For many colleges, homecoming weekends are a time steeped in festivities and traditions.
But at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, those traditions are just starting.
One of those traditions-in-the-making is its first homecoming concert, with singer and songwriter Eric Hutchinson performing Friday night on the plaza of the Hilton Head Gateway Campus near Hardeeville.
The school hopes to repeat the concert each year.
"By doing this kind of activity, not only are we creating an experience for our students to keep connected," assistant vice chancellor for development Mike Bonnette said, "but it also lets us bring our alumni together and engage with the local community."
More than 500 students attended the concert, along with many community members. The concert followed USCB's fifth Sand Shark women's soccer homecoming game, which the school began in February 2010.
Although the college has been a satellite of the University of South Carolina since 1959, the Beaufort County campuses have been transformed over the last decade. The homecoming concert is just the tip of the iceberg, Bonnette said.
In June 2002, the S.C. Commission on Higher Education granted USCB baccalaureate status. In 2004, the school opened its Hilton Head Gateway Campus, complementing its Historic Beaufort Campus. In 2005, it opened an on-campus housing complex on the Gateway campus, and in 2007, USCB adopted the "Sand Sharks" nickname and relaunched its athletics program.
Meanwhile, its building square footage has expanded seven-fold, and the number of degrees it offers has nearly tripled. Among the courses of study are business administration, education, nursing, hospitality management and studio art.
No longer merely an offshoot of the Columbia campus, "our whole identity is tied to this region, and we are creating a curriculum and experience that is distinct to the Lowcountry," said Lynn McGee, vice chancellor of university advancement. "It takes a while to build a reputation, but we are building our visibility and recognition, and we are getting there."
Devin Mock, a senior from Ridgeland and student government president, said the homecoming concert and game is a great way to get students and the community excited about the school.
"A lot of locals know we are here, but don't know much about us. This is a great opportunity to reach out to them and show them how great we are," Mock said, adding that the event helps keep alumni connected to the school.
"We are definitely still Gamecocks," she said, "but the Sand Shark spirit is strong here, too."
Enrollment: USCB had 1,083 students enrolled in 2001 and now has 1,828 students.
Square footage: USCB had 79,000 square feet of building space in 2003 and now has 547,000 square feet.
Sports: USCB had no sports programs in 2006 and now has 9.
Video: Homecoming concert
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