Move-in 2017: Jittery nerves and words of wisdom

Move-in week had the campus buzzing with life as 5,360 new undergraduates started their lives as Slugs

Incoming student Nia Alexander (front right) shares a moment with her family: from left, her sister Mahogany Alexander, her mother Kenyatta Loftis, and, in back, her father Jeff Alexander. (Photos by Dan White.)
Zoe Bergsvik and her parents, Scarlett Cava and David Bergsvik, traveled from Washington state to UC Santa Cruz.
Katelynn August (front, right) arrives on campus with, from left, her brother, Cameron, her little sister Harlyn, her mother, Alison and her father, Mike.

For most, college move-in week brings up classic images of tiny microwaves, milk-crate shelving, and well-loved teddy bears. One thing that list of imagery probably doesn’t include? Blue tarps.

But the UC Santa Cruz campus was a sea of them during move-in last week. Parents, siblings, and jittery undergraduates were laying out their tarps on lawns and sidewalks outside their dormitories, and piling them high with TV sets, mini fridges, throw pillows, and Costco-sized multi-packs of Frosted Flakes.

Moving into a new place can be stressful for students, but there was also an air of expectancy.  “I have lots of mixed emotions,” said Zoe Bergsvic of Bellevue, Wash., who was standing in front of Stevenson College and preparing to board a shuttle with her parents. “But it’s also exciting. There will be a lot of freedoms that I’ve never had in my life before coming here.”

For Bergsvic, it felt like starting over. “ I don’t know anybody here, except for the people I met at orientation, she said. Bergsvic had never met her roommates in person, though she’d texted with them a few times. “They seem nice,” she added.

All across the campus, new students from built-up urban areas adjusted to the natural landscape. One of them leaned out of her car and stared, mesmerized, at a deer that was blocking part of McLaughlin Drive through campus. Others took selfies with a flock of wild turkeys hanging out near McHenry Library.

Harried-looking parents lugged heavy duffel bags up multiple flights of stairs and shared timely advice with their children. The campus was buzzing with life, with 5,360 new undergraduates getting ready for college life, 4,650 of them from California. UC Santa Cruz expects 1,260 will be transfer students.

To help students adjust, the campus set up activities throughout move-in week, including “Fast Friends,” an activity in Cowell Courtyard in which students spend a few minutes talking with other students, before moving on to the next potential pal. Volunteers hung around to help facilitate the conversations. Cowell even had a mixer in which students built makeshift forts and “battled” their new friends with a variety of board games.

A mother’s advice: “Follow your heart”

Some students were anxious about living away from home for the first time ever, but this was not the case for Katelynn August, a socially conscious world traveler from Carlsbad, Ca.

Dormitory living won’t be all that jarring for August, who knows what it is like to live several time zones away from her parents, sometimes in makeshift housing with no Wi-Fi or email access. August has been involved with a volunteer abroad program called AMIGOS de Las Americas since 2014, journeying to the Dominican Republic and Paraguay to develop sustainable projects and educate youth.

August has seen a lot of the world for an 18-year-old. This summer, she heeded the call of the American Red Cross, which called out for volunteers in the wake of Hurricane Irma, whose 165-mile-an-hour winds have killed 75 people across Florida and inflicted an estimated $65 billion in damage.

“I was heartbroken that people were getting flooded, that they were leaving their houses on jet skis,” August said. “I couldn’t bear to be in a nice place just hanging out when people were suffering. I wanted to be able to go and relieve that stress and help provide comfort. Going and helping in those situations—that brings me happiness.”

August said she chose UC Santa Cruz in part because the coursework will prepare her for a career as a nurse practitioner helping children in Latin American countries.

August’s mother, Alison Owen, has worked hand-in-hand with August, serving with volunteers building homes in Mexico with her. Owen’s words of wisdom during move-in were short and went right to the point: “Follow your heart,’’ she said.

Greetings from campus leaders, and a father’s words of wisdom

At Stevenson college, UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal was making the rounds with Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Marlene Tromp. Both were getting a bit nostalgic as they greeted students and parents.

“The parents are both excited and a little bit apprehensive,” Blumenthal observed. “But you know what? I get that—I am a parent. I did this too. But it is such a great experience to see them. I love that enthusiasm.”

Tromp had some flashbacks of her own. “When I was watching people move the boxes, and take out the study pillows, and take out their little trinkets, it reminded me so much of being a college freshman and moving in,” she said. “It helps you feel that same excitement again.”

Nearby, Nia Alexander, 18, an East Bay resident, was excited about immersing herself in her psychology major. She has spent summers away from home, going to camp, so she didn’t seem especially concerned about living a couple of hours away from her parents. “They’ll get over it, right?” she said with a laugh.

"I heard that!” said Nia’s father, Jeff Alexander, who was standing nearby.

Jeff Alexander admitted that he was a little nervous. “We are praying God will watch over her,’’ he said. “At least I am. When she got her high school diploma, I saw that she had grown up, about to venture out on her own.” Though he’s happy for her, it felt like a time warp. “She was a baby, then, bam, she’s grown now? Wow!”

At least the two of them now have something in common: both are embarking on a college career at the same time.

Jeff Alexander dropped out of college years ago so he could work. He was never really serious about pursuing a degree until now. These days, he is studying at Delta College pursuing an associate degree in business administration.  He said he hopes his decision to go back to school will encourage her to apply herself: “I know there will be a lot of opportunities to have a good time, party, or whatever, but I just want to say, ‘Stay focused. Don’t forget about your goal, and why you are here. Stay up on your grades. Take care of things.’ She’ll be all right.”

Similar scenes were unfolding all over campus. Nearby, at the Cowell College quad, Jon Dewey, 18, of Santa Clara, was getting ready to embark on a computer science major. But first he had to get a tarp-load of materials out of his father’s SUV and into the top floor of his dorm, an undertaking that required several trips.

While some students were getting emotional, Dewey was just focusing on the task at hand. “It hasn’t really hit me just yet,’’ he said, while taking up another armload of materials.

His father, Mark Dewey, had been through this all before. “We dropped his sister off at Porter three years ago,’’ said Mark Dewey. His main words of advice for his son: Get ready for some big changes, and sooner than you think. ‘’Really in the first three months,” he said. “At Christmastime, you are almost a completely different person. You will think back on the guy you were in high school and you hardly recognize that person anymore.”