SMU Rides: On the Road to Success

April 29, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Katie Simpson
ksimpson@smu.edu

After a major shift in management last June, SMU Rides has undergone substantial changes.

Originally the program was run by members of the Alpha Phi Omega (APO) service fraternity. It was created on a volunteer basis and was funded by the Student Senate. The idea was that any student could call the SMU Rides hotline on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and would be provided with transportation back to campus, entirely paid for by the university. Student volunteers would take ride requests from callers and then forward the information to SMU Rides’ partner company, Executive Taxi.

“The idea of SMU Rides is great,” said former volunteer Celine Haikal. “It offers a free ride back to SMU or a student’s apartment to ensure students have a way to get home safely.”

Although the idea may have been a good one, it had never been properly executed. Before undergoing the recent reconstruction of the program, SMU Rides had proven to be less than dependable. The program had three main issues that needed to be addressed.

First was the problem of understaffing of both the volunteers who received the calls and the number of cab drivers available.

“APO did not have the time SMU Rides needed, and because there is such a quick turnover from officer to officer in APO, it was hard for the SMU Rides Chair to keep up with the details about [the program],” recalled Haikal.

Sophomore Tashika Varma reported having called the service twice last year; both times no one picked up.

“I think they should maybe have more drivers. Also they need a better answering system so that even if they can’t pick up every person who calls, it doesn’t come across to students as if they’re not doing their job,” said Varma.

Staffing issues weren’t the only concern the program was experiencing. According to Mark Rhodes, the current director of SMU Rides, students had been abusing the service since day one. Instead of asking for a ride back to campus, they were using the program to hop from bar to bar and with no proper documentation, it was hard to prevent this from occurring.

Now under Park n’ Pony’s management, SMU Rides has revamped its service to ensure the program is no longer taken advantage of.

It does still uphold its guarantee that the program has no connection with the SMU police. It is completely confidential and students will never be asked any questions about their night.

However, the new rule is that upon pickup students are now required to give their names, student ID cards, as well as their drop off location. This is to ensure that the service is used for the right reasons.

“The program is not a drop cab,” Rhodes said, “It’s an emergency ride home.”

The last issue was the lack of awareness within the student body.

“I think I’ve heard the name before, but I have no idea what the service does,” said SMU junior Clare Viglione.

SMU Rides now promotes itself all over campus. Along with a banner ad posted on the Park ‘N Pony website, it also places business cards in campus mailboxes and sends out e-mails to the entire university.

“If you need to get back to campus we’ll get you here, we’ll send a cab for you and we’ll bring you home,” said Rhodes.

“On a good night we got three calls,” Haikal recalls the state of the program before the changes took place.

But with over 280 calls last fall, SMU Rides is finally on the road toward success.

SMU Gets in On the Gaming Scene

December 7, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Jonathon Richter
jrichter@smu.edu

SMU senior Brian Allen has been playing video games ever since he was capable of picking up a controller and is proud to say he’s owned every gaming console on the market.

In addition to finishing up his classes for his final year at SMU, he plays games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops, Xbox 360 Kinect and Need for Speed Hot Pursuit 2.

“I play games because it allows me to experience things like killing zombies- things I couldn’t do in real life,” Allen said. “It’s a good way to pass time and most of my friends enjoy doing it.”

According to a 2003 Pew Internet & American Life Project survey, 70 percent of college students reported playing video, computer or online games at least “once in awhile.” One out of five gaming students felt it helped them gain new friends as well as improve current friendships.

The Deputy Director Ron Jenkins of the Guildhall at SMU, a digital game development education program at SMU-in-Plano, stated, “I think people grow up loving to play video games because it allows you to immerse yourself in the story. The user becomes the character and is able to make real world decisions in a safe environment.”

Allen was not aware that he is one of millions of people whose favorite way to pass the time is contributing to a billion-dollar industry that is on the rise. But SMU saw the trend.

SMU responded to this increase in gaming when deciding what to do with the vacant spot Park ‘n’ Pony left in the Hughes-Trigg Student Center. To cater to this popular pastime, The M Lounge was opened in April of 2009.

The M Lounge is like a free arcade, fully equipped with Wii consoles, Playstations and Xboxes. Students can choose from 36 games provided by GameStop.

“Students did voice that they needed to reclaim some lounge space and with the partnership of the SMU Guildhall and GameStop we were able to fill the void,” said David Hayden, assistant director of Hughes-Trigg. “We probably have 250 to 300 students that go through the lounge daily.”

Avid SMU gamer Liza Walling commented that The M Lounge provided the perfect rest stop.

“The M Lounge is a good place on campus that people can go to in between classes and video games provide a great way to relax in between studying,” Walling said.

According to the Pew survey, gaming is not just entertainment- it’s a tool for procrastination. The survey reports that close to half of college student gamers revealed that playing video games keeps them from studying “some” or “a lot” of the time. Additionally, one in ten students admits, their main motivation for playing games is to avoid studying.

Allen admits that most of the time he picks up a controller to put off his studies, but thinks it’s more productive than watching T.V.

“It’s a really interactive form of entertainment where you can make decisions and still be able to follow a storyline- you are actively participating when you play video games,” Allen said.

But some SMU students decided to take their love of video games further- by developing the software themselves. The SMU Guildhall provides students with three areas of study emphasis: art creation, software development and level design. The two-year program awards graduate students with a Master’s degree in interactive game technology and a professional certificate.

Recently completing her second module at the Guildhall, Adriana Clonts entered the gaming world, allowing her to “marry her two loves, art and software development.”

Students in Clonts’ class were recently gathered at the Hughes-Trigg Rotunda to “playtest” video games that they created over a seven-week period.

“There hasn’t been a good form of training to enter the gaming industry and the Guildhall offers hands-on development to prepare them for a future in the industry,” Clonts said.

Training provided by the Guildhall has produced successful video game developers such as Hunter Woodlee, a 2005 SMU Graduate. Woodlee is now the founder/studio director of Controlled Chaos Media that has produced iPhone applications such as “Texting of the Bread.”

“Our application ‘Texting of the Bread’ is up for game of the year and is second to Angry Birds,” said Woodlee. “I went into Guildhall with little experience, but after I graduated I had a great understanding of level development I was able to use.”

The M Lounge is open and available for everyone to use during the operating hours of Hughes Trigg and is located on the first floor. For more information about the SMU Guildhall and the graduate programs offered please visit http://guildhall.smu.edu/

SMU’s Endowment Takes a Toll on Park N’ Pony

April 14, 2010 by · Comments Off 

By David Crawford
dcrawfor@smu.edu

It’s no secret that over the past couple of years “The Great Recession” has hurt companies and organizations all across the country, including major universities. In SMU’s case, the university is facing budgetary pressure because the value of its endowment plunged by 21.9 percent between July 2008 and June 2009.

The reduction in the operating budget of the university has severely restricted the productions of every department that provides a service to students on campus. Over the academic year, Park N’ Pony, the division responsible for coordinating parking during university events and distributing parking permits to students and faculty, has seen a four percent decrease in its discretionary spending budget. This is on top of a two percent cut last year, as well as a number of cancelled events and irregular demands from students who aren’t spending as much on parking as they have in years past.

Mark Rhodes, director of parking and identification services at Park N’ Pony, says that even though Park N’ Pony does not have as much to spend as it once did, the department, for the time being, is still able to maintain the same level of customer service to students, faculty and staff as it has in the past.

“We’ve been fortunate to continue to function without having to have severe layoffs, but we can’t deliver our services if we keep cutting back into our budget,” Rhodes said. “We’re down to only spending on what’s absolutely necessary to operate, such as routine maintenance and new supplies. Whereas in the past we would travel to conferences and spend money on meetings quite frequently, we can’t afford those luxuries anymore.”

Park N’ Pony is an auxiliary service at SMU, meaning all of the expenses the department pays for, such as rent and maintenance to equipment, are self-financing. In other words, the department pays for its own expenses out of the revenues it collects for permits and fines.

Pam Thornberry, parking coordinator at Park N’ Pony, says many students are spreading out the payments for their parking permits or have found other ways of getting to school instead of spending the additional money on a permit.

“We’ve seen an increase in students who have divided the cost of their permit passes by paying each semester for a fall and spring pass instead of for a full year permit,” Thornberry said. “Dividing up the cost still equals the same amount if they were to pay for a full-year permit, but it helps the student to defer a payment if they can’t afford the price of the parking pass at one time. We’ve also seen an increase in the number of requests and issues of DART passes for the students who don’t want to pay the extra for a parking permit.”

According to Thornberry, DART provides Park N’ Pony with 5,000 passes a year and they have already given out 4,300 of those passes to students this year. On average, the number of DART passes given out is usually around 2,200 to 2,500 a year. A DART pass offers a year of unlimited rides on Dallas Area Rapid Transit buses and trains, and SMU offers those passes to students for just 5 dollars.

Rhodes says Park N’ Pony’s financial situation is a microcosm of the university’s. He says that the sooner the university begins to recover from the recession, the sooner Park N’ Pony will be able to operate normally with a budget that isn’t being cut back each semester, as it has been since the fall of 2008.

“The downturn in the economy is still in play and we continue to feel the domino effect of how the recession has affected the university,” Rhodes said. “The things that have affected this department the most are more reactive to what has occurred. Event planners are still looking for ways to have their event but contain their costs, and when not as much is being done on campus, fresh income for the university isn’t coming in as often. It’s just something we’re trying to find a way to work around right now.”

Campus News Blog: Students Unaware of New Park N’ Pony Rules

February 23, 2009 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Johnny Brackett

A lot of SMU students consider themselves highly involved on campus. Many of them are very well versed in all the happenings around the halls of the university. However, it feels like some things just get pushed under the rug and students never hear about them.

Most students know that Park N’ Pony is located off campus now. But not a lot of people really know everything else that is new. At a school where parking tickets are as ubiquitous as the squirrels, it would be nice for students to be made aware of the changes.

For example, Park N’ Pony no longer accepts cash or check? payments? for fines or services. If you need to pay you have to go to the Laura Lee Blanton building or visit your online financial account.

There are also some new parking meters on campus. These are the little guys who sneak up on you and leave you irritated with another parking ticket. Students can check out the details on SMU’s website.?

Thanks, Park ‘N Pony! You Guys are the Best!

November 7, 2008 by · Comments Off 

Posted by Caitlin Myers

Not that any of you actually opened it, but today SMU Business Services sent out an email boasting “Park ‘N Pony Good News: Park ‘N Pony Online and Ticketing Improvements.”

So, I opened it thinking, “hmm, maybe this will actually be good news,” as in reduced parking fines or limitations on where we can park– you know, “good” improvements to the problems still faced by students.

Silly me. The nice people over at P ‘N P just wanted to tell me that they’re moving their office across Central Expressway, and that I can now do stuff like pay my parking tickets online. Good news, really?

They say the only reasons you’d ever have to travel to the new location would be to have an initial photo taken for an ID card and to pick up an annual DART pass.

However, my favorite part of the email was this:

Though we hope you never see one under your windshield wiper blade, we want you to know that if you do receive a parking ticket, you will find that they have a sleek new design and …

  • Tickets are weather resistant and include a payment return envelope
  • Ticket writing machines can take pictures of violations to help with the appeal process
  • How very considerate! Let me know if you’ve been graced with one of the new tickets, yet. I’m dying to see what this “sleek new design” looks like.

    And in case you’re freaking out over the P ‘N P location change, they’ve created this handy, little FAQ to answers all your burning questions.

    Park N’ Pony Will Soon Be Parked Off Campus

    October 28, 2008 by · Comments Off 

    By Johnny Brackett
    jbracket@smu.edu

    When David Pate, a junior economics major, noticed a crack in his student identification card last year, he walked to the Park N’ Pony office during his 10-minute break between classes. Just moments after explaining the situation to the folks in the Hughes-Trigg office, Pate received a brand spanking new identification card.

    But if this happens to Pate sometime in the near future, the sequence of events will be very different. Pate will have to walk to his car and abandon his parking space, which at SMU is like leaving a sack of gold for the taking. He will then have to drive 1.21 miles, stopping at red lights and stop signs along the way, to the new location of the Park N’ Pony office located across Central Expressway. After searching for a new parking space in an unfamiliar area, Pate will head to the office where he will finally explain his problem. After receiving a new card, Pate will once again return to his car, drive back to campus, look for yet another parking space and then continue his day. Pate wondered one thing when presented with this scenario: what if he didn’t have a car? That’s a long walk.

    “I don’t know anyone who has that much time on their hands,” Pate said.

    Next spring, the Park N’ Pony office will be relocating to Expressway Tower. Located at 6116 N. Central Expressway, at the intersection of SMU and Yale Boulevards, the Expressway Tower may not seem very far, but for students who need to visit the office and don’t have a car, that’s more than a hop, skip and a jump.

    “The administration should have taken the opinion of the people who they are serving and not put business first,” said Ian Winston, an SMU senior English and film double major.

    Mark Rhodes, director of Park N’ Pony, said that the President’s Task Force on Alcohol and Substance Abuse Prevention identified a need for additional student programming space in the Hughes Trigg Student Center. Rhodes said the space Park N’ Pony has occupied for the past few years in Hughes Trigg would be better used for student programming. Julie Wiksten, Executive Director of Auxiliary Services at SMU, said that she and Rhodes met with the Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, Dee Siscoe, and the Director of the Hughes-Trigg Student Center, Richard Owens, earlier this year and were asked to find a new location for the Park N’ Pony office. With no room left on campus, Rhodes and Wiksten were forced to look elsewhere.

    After looking at different options, Rhodes and Wiksten selected the Expressway Tower as the best suited for Park N’ Pony. The mission of Park N’ Pony is to provide SMU identification cards and a comprehensive array of parking services for the campus community and visitors. Park N’ Pony, which is designed to help students, is something some call an on-campus essential. Winston said students should have been consulted, perhaps by a poll, before the service was moved off campus.

    Rhodes said the department has mixed emotions about the move. Moving from a place you have been the past few years is never easy. But the Park N’ Pony office employees are looking at the move optimistically.

    Having an on-campus office “served its purpose but it wasn’t an ideal location. The new location better suits our business purposes,” Rhodes said.

    Wiksten said the new space is going to be both beautiful and efficient. In Park N’ Pony’s current space, Rhodes is separated from his team. The new building allows the entire staff to work together. With a larger space and room for all Park N’ Pony employees to be in the same office, Park N’ Pony will reach new levels of efficiency.

    “This has given us an extra push to look at what we need to be doing to deliver things more efficiently for our customers,” Wiksten said.

    Some students say there are other on campus organizations that are better suited to be off campus than Park N’ Pony.

    “We’re trying to balance our time and classes and we shouldn’t be inconvenienced to the point of going off campus to pay a ticket,” said Trigg Burrage, a freshman business and theater double major.

    Wiksten said that students and staff will be able to obtain all of Park N’ Pony’s services online. That way, the need to visit the physical office will be minimal. Park N’ Pony has also begun to use a new parking management system called T2. Officials said that this new system will make it easier to have parking maintenance online.

    However, some services, such as picking up a new identification card can’t be completed over the Internet. Wiksten said that Park N’ Pony will be setting up satellite offices on campus during times of high demand, such as AARO and at the start of each semester for Park N’ Pony services.

    “Students should have access to all of our goods and services online and those we can’t do online, we’re going to make it as convenient as possible to get them what they need,” Rhodes said.