The Buzz on the Hilltop
Find Out What’s Brewing with Hilltoppers
Every coffee shop has its own culture, and Meadows Coffeehouse in the Robert and Pearle Ragsdale Center is no exception. It’s where students get their caffeine fix, study before class, hammer out group projects, and meet friends old and new. But every student’s visit to the coffee shop is part of a larger story. It’s a glimpse into the ideas students are wrestling with, the ambitions that drive them and the relationships they’ve built on the hilltop. We spent one day at Meadows to find out what (other than coffee) was brewing in their lives. Here, we share snippets of their day in words, photos and a video.
Manager Dave Rathbun has been at work since 6 a.m., brewing coffee, setting out 300 pastries and receiving the first of two daily deliveries of breakfast tacos from neighborhood restaurant El Borrego de Oro. The first customers usually fall into two categories, he says: “athletes who just got out of practice, and a few headstrong, go-getter students.”
In the space of a minute, Rathbun grinds the coffee with the Marzocco espresso machine, tamps it down, pulls the shot, steams and pours the milk, and wipes everything clean. He pulls a stir stick through the steamed milk to draw a series of hearts in the foam, then sets the cup on the pickup counter. “Hazelnut latte for Isabel!”
A few feet away, K.C. Hurley ’19, a Communication major, adds sugar to the coffee in his to-go cup. He’s on his way to his Presentational Speaking class, where he’ll give a speech about Caritas, a nonprofit that helps the homeless in downtown Austin. “I’ve been working with them all semester because my American Dilemmas class requires everyone to do service and civic engagement in the community,” he explains, stirring and sipping. “I went in every Wednesday for the past two months to help them organize their office. I’m a little nervous about my speech, but I’m feeling good because I’ve practiced a lot.” Then he’s out the door.
As the line for coffee grows, Ashley Nassy ’20 and Sara Machado ’20 are the first to sit down at a table. The two Hilltopper softball players arrived back on campus at 1 a.m. after a game in San Angelo. They leave tonight at 6 for another game in Wichita, Kansas.
“This is what helps us,” Nassy says, gesturing to the tacos and iced coffee on the table. She and Machado are headed to a management class next, where the syllabus says a lecture is scheduled, but other teammates have presentations to make or exams to take today.
“We’re thankful we don’t have to do that,” Machado says. “Away games are hard. The good thing is we’re ranked pretty high in our conference right now.”
Kaylee Delgado ’20 sits drinking a chai and paging through Give Me Liberty! An American History. As she reads, she takes notes to make a study guide for the exam she has later today in her American Experience class. “In high school I was one of those people who didn’t study for exams and still got As,” she says. “My first semester of college was a big wake-up call. The second semester was more manageable because St. Edward’s offers a lot of ways to get help if you need it, like peer tutoring, which is how I learned about making study guides. And this semester is better — so far I have a 3.45 GPA.”
Mallory Hicks ’19 and David Weier ’19 claim the long table at the back of the room and look around for their friends. Every Tuesday and Thursday the group meets for breakfast before their morning classes. Hicks, a Writing and Rhetoric major, is headed to Revising and Editing; Weier, a Biology major, has General Biology.
“We met in a mutual friend’s room freshman year,” Weier explains. “We lived in Teresa Hall.”
“I lived in East Hall,” Hicks says.
Weier grins. “We talked about how I knew everyone in Teresa, and you knew everyone in East.
We were both like, ‘We should combine forces so we know everybody.’”
Computer Science majors Scott Wolf ’17 and Maria Bisaga ’17 stare intently at Bisaga’s laptop as they sip their black coffee. On the screen is the job description for a software engineer position Wolf hopes to land, similar to the two Bisaga has already been offered.
“Maria applied for something like 30 jobs a week for months on end,” Wolf says. “She’s amazing, and she got a really good job, so I asked her to help me with the whole process.”
“I’ve been through so many interviews at this point, so I decided to take Scott under my wing,” Bisaga says. “In the first interview, which is a phone screen, you need to present yourself well so that the company will request a second interview. So I’m helping Scott with those skills now.”
Tristan Sandoval ’20 and Reilly Cardillo ’19 grab a table outside. The two met at Meadows through a group of mutual friends.
Sandoval takes a sip of black coffee from her mug. Both she, an Environmental Science and Policy major, and Cardillo, an English Literature major, bring their own cups whenever possible. “We try to be as sustainable as we can,” Cardillo explains. “I actually haven’t had my mug for a while because my friend had it, and then I ran into him and he was drinking coffee with it,” Sandoval adds. “I was like, ‘That’s my mug!’ And he said, ‘Actually, I was bringing it so I could give it back to you,’ so I’m just drinking the coffee he had left in here.”
The baristas play an upbeat version of “That’s Amore” very loudly and sing along.
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie
When the world seems to shine like you've had too much wine
Monica Woods ’19 is working on a presentation about Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson for her Children’s Literature class. Later she’ll read selections from Virginia Woolf’s works for her British Literature course. “English was always my favorite subject growing up, and I had a great teacher my junior year of high school,” she says. “That’s when I decided I wanted to be an English teacher.”
“I come to the coffee shop almost every day: in the morning and then again at night before I go to the library to study,” says Manny Nava ’19. “I’m pre-med and a Behavioral Neuroscience major, which makes me happy because I can take more psychology courses and still prepare for med school. And then I decided to pick up minors in Digital Marketing and Spanish. When I need a break, I check Twitter. I catch up on news that way, and I follow a lot of fashion bloggers and some makeup artists and musicians.”
Steven Severance ’19 sits in the courtyard outside the Ragsdale Center and is joined by Fiona Boutarige ’18 and Montana Hermes ’18.
“I just got accepted to a study abroad program to go to Bilbao, Spain, and I’m pretty excited,” Severance says. “I’m taking Spanish, surfing and Basque cuisine courses.”
“A surfing course?” Hermes is incredulous.
“Yeah, it’s awesome. And a survey of western European art. And a marketing course, and a leadership course.”
“That’s a lot of classes.”
Severance nods. “But surfing and Basque cuisine are just one-hour classes. Really the focus is on Spanish fluency. That’s one reason I picked Bilbao — it’s up in the northeast in the Basque region, and nobody speaks English there. Hopefully by going there I’ll be forced into learning Spanish well.”
Rosemond Crown ’17, Aissata N’Diaye ’18 and Marie Kassi ’19 claim an outdoor table after their Literature of the Black Freedom Struggle class. The three debrief about today’s discussion of Malcolm X and his conversion to Islam, while Kassi finishes some work for her upcoming international business class.
“We’re all from Africa, so we gravitate to one another here,” Crown says. Her family is from Sierra Leone, N’Diaye is from Mali, and Kassi is from Ivory Coast. “This is my favorite spot on campus. People at St. Edward’s sometimes dress up for class, so this walkway feels like a runway to me. And then when people come through walking their dogs, the dogs stop the show.”
Jared Fellows ’18, a Digital Media Management major, wakes up from a nap on the couch. Wednesdays and Thursdays are his longest days; he has two classes on Wednesdays and then works until 10 p.m. at a tennis center near downtown. Thursdays are packed with three classes, beginning at 8 a.m.
Fellows rubs his eyes, grateful for his brief nap. “I saw the couch, and it was really quiet, and they were playing some nice music — I thought, this would be a great place to chill out for a couple hours,” he says. “Generally I go home between classes on Thursdays, but some days, like today, I have to stay on campus for extracurricular activities. I am on campus a lot for iChallenge on the Hilltop, the pitch and business plan competition, because I hope to start my own business someday. It's a great learning experience.”
Time to make the Turbo. Mallory Koch ’17, a Communication major and coffeehouse employee, mixes the caffeine-and-sugar bomb that’s one of the shop’s most popular drinks. She pours hazelnut syrup, chocolate syrup, milk, cream and espresso into a pitcher, stirs, and refrigerates; later, it will be poured, a glass at a time, over ice.
Koch was a regular at Meadows before she started working here at the start of her senior year. “I loved the atmosphere when I was a customer, because the baristas were so personable — they start to learn your order and engage you in conversation, and now that I work here, I love getting to know everyone who comes in. The job involves a lot of little tasks, and making someone’s coffee seems like such a small task. But you’re not just making their coffee, you’re also building a relationship with the customer.”
Koch says such small tasks are an exercise in hospitality and “finding meaning in the menial,” concepts she internalized from four years of participation in Service Break Experiences through Campus Ministry. Her freshman year, for example, she spent a week working with other students from St. Edward’s at André House, a resource center for the homeless in Phoenix. “Sometimes you feel like, ‘I’m not doing enough; I’m just cleaning a shower,’” Koch says. “But for someone experiencing homelessness, that’s a shower they probably haven’t had in a long time, so it really is a big deal. In the same way, making someone’s coffee doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s so much bigger than just the coffee.”
Communication majors Val Vial ’19 and Kamryn Bryce ’19 grab seats in the back row for Open Mic Night, sponsored and organized by the University Programming Board. “One of my best friends performs at Open Mic Night pretty often, but it’s also exciting to see people perform that you didn’t know had this talent,” Bryce says. “Like Jay here [sitting in front of them] — he performed one of Kendrick Lamar’s songs.”
“He’s a very talented rapper,” Vial agrees. “And I have other friends who are really good at the guitar.”
Tim Lopez ’19 and Ellie Fishbourne ’19 perform an acoustic version of Ed Sheeran’s “Castle on the Hill” and a mashup of several Shawn Mendes songs. During the choruses, the audience — now standing room only — sings along, and when the performers finish, they’re rewarded with hearty applause.
Lopez and Fishbourne attended the same high school and started performing together when they got to St. Edward’s. “I still get nervous, but less than I used to because Tim and I have performed together so many times,” Fishbourne says afterward. Lopez agrees. “I feel confident working with Ellie, so even if we do mess up, we know how to get back on track. Right before the performance I’m not nervous because I’m just excited to share what we’ve made, like our mashups that people haven’t heard before.”
After the last performance, the audience begins to dissipate as students head back to their residences or stop in the courtyard to chat. University Programming Board volunteers and a couple of baristas start moving some of the chairs back to their regular positions.
The baristas lock the doors for the night. In half an hour, everything will be wiped down and secured. And in less than 8 hours, another day will begin.
By Robyn Ross
Photographs by Morgan Printy and Whitney Devin ’10