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Best of Florida Schools 2005
Web-Only CategoriesPage 1

Best Residential Intramurals
FIU Lets the Games Begin
In college, grades aren’t the only thing that instigates competition between students. The residential intramural league at Florida
International University proves students take themselves seriously in the area of athletics as well.

The Housing League, which is in its second year, has had two official intramurals sports each semester. They play volleyball and flag football during the fall and soccer and basketball during the spring. This academic year, the decision was made to add one-day tournaments to the league that included kick-ball and three-on-three basketball in the fall and dodge-ball and beach volleyball in the spring. “The purpose is for students to have fun and make connections in their residence communities,” says Ron Thompson, assistant residence life coordinator and committee chair for intramurals. “The underlying goal is student retention.”

According to Thompson, there are anywhere between 75 to 100 residents participating in the intramurals from all four residence halls at the University Park campus. Each residence hall organizes a team, and the champion from the Housing League goes on to play against other champions from different campus leagues. The intramurals program has been a success in promoting residence-hall unity, Thompson says.

“Hopefully, once students join their respective hall teams, they’re more likely to adapt to their living environment and the university,” Thompson says. “Many of our resident assistants and grad staff are also involved with the teams. It’s another way to interact with the residents.” –RG

Contact Thompson at

Best Dorms
Customized Communities
Everyone knows that college opens up a whole new world of possibilities for students. They get to choose new friends, select their areas of study, and live new experiences. But how many colleges offer students the same amount of choices when it comes to selecting a dorm? Well, at Florida
State University, students have half a dozen specialized communities to choose from.

“FSU has many diverse residence halls in order to make the transition from high school to college life as smooth as possible,” says Erin Hamilton, Student Government secretary for academic affairs. “Specializations allow
students to meet other students with similar interests, thus allowing them to make friends easier.”

FSU’s Department of Housing makes sure its incoming freshmen feel right at home. “Bryan Hall has resident assistants trained to deal especially with the struggles of students living away from home for the first time,” Hamilton says about the freshman dorm. Students are required to take at least one general-education course within the hall each semester to promote community. Also, many student organizations offer interest meetings at the hall to attract freshman and further encourage their involvement on campus.

In addition, students in FSU’s Honors Program have the option of living in Gilchrist or Landis halls, the two connected honors dorms on campus. These facilities have extra study rooms and early quiet hours to promote studying. Also, the dorms’ lobbies often serve as meeting areas for the Honors Council and honors functions like ice cream socials and a yearly talent show.

For students looking to become leaders in college and beyond, Broward Hall specializes in teaching leadership through public affairs and international service. Leadership classes and seminars led by distinguished faculty promote learning outside the classroom. Also, former governors, legislators, and other leadership experts often speak at the dorm to inspire and further educate students. “Student organizations that focus on leadership such as Student Government and Habitat for Humanity hold interest meetings at the hall to get students involved in leadership roles around the school community,” Hamilton says.

Furthermore, there’s even a special community for music majors to call home. Cawthon Hall offers specialized classes and one-on-one meetings with distinguished faculty and lecturers to help students explore options within the field. One of the best perks of the hall is the soundproof practice rooms, many of which are equipped with pianos. “Students can practice their instruments and voice without distracting others,” Hamilton says. “Those living in the hall don’t need to venture out to the music school to use a practice room to rehearse for class—they enjoy that luxury in the convenience of their own hall.” –CG

Contact Hamilton at

Best Student-Run Business
A Very Veggie Place
Do you ever think about just chucking the stress of college and running off to start a small vegetarian café somewhere? You know, the kind of place where people come just to hang out, where the Kenyan teas are hand-blended, where local bands come to play? Well, at New College of Florida, you can run that kind of place for college credit and still graduate.

Founded by four students as a project completing their senior thesis, the Four Winds Café has been a campus hot spot for six years now. “The café started as an entrepreneurial/small business tutorial sponsored by Professor Fred Strobel,” says current café manager Katie Helms. “The students, Beth Faichney, Kin Ping Koo, Heather Lazar, and Mollie Lee, created our business plan and mission statement.” Students began the café, and students still run every aspect of the business. Except nowadays, it takes a staff of 13, including a manager, assistant manager, and catering manager, to keep the Four Winds under control. “The café has thrived, growing from a small weekday-only coffee shop with a small staff and a limited menu to a seven-day-a-week operation featuring a full lunch-menu and hosting numerous special events on campus,” says Becca Nelson, media relations coordinator. With a menu featuring vegetarian sandwiches, tabbouleh, hummus, made-from-scratch burritos, and vegan cookies, students can get all the veggies they want, but in a laid-back, everybody-knows-your-name kind of atmosphere. The college even allows students to use money from their mandatory meal plan at the café. –SRR

Contact Helms at

Best Superstition
Watch Where You Step!
Don’t step there! If you do, you’re doomed! You’ll never graduate! Okay, okay, we don’t know if you really won’t graduate, but they sure do take their seal seriously at the University of
Central Florida. From their first day on campus, new students are told the tales of pride and woe that surround the huge gold Pegasus emblem embedded in the floor of the Student Union. “The UCF tradition that’s told to you on your first day on your tour around the university is to never walk on the Pegasus,” says Brandie Hollinger, the Student Government vice-president’s assistant. “Those who do are doomed to fail out of college or won’t ever be able to have school spirit again.”

Lest students wander the earth spirit-less (or diploma-less), the emblem is often roped off with heavy black and gold velvet ropes, reminding passersby to watch their step. But even when the ropes aren’t in place, students can be seen flailing and tip-toeing to avoid sneaker-prints on the symbol. With 42,000 students on campus, plus faculty and staff, keeping the Pegasus flip-flop-free is a commitment that borders on legendary.

“This tradition gives UCF students a sense of pride in their school and what it represents,” Hollinger says. “It’s wonderful to see students honor their university by never walking on the Pegasus.”—SRR

Contact Hollinger at

Best Space Institute
Rocket-Powered Education
No wonder they never have any sympathy when students whine about having homework. During summer vacation, while most students spend the break getting killer tans, central Florida middle- and high-school teachers’ idea of fun is hangin’ with the brains from the University of Central Florida’s Department of Mechanical Materials and Aerospace Engineering—and their light beach-chair reading is rocket science.

When the National Science Foundation put out its antenna looking for proposals to start a new program called Research Experience for Teachers, the UCF engineers decided to throw their rocket in the ring and create the Central Florida Space Science Institute. “NSF’s RET concept is to involve K-12 teachers in university-level research; what they learn during this experience they can take back to their classrooms,” says Dr. Eric Petersen, who, with Dr. Ranganathan Kumar, organized the institute. The teachers competed for the summer spots, and 10 were chosen to participate, paired up with individual faculty members, and included on the faculty research-teams. And if doing university-level research wasn’t enough to keep these teachers busy, they had three days of workshop time with NASA and a day-long tour of the inner workings of the Kennedy Space Center.

The teachers get experience with the latest equipment and a chance to improve their own laboratory skills. But it wasn’t just the teachers who gained. Although the institute hoped to expose participants to a level of research that would inspire them, UCF faculty ended up with a research boost as an extra benefit. “One of the things that surprised us the most during this first year of the program was the level of effort put forth by the teacher participants to learn their respective research projects, and in most cases, well enough to make significant contributions in only 10 weeks’ time,” Petersen says. “We were hoping for the participants to at least get a taste of engineering research and generate ideas that they could take back to their classrooms; the research advancements were certainly welcomed by the faculty advisors.”

The three-year grant funding the institute has only been in place for one year so far, but Peterson’s hypothesis shows long-term benefits. “We expect the program to foster strong ties between the engineering college at UCF and other Florida schools that will last long after the current three-year NSF program,” he says. One of the goals of the program is to create a database of grade-school-through-high-school modules developed with program participants that can be shared nationwide.–SRR

Contact Petersen at

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