Commons when it opened in Tucker Student Center.

Jonah Hill and Shaun Donovan, who are both junior history secondary education majors, stopped by to have a doughnut and check out the new space. “I’ve been here two years, so usually all I really go to is either my classes or the library,” Hill shared. “Since I don’t live here, it’s kind of weird hovering around Frank Nanney or Craig. Instead of mindlessly walking around the campus and figuring out where to hang out, it’s nice to have a place, another option where I can go to, that specifically is designed for students like me, who are commuters. This gives me a reason to be here.”

Donovan agreed, “I go to campus and go to class and then right after classes, go to the library and catch up on homework. Sometimes you sit in the car and wait, so it’s nice that there’s a place that I can just come and socialize. You can’t really socialize in a library.”

Easton Freeman, a first-year commuter, stated, “The Commuter Commons will be helpful because it’s always nice to have a place that is quiet and isolated from noise around campus. It’s a place to retreat, and it will allow me to meet other commuter students like me!”

Executive Director for the Division of Student Success Dr. Ryan Erck explained why his team worked to create this area for students, like Freeman, Hill and Donovan, who are part of a group that represents about 11% of the traditional undergraduate student population. “When residential students have a break between classes, they often return to a dorm room to relax, gather supplies for their next course, get a snack, or study,” he observed. “Commuter students experience Gardner-Webb in a slightly different way. These students might carry books for a full day of classes around campus or pack a lunch in absence of a meal plan.”

The “Commuter Commons” gives them a quiet place to go and features many amenities, such as a microwave, relaxing living room-type area, lockers for storage, and proximity to additional support resources (i.e., tutoring, success coaches, etc.). “Addressing barriers for these students is an effort to promote their retention, but more than that, we want them to feel they belong at GWU and can succeed here,” Erck affirmed.

“Sometimes in higher ed we fall into the trap of envisioning our student body as a simple mix of on-campus residents and online learners, thereby neglecting the unique needs and aspirations of our commuting population,” shared Gardner-Webb University President Dr. William M. Downs. “Credit goes to Dr. Erck and his colleagues for thinking imaginatively about how to best serve this important GWU constituency. I hope this new space helps cultivate a vibrant sense of community for our commuters and that these students will as a result feel more and more at home during their time at Gardner-Webb.”

The Student Success staff solicited feedback from the spring commuter population in January and received a high response rate, with the vast majority of students agreeing that the space would (1) make them feel supported on campus, (2) be utilized, and (3) help promote their academic and personal success at GWU. Given the data and responses, Kara Alves, director of Success Initiatives and First Year Experience, assessed, “It is clear our commuters thought this idea was valuable, and we see this initiative as falling in line with best practices to support this group of students. Our goal here is ultimately to promote success on campus, and we are working to ensure we do that for all students, regardless of their unique situation.”

Erck shared that many people helped to make the Commuter Commons come to life and gave special thanks to Ben Flournoy in the Learning Resource Center. “The hope is that opening this space is just a first step,” Erck said. “Eventually, we would love to see commuter-based programming and additional services for these students. Some things are already in motion through the work of our good colleagues in Student Development, such as SGA representation, and the long-term goal would be to see the Commuter Commons as a hub to help facilitate future efforts in supporting this sub-population.”

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to nine colleges and schools, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at Gardner-Webb.edu.

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