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Sarah George: Making Connections for commuters

george_rial_5

The Point
Winter 2010

Point Park is well known as a commuter-friendly place. Recently, the University took steps to ensure that the commuter students’ needs are always on the radar by hiring Sarah George as its first director of commuter affairs.

George was formerly the orientation coordinator in the Office of Campus Life at Point Park, where she focused on the transition of first-year students and promoted alcohol education to the campus community. She will continue to be involved with student orientation. George talked with The Point:

Why were you interested in this position?

SG: It was a new position with no set way of doing things – it was open to whatever I thought would work for this large population of students. It’s a great opportunity to work with the majority of the students on campus.

How large is the commuter community at Point Park?

SG: Currently, there are 4,000 students at Point Park. Of those, approximately 3,000 are commuters, including graduate, adult, part-time and traditional students. Our commuter population has remained consistent over the years, even though we have added beds to campus housing.

What are some of the unique challenges faced by commuter students?

SG: Commuter students are interesting because they often feel that they don’t have the same connection to others as traditional students who live on campus. Many times, they will come to class, then go home to a family or a job without connecting in the same way as a resident who is immersed in the on-campus environment. The commuter students who work full-time often do not take advantage of the student activities and programs. Instead, they are typically here for the degree and are focused more on the end goal.

What are your primary goals in meeting those challenges?

SG: I am trying to work directly with commuters to understand what they need to help them feel more connected to the University. An online survey developed by the National Clearinghouse for Commuter Programs is being administered to gain feedback that will help us develop programs that will work at Point Park. We already have some programs in place to build on and plan to increase our programs and resources to involve commuters more in campus activities.

What programming have you developed for the commuter population?

SG: This semester we started two new programs. For traditional age or transfer first-year students not living on campus, we developed Commuter Learning Communities in which we provide students who have similar interests with a chance to meet and do things together as they adjust to college life. For our Saturday accelerated students, we started Jump Start Saturdays, a monthly lunch series focused on career development. We also developed a Commuter Council and transformed a former study lounge on the fourth floor of Lawrence Hall into a commuter lounge where students can meet on campus.

What are some of the most pressing concerns regarding transit issues in the city of Pittsburgh right now, and how will that affect commuters?

SG: One of my biggest concerns is the mass transit issue, especially the proposed reduction in bus routes. This will affect all students, not just our commuters, who typically don’t keep cars on campus but need to use public transportation to go just about anywhere. If the bus lines are cut, some of our students just won’t be able to make it to school. Another issue is the proposed increase in parking rates. If these rates go up, it will have a huge negative impact on commuters who have to park Downtown. Point Park has been active in advocating on behalf of our 4,000 students who come to town and have a positive effect on the city’s economy.

What advice do you give to students who commute to Point Park to help them fit in with on-campus student residents?

SG: Always keep your eyes and ears open for ways to get involved. Commuter students are welcome to attend any on-campus event. If there isn’t anything of interest at a time that is convenient, don’t be afraid to let us know what you want and need.

Contact the Office of Commuter Affairs at 412-392-3835 or commuteraffairs@pointpark.edu

Interview by Camille Downing
Photo by Martha Rial
The Point is a magazine for Alumni and Fridns of Point Park University.