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USF honors wing makes dorm life chummy

Living learning communities like one in St. Petersburg help keep students on track.

By DONNA WINCHESTER, Times Staff Writer
Published August 27, 2007

Tom Maloy, along with his daughter Brenna Maloy, 16, of Orlando, helped Alison Maloy, 18, move into her dorm room at USF campus in St. Petersburg.
[Scott Keeler | Times]
[Scott Keeler | Times]
Greg Lindberg, 20, a junior Journalism major at USF, St. Petersburg, talks with freshman Sarah Farnan, 18 of Brandon as both moved into the USF dorm in St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG - Sarah Elizabeth Farnan has run her own house-sitting business, worked in a government-sponsored research lab, and trekked through the Himalayas.

Yet like many 18-year-olds about to start college, she spent much of the summer worrying: What if I have a hard time making friends? What if I have trouble finding my classes? And what if a first taste of freedom distracts me from my studies?

All of those fears evaporated last week when Farnan moved into the new honors wing in Residence Hall One at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

By the time she had finished unpacking her teddy bear collection, she had met a dozen other honors students. She had learned that several of her classes will be held right in the residence hall.

And before fall semester began today, she and her new friends had decided to form a study group to improve their odds of keeping up with the rigorous program.

"I feel really supported," Farnan said of her new surroundings. "I feel very lucky knowing someone will be there to offer help when I need it."

A year after opening its first residence hall, an $18-million seven-story structure with panoramic views of Bayboro Harbor, USF St. Petersburg is moving closer to its goal of providing "living learning communities" for its residential students with the creation of the honors wing.

The idea, said regional vice chancellor for student affairs D. Kent Kelso, is to group students with similar academic or career goals to increase the likelihood that they'll do well in school and stay on track for graduation. "For years, residence halls have been seen as nothing more than a place for students to sleep," said Kelso, who led student development operations at Northern Kentucky University before coming here in March. "Now, housing is considered a very important component of an institution's mission."

Students who live in the 95-apartment residence hall already are loosely grouped by grade level, with freshmen and sophomores on the lower floors and juniors, seniors and graduate students on the upper floors. But true living learning communities are more structured, Kelso said.

In the new honors wing, for example, 17 students who have been accepted into the university's honors program will live in adjacent suites. The students will attend several of their classes on the ground floor of the residence hall. Academic counseling will be available on site.

Chris Meindl, interim director of the honors program, expects the increased opportunities for camaraderie to boost the students' chances of success. "The motivational support they'll be able to offer each other is especially important in a rigorous program like the honors program."

While living learning communities are new at USF St. Petersburg, they have an established track record at colleges and universities nationwide. Florida State University started its first community in the 1990s and since then has added seven others, including one for women studying math, science and engineering.

The University of Florida has communities for honors students, international students and fine arts majors, among others.

In 2003, the National Study of Living Learning Programs, funded by the National Science Foundation, collected data from 24,000 students at 34 schools. The study found that students involved in living learning programs are more likely than other students to have a smoother transition to college, to have a mentoring relationship with a faculty member, and to be more committed to issues related to civic engagement.

Those are among the reasons why USF's main campus in Tampa is debuting a living learning community this semester. The Bulls Business Community is pairing freshmen with similar career goals in the hope that students will study more and spend more time with faculty.

The University of Central Florida also is opening a living learning community this year. Alvin Wang, dean of the Burnett Honors College, said the university's goal in creating a community for its honors students was to extend learning opportunities outside of the classroom and to encourage their intellectual and personal growth.

Alison Maloy, 18, of Orlando turned down the opportunity to be part of UCF's program to come to USF St. Petersburg. Attracted by the smaller campus with 5,000 students compared with UCF's 47,000, Maloy didn't realize USF had a special community for honors students until after she had unpacked three bathing suits, a half-dozen purses and 21 pairs of shoes. "This will definitely help me stay on track," she said. "It feels like a whole community is offering to get me ready for the world."

Kelso, USF St. Petersburg's student affairs director, sees living learning communities as the incentive that will attract more students to on-campus housing. More residential students will lead to a more vibrant campus. "This is our first living learning center," he said. "But it won't be our last."


By the numbers

354 Capacity of Residence Hall One

214 Students who lived there when it opened a year ago

211 Students who lived there at the end of spring semester

237 Students signed up to live there at the start of this academic year

72 Students returning from last year

On the Web

For information about student housing at USF St. Petersburg, go to


[Last modified August 26, 2007, 23:38:11]

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