Back and forth

Marissa Conrad

Golden-fried chicken, creamy mashed potatoes and a savory slice of fresh-baked apple pie. College students often complain of craving for a home-cooked meal, but some Northwestern students don’t have to spend the school year salivating for Mom’s kitchen creations. They can have them every night.

They are a student group often overlooked at NU: the commuters. Every day they leave their homes in Niles, Skokie or even as far as the Indiana border to come to class in Evanston. Despite the disconnect from student life and sometimes lengthy travel time, many commuter students say the blend between a college campus and a happy home is a recipe even better than Mom’s apple pie.

“You can come to campus, go to classes, see your friends, be involved in a student group and be home in time for dinner with your family,” said Communication sophomore Carrie Nieman, who drives 35 to 40 minutes during her commute from Lake Forest, Ill.

Nieman is president of Men Off Campus and Women Off Campus, a student group formed to create a sense of community among commuters while connecting them to NU’s Evanston Campus. She said there are about 100 students on the group’s listserv but estimated the total number of commuter students on campus to be twice that number.

MOC and WOC were established as two separate groups in the 1940s when many students lived off campus because of tight post-war budgets or lack of residence hall space when NU students returned from World War II. The organization died down in the ’70s, Nieman said, and was not revitalized until January 2003.

“(MOC) was formed to give the fellows a place to have contacts on campus,” said Paul Leech, Weinberg ’50, who was president of MOC during his senior year. “Let’s just say, we socialized. We encouraged everybody also to do everything that they could on campus.”

The MOC of the 1940s was similar to MOC and WOC of today. Members socialize regularly, with events such as an annual commuter orientation and group dinners, movies and trips to Chicago. Group leaders also stress to commuters that the way to better connect to campus is to get involved — and not just with MOC and WOC.

“You have to make yourself a presence on campus,” said Weinberg sophomore Chris Paolelli, the group’s publicity chairman, who commutes from Park Ridge, Ill. “You have to make up for the fact that you don’t live in the dorm.”

Weinberg junior Catherine Ceko, who has close to a two-hour commute from her home near the Indiana border, said sometimes she feels like she’s missing the “regular college experience.” But she said she loves being able to spend time with her three nieces: a 9-month-old, a 2-year-old and a 7-year-old.

“Watching them grow up is more important than what I’m missing out on,” she said.

Ceko said the long train ride to NU is bearable only because she uses the time to read. But other commuters complain about the travel time.

“I usually wake up at 6,” said McCormick junior Greg Carlson, who takes the El to get from Chicago to Evanston. “I have to leave by 7. It’s beyond inconvenient.”

But Carlson said one advantage to commuting is living in a world larger than Evanston.

Nieman agreed.

“I hear so many people call this campus a bubble,” Nieman said, “but I don’t feel that at all. We come and go. We have a much larger bubble.”

But for some commuters, living outside the bubble makes it hard to connect to campus.

“I just go to class and go home, basically,” said Alex Imas, a Weinberg freshman who makes the 20- to 30-minute drive from Niles to NU to get to class. “At the beginning, it bothered me. Everybody I saw in the dorm was having all these late-night get-togethers.”

But Imas said it doesn’t bother him anymore. Next year he will be getting an apartment with several friends, but for now he is enjoying the comforts of home.

“Everything’s taken care of,” he said. “I don’t have to do laundry and there’s always a warm bed to come home to.”