Make yourself at home

Hundreds of soon-to-be college students spent Thursday schlepping clothes, boxes and laptops into their new home as Southern Oregon University opened its residence halls for move-in day.

"I couldn't wait to get here," said 18-year-old Calla Gilligan, from Nevada City, Nev. "We had been talking about this school for a pretty long time, and it was just a perfect match for me."

Gilligan, who will major in theater, visited Ashland last November to check out SOU and was sold, she said.

"I was walking around the campus and there was this mist floating around all the trees and buildings and everything. "… I just thought, 'This place is so awesome,' " said Gilligan, who spent most of Thursday morning unloading a van full of her belongings into her room at Diamond Hall, a part of the Cascade Complex.

"I'm pleasantly surprised by the size of the dorms, too," she said.

At least 1,000 students were expected to move onto campus Thursday, and more will follow throughout today and the weekend, said Rick Weems, assistant vice president of enrollment at SOU.

"This is the largest group of housing students in recent memory," said Weems. "We should end up well over the 1,000 mark." At full capacity, the school can handle up to 1,600 students in traditional student housing.

SOU cannot officially release enrollment numbers until after the fourth week of fall term, allowing time for late registrations and drop-outs, but Weems said this is shaping up to be a record-breaking term for the university.

As of Thursday afternoon, the school had 5,393 registered students, Weems said. More than 1,000 additional students will make that figure swell after the university completes its registration process for its Advanced Southern Credit program, which allows high school students to earn college credit by registering with SOU.

"I don't know if we'll hit it, but we should be pushing 7,000," Weems said. "We think it's going to be our highest number ever, but we just don't have the data to say that for sure right now."

Last year, SOU tallied 6,443 students during fall term. He said it's typical for the school to continue registering students through the second week of the term.

Rachel Payne, 19, a 2010 graduate of South Medford High School, will be starting her first year at SOU as a sophomore. Payne said she spent last year getting prerequisites out of the way at Rogue Community College before enrolling at SOU as a pre-medicine and biology major.

"I'm glad I did it, because now I can focus on what I really want to do," she said. "I'll probably transfer somewhere a little bit farther away next year, but it's comforting knowing that I'm so close to my family for my first year out of the house."

Payne, whose parents both had to work Thursday, was breaking a sweat unpacking her car and hauling her belongings into the third floor of Emerald Hall by herself.

"There are so many stairs," she said, leaning over the boxes still lined up in her car. "Only six more left "… thank God."

Thursday's move-in day kicks off a long weekend of activities meant to integrate freshmen into campus life before classes start on Monday. Some of the university's faculty will start by holding a panel discussion for the families of new students today at 9 a.m. in the Rogue River Room of the Stevenson Union.

"The week students return to campus is the best week of the year for me," said SOU President Mary Cullinan. "A new academic year is always exhilarating, and this year is especially exciting. Great opportunities lie ahead."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.

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