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From Lansing to Tampa: A Road Trip and Campus Change

By Joel Montilla

As many of you know, Cooley has four campuses between Michigan and Florida: three in Michigan and one in Florida. I was fortunate enough to start my legal education at the Lansing campus and I will be fortunate enough to end my studies at the Tampa Bay campus. I am originally from Florida so the plan was always to return home.

That time eventually came at the end of May 2015 when the decision was made (and the opportunity presented itself) for me to take the journey back home. Ironically, it was exactly on the same day I took off from Florida to Michigan two years ago to the date. It was exciting but challenging and scary at the same time.

For starters, in the two years I was in Lansing, I had developed a community of students and faculty members who I considered family throughout my law school experience. The people I saw day in and day out, week after week through the good times and the bad. The people who helped mold me into the legal professional I have become and continue to evolve into - people like Dr. Lewis, Dean Church, President and Dean LeDuc, Ms. Vivian Bo-Jackson, Cheryl Bywater, and so many others. However, as we all know, this journey is revolving and we are constantly making new friends and departing from old ones. It was no different leaving Lansing. I had to leave my community behind while anticipating becoming part of a new one.

When the decision was made to return to Florida to attend the Tampa Bay campus, my second cousin and brother decided to fly from New York and Florida (respectively) to Lansing so we could take a 1,300 mile road trip across seven states exploring different restaurants and visiting places like the Ohio Stadium along the way. We all figured, "why not?" It was the best decision any of us could have made. My brother flew in on Wednesday and we picked up my cousin in Ohio on Thursday. That Wednesday night, I was able to say my goodbye's to local establishments like Henry's on the Square and Tavern on the Square - places I had patronized for the last two years and integrated into my weekly routine. But again, the anticipation and excitement was there all along on what the transition would provide.

Thursday morning we took off from Lansing and headed to Ohio, but first we made a stop at Golden Harvest for breakfast (if you haven't visited and, you're in Lansing, it's a MUST!). While in line (yes, there is always a line), we were told by the ladies in front of us that it was cash only. We didn't have any cash and were on the verge of leaving to go get cash when they told us they would pay for our breakfast. Game on!! We knew this would be a journey of meeting people and making memories along the way. Fortunately for us, we were able to pay it forward along the trip when we stopped at another breakfast spot Saturday morning. We scooped up my cousin later that evening and visited the mural in Cleveland where LeBron James is featured. We explored that town until we were tired and crashed at a local hotel.

The next morning, we took off to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit my sister and nieces with a Jeep packed

full of my entire studio (what I took with me) and my brother’s and cousin’s luggage. It was a tight ride (see pictures), but we made it happen. We eventually stopped at the Ohio stadium and almost made it on the field. It's a nice stadium. We didn't spend much time there as we were on a tight schedule and I had to be in class the following Monday. Ohio is nice, but not a place I would personally want to call home - maybe as a pass through ;).

We eventually made it to my sister’s in North Carolina where we watched the Kentucky Derby and the Maywether/Pacquio fight. We relaxed that night for the next day's (and final) leg of the trip. We took off around 7 am and made it to Florida around 3 pm. Just in time to kick back and get ready for school in Tampa the next day.

While the road trip was a fun ride, the reality of starting fresh at a new campus was first on my mind. As for the Tampa Bay campus itself...

First and foremost, the location is isolated in a commercial park. Unlike Lansing, it's a building that is surrounded by businesses and there is literally no walking to and from anywhere. Yes, the Florida weather provides an element that the Lansing campus does not, but it also doesn't have that sense of community where you can go and grab a bite to eat or drink and run into classmates you may know. It's spread out. The majority of students come and go; a lot of them commuting an average of about 45 minutes.

The campus is only one level, but there is plenty of walking space between the front of the building and the classes themselves. Of course, you have security guards like Pablo and Willy, but there is no Ms. Vivian who warmly greets you every time you walk in. Also, there are no elevators and basement. The student lounge sits across from the library and is a bit bigger than the one in Lansing. There is no bookstore because everything is done through the Lansing bookstore. But again, the warm weather and Tampa location provide an excellent opportunity to enjoy your studies while enjoying the Florida weather.

Being that Tampa Bay is the only campus that is not in Michigan, a sense of individuality does exists. Even though they are the same school, 1,300 miles will certainly set the campuses apart. The professors and overall culture is a bit different. Everyone has been very welcoming and helpful in getting me acclimated with the campus. They speak of Michigan like it is some distant land oohhing and ahhing when they find out I am from Lansing - a form of celebrity if you will. 

The classrooms are similar to the Lansing campus with the only difference being that all of them are on the same level. The professors are really involved with the students and engage them on a daily basis. You see the camaraderie since it’s a unique campus. Overall, the transition has been smooth and I have been able to fit in easily given the challenges anyone changing locations encounters. The people, staff, and faculty have been very helpful, but again, it is sad to know this is my last term and I will be leaving these people soon.

For anyone considering making the transition, I highly recommend it. Just remember, it is a unique campus all its own.