November 2009

College Life Comes to Bluffton

Author: Courtney Naughton

She laughed. She cried.

She is Kate Torborg, Student Life Director for the University of South Carolina Beaufort. She is one of the first people students meet when they arrive on campus, and it is her job to make sure their college experience is everything they’ve imagined, and for the traditionally-aged student, everything their parents have hoped for.

She is helping to transform Bluffton into a college town, and I am pretty excited about it. Because I am a sucker for a good college town. And I am in love with the images that a college town conjures—trees abloom with fall color, football games, tailgates, majestic buildings with storied history… Or maybe, I am just hanging on to my long-gone youth. Regardless, my love affair began almost two decades ago.

It was an August day in 1991 when my parents and I loaded into the car for the seven-hour drive from New Jersey to Morgantown, WV where I would attend West Virginia University. Morgantown (recognized numerous times as one of the best small cities in the country) was a small town in the summer, but a bustling college community come fall. It was everything I dreamed a college town would be.

Then, somewhere along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the radio deejay—no doubt entertaining college-bound freshman across the country—announced the annual “party school” list. And wouldn’t you know it? My parents heard live on the radio that they were driving me to the number one party school in the nation, where I lasted for one (yes, just one) semester. By the spring, I was back at home attending our local community college in preparation for three years at a very small, very private, very Catholic, all women’s college.

But for those four months in Morgantown, WV, I enjoyed every aspect of that college town—the people, the history, the football games, the majestic buildings, the tailgates, the tailgates, the tailgates … all of it destined me for a lifetime of longing for a college town.

Today, I have the pleasure of teaching part-time at USCB where every Tuesday and Thursday morning I share my first cup of coffee with 25 teens and twenty-some-things. Somehow, though, I seem to have missed everything that was happening outside my classroom. So, I tapped Kate for the grand tour. And, grand it was. What was once acres of pine trees is now a thriving campus.

Kate’s eyes welled up when she talked about the family atmosphere on campus, where you will find faculty, staff and students (and folks from Sun City) sharing a meal in the new Campus Center. A family indeed! Kate met her husband, USCB Tutoring Coordinator, Joe Vermilyea, on campus. He walked into her office one day early last semester and the rest is history.

But, love isn’t the only thing blooming on campus. The recently revealed 26,000-square-foot Campus Center is bursting with a recreation area that includes pool, ping pong, and Wii; a fitness center with cardio equipment, weights and all of the latest “plug in your iPod and listen” technology; lounging and meeting space; the college bookstore; and an impressive restaurant.

And yes, just to be clear, there is no cafeteria—no cafetorium; it is a restaurant. One that serves up shrimp and grits, BBQ pork chops, hush puppies and jalapeño-cheddar mashed potatoes. (Can you say “freshman fifteen”?) If good ol’ Southern fare doesn’t do it for your taste buds, students also have the option of the “grainery” which boasts an endless supply of toasts, cereals, and Belgian waffles, pizza, pasta, grilled options, and a salad bar that made even me—a buffet-phobic—pause and drool.

This restaurant is so good that Sun City residents crowd in each day for lunch. Yes, it is open to the public and is serving nearly 1,000 meals a day.

Outside the campus center, students will soon be taking advantage of tennis and basketball courts and a sand volleyball court. A fabulous fire pit rounds out the exterior space, and Kate laughed as she recounted the story of how the new fire pit came to be. You see, last year they tried a bon-fire sans pit, and the fire department was extinguishing the flames before the smoke even had time to make eyes water. On campus, they refer to that little incident as the “non-fire.” So this year, all systems will be a go.

But, let’s be honest here. You can build all of the fabulous facilities in the world and pack them with the best staff and faculty, but it’s the students that make or break your college town.

So, I asked my 8:00 a.m. public speaking students what they thought of their college experience so far. While the answers included entertaining stories, seemingly taken directly from The Hangover and Old School, others were more poetic. They talked of connections, strength, hard work and a brighter future. And, I’m impressed.

To quote Kate (and Kevin Costner), “If you build it, they will come.” We’re on our way to becoming a college town.

  1. I think this was a lovely piece, especially me being a student that attends USCB and personally knows Mrs. Kate Vermilyea, i think you definitly captured the real side of her. She loves the students here and goes above and beyond then what most staff would do for students. For the Campus Center. I am a senior this year and I have seen this campus from start to finsh, and now the Campus Center is really a place that brings students, staff, and other together. I love my school, so when I graduate in May, I will be proud to know that I graduated from USCB. Lovely article.


    — Colleen Erner    Nov 1, 03:44 pm   

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