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This fall’s freshmen have new housing option

This fall, incoming freshmen looking for a different kind of campus living experience will have the opportunity to enroll in residence hall communities with other freshmen, as well as junior and senior peer advisers sharing their academic interests.

These living-learning centers – which administrators hope will enrich students’ on-campus learning experience and increase graduation and retention rates – will be housed on separate floors of Maple Hall and available to students planning to major in business and engineering.

“Studies have routinely showed that students who feel that they fit in, who have friends, who are connected to the University, are more likely to stay at the University and to graduate,” said dean of Residential Learning and Director of Residence Services Tom Kane, who is coordinating the project.

Those freshmen who want to think about their paths of study for a year can live on a different floor for undeclared majors.

The Colleges of Engineering and Business Administration have worked with Residence Services on the centers. They hope to gather students with common interests and goals, and actively engage them in learning together. From the first day, students will have an opportunity to socialize with people who have similar classes and schedules.

“This is an exciting time for the University,” said James Dragna, associate vice president of Student Affairs. “Every interaction that students have at this University will become an educational experience.”

The business and engineering centers each offer 32 spaces for students, while the center for undeclared majors offers 50 spaces. Spots will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis to the first 32 incoming freshmen who apply to each program and meet eligibility requirements – a 3.5 GPA and a 1,100 SAT or 23 ACT score.

“What we are trying to do is to have the students have a better opportunity to connect early on with their major, get excited about it and be successful at it,” Kane said.

The living-learning center for the College of Business Administration will be called the Bulls Business Community and will offer targeted programming to work on skills students would not normally acquire in the classroom, said Robert Forsythe, dean of College of Business Administration.

“The main goal (of the Bulls Business Community) is to train highly successful business graduates,” he said.

Students will also have opportunities to meet USF faculty and business leaders during short seminars, Forsythe said.

Plans for the engineering center are still in the works, according to Eva Fernandez, faculty administrator of Engineering Academic Advising, but will be set by fall.

Forsythe said students enrolled in the Bulls Business Community should have lower first-year dropout rates because faculty will detect struggling students early. The dynamic of the floor will also naturally facilitate the formation of study groups, Forsythe said.

The living-learning centers will also break students and faculty out of the constraints office hours impose on a continuous dialogue, allowing daily interaction, feedback and discussion, Dragna said.

Dragna also said the centers will offer students with different cultures, nationalities, religions and learning styles the opportunity to interact.

“The result is that students will get a sense of a more global perspective,” Dragna said.

Funding for the centers will come from about $150,000 of the nearly $1 million generated by a 7 percent housing rate approved by a BOT subcommittee two weeks ago, said Oleg Polupan, president of Residence Hall Association.

That money will go toward converting existing buildings into the living-learning centers, hiring student advisers and creating a task force of administrators to examine and learn from existing centers at other universities.

“The living and learning center is the hot topic among higher education right now,” Kane said.

Although the living-learning centers garner much attention in higher education now, the first learning communities began with the first universities, Kane said. Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard all began with a model similar to the living-learning centers that receive so much attention now, Kane said. Universities are trying to overlap the residential and academic spheres once again, Kane said.

The University of Florida and the University of Miami currently offer living-learning centers, and about 20 universities nationwide excel at offering these types of centers, Kane said.

Forsythe said he experienced the impact of living-learning centers firsthand when he served as the dean of the Tippie College of Business at the University of Iowa.

“It was a great way to start a student’s undergraduate career,” Forsythe said.

The two living-learning centers will serve as a blueprint for an upcoming program called Faculty in Residence, where faculty members will live and teach within the residence halls. The program will begin with the opening of the Magnolia II residence hall, planned for fall 2009, Kane said.

“We need to acknowledge that this is a living, breathing organism,” he said.