ORONO, Maine — More than 2,000 first-year students, their family and friends in tow, eagerly arrived Friday at the University of Maine campus to launch the next chapter of their lives.
With classes starting Tuesday, the campus was abuzz with activity as the Class of 2012 moved into their dorm rooms with the help of about 700 UM faculty, fellow students and staff, including UM President Robert Kennedy.
“It gives the students a sense of the community we have here,” Kennedy said, noting that it is important for him to participate in the Maine Hello welcome program each year.
“For me, I really enjoy meeting the parents,” he said. “Today, it’s been nothing but extraordinarily positive.”
UM’s enrollment has increased for 11 consecutive years, and this year’s projected enrollment is slightly more than 12,000, a record.
“I said it last year and I said it again the other day: If things were going any better, I couldn’t stand it,” Kennedy said.
This time around, the move-in process went much smoother than in years past and with little to no traffic congestion on Orono’s roads.
Instead of arriving whenever they wanted to, each student was given a window of time in which to make their way to campus. Then they were guided to a parking lot where they were given a sheet of paper with their dorm name and room number. Cars were shuffled to the respective dorms six at a time where fellow Black Bears were on hand to help students and parents unload.
“I think it sends a good signal about the university and the community and what UMaine is about,” Kennedy said.
There also were vendors from a number of area businesses, such as TD Banknorth, Concord Coach Lines and U.S. Cellular.
Julett Duncan, who was helping her son T.J. England move into his room in Gannett Hall, couldn’t have been any more pleased with the reception she and her family received Friday.
“This is great,” she said standing among the boxes and suitcases stacked in her son’s room. “This is my second experience moving in a child. The first one was just confusing.”
She applauded UM for its process and willingness to help students get settled, as well as its First Year Residence Experience, which began last year and clusters freshman students together to live in one area of campus while providing them with support services to give them a sense of community and belonging. Instead of students having to seek out programs on campus, many events and services will be brought to them.
England said he chose the university because of its civil engineering program. He also considered Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., and Rutgers University in Camden, N.J., but settled on UM.
“Track was just a plus,” said England, who runs the 110- and 300-meter hurdles in addition to triple jump and long jump. He said he also hopes to play basketball.
As for his college experience, England said he’s most nervous about school and his classes, but said all first-year students living in the same area should help.
“I think it’s pretty good because you get to know your classmates,” England said. “We’re all nervous, [but] we can be nervous together and get through it.”
UM Dean of Students Robert Dana said that’s the whole concept behind the First Year Residence Experience.
The idea is a nationwide trend that’s proving successful at campuses across the country, Dana has said in previous interviews.
“We made it through [last] year with a 99 percent occupancy rating [in the first-year student dorms],” he said. That’s much better than in previous years.
He added that more students than ever took advantage of the counseling, tutoring and other services offered by the university.
“We got data about what worked well and what the students would like to see tweaked,” he said. “We see it as a huge success.”
Of this year’s freshman class, there was a 34 percent increase in out-of-state students compared to last year. Of the 2,173 students, 77 percent are Mainers.
The economy hasn’t affected the school’s enrollment figures, Kennedy said.
“I think it says that UMaine is a very good value,” he said.
He does believe that the increase in students’ desire to live on campus can be attributed, at least in part, to the hike in gas, heating and utility costs.
“There are students on a waiting list,” he said, noting that students living on campus is a trend that universities around the country are beginning to see.
“Families are considering the cost of commuting and the price of utilities [and] oil living off campus and deciding the dorms are a better value,” Kennedy said.