Part II: A Useful Model to Impact Off-campus Community

By Bradley Milks, Eric Fehr, Katie Caltagarone

    Image “Commuter Large Group” courtesy of Liberty University Commuter Student Life, taken by Luke Broadway.

    Ecological Theory

    Over the past year, we have worked hard to build a community environment using Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model of Human Development (Bronfenbrenner, 2005, p.106) (Fig. 1) [See our previous article for why we have chosen to implement this model]. The ecological model focuses on the interactions between process, person, context, and time; the process used, the person being changed, the context where activity happens, and the time that development takes place in (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006, p.795). Fig. 1. Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model of Human Development (Bronfenbrenner, 2015), adapted by Liberty University Commuter Student Life.

    Fig. 1. Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Model of Human Development (Bronfenbrenner, 2015), adapted by Liberty University Commuter Student Life.

    In keeping with our institution’s slogan, “Training Champions for Christ,” we began to look at how our programs, events, and student leader training could address creating conducive community environments for developing Christ-Champions.  The first step was to re-envision the process of program development with greater intention on holistically developing the environment into which each student would step.  Our planning began to have a greater focus on learning objectives regarding how students would be impacted by community, including events that most would label as simply fun.  One of the big questions posed was: how will our students’ understanding of and engagement in community be impacted by this event?  From our quick-and-easy (micro-time) events to our program (macro-time) series, we wanted to impact our students for the better.

    Using our institution’s service system, we started molding the environment we provided for person-to-person interaction.  This involved creating a culture of hospitality.  Our service workers were charged with greeting every person who came to an event or program on a person-to-person basis.  This meant shaking hands with people, engaging them in brief conversation, and asking their names.  Our student leaders were trained in being hosts even when they were not the host.  Our goals for each student became the following: that they felt they mattered, someone was curious about them and appreciated them, and that they were integral to the success of what we were doing.

    We set our sights on how we wanted to develop our students as Christ-champions, making Jesus the center of the model.  We trained our leaders to view their peers with a missional focus.  What would happen if students took an interest in training other students to be leaders who took an interest in training other students to be leaders: leaders training leaders, disciples making disciples.

    Commuter Communities Program

    This model was the core of our Commuter Communities program, which was based on off-campus groups consisting of Bible study, discipleship, and fellowship. In order for students to feel they truly belonged, they were equipped with a mission. This mission was to disciple others and to train each member of the group to be a leader in their community. With this model, leaders were raised up in groups who were then able to launch their own groups in different areas of the community with the same missional focus. Students not only had fun and studied the Word, but also truly felt they were a necessary part of both the community of their group and the community at large. By the end of Spring 2016, Commuter Communities boasted over 776 student engagements.  For a look at our review of the beginning of this program, click here.

    Commuter Student Association

    The idea that commuters needed a holistic community also began to mean a bigger community of students providing a home for themselves.  One-on-one meetings with several different student leaders turned into a conversation about the students themselves beginning a grassroots movement of finding and building their own community.  Working with one of our department staff (Fehr), these student leaders took to constitution writing and soon worked out a new document that was sent for ratification by the Student Government Association.  By the end of March 2016, the Commuter Student Association was born.

    These student leaders created the mission of meeting commuters where they live, engaging with them, and providing a sense of home on campus where they usually cannot find one.  They adopted the model of building community environments and founded their organization in the last month of the semester with a total of 25 members.  Our student leaders hope to grow this organization by reaching the commuter students in the freshman class, totaling around 225.


    Bronfenbrenner, U. (Ed.). (2005). Making human beings human: Bioecological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. 

    Bronfenbrenner, U., & Morris, P. A.  (2006).  The bioecological model of human development.  In W.

    Damon & R. M. Lerner (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology (6th ed., pp.793-828).  Hoboken,NJ: Wiley.


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