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Helping make college easier
A "live-learn'' program pairs freshmen with similar career goals.
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER, Times Staff Writer
Published August 27, 2007
TAMPA - Ashley Parkerson is more than an hour's drive from her family in Sarasota, but after a week living in the University of South Florida's Maple Hall-B, she's already feeling at home.
On the residence hall's third floor, Parkerson is surrounded by 27 other first-year students who, like her, are pursuing careers in business. Like Parkerson, they're figuring out their class schedules to make sure they take all the courses they need for their degrees. Like her, they are feeling a bit lost as they navigate this sprawling university.
Having each other to lean on, Parkerson said, makes USF's main campus of nearly 38,000 seem less overwhelming.
"We're already talking about our classes," Parkerson, 18, said last week as more students moved in. "We've already agreed to help each other out and study together. It's going to be really fun, I think."
That's just the camaraderie business college dean Robert Forsythe wants for the new Bulls Business Community, USF's first "live-learn" residence program.
By pairing freshmen with similar career goals and giving them extra attention from academic counselors and faculty, Forsythe hopes to boost their success during the notoriously tough transition from high school to college.
"USF is a big place, and we're always looking for ways to create a community for our students," Forsythe said. "The idea is that the students will fare better, and college administrators can better nurture them because the students are all right there."
Bulls Business also marks administrators' latest attempt to shed the "commuter school" image that has long plagued USF, Florida's third-largest university. About 4,400 students now live on campus, but student affairs officials want to see that number rise in coming years as they add additional beds.
"It's not just what happens when they're in class that's important," said Jennifer Meningall, vice president for student affairs. "It's what happens outside, too. They study more, they perform better, they spend more time in the library, they spend more time with their peers, they spend more meaningful time with faculty."
USF officials aren't the only ones who see it that way.
Last week at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, about 300 Burnett Honors College students settled into a new residential community tailored around their honors-level studies and interests.
The program, located inside a just-built dorm near UCF's new arena and football stadium, is a first for UCF, which welcomed some 47,000 students last week. UCF assistant professor Natalie Underberg will live in the complex with students, serving as a mentor and coordinator of in-house programs and activities.
USF's Bulls Business students will have one academic adviser, Katie Everson, dedicated to them. Dean Forsythe will visit for dinner. Tutors will make house calls, and young USF alumni working in business will talk to students about their experiences.
There will even be a monthly Improv Night with actors from the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Through improvised skits and activities, students will learn speaking skills and the "fast-on-your-feet" thinking necessary for business and marketing, Forsythe said.
The USF and UCF programs follow a tried and true model seen in universities across Florida and the nation.
Sharon Blansett, the University of Florida's assistant director of housing, said the live-learn concept dates back to German universities in the 1600s.
"It is still used because it works so well," she said. "It works for both the faculty and staff as well as the students, where you can really immerse yourself in an area of interest."
UF has residential communities for international students, engineering majors, fine arts students, and even those interested in community service.
Florida State University established its first live-learn community a decade ago in Bryan Hall, one of the school's historic dorms.
"They wanted to create that little William and Mary experience," said university spokeswoman Browning Brooks, an FSU graduate.
Today there are eight living-learning communities, the newest for nursing majors and students pursuing careers in areas of social justice.
The communities' emphasis on studies helps participants graduate faster than their Seminole peers, said Dennis Moore, an FSU English professor who directs the living-learning programs.
The students end up taking classes together and studying together back at the dorms. They become like a small family, and in many cases students continue to room together off-campus after their freshman year.
"There are some very real advantages in cultivating a sense of camaraderie," Moore said. "Because this is a big place, and it's a difficult transition."
It's not just students who like the live-learn setup.
Safety Harbor residents John and Vickie Corl looked relieved as they moved their daughter Kasey, 18, into the third floor of USF's Maple Hall last week.
"It's so overwhelming to come to a university that's so big," John Corl said. "This kind of brings it back to a human scale."