Forging bonds to smooth first-year bumps

Students play cards Tuesday in the new business living learning community on the third floor of Maple Hall . ORACLE PHOTO/JOSE LOPEZ JR.

For freshman Derrick Porter, the decision to live in USF’s new business living learning community was a no-brainer.

As he moved in on Aug. 19, he found himself making friends before he made it to his door.

“(Living here) is a great way to meet people and get involved in the business community,” said Porter.

USF administrators hope the school’s new living learning communities, housing Porter and about 50 other students, make for a smoother slide into their nascent college careers, full of new demands and pressures.

Launched for the first time at USF this fall and available to business, engineering and undecided majors, the communities group new students with similar academic interests together within the residence halls.

University officials involved with the program said bonds formed among the students should ease their transition to a campus just shy of 40,000 students, and may buoy those sinking under a heavy college workload.

Plans are to grow the program from four floors – two in Maple and two in Beta – to entire residence halls in coming semesters, said Director of Residence Services Tom Kane.

“We’re going to see how it goes this semester and what students think, but I expect it to expand,” Kane said.

Dean of the College of Business Robert Forsythe, along with other faculty in the College working with Residence Services on the business living learning community, said that grouping these students together and giving them early contact with faculty should help catch new students who fall through the cracks.

“Especially if you’re coming from a small town, this is going to seem like a big, scary place,” said Forsythe, who helped students move in to the Bulls Business Community on the third floor of Maple Hall. “This is the first real taste of freedom for some and they can lose it.”

The freshmen in the Bulls Business Community benefit from free programs and activities unavailable to other business majors who live in general residence hall floors. They’re offered presentations on proper business etiquette and dressing for success, opportunities to network with local business leaders and tours of local businesses. In a partnership with the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, a weekly improv night will focus on enhancing students’ ability to “think on their feet.”

The Engineering Living Learning Community, like the Bulls Business Community, offers on-floor tutoring. That extra help, and the group study sessions that the communities are meant to foster, can make the difference between passing and failing in weed out courses like calculus and chemistry that trip up green engineering students, said John Morgan, student liaison and academic advisor for the engineering community.

“We’ve found that the students who do better do it with other students,” said Morgan. “Though the courses may be challenging, with the proper help and support, they can get through it.”

In 2003, a national study of living learning programs found that students involved with living learning programs are more likely to have a smoother transition into college, have a mentoring relationship with a faculty member and make a commitment to civic engagement.

The inaugural class of students in the living learning communities in the Bulls Business Community will be a test group for the program at USF, said Jackie Nelson, director of undergraduate programs for the College of Business.

“We know these students better than any group that has gone through here before,” said Nelson. “They’re really going to be in a fishbowl.”

If expanded, the living learning programs might help USF catch up to other schools that have been offering living learning communities for years. The University of Iowa, where Forsythe worked before coming to USF a year ago, has offered a business living learning community for more than five years. The University of Central Florida is also opening a new living learning community.

Ashley Parkerson, a freshman from Sarasota living in the Bulls Business Community, said she was looking forward to her first year in Maple.

“I think it will be nice to have a big group. I think we all are bonding already – I think throughout the year it’s going to be nice,” she said.

While visiting a friend who lives in the Bulls Business Community, Miranda Lou, a resident of Holly, observed the differences between how she and her friend live.

“I don’t see as many people,” she said. “You’re more encouraged to stay in your room, because you’re by yourself.”

Reporting from Joshua Neiderer and Candace Kaw contributed to this report.

David Guidi can be reached at (813) 974-1888 or