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FGCU Introduces Traditional Student Housing for Freshmen

8/22/08

(Source: Breitenstein, Dave, "FGCU Freshmen Storm Into New Dorm: University Tries New Housing Approach," News-Press.com, August 22, 2008)

Property description: Five-story, 124,000-square-foot facility situated between a freshwater lake and a nature preserve.

Dining: All-you-can-eat, fixed-price buffet with made-to-order chefs.

Services: Game room, computer lab, study area, laundry, 24-hour security.

Transportation: Shuttle bus stops in parking loop; 10-minute walk to campus.

Room rate: $2,916 to $3,116 per semester.

Everglades Hall on Florida Gulf Coast University's campus easily could double as a three-star hotel, if not for the 406 students who started moving in Thursday.

FGCU's latest residence hall is the college's first attempt at a more traditional dormitory, breaking from the apartment-style mold at the now built-out North Lake Village. Everglades is the first hall of South Lake Village and is restricted to first-time freshmen, mostly 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds living away from home for the first time.

Jamming freshmen onto an isolated part of campus is by design. The opening of Everglades coincides with a First Year Residence Experience program that offers more social opportunities, on-site advising and academic help. Essentially, freshmen can commiserate among themselves, realizing they aren't the only ones dealing with homesickness or a tougher academic load.

"Our goal is to help them make a successful transition into the college environment, but also find academic success as they progress through their first year," said Pam Schreiber, director of university housing and residential life. "We want students to use this building as if it was their own house. It's a community, and they'll have to interact with each other."

By creating bonds between freshmen while instilling a sense of Eagles pride, FGCU hopes freshmen stay put for their sophomore year. That's been a problem in past years.

In 2007, FGCU reported a 75.8 percent freshman retention rate, second-highest in university history. But the rate still means one freshman in four did not return, well below the state university system average of 86.5 percent.

"I think it's a good thing having freshmen together because we can get to know people in our own grade," said Glenn Thorp, 18, a physical therapy major from Connecticut.

Like most of his new neighbors, Thorp will be living away from home for the first time.

"I don't think it will be parties all the time," Thorp said Thursday. "I think it will be well-maintained and the RAs (resident advisors) will control it well."

From the exterior, Everglades Hall resembles a chain hotel. Its red brick sidewalks lead into a beige building with burnt orange trim and forest green awnings. Inside, the tiled lobby features a lounge, reception desk and rows of mailboxes large enough for letters, but far too small to accommodate a care package from mom.

Swipe cards grant access to two wings on each floor, providing an extra level of security. There are three room types: 240- or 251-square-foot single units, and 400-square-foot doubles that feature private bedrooms and split baths - toilet and sink on one side, sink and shower on the other. Gone are the group showers and bathrooms of dorm life a generation ago.

Everglades has a game room, multiple study areas, meeting rooms, lounges with flat-panel TVs, an exercise room and a full-service dining hall just a few steps out the back door.

It even has a full-service laundry facility: $1 to wash, 75 cents to dry. Mom not included.

Some Florida universities require that freshmen live on campus. FGCU does not.

Yet, 650 incoming freshmen marked Everglades as their first housing choice, vying for its 406 spots. Hundreds more were competing for limited space at North Lake Village.

Roughly two-thirds of FGCU's student body hail from the five-county region of Southwest Florida. They, too, are among those hoping to live on campus, even if their homes are a quick drive from campus.

"They want to have that college experience but stay close to their families," Schreiber said. "Living in residence halls means they are going away for college."

If Everglades Hall is all about meeting new people, then 18-year-old Hadiza Gamatie found the right place. The international student from Niger doesn't know a single student at FGCU, except for a few e-mails she sent to her roommate assigned by university housing.

"Basically, I knew her name," said Gamatie, a criminal forensics major. "That's all."

As parents and siblings Thursday helped freshmen haul televisions, bookshelves, clothing and linens into Everglades, the mood was chaotic, but bubbling with excitement. Once parents are gone and college really begins, Billy Krokroskia says he doesn't know whether to expect an "Animal House" environment or a cool place to live and study.

"It's going to be crazy for a few weeks, but it will mellow out over time," said Krokroskia, 18, a freshman philosophy major from Bradenton. "I honestly don't know what it will be like."


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