Commuters embrace their ‘home away from home’

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Freshman Sanai Metoyer, who commutes from Laveen, picks flowers for her bouquet at the GCU Commuter Lounge.

Cassandra Coria’s Story
Pictures of Ralph Freso

GCU News Desk

Love decorations are scattered around the room. Hearts hang from the ceiling. Suburban students are in bundles, wrapping their flower bouquets at one of several events each month.

That’s what the Commuter Lounge is – a second family for students who choose to live at home while attending Grand Canyon University.

A GCU student relaxes on a sofa while checking her phone messages in the Commuter Lounge.

“You feel at home here, like home away from home. Commuter events are what sold me for being a commuter,” freshman Sanai Metoyer said with a smile.

Noted Rebecca Ritterling, one of four students who lead the Commuter Life team, “For students who don’t have this home on campus, we want to target the Commuter Lounge to be their home. Here we incorporate that through events and planning just to make them feel loved and special, which is what they are on this campus.

Some GCU students may not know that the Commuter Lounge is just west of the Student Union in Kaibab. Once they learn where it is, they may pass several times, wondering if they should go this time.

When they do, they are greeted by a space that combines a sense of community with helpful facilities.

There is a fully equipped kitchen with four refrigerators – yes, four.

There are sofas and tables and cell phone charging stations.

There’s even an unfinished puzzle for everyone to work on and a backdrop where they can take selfies.

Everything is supervised by the four “DAD” – directors and assistant directors, all seniors.

The sign outside Kaibab directs suburban students to their special place.

The connections team is led by the director taylor Alonsomarketing major and executive assistant Madison Scruggsstudying business analysis.

Major in Psychology Kailyn Tidy is head of the events team and Ritterling, a hotel specialist, is her assistant.

Suburban life was under the Canyon Activities Board until this year when it became a separate department. It is led by Kayleigh Holtoncoordinator of commuter life under student engagement.

“I think it’s really important for our commuter population to know that they are GCU students first and foremost,” she said. “They have access to almost everything on campus. It is important that our commuter population knows what is accessible to them.

“Everyone wants community, everyone wants to feel part of GCU, and I think it’s really important to provide connection points for our commuter population and create space for them.”

Alonzo and Scruggs talk as they rummage through bags of goodies, preparing for another suburban event.

“We’re in a unique position where we can talk to commuters and we consistently serve the same group of people,” Alonzo said. “We use our Instagram a lot. It is our main source of communication and allows us to follow up with them.

The Commuter Lounge never runs out of events.

Scruggs added: “Commuters are active – active in our DMs (direct messages) and voice.”

The Commuter Life team hosts four events per month, two on the connections side and two on the events side.

Of the four events in February, the Build-A-Bouquet event was the most treasured, managing to spread the love for the Valentine’s season.

“It’s a close-knit community, and it’s easy to bond with the staff and the people who come in,” sophomore forensic science student Rachael Mitai noted.

His friend Ariana Oehl, a second-year forensic psychology student, said she preferred meeting new people when accompanying someone else to big Canyon Activities Board events. The Commuter Lounge is more intimate.

“I feel more comfortable here,” she said, “and it’s smaller, so it’s a space I feel comfortable with.”

The Commuter Life team has created events for each season: Make Your Own Mickey Ears, Paint a Pumpkin, Build-A-Buddy, Make Your Own Coasters, and more. But a staple of the Commuter Lounge is the waffle bar.

Senior Lorenza Cordove (left) and junior Ariana Oehl pose against the backdrop of the Commuter Lounge.

“It’s really cool that we’re doing the waffles. It’s like we’re the hands and feet of Jesus,” Holton said.

The Build-A-Buddy was even more popular, attracting so many students that they were lined up outside the door. The students stuffed the bears from scratch and certified their new creation by giving it a name.

“It was like building a bear, but for bigger kids,” Arial said. “They decorated the whole building to look like an instruction site. It was so cool.

Said Mitai, “You would never think this could be an event, but it’s so cool that they brought it to life.”

“That’s really our goal, to create events that students love, and they can take a break from their classes and have a little fun,” Stow said.

There’s another good reason why the Lounge is so important: being a student commuter isn’t easy. Many of them carpool to get to campus.

“You have this large percentage of students on your campus who have to go through these daily struggles just to get an education,” Alonzo said. “Really think about those students who commute to campus and let them know about the resources available to students in residence. There is a whole department reserved for commuters.

Senior Gabriela Farias, who commutes from Glendale, is now a staff member for the event.

This spirit of generosity is the reason why Gabriela Fariasa senior who has been commuting for his entire college career, has joined the Commuter Life team.

“I feel like there’s something beautiful here, and it’s really sweet and wonderful,” she said. “I really want people to feel comfortable knowing they belong here and that we’re listening.”

Even the Commuter Life team had to find their way this year after parting ways with the Canyon Activities Board.

“We were deer in the headlights for the debut period,” Scruggs said, “so the love we have as dads for each other and working with Kayleigh, we want to keep pushing these traditions and passions that we are starting now.”

It also had an impact on Alonzo. “I don’t want to leave – really because of suburban life,” she said. “It’s a place where my heart grows so much that I fell in love with being a voice for commuters.”

These superhero DADs ask themselves the same question every school year ends: Have we done enough to show people what Commuter Life is all about?

They find the answer in a stuffed animal sticking out of a backpack on campus.

“Oh,” Holton thought to herself when she saw one, “I think they were at Build-A-Buddy.”

He’s worth the pain.

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Follow @gcucommuters on Instagram.

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