Commuter Students Connect to Stony Brook
through Dynamic Mentoring Program
When JoAnna DeStefano came to Stony Brook as a transfer student, she signed up for some clubs right away. But she never heard anything back about meeting times or locations and, as a new student unfamiliar with the University, she didn’t know how to find out.
So JoAnna went to the one person she knew would be able to help her: her Commuter Assistant.
“She reached out to the clubs on her own, found out when they met and gave me their email addresses so I could join,” says JoAnna, a senior who commutes from Coram.
The Commuter Assistant program, now in its 15th year, pairs incoming freshman and transfer commuter students with student leaders who are well versed in the challenges of navigating a large, complex institution while living off campus. Not only do Commuter Assistants serve as peer mentors to new students, they also become role models and – in many cases – friends.
“Stony Brook is a big place,” says Commuter Student Services Senior Advisor Emily Resnick. “This program helps to make the campus a much smaller, more connected community. A relationship is built right from the beginning. New students actually get to pick their Commuter Assistant, so they have an active part in the process.”
New students hear about the program during Orientation. Later, they can view short video bios of all of the Commuter Assistants and select their top three based on personality, interests, and the hard-to-pin-down sense of chemistry.
“We do our best to give them their first choice,” explains Emily. “We want to make sure they have somebody they feel a connection with.”
Some 200 commuters are paired with 25 to 30 Commuter Assistants; consequently, a Commuter Assistant may have as many as a dozen students to mentor. And there’s no waiting once a mentor has been assigned: the relationship begins immediately, during the summer. Commuter Assistants help students figure out parking and transportation, answer questions about schedules and activities and share their own experiences. They provide personalized tours of the campus and even walk students to each of their classrooms. At the end of the summer, all of the Commuter Assistants and students get together at a Meet and Greet cookout.
Once the semester starts, Commuter Assistants and students might go to club meetings together, football games, or whatever interests them.
The program has been so successful that many students who’ve experienced having a Commuter Assistant aspire to become one themselves.
JoAnna, a second-year Commuter Assistant who is majoring in Business Management and minoring in Sustainability Studies, says, “After I met my Commuter Assistant, I wasn’t in the program even a week when I knew that I wanted to be one myself. Whatever she did for me, I knew I wanted to do that for other students.”
Senior Chuck Sapienza, who has been commuting from his hometown of Ronkonkoma, says, “I love Stony Brook. I’m a commuter myself, and I know how it feels to struggle with the commute and with the extra time it takes. I’d like to be the person to make a difference for those incoming freshmen and transfer students, so that they love it one day like I do.” An Information Systems major and History minor, Chuck is beginning his first year as a Commuter Assistant.
Becoming friends with her Commuter Assistant was not something junior Lacey Schwab planned, but when the two first met, they clicked right away. Says Lacey, who is an Engineering Science major specializing in Mechanical Engineering and a Biomaterials minor, “We had a lot in common. The summer before Stony Brook, I tore my ACL meniscus and had surgery, and I was concerned about recovering before the semester started. I found out that my Commuter Assistant had had several foot surgeries and had commuted with crutches, too. We also watched some of the same TV shows. We became friends and started to hang out.”
To Lacey, the best part of being a Commuter Assistant is the way the program grows friendships. “That’s pretty much why I went back into it. I really like mentoring students. It makes me proud to commute.”
JoAnna agrees. “I came in wanting to take advantage of everything that we have here. Now I want to show new students how great Stony Brook is and that they can have the same experience I did.”
By Toby Speed