The common perception among students — especially commuters frantically searching for a place to park their cars before class begins — is that the university does not provide enough parking spaces on campus.
Sam Patterson, director of parking and transportation at the University of Mississippi, disagrees.
“I don’t think people realize that the University of Mississippi has 17,000 parking spaces,” Patterson said. “I think we probably have a parking convenience issue more than a parking space allocation issue. Because we have enough parking spaces, it’s just people want them, right by their building or their class. Unfortunately, with the number of people that are on this campus, it’s physically impossible to do this.”
But Patterson acknowledges campus parking can be improved. For example, he believes the university needs to go “up” instead of “out,” saying in the next few years there will be another parking garage on campus after bond payments from the residential garage and pavilion garage are paid for.
Patterson said he plans on gradually transforming Ole Miss parking, starting with the implementation of license plates as permits and potential daily parking locations. The Oklahoma native also plans on collaborating with student leaders, organizations and even engineering students to keep the conversation on how to create a more efficient commuter experience going.
Although Patterson has only been at Ole Miss for one year, he’s worked in the parking and transportation business for roughly 20 years. During his interview at Ole Miss, he knew from the beautiful landscape and the small-town feel of Oxford that Ole Miss would be the perfect place to call home.
“I called my wife afterward and I was like, ‘I really love this place,’” Patterson said. “I love how these folks are collaborative, and they really want to work with students. I just felt like it was a good fit.”
Collaboration seems to be a keyword for Patterson and his style of work. From working with commencement parking committees, football day committees and even COVID-19 committees, Patterson enjoys the ability to communicate and listen to everyone – furthering his positive attitude toward parking issues at Ole Miss.
“I think some have reputations in the parking industry to be so policy-oriented, and really black and white thinkers but I’ve always had my reputation,” he said. “I’m going to be kind, I’m going to be honest, I’m going to listen and I don’t have all the answers. I’m certainly not the smartest person in the room. But, I’m going to do the best I can.”
Adeline Dunn, a senior communication sciences and disorders major, is one of 15,546 students, according to the Office of Institutional Research, Effectiveness, and Planning. Dunn didn’t buy a commuter pass this year based on the fact that she would only be on campus a couple times a week. One of Patterson’s goals here at Ole Miss is to implement daily parking lots for students who have only or two classes per week.
“I’ve seen it at other schools,” Dunn said. “I think that would be really good, especially if you’re just wanting to look at the campus or you’re a grandparent or an aunt or a family member that’s trying to meet up with the student. You have nowhere to park and no options unless you pay for the meter.”
Since Ole Miss is not the only university Patterson has worked for in the parking department, his knowledge of effectiveness stems from the experiences he underwent at universities such as Boise State. Patterson is no stranger to taking the OUT Buses himself either, saying during COVID-19, his commute to campus would include riding the bus.
“In some commuter cases, it might be better off for them, to just park, get on a bus, get to where you’re going, and then walk the rest of the way,” he said. “But selling that to some students, I think, is something I want to work on.”
Urging students to plan out their commute to school can be challenging, according to Patterson. He says the department needs to find intentional ways to connect people, whether it be buses, bikes or large multimodal paths.
“If you build something, and it’s really intentional, and students and faculty find it easy to use and connect, they’ll use it,” he said. “It’s just we need to do more of that.”
Patterson’s enthusiasm and willingness to listen is what makes him so easy to talk to and, for colleagues, a joy to work with. Assistant to the Chancellor for Executive Affairs, William Kneip works hand-in-hand with Patterson and says Patterson and his team are the first to jump on board when issues arise.
“I think it’s important that we continue to have conversations just like you and Sam had and expand that because Sam is going to be the first one willing to come to the table to meet with students, to meet with ASB, to meet with the Graduate Student Council,” Kneip said. “Because of Sam’s drive and his passion and his caring leadership style, that’s where these creative solutions are gonna come from. That’s why it’s so important for everybody to continue to come to the table together to discuss solutions.”