KUTZTOWN, PA – KU’s University Relations (UR) office has implemented a staff and department recognition feature. KUDOS, Kutztown University’s Dedication to Outstanding Service, focuses on university administrative departments and the individuals within them, giving the campus community a better look inside many of the working areas on campus.
This week, we sat down with the Office of Off-Campus Student Life and Commuter Services to get an inside look at the dedicated individuals who provide helpful programming and resources to Kutztown’s commuter population in order to help them balance life, work and community activities while they pursue their education.
UR: Can you introduce yourselves and tell us how long you’ve been with KU?
JR: My name is Jennifer Rach, I’m in my 11th year at KU and I am the former assistant director for Student Involvement.
MM: My name is Maria Mendolia and I am a graduate assistant at Kutztown University. This is my second year at KU and I work with both Greek life and commuter student services.
UR: What is your department’s role and mission at the university?
JR: In the Office of Student Involvement, we are here to help students get involved on campus, whether that’s through a campus club or organization, or just getting them connected to where they need to go on campus. In Commuter Services, we help to get our commuter students engaged from the moment they step onto campus. We help them figure out what they need to do to get involved and make connections in order to help keep them at KU. It’s really important for us to get our students connected and keep them here.
MM: The Office of Student Involvement strives to get students involved here on campus. We help with student organization support, leadership programming, commuter students, Greek life, food insecurity, voter registration and various other facets. Commuter Student Services works with commuter students, which encompasses both those who live in the Borough of Kutztown and can be right on Noble Street, or those who live 45 minutes away. We work with students to get them involved on campus, help them search for student housing in the Kutztown area and provide them with a wide variety of services. Some of these services include Commuter Tuesdays, Commuter Appreciation Week, locker rentals and laundry faculties among other services.
UR: Can you explain your department’s staff make-up and responsibilities?
JR: In my former role, I primarily worked with our Greek life and commuter students. I also had responsibility for planning large-scale events like Welcome Week and Move-In Day.
MM: I work directly with Greek life and commuter students via programming and advisement. I also send out the commuter newsletter, plan various events and co-advise our two commuter student organizations: Commuter Student Association and the Off-Campus Advisory Council, as well as serve as the advisor for all of our Greek life organizations.
UR: How does your department serve students and the campus community?
MM: We help commuter students connect to campus in the same way that residential students do. While they don’t live on campus 24/7, they do spend a large portion of their time here; we want to make sure they feel as included as other students. So, we help them get involved in clubs and organizations, make friends through our programming and get on good terms with university faculty to help them bridge the gap that comes with being a commuter. We want them to get the same college experience that the residential students have.
UR: What are the points of pride in your department?
JR: We’re really proud of all the great work our students are doing. One point of pride for me personally is that students who are involved in a club or organization retain at a higher rate than general student population who may not be involved – involved students retain at 85 percent or higher. That number is really important to me because research shows that students who are involved are more engaged with the university, perform better and tend to graduate more quickly or on time. I’m also proud of the new events and initiatives established this past year like Commuter Appreciation Week, which was planned by our graduate assistant, Maria. We planned events every day for one week in the spring semester. One day we had a breakfast in the parking lot so students could grab breakfast on the way to class. Another day we had an event at the Kutztown Car Wash where we gave out free tokens for car washes and provided students with instructions on how to wash your car quickly and efficiently. We also had a DIY air freshener and car care kit day. We really try to meet students where they are and give them the tools and resources to succeed.
MM: I’m very proud of the Kutztown University Food Pantry, which runs through the Office of Student Involvement Monday through Friday and at the Lutheran Center on Wednesday and Thursdays with help from Friend Inc. I like being able to help students who may struggle with food insecurity on campus. In terms of commuter services, I take pride in Commuter Tuesdays and our newsletter, both of which help our commuters get involved and learn more about the Kutztown campus.
UR: What would you like people to know about your department that they may not know already?
JR: It’s a big misnomer that all of our students live on campus. Actually, about 60% of our students commute, whether they live across the street or commute from far away. We want to make sure those students are aware of the resources that are available to them and can take advantage of those opportunities.
MM: Off-Campus Life and Commuter Student Services offers a wide variety of resources that not many students know about. For example, there is a commuter laundry facility located behind Old Main. It’s a coin-operated laundry facility open to commuter students so they can do their laundry throughout the day – just like students who live on campus. We also have locker rentals in the McFarland Student Union. The first floor has a set of lockers that students can rent out; the locker costs $15 for the year, but students receive $10 back when they return their key. It’s a neat option for students who don’t want to store their belongings in their car if they’re going to be on campus for long periods of time. Another resource is the commuter student lounge, also in the McFarland Student Union. The lounge has tables, chairs, couches, a fridge, a microwave, a Keurig, computers, printers and is always open to students during building hours. They can come store their food, heat up their lunches, make a coffee, do homework or just relax. It also has information like posters and newsletters so that students can stay in-the-know about what’s happening on campus.
UR: How can the campus community learn more or become involved with your department?
JR: The easiest way is to come to our events. We host a Commuter Tuesday – the first Tuesday of every month. It’s a lunch that is completely free and open to all commuters in the McFarland Student Union. We also send out a commuter newsletter the first Monday of every month, which reminds them about Commuter Tuesday, events we have coming up, information about road closures, parking information and other relevant information. We also do a commuter Welcome Week preview day for our incoming first-year commuter students so that they get a chance to meet other commuters who are in the same situation – coming to a new place, not knowing anyone. Not having the benefit of living in a residence hall can be kind of intimidating, so we have them come together on the Thursday before classes start and do some team building. It’s really important for them to get involved from day one.
UR: What’s your favorite thing about your KU experience?
JR: Being here for 11 years, I’ve been through some awesome experiences. I think the best part is seeing our students progress and grow from their first year through their graduation and staying in touch with them after they leave. Many of them do stop in when they come back to visit and it’s great to keep in touch with students long after they leave Kutztown.
MM: I really enjoy working with students and impacting their lives in different ways. At my undergraduate institution, I was very involved with the staff and faculty on campus. They made a big difference in my life and it makes me happy to make a difference the same way for other students. I love being able to put on events and provide them with different programming to make sure that while they may be stressed about school or other aspects of life, they can come here to Kutztown, relieve that stress and want to come back to visit the university after they graduate.
UR: What does “It’s Good to be Golden” mean to you?
JR: It means being excited and proud of the experiences you have here on campus. When a student comes in as a first-year student, they learn about themselves and grow through the support and challenges of our faculty and staff. By the time they graduate, they’re shining a little brighter – this place really does make you a better person.
MM: It means having a sense of pride in where you go to school. I don’t think you would say ‘it’s good to be golden,’ if you weren’t happy to be a Kutztown student or alumni. Here at Kutztown, I feel at home – like I belong here and can make a difference. It makes me happy to say that I go to Kutztown, and I’m happy to share my experience with others and promote the university. I’m happy to be golden!