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A place to call their own



Amanda Crowell '10 (left, in the tan sweater) and Kayla Frable '11 (right, in the Lehigh t-shirt) played key roles in making Lehigh's new commuter lounge a reality.

The first commuter lounge at Lehigh was recently opened on the lower level of Trembley Park, and a small group of commuting students joined with administrators in welcoming the development during an informal reception in mid-March.

“For me personally, the space means that I am no longer on the outside at Lehigh,” says Kayla Frable ’11, one of the students instrumental in bringing the concept of a commuter lounge at Lehigh to reality.

“Now there is a place that I can go to that is just for commuters, so I do not have to feel like I do not belong or am not welcome at Lehigh.”

Adds fellow commuter Amanda Crowell ’10 of Bartonsville, Pa.: “I feel that I finally have a quiet place that belongs to me.”

For Caitlin Prozonic, a sophomore who commutes to Lehigh from her home in Allentown, the new space not only represents a way to be more involved with the campus community, but serves a practical function as well.

“It gives me somewhere I can go—a comfortable space to study, read, or rest,” she says. “Before, I felt a bit displaced. With the new commuter lounge, I feel more like I belong on the campus, as if I have my own ‘dorm room.’ I think it just makes me feel like I fit in more.”

Like many other commuting students, Prozonic says she would spend down time between classes at either the library or the computing center. Sometimes, she says, she’d visit the Zoellner Arts Center. But, she says, she often felt “like an outsider at my own school.”

Gwendolyn Johnson, a sophomore psychology major from Bethlehem, would hang out in Maginnes Hall, the Women’s Center at the University Center, or Linderman Library to fill the time between classes.

“The breaks were long enough that I had to find somewhere to go and something to do to occupy myself, but short enough that it wasn’t worth driving home and giving up my parking space,” Johnson says.

With the new lounge, Johnson, Prozonic, Crowell and Frable can meet with fellow commuting students, and spend more time on campus in activities beyond the classroom.

Frable says a prevailing sense among commuters is that “everybody that lives here is making friends with their roommates and their hall, or people that they party with or go to dinner with.

“As a commuter,” she adds, “you miss out on most, if not all, of that. Hopefully, this will provide an avenue for commuters to meet other commuters and make friends so when you are walking to class, you have somebody to wave to. Or, if want to go to the football game, you don't have to skip it because you do not have anybody to go with. “

Filling a clear need

The official opening of the new commuter lounge followed several months of planning led by Allison Ragon, director of Orientation and New Student Programs in the Dean of Students Office. During last year’s orientation for first-year students, Ragon began looking into the number of commuting students who were traveling significant distances each day to attend classes.

“In the first and second year classes alone, we have 73 non-residential students,” Ragon says. “Clearly, there was a need to provide more support for these students in the way of a place to go between classes and a meeting space for them and other students.”

One of those students is Frable, who worked with Ragon as an orientation leader for first-year students. Frable has to drive 45 minutes each way from her home in Kunkletown, Pa., to be on campus for classes and other activities. She and Crowell joined forces with Ragon, who assembled a team of Dean of Students staffers to learn more.

“With the help of a Dean of Students committee, we discussed commuter student needs and the possible support we could provide,” Ragon says. “Kayla, Amanda and I also created a survey for students to learn about their habits on campus and sent it out via email.”

The results did not surprise them. Data clearly indicated that most of the commuters were not heavily involved in campus activities and that their biggest need was a space to spend time between classes.

“During a snowstorm on campus, one student slept in her car because he couldn't get home due to the weather,” Ragon said. “Clearly, we needed to do something.”

Ragon’s group quickly created a campus portal site and held gatherings for commuting students to help them connect with one another. The group also began investigating the possibility of finding space to convert into a lounge. Conversations with Residence Life and Residential Services resulted in designating a space in Trembley, which underwent a makeover. Various offices contributed to the renovation and funded additions such as a flat screen television, a microwave and refrigerator, and even lockers for storage of personal items.

Ragon credits several Lehigh offices with being extraordinarily flexible and helpful throughout the process. Among them was Christina Bell, associate director of Residential Services who “made the dream come true,” Ragon says.

Already, Ragon says, the positive impact of the commuter lounge is being realized by the Lehigh students.

“I can see that the students feel that they have a space of their own on campus,” she says. “They have been talking about getting together for lunch and attending Lehigh events together. Kalya and Amanda have mentioned that they will study in the lounge and have been able to mingle a bit more with Trembley residents. And we’ve already incorporated the lounge into orientation for commuter students next year and plan to hold events in the fall. We hope this helps connect these students with the vibrancy of student life at Lehigh.”

Adds John Smeaton, vice provost for Student Affairs: "I am pleased that we have been able to create a venue that will enable commuter students to be more fully integrated into student life on campus."

--Linda Harbrecht


Posted on Monday, March 23, 2009

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