University of Tampa: Building a reputation

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click to enlarge SKYLINE VIEW: UT's distinctive rooftop emblems. - Valerie Troyano
Valerie Troyano
SKYLINE VIEW: UT's distinctive rooftop emblems.

Once upon a time, UT was known primarily as a place for rich kids who couldn't get into the University of Miami. That wasn't exactly true then, and isn't any truer today. The growing private university boasts Tampa Bay's most distinctive college architecture; a smart and enterprising student body; a wide liberal arts curriculum and a number of graduate degrees (including one of the largest MBA programs in the state); and a state-of-the-art business college building, donated by and named for local biz leader John Sykes.

That's not to say UT students don't know how to party, given that they are within walking distance of The Hub, a quick drive from Ybor City and across the river from its most notorious "dorm," a former Howard Johnson's Hotel known for its divey digs and wild times. The school had an admitted "culture of drinking" that led it to have more alcohol-related violations by students than any university in the state from 2000-2005. Those numbers are on the decrease after an effort by the administration to educate students about drinking.

Today, a wave of expansion has brought UT brand-new dorms, one across Kennedy Boulevard as well as the multipurpose Vaughn Center. Almost three quarters of the 5,800 students live on the urban high-rise campus, where sports such as the national-champion baseball team are popular, an unexpected bonus for a small private school.

Top 10 Survival Tips

Stay right there. Students aren't required to live on-campus, but there's a reason 70 percent of UT's full-time students choose to do so — it's an attractive alternative to expensive apartments, and a damn sight more convenient than battling downtown traffic. Most of the student housing has been built or remodeled in the last decade — many in the last three or four years — which means that it has modern conveniences along with college-dorm camaraderie (although CL can't guarantee you'll like your roommate). The most sought-after address is the Vaughn Center: six floors of student housing, plus multiple dining areas, a conference room, a cyber café, an office work space and a bookstore.

Catch some rays. The Vaughn Center Plaza is a prime spot for lounging in the sun between classes. Or lounging in the sun instead of classes. Only you can decide.

Field trip! Students can participate in off-campus field trips, elementary-school style, with activities ranging from paintball to rock climbing to whitewater rafting. For a nominal participation fee, students get admission and bus transportation to the event. For more information, contact Charles Yezak at the Campus Recreation Center, 813-257-3151, [email protected].

Cheer the Lady Spartans. The UT women's soccer team was recently chosen as the favorite to win the 2008 Sunshine State Conference championship. See the Spartans, whose record last season was 20-2-3, in their first home game on Sept. 19 against the University of West Florida. tampaspartans.com.

Read The Minaret. The two major dailies in town rarely cover events on the UT campus, so The Minaret is a student's best friend when it comes to campus news, arts, and entertainment. theminaretonline.com.

Get some advice, son. There's no shortage of academic services at UT — from a technology help desk to career services to the Saunders Writing Center, where students can get help with writing essays and projects. The Academic Advising Office is located in Plant Hall, Room 336, where students can meet advisors by appointment — or, if you like to live on the wild side, just by walking in. Contact [email protected] or 813-258-7421.

Scarf a few hours at the Scarfone/Hartley. UT's art museum has housed some of the most innovative events and exhibits in the Tampa Bay area. Instead of going back to your dorm/apartment/car/friend's couch to sleep between classes, take a few minutes to stroll through the collected works of national and regional artists, as well as the works of current students and professors. Open Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat., 1-4 p.m. Located inside R.K. Bailey Arts Studios, 310 N. Blvd.

Explore the old hotel. The historic Henry B. Plant Museum occupies the south wing of Plant Hall at the University of Tampa. The hall, originally the 1891 Tampa Bay Hotel, now houses educational exhibits about Tampa's humble beginnings, as well as the hotel's original furnishings and mementos from the railroad magnate's travels throughout Europe and the Orient. And if you're adventurous, see if you can find your way to the minarets; many have done so (and left their initials behind to prove it), but it's not exactly, uh, allowed. Open Tues.-Sat., 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Sun., noon-4 p.m. 401 W. Kennedy Boulevard, 813-254-1891, plantmuseum.com.

Get to know your alumni. Joanie Laurer, better known to wrestling fans and VH1 Surreal Life viewers as Chyna, that wrestler-cum-reality-TV-star-cum-drug-and-alcohol-induced train wreck. Other notables include Lou Piniella, manager of the Chicago Cubs, and Tampa's own former mayor, Dick Greco.

Find the liberals. UT is known as a conservative school — in part because of all the business students — but the liberals aren't hiding in closets. In the last year, several liberal student groups have seen a spike in membership, especially the UT Democrats. So, grab your red and black Che T-shirt and get out the vote!

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