"We just want to be that home away from home, and especially with everything occurring in the world right now, we want to make sure that everyone's feeling safe and welcome here," said Carly Morman, coordinator for student engagement for the college, while standing by the welcome tent.
Morman and her team have organized a mix of virtual and in-person events this week, including a cookout with the college president Wednesday and a virtual comedy show hosted Monday night.
"We want to make sure that our students feel welcomed back to campus," said Jason Umfress, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management at CCGA. "... This year, kind of more than ever, it's important that students feel that they're a part of our community and feel that they're appreciated and are here because we want them to be successful."
Some start-of-the-year activities have looked different this year, to limit potential spread of COVID-19. Move-in for students living in the on-campus residence halls was spread over a week, rather than taking place over a couple of days like usual. The college also organized a two-week activity in place of its usual Anchor Day on the Sunday before classes begin, when students would typically attend a variety of workshops that introduced them to the campus.
"This year, we couldn't do that," Umfress said. "We adapted it to a self-guided kind of campus and community immersion experience. The way that that's set up is almost like a scavenger hunt."
Students have been given a list of activities, some of which take them off the college campus to visit places in downtown Brunswick like Lover's Oak and Tipsy McSway's or to other beloved local spots like Fuse or Willie's Wee-Nee Wagon.
"It just encourages them to get out and find those places," Umfress said.
Colleges and universities across the country are beginning now to welcome students back to campus for in-person classes, after months of online learning. CCGA students switched to virtual learning in March and continued through their summer semester.
Bailey Harvey, a nursing student, said she was glad to be back on campus for her senior year. She said virtual learning was at times challenging, especially with the lab-based classes required for her major.
"For us, with nursing, I wanted to come back because there's a lot of topics that you don't know how to phrase it in an email or you may not know what you don't understand until you talk to your classmates about it," she said. "In-person, I feel like you can connect more with your classmates. It's less stressful when there's people going through it with you."
The college plans to have around 3,500 students enrolled this semester. As a smaller, more tight-knit campus, Umfress said, CCGA is able to emphasize individualized support for students.
"Over the summer, the president has been telling all of our new students during the orientation process that this is a college that cares," he said.
A campaign called #CoastalCares aims to promote the ways the college will look out for the members of its community.
Morman said she and other faculty and staff at the college are ecstatic to have students back on campus.
"The students are why we're here," she said. "Everything we do is because of the students and for the students. We, frankly, have just really been missing them. I know I have ... We're really glad to be back."
Republished with the permission of The Brunswick News. Originally published in The Brunswick News.