The countdown has begun. And when the this buzzer goes off Friday morning, more than 3,550 students and a cadre of family and friends, will flood campus.
The new faces will be met by staff and upperclassmen who have long been preparing for their arrival.
“When the freshmen families pull into the parking lot, it can be really cute,” said Amy Crim, the associate director of housing services, Office of Residential Life. “Students and parents can be nervous and have a ton of questions. We try to lighten things up as much as possible.”
In Storrs, the Class of 2022 will be welcomed on Aug. 24, while upperclassmen will return throughout the weekend. More than 19,000 undergraduates call Storrs home during the academic year, and over 12,000 live in residence halls.
Crim’s team members greet them and tell them what is going to happen. Freshmen families are instructed to report to designated campus parking lots depending on residence hall assignments. The lots are used as staging areas because parking is not abundant near most residence halls.
Husky Haulers – UConn upperclassmen who volunteer to come back early — are on site near all housing to and greet the newcomers and literally help them carry their possessions. Fraternities, sororities and Learning Communities often come out to help.
“We have hundreds of them who come back early for this job,” said Crim. “Our staff gets here at 6:30 a.m. and it’s really a fun day, but it’s also an exhausting one.”
The key to an efficient move-in and start of an academic year is planning, which essentially begins in May – right after commencement.
Aris Ristau, director of building services in Facilities Operations & Building Services, oversees the team of housekeepers and general trade workers who perform maintenance on campus.
“As soon as the students leave in May, we being to check every single room on campus at least once,” said Ristau. “We look at beds, dressers, ceiling tiles, floor tiles, basically everything in the room. We do patching and painting to make sure the room are in good shape.”
As part of the preparation, the team factors in the summer conferences and camps that use many of the facilities. Because of that, some rooms get last-minute attention.
“We are working right to opening day, because of the number of conferences over the summer,” Ristau said. “There are some rooms we don’t get until a day or two before the students come in. In a word: it’s nuts. But we get it done.”
Beyond the physical preparation of living space, another important task for Residential Life over the summer is one of paramount concern to incoming freshman: roommate selection. It’s not automated.
About 1,200 of the freshmen pick their own roommate, but the rest are matched by Crim’s team.
“We do the assignments by hand and our staff works very hard at it,” she said. “We get information on each student and what is important to them. Are they messy or neat? Do they like to have guests in their room or are they quiet? We take that information and come up with the best matches.”
And, when students move into residence halls, they are also introduced to new food through Dining Services. Following the convocation ceremony on Aug. 24, each dining hall serves a special meal for the new students and residence hall directors.
“Students are emotional eaters and are a very unique demographic in the food service industry,” said Dennis Pierce, executive director of Dining Services, which includes eight residential dining halls in addition to a number of coffee shops and the Food Court at the Student Union.
“Most of our dining halls are closed during the summer, so about a week before the students arrive, we bring our staff back and start to clean, go over orders and begin preparation,” said Pierce.
Once the semester gets into full swing, UConn Dining Services prepares some 180,000 meals a week for students.
A few weeks into the semester is often when new students begin to use the library, too.
“To be honest, they may stay away for a little while,” said Jean Cardinale Nelson, head of UConn Libraries’ public programming, marketing and communications. “We try to make it as inviting as possible. We want them to ask questions, even silly ones, and become more comfortable. Once they get the flow of the building and find their favorite study sports, they start to use our services more.”
The library staff spent much of the summer preparing handouts and information for the common questions that many students have. Many members of the library staff also teach classes in September and October on how to use the library and take the summer month to get ready for instruction.
Virtually every part of UConn plays a role in welcoming students to campus in the fall including Police Department and Transportation Services, said Crim. “This is an operation that really brings a cross-section of campus together to make sure everything goes smoothly for our students.”
Added Ristau, “We want parents to feel comfortable leaving their children here at UConn.”
Campus life will be full swing for the beginning of fall semester Monday, Aug. 27.