NIU alum Jarvis Purnell has taken the reins as director of Off-Campus and Non-Traditional Student Services this fall.
“Being an NIU native and having been a non-traditional student at one point, I intrinsically understand many of the barriers that non-traditional students face,” Purnell said. “I jumped at the opportunity to take on the challenge to incite positive change in the lives of students and work with other university entities within and outside of the Division of Student Affairs.”
Located in the basement of the Holmes Student Center, OCNTSS works with a specific, yet very large, portion of the student population.
How non-traditional students are defined varies broadly across institutions within higher education. This adds to the complexity of accurately assessing and creating a profile for this vastly growing student population.
“A non-traditional student at NIU is any students who are age 24 and up, students who are re-entering education after hiatus, students with dependents, students who transfer in from another school or who are international or students who simply self-identify as being a non-traditional student,” Purnell said. “Off-campus and commuting students are defined as any student who does not reside in on-campus student housing located inside or outside of the 60115 ZIP code.”
Purnell has identified many goals for completion this year to help OCNTSS better serve students. Most important is to profile NIU’s non-traditional student population and determine its needs and expectations.
Understanding those issues that students face on an everyday basis is important to lessen any negative impacts connected to students who commute to campus or are non-traditional, Purnell said.
“We work to provide a one-stop shop, where our students know they will get trusted and convenient service,” he said. “We provide individualized assistance to students as well as help them establish a connection with the NIU community which can be difficult for them to accomplish on their own as a non-traditional student.”
The office provides many resources such as information about off-campus housing options; connections to other campus entities; lounge areas which includes a quiet place to eat, rest or just escape the busyness of campus between classes; opportunities to make carpooling connections; watch TV; or access the locker service to store personal belongings throughout the entire day.
“There is almost always a group of us watching the TV during breaks from studying, the fridge and the microwave save me a lot of money for not having to purchase food on campus, and the coffee pot is always full, especially during finals week when I have an extra need for caffeine,” junior accounting major Emelia Waugh said.
“OCNTSS has helped connect me with other non-traditional and off campus students,” Waugh added. “I have found a community that I can fit into as an off-campus student and it has helped me to feel more like a member of the NIU community as opposed to someone who just shows up for class and then goes home.”
OCNTSS will host its annual Off-Campus Housing Fair from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24, in the Chick Evans Field House. The fair offers the opportunity for students to gather information about the various off-campus housing options around DeKalb as well as to talk to representatives from ComEd and Comcast.
Additionally, OCNTSS hosts a student organization called Students Who Are Non-traditional (SWAN), which meets at 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursday of each month. Historically, the student-run organization has provided tutoring opportunities, hosted workshops for students on subjects such as finance management and shared details on other co-educational opportunities available.
“SWAN welcomes all students to get involved,” Purnell said, “and is willing to change the meeting time depending on the availability of the students who would like to be involved.”