The opportunity for college students to mobilize and explore the world around them is an essential part of their educational development, no matter the institution of higher learning.
When I started working in the office of Community Learning at Connecticut College in New London, I couldn't help but notice the lack of a good connection to local public transportation, which has been a problem for decades. This picturesque, small liberal arts college with its campus on the banks of the Thames River at times may seem like an island in its own city. I am a New London native and have a unique personal perspective on the relationship between the city and the college.
Students here constantly travel around the globe, from Vietnam to Peru, and Spain to South Africa. Domestically, students often hop on a train to spend weekends in New York, Washington, D.C., and Boston. There is no lack of wanderlust here.
Feeling "isolated" in New London? You're kidding, right? I was stationed there while in the Navy and I had no problem getting around.
AT 7:02 AM JULY 15, 2015
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Yet, the feeling of isolation on campus and the lack of local transportation options has been a barrier to students seeking to explore New London, find an internship or land a part-time job. I graduated from St. John's University in New York and, while there, I realized the importance of being able to get around and really get a feel for the community beyond campus. So I asked, how can Connecticut College students be so familiar with cities around the world but have such limited knowledge of their school's own backyard?
Although it is a small city, New London is very diverse, with much to offer. The city is home to three colleges (the Coast Guard Academy and Mitchell College are the other two), a re-emerging historic downtown, a vibrant art scene and the future home of the National Coast Guard Museum. It is also the transportation hub for southeastern Connecticut with buses, trains and ferries carrying passengers throughout the Northeast.
Southeast Area Transit, New London County's public transportation system, known as SEAT, has long had a route that passes by the college. SEAT, however, never had a bus stop on campus. It runs under a "flag-down" system, which requires riders to stand anywhere on the route and wave at the bus when it passes, hoping that it stops.
Explaining this system to students, many from major cities, has deterred them from using it. The vast majority didn't seem to know a public bus system even existed here. The truth is, the flag-down system is met more with laughter than understanding.
For the past two years, with the help of SEAT, the college Office of Sustainability and other campus and city partners, I've worked on a project to install a bus stop right off campus. It was approved in November 2014 by the college's senior administration and installed in March, toward the end of spring semester, which was more of a trial run before most students left for the summer. This fall we plan to give students information about using the bus as a way to visit New London and to make connections with other buses, trains and the ferry across Long Island Sound. We hope this bus stop encourages students and the campus community to use public transportation to explore New London and the surrounding towns. I'm sure promoting its low cost ($1.50 one-way fare) won't hurt either. Students now have an affordable way to get off campus, SEAT will increase its ridership, and the college can promote the bus system and encourage its use.
I am excited to see the potential this bus stop creates. New London is a college town, yet the lack of college students exploring its neighborhoods and cultural scene would make you think otherwise. With improved transportation, Connecticut College and New London are strengthening their 100-year partnership, one that will bring cultural and economic benefits to students, residents and businesses.