New program supports commuters and transfer students adapting to QU

Melina Khan, Associate News Editor

New roles similar to that of the resident assistant for residential students have been launched this semester to support commuter and transfer students as they transition to Quinnipiac University.

In the spring, Chief Experience Officer Tom Ellett announced the creation of the Commuter and Transfer Assistance programs.

Emma Kogel

The programs, which are run through the Office of Student Centers and Campus Life, began in August and currently feature four commuter assistants (CA) and one transfer assistant (TA), as well as a graduate assistant to oversee the project. There were initially five CAs, but one student resigned at the beginning of the semester due to scheduling conflicts. The positions are paid an hourly wage similar to other jobs on campus.

Every first-year commuter student is paired with a CA, and each CA supervises about 30 students. Transfer students have the choice to opt into the TA program. The TA this semester is paired with about 10 students, out of the total 194 transfer students who joined the university this semester.

The role of the CAs and TAs is to reach out to their students to inform them of programming going on on campus and offer support to address questions or concerns students may have. They can hold meetings with the students, but the attendance of these is optional.

Emma Morales, a graduate physical therapy student and the graduate assistant managing the CAs and TAs, said she contacts the students in the program via email twice a week to inform them of upcoming events and provide resources.

In addition to notifying students of events around campus, the CA and TAs have also begun implementing their own events for the students. 

The assistants have held two workshops so far this semester. The first was focusing on strategies for student success on Oct. 7, with Keith Jacobsen, an academic coach from the learning commons, which focused on study skills and other academic-related concerns. The CAs and TAs also held a workshop discussing on-campus engagement on Oct. 20.

Ellett said he decided to implement the program after running a similar program at another institution. 

“The program was in response to making sure that commuter students felt that they were connected to the institution,” Ellett said.

As a former commuter student himself, Ellett said he understands the need for providing a community for these students.

“(The CA/TA’s) job is really to help very much in that first-semester transition to Quinnipiac,” Ellett said. “Having been both a transfer student and a commuter student in my past life, I kind of understood that difficulty of finding a place that was my own, finding my own people so to speak, that were going through the same experience as I was going through.” 

While the program began this summer, Ellett said he hopes in the future it will begin earlier so that students would be assigned a CA or TA as soon as they are accepted to Quinnipiac. He said there is a possibility to have students double up as both orientation leaders and CAs/TAs.

“This is just another way to take a bigger place and drill it down into smaller, micro-communities,” Ellett said.

However, Morales said the engagement in the program has been low so far. 

“Even though it’s a small handful of students that are continuously reaching out to (the CAs/TAs), it seems to be a really good connection and working for those specific students, so I like to think of it as quality over quantity,” Morales said.

Though Morales was not a first-year commuter or transfer student herself, she said she sees the value in creating communities for these students.

“It’s just another avenue of getting people more connected to Quinnipiac,” Morales said. “We really wanted to create this identity of, ‘yes, I’m a commuter student, but that doesn’t mean I have to be limited or somewhat separated from campus.’”

We really wanted to create this identity of, ‘yes, I’m a commuter student, but that doesn’t mean I have to be limited or somewhat separated from campus.

— Emma Morales, the program's graduate assistant

Jeremy Gustafson, a senior economics and political science double major, is a CA this semester. He said he wanted to join the program because as a commuter himself, he understands how it can feel isolating. He has also worked on commuter-related issues through his role as the vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion for the Student Government Association.

“I’m here as someone where they could come to you if they have any problems and kind of talk through them, but then I’m also here to try to help fix those problems as well for them,” Gustafson said.

In addition to holding biweekly meetings for the 28 students he oversees, Gustafson said he also tries to hold biweekly events. Recently, he had a study session ahead of midterm exams with his students.

“I try to make them feel like they are part of the Bobcat community,” Gustafson said. “I try to help them adjust and provide them resources.”

Dylan Stella, a first-year political science major, has Gustafson as his CA this semester. He meets with Gustafson every other week for 30 minutes and attended a dinner event that he held earlier this semester. Stella said the program provides him support as he transitions to college.

“By virtue of me just not being on campus as much as the average student, it kind of makes it so I’m almost inherently less involved and less able to transition to college life, so having a commuter assistant I think it’s helpful in that regard,” Stella said. “I think it helped me fill in the gaps that I have because I’m a commuter.”

Even though Stella has personally had success with the CA program, he said he wishes other students would engage with their CAs because they are helpful resources. He said so far, the CA program is “really invisible.”

Despite the program’s low engagement so far, Ellett said improvements will be made to increase student awareness of it. He added that low engagement does not necessarily mean low success.

“I think there’s an effect that we can’t make light of, that this kind of outreach can have an effect even though people may not participate at the level that we want,” Ellett said.