New hire supports GFU commuter students
As George Fox University has continued to grow, so has its population of commuter students.
In order to more proactively engage that group, which constitutes about 45 percent of the student body, the university hired its first-ever director of commuter programs this school year.
Kristi Welker, who most recently served as apartment resident director at Western University, brings a wealth of professional experience in student life to her role, which includes advising a group of six student representatives from the Associated Student Community (ASC).
"The goal for my role really is to be a support person for them, to be an advocate for them and provide ways for them to connect authentically on campus with other people," Welker said. "Our residential students have those natural places and spaces where that happens because they sleep here and live here in close proximity. Our commuter students still really desire that authentic community, so the goal for me and my team is to help our commuting students also feel that sense of connection, that sense of belonging on campus with other people."
The ASC had already established a successful commuter lunch program, as well as a commuter lounge, so Welker is enthusiastic to advance the good work that has already been done and to make sure students know what resources are available to them.
"It's a great institution," Welker said. "There have been many people who have gone above and beyond the call of duty in their jobs to help support commuter students, so I feel like I walked into a really good position that has some great things."
Welker, who was preceded in coming to George Fox by her husband, Tyler, who was hired as an assistant professor of cinematic arts in 2016, was also drawn to the university's Christian mission.
In addition to working as a resident director at Oklahoma Baptist University, Welker attended Hunting University (Indiana) as an undergrad and majored in youth ministry.
Welker graduated in 2009 and worked as a bank teller for a few years before attending Upper Iowa University to earn a master's degree in higher education administration, which she did in 2015.
The driving force behind that choice came from her undergraduate experience, where she credits several mentors for helping her develop personally, socially, spiritually and academically.
"There were people who really invested in me as a whole person and that's what gets me up in the morning, that's what excites me, being involved in students' lives outside the classroom," Welker said. "It involves everything: relationships, socially, communication, lots of problem solving, time management, financial stability — lots of areas where I have the potential to impact students in a positive way that will create this great trajectory in the future for them."
The job market when Welker graduated was rough, coming at the onset of the recession, and it took her some time to figure out how to translate what she loved about youth ministry — mentoring students — into a career.
While most of her professional experience has been on the residential side, Welker doesn't envision a big transition to working with commuter students.
"This is a shift to commuting students but still with the same philosophy, mentality, a lot of the same student concerns, student issues and situations I find myself in are very similar, they just don't sleep on campus," Welker said. "That's really the biggest difference and that I don't have to give out keys to a dorm room."
A lot of her work so far has been to collect and analyze data on the commuter population, not only where they're traveling from, but also if they are married or veterans or parents.
"So we've got a lot of pockets of commuting students, but the ultimate goal is to help develop community and connection in between those and weaving those different pockets together so that they are connected and have that support network as they're pursuing academia at this time in their lives, even if they're 39 or 21," Welker said. "Just creating that sense of connection among them, that's the biggest goal of my position and also the biggest goal that I've tasked the students I work with."