ORONO, Maine — By the time Cheryl Heulitt of New Jersey put her SUV in park in front of Oxford Hall at the University of Maine, a troupe of sweaty, smiling volunteer greeters and movers were waiting on the sidewalk.
Heulitt was helping her 17-year-old daughter, Lauren, move into the dorms. Also there to help with the move were Lauren’s grandparents, father and brother.
“I brought the whole gang,” Heulitt said.
But there was nothing for them to do. In all, more than 600 students, faculty, staff and people from around town volunteered to help students move into their dorms and get acquainted with campus during the Fall Welcome Weekend, according to university spokesman Joe Carr.
“Who do you write a letter to to tell how awesome this is?” asked Lauren’s grandfather, Jack “Bear” Brace of Mount Vernon, who stood on the sidewalk as a group of volunteers picked up boxes to carry to his granddaughter’s room.
“We’re very, very happy,” Cheryl Heulitt said. “People here are so helpful.”
The family got in the SUV and drove off to park and make room for the next vehicle to unload. Volunteers wearing matching dark blue t-shirts — stained a darker blue in sweatier areas — picked up the last few items and took them up to Lauren’s room.
Greeters stood at nearly every street corner and sidewalk near the dorms to direct students and families toward Memorial Union, where the Welcome Weekend events are to be held.
UMaine’s new president, Paul Ferguson, whose first day on the job was July 1, walked from dorm to dorm greeting students and their families while their luggage was hauled to their dorm rooms. He said he’s been looking forward to this day since he found out the university hired him.
“It’s an incredible spirit of hospitality that really eases the stress of moving in for these families,” Ferguson said.
Outside Knox Hall, computer science professor Sudarshan Chawathe led a team of volunteers that was carrying boxes into the dorms. Chawathe, who was born in India, is in his fifth year volunteering for the Welcome Weekend.
“After a long drive, the last thing you want to do is move stuff up four flights of stairs,” Chawathe said. “This sets this campus apart.”
The Class of 2015 is made up of 1,848 students — four more than the 2014 class, Carr said.
Out-of-state student enrollment is up 15 percent over last year and 24 percent over two years ago, according to university statistics.
Carr said these numbers have an upside and a downside. On the one hand, the fact that UMaine is drawing more out-of-state students shows its reputation is growing in the region; on the other, it means fewer Maine students are going to UMaine — either because they choose other schools or don’t move on to higher education after high school, he said.
In all, this year’s enrollment is projected to hit 11,250, about 250 students fewer than last year.
Students representing 85 countries and 44 states are enrolled at the university this year.
Events are planned throughout the weekend for new students. Students will lead tours of the campus and business owners with the Orono Village Association will lead tours of Orono’s downtown.
Comedians, musicians, UMaine field hockey and soccer games and a dinner on the Mall also are scheduled.
Hurricane Irene’s imminent strike hasn’t changed the university’s plans for the weekend, Carr said.
However, returning sophomores, juniors and seniors, whose move-in date is scheduled for Sunday, can now move in Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m., Carr said. Students can still move in Sunday starting at 9 a.m.
Carr said families shouldn’t take any unnecessary risks traveling in the storm.
The only threat from the storm is to the schedule of the first day of classes on Monday.
“We’ll treat the hurricane just like we would a snowstorm,” Carr said. Students may call 581-SNOW on Monday morning to find out about any cancellations or delays.