Having already moved two of her children into their residence hall rooms at other universities, Deannie Starnes of Gastonia said she knew what to expect Friday morning as she pulled up to Western Carolina University’s Scott Residence Hall during Freshman Move-In Day.
Or so she thought.
Starnes and her family were rapidly greeted by members of WCU’s Welcome Team who, within minutes, had all of her son Carter’s belongings in his room.
“Unbelievable,” she said. “I have three kids in college and this is absolutely the smoothest move-in I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It was so quick. I drove up and I barely got out of the car and the car was all unloaded and everything was brought up. People were everywhere to help you. People were friendly and excited. It’s just been fabulous.”
That was the prevailing sentiment Friday (Aug. 14) as WCU welcomed another freshman class to Cullowhee. University officials say this year’s class is not expected to be as big as last year’s, which totaled 1,745 students, but it will be one of the largest the university has seen since an enrollment boom in the mid-1970s.
Keith Corzine, WCU’s assistant vice chancellor for campus services, reported that 94 percent of WCU’s freshmen, more than 1,400 of the new students, had checked into their rooms by 3 p.m. Friday. The move-in went “incredibly smooth,” despite a heavy mid-afternoon thunderstorm, Corzine said.
Hundreds of WCU’s returning students and faculty and staff volunteered to assist the new students and their families during Freshman Move-In. Welcome Team crews were stationed strategically around WCU residence halls that house the first-year students.
Move-in also was a positive experience for Steve Awald of Mills River, who joined his wife Wendy, a 1993 graduate of WCU, in moving their son, Sawyer, into Walker Residence Hall.
“The wife only lost it once,” Steve Awald joked. “The move-in process is amazing. They were very organized, very quick, very good. It took five minutes, if that.”
Sawyer Awald, who will study mechanical engineering, unknowingly helped prepare his mother for the emotional day when his summer job doing engineering work for a small company kept him away from home.
“He’s not been around a lot this summer,” Wendy Awald said. “Some of the strings have slowly been cut. I keep quoting my mother-in-law. She said, ‘They’re doing what you want them to do.’ But it doesn’t make it any easier. We’re excited for him. It’s a great school and he’s where he needs to be.”
Walter Turner, a director with the Department of Student Community Ethics, served as Welcome Team captain at Walker Hall. During his 13 years of volunteering to help with move-in day, Turner has seen the process evolve into a well-oiled machine.
“We get consistent feedback, from year to year, that this is the smoothest move-in that parents have seen compared to other move-ins at other institutions,” Turner said. “They are astounded at how smoothly it goes. That could not happen without all of the volunteers.”
Turner sees to it that his volunteers remain engaged and efficient. He starts by barking out, “Are y’all ready, welcome team?” as another group of cars line up for unloading.
Students quickly converge on each vehicle, bringing a borrowed shopping cart, and a dolly if needed. In just a couple of minutes, the vehicles are unloaded with the items quickly whisked away to the residence hall rooms.
“The Welcome Team is what makes this work,” Turner said. “They come with high energy, high positivity and great expectation for a wonderful year. We’ve seen representation from athletics, from registered student organizations, from faculty across campus. We’ve seen staff, department heads, directors, everyone. We’ve seen broad-scale support from across the community and we’re just blessed to have great students and great Welcome Team members to make today such a great success.”
Lauren Saxby, a junior from Raleigh and member of WCU’s volleyball team, was one of numerous student-athletes lending a helping hand.
“I just like being helpful,” Saxby said. “A lot of people don’t even expect it, so when we go in and help move their stuff, they’re like, ‘Oh, thank you. This is really nice of you guys.’”
There was plenty of support campus-wide, from WCU police and other volunteers directing traffic to facilities management workers continually making rounds to pick up empty boxes. WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher and his wife, Susan Belcher, also chipped in Friday morning.
“(Mrs. Belcher) worked in the Walker Hall lot for a while as one of the official greeters, which was wonderful,” Turner said. “I saw lots of parents interacting with her. Every single parent left with a smile after meeting with her.”
Fall semester classes at WCU start Monday, Aug. 17.