Campus Joe

“Campus Joe” is a biweekly column from Oracle columnist Joe Polito that explores random spots on USF’s campus. How does it work? Polito throws a dart at a large map and goes there to find a story.

This week my dart landed on the brightest area of campus: the Juniper-Poplar residence hall off USF Magnolia Drive. These yellow boxes on the hillside opened up last fall and house more than 1,000 on-campus residents, mostly freshmen.

The buildings connecting the hall include a Starbucks, food court, convenience store, lobby and reception area. There are also offices for staff members, rooms for classes and activities and a laundry room with 30 washers and dryers.

Resident Life Coordinator Sarah Hart showed me a model room on the first floor in Poplar. Each floor is separated into pods, which consist of several rooms and a main living area with a flat screen TV.

These pods house about 35 students and offer a good environment for getting to know neighbors. Inside each room are two beds, two desks and a small sink. A bathroom complete with a toilet and shower connects adjacent rooms.

Hart referred often to LLC’s or “Living Learning Communities” – which I never heard of before my visit. Basically, they group residents who share a special interest.

“They’re living together and taking the same core classes,” Hart said. “It adds an extra layer of comfort, connection and involvement.”

From the outside, the hall reminds me of a glowing green and gold ant hill with a constant flow of students, carrying books and bags instead of small blades of grass.

In the few hours I was there, students crossing Beard Drive continuously occupied the area.

The convenience store – with signs that read POD for “provisions on demand” – offers students everything from candy and condiments to condoms and Claritin.

Jimmy Page, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, shared a few words with me after buying a Monster energy drink from the shop. He hopes to be a resident assistant (RA) for one of the halls next year.

“It’s just such a good deal, I couldn’t pass it up,” he said, referring to RAs being able to reside on campus for free.

Hart said that an RA’s first priority is making sure students get to know one another. Page lived in Maple Hall his freshman year and said the Juniper-Poplar area was a much better environment to meet people.

“It’s not so much noisier here as it is busier, and for some that’s good and for others it’s bad,” he said.

Other students I talked to shared Page’s liking to the communal environment of Juniper-Poplar.

Roommates Ashley Toner, a freshman majoring in social work, and Jena Cabrera, a freshman majoring in biomedical sciences, met through on-campus living and are now the best of friends.

“We live on a pretty sweet floor,” Cabrera said. “Everyone gets along really well. We all hang out outside our rooms together.”