Ryan O’Connell, ’19, Bridgewater State University’s inaugural commuter initiatives coordinator, began his role as a resource for students in November.
The 21-year-old senior and Bridgewater native, double majors in history and secondary education, and double minors in social studies and special education. He embodies the archetype for a successful commuter student who manages well life’s various moving pieces. He also works, substitute teaches in the Bridgewater-Raynham school district, and is a member of both the International Education Honors Society and the history department’s Honors Society.
While sitting in the Rondileau Campus Center next to desk pods, and an electronic charging station, Ryan articulately described his perspective on managing a busy schedule and helping others do the same.
“Our job is like putting a puzzle together,” he said. “Creating a healthy environment for students who have many different responsibilities isn’t easy.”
Ryan recognizes the impact he can have on the approximately 60 percent of the 9,500 undergraduate students who commute.to BSU. He has experienced both sides: He currently commutes to Bridgewater State and did the same while earning his associate’s degree at Cape Cod Community College. In 2016, he transferred to BSU and lived on campus his junior year.
“You want to feel important. At times, I’ve felt, and I think commuters feel, like the school overlooks them,” he said.
On the job, Ryan takes this into consideration and makes a point to be available for commuting students – often labeled an invisible majority – five days a week.
The success of both commuting students and the university itself are intertwined. Which is one of the reasons a subcommittee was established on campus to study the factors that impact non-residential students. Focus groups with students were held in February and March of 2017, as well.
Referencing the data from the resulting report, Ryan, in an informed tone, said, “There’s a direct correlation between involvement and retention. Our goal is to listen to commuter’s voices. We want to keep them feeling engaged and supported.”
BSU immediately took action on the report’s findings. One example was built this past fall in Weygand Hall – a commuter-only lounge.
Ryan’s wry and down to earth personality surfaced when referencing a hot topic: Parking on campus.
“Listen, I can’t make more parking spaces,” he said. “I understand it can be like the Hunger Gamesout there, but seriously, it’s not that bad. I can and will work to make sure commuter’s thoughts and concerns are heard.”
Since his start, Ryan has led four different initiatives: cocoa with commuters, luncheons, commuter chats, and coffee with commuters. The get-togethers Ryan hosts offer commuters an opportunity to meet, talk, and relax. Those wishing to learn more about these events or to sign up for one or more can do so via the BSU mobile app or Eventpass.
“At every event, we give out BSU ‘swag,’” Ryan said, using the informal term for promotional goodies. These have included car fresheners, t-shirts and stickers.
Ryan O’Connell can be reached during office hours: Mondays and Fridays 3 to 5 p.m.; Tuesdays and Thursdays 9 to 10:30 a.m.; and Wednesdays 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (Story by Anthony Jordan for University News)